Professor Comey? Ex-FBI Chief To Teach Ethics Course Amid Scrutiny

440px-Comey-FBI-PortraitimagesBelow is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the news that former FBI Director James Comey will be teaching a course at William & Mary on “ethical leadership.”  While I believe that having their alum teach a class would be a terrific opportunity for their students, this particular subject is obviously controversial.  Moreover, it seems to fit an agenda by Comey to address criticism over his ethical choices.  There is nothing in Comey’s past that would have made this an obvious choice for his expertise that clearly encompasses national security, surveillance, privacy, and other area of constitutional and criminal law.  Curriculum should not be a vehicle for public relations.

Here is the column

Curriculum changes at the College of William & Mary usually are not national news, but a recent entry on the course selection was something of a surprise: The college will offer a new fall course on “ethical leadership.”

That in itself is unremarkable but the professor is one James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While Comey has much to offer students, given his background and knowledge, it is a bit premature to view him as an expert on ethics, given the allegations concerning his conduct after his termination. Indeed, his record at the FBI would make for a compelling case study of what not to do as an ethical leader in government.

Before Comey’s termination by President Trump, many had called for his removal due to his questionable judgment during the investigation of Hillary Clinton for the use of an unsecured personal email server to handle classified State Department information.

Indeed, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote a blistering memo that called for Comey to be fired for “serious mistakes” and noted that both Democrats and Republicans were united on the need to get rid of him. Rosenstein cited a long list of former attorneys general, judges and leading prosecutors who believed that Comey “violated his obligation to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the traditions of the Department and the FBI.”

Rosenstein and these former prosecutors said that Comey “violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition.” Rosenstein added that, despite the wide range of opinions condemning his actions, Comey “refused to admit his errors.”

Comey’s choice for an ethics course, however, is more curious when considering what occurred after his termination. Comey, who was tasked with finding leakers in the Trump administration, immediately became a leaker himself when it served his purposes. He removed seven memos that he had written about the Russian investigation and his troubling interactions with President Trump.

Despite efforts to rehabilitate Comey by experts at the time of his firing, those memos were clearly FBI material — not, as suggested on cable networks like CNN, some type of personal diary or journal entries by Comey — and potentially classified. The FBI later confirmed that, indeed, the memos were FBI material and Comey was barred under FBI rules from simply removing the material.

When Comey decided to become a leaker, it was not (as, again, was suggested) to guarantee that a special counsel would be appointed. Many of us had already called for such an appointment. Moreover, Comey knew that he would called within days to testify before Congress and the Senate Intelligence Committee would inevitably demand these memos. The more obvious reason is that Comey is an old political hand in the Beltway and wanted to control the narrative of coverage, particularly in changing the focus from the Rosenstein memo and those who previously called for his termination.

More importantly, Comey decided to leak the information by passing the memos to his close “friend,” Columbia University Professor Daniel Richman. Now, the FBI has confirmed that four of the seven memos that Comey removed are believed to be classified. He reportedly gave four memos to his friend to leak to the media.

That would suggest that at least one memo given to Professor Richman was classified, meaning that Comey not only removed classified material from the FBI without prior disclosure or approval but then sent the memos to an unauthorized third party for the purpose of disclosures to the media. That is not only demonstrably unprofessional and unethical, but potentially criminal.

Now, the conservative website The Federalist reports that Richman is claiming to be representing Comey. The website also states that Richman refused to say when his status changed from being the “friend” described by Comey in his testimony to “counsel” for Comey. The status change could create barriers for those seeking answers about what Comey said and sent to Richman. However, the addition of a claim of representational status could create new ethical issues regardless of when that status began.

Representing individuals is not a license to violate federal law. Indeed, the use of such status as a shield for unlawful conduct could add an ethics violation to a potential criminal violation. In fairness to both men, it is unlikely that the memos were marked as classified. However, this is due to the fact that Comey appears to have failed to go through the required process of review before removing the material from the FBI.

What Richman knew was that he was being used as a conduit to disclose information to designated journalists. It is not clear if he sought to confirm the status of this material before serving in this capacity. While he would not be the first lawyer to leak information or go “on background” with reporters, he was in possession of material from the FBI and was being asked to secretly distribute it. That is not the role that many lawyers would feel comfortable performing without confirming the details, such as whether the material was reviewed and released by the FBI.

If representational status will be cited to refuse to answer questions, it is a gamble that neither Congress nor Robert Mueller will actively investigate Comey for federal violations. There is a “crime-fraud” exception to attorney-client privilege to such claims of confidentiality.

It is not clear if any or all of this will be material for Comey’s new course on ethics. It is rare for lecture powerpoints to include potential statements against interest by the professor, but this is one course that many people might want to audit.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

155 thoughts on “Professor Comey? Ex-FBI Chief To Teach Ethics Course Amid Scrutiny

    • What a conceited-a$$ f*ckhead! No, people are trying to tear down people like you, Comey, who won’t do your stupid job for fear of political consequences!

      If Stupid Fraud Loretta Lynch incorrectly left it up to you to decide whether to prosecute Hillary or not, then you should have flipped the script on them and when before the cameras said, we going to prosecute her!

      Squeeky Fromm
      Gil Reporter

  1. Asa J
    🇺🇸
    @asamjulian

    Adam Schiff, the guy who keeps going on TV claiming he wants the truth about interference in the 2016 election, the guy who runs with any false claim involving Trump and Russia, is currently throwing a fit about the decision to #ReleaseTheMemo. Funny how that works.

    Shifty Schiff – DINO

    • Not really once you realize that Democrats are like bad wrestlers who will do anything to win the belt. As I have said a hundred times here,

      Expecting logical consistency, morality,truth, or principles from Democrats is like expecting fair play from a bad, cheating, metal-folding-chair-using wrestler. If you ask the bad wrestler if he feels bad for whomping the good wrestler over the head with a folding metal chair when the referee wasn’t looking, he will not have a clue what you are talking about. All he cares about is that he has the Championship Belt.

      It is the same with Democrats. They will say anything or do anything to win. Nothing else matters.

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

  2. Several of my American friends and acquaintances voted for Donald Trump, though none would praise his character. To the contrary, they would describe him as vain and vulgar, crude, crass and coarse, untruthful and ill-informed, self-regarding and self-promoting, dishonourable in his business dealings, brittle, humourless and intellectually shallow. It must speak volumes for the quality of his opponent, then, that intelligent and cultivated people should have been prepared to vote for such a person, but such was the case.

    http://www.libertylawsite.org/2018/01/29/trump-should-be-assessed-politically-not-psychologically/

    Who knows, perhaps Comey will be using President Trump as a case study.

  3. This is for everybody, but particularly Linda, who loves her some gooood pundrity! This is from J H Kunstler, a liberal, and no fan of Trump’s:

    Stormy Weather

    For those of us who are not admirers of President Trump, it’s even more painful to see the Democratic opposition descend into the stupendous dishonesty of the Russian Collusion story. When the intelligentsia of the nation looses its ability to think — when it becomes a dis-intelligentsia — then there are no stewards of reality left. Trump is crazy enough, but the “resistance” is dragging the country into dangerous madness.

    It’s hard not to be impressed by the evidence in the public record that the FBI misbehaved pretty badly around the various election year events of 2016. And who, besides Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, can pretend to be impressed by the so far complete lack of evidence of Russian “meddling” to defeat Hillary Clinton? I must repeat: so far. This story has been playing for a year and a half now, and as the days go by, it seems more and more unlikely that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is sitting on any conclusive evidence. During this time, everything and anything has already leaked out of the FBI and its parent agency the Department of Justice, including embarrassing hard evidence of the FBI’s own procedural debauchery, and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Mueller’s office is anymore air-tight than the rest of the joint.

    If an attorney from Mars came to Earth and followed the evidence already made public, he would probably suspect that the FBI and DOJ colluded with the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party to derail the Trump campaign train, and then engineer an “insurance policy” train wreck of his position in office. Also, in the process, to nullify any potential legal action against Clinton, including the matter of her email server, her actions with the DNC to subvert the Sanders primary campaign, the Steele dossier being used to activate a FISA warrant for surveillance of the Trump campaign, the arrant, long-running grift machine of the Clinton Foundation (in particular, the $150 million from Russian sources following the 2013 Uranium One deal, when she was Secretary of State), and the shady activities of Barack Obama’s inner circle around the post-election transition. There is obviously more there there than in the Resistance’s Russia folder.

    I don’t even understand why Robert Mueller ever had credible standing to preside over this special investigation. He is, after all, the close friend and once-mentor of the figure who is very likely the fulcrum in any case against Trump: James Comey, the former FBI director fired by Trump — theoretically to obstruct justice, the keystone in the effort to find an impeachable offense.

    I’m not comfortable acting as a supporter or defender of Trump, but I’m even less comfortable with the appearance of a rogue security and law enforcement apparatus gone blatantly political. The so far poorly-explained antics at the FBI and DOJ reflect badly on all vested authority in the country — and especially for any faction that pretends to be on the side of justice. This is a much larger problem than the public debate seems to recognize. We are not far from a point where nobody will be able to believe anything official in this land.

    I remain convinced that this circus of scandal and counter-scandal will not necessarily be resolved by the legal machinery, at least not in any meaningful time frame that would allow the political establishment to pull its head out of its ass and actually start paying attention to the public interest. Rather, the circus tent will just blow down in the financial crisis that is spinning toward the US mainland like a superstorm. Mr. Trump now has full, gold-plated ownership of the parabolic stock market, a shuddering bond market, a wobbling currency, and an implacable debt quandary. These are conditions that can blow a society up for real.

    http://kunstler.com/

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. I think history will judge James Comey as having dealt ethically with the Clinton email case. He faced a threshold question over whether the federal CJS should refrain from involvement in the campaign process.
    There are campaign/candidate crimes which, if they exceeded a threshold, the FBI would pounce, such as an attack on the opposing campaign using poison, death threats or financial cybertheft. For sub-threshold wrongdoing, Comey’s decision was to give the voters the case outline, and then let them decide at the polls.
    If you’re an implacable partisan, of course this is wrongheaded, but then the precedent would be followed in every Presidential election to search the candidate’s past for a federal case (however petty and harmless), and impress FBI/DoJ into “surrogate with police powers”. Shouldn’t that be avoided?

    Do we want our elections polluted with official shenanigans, such as the Russian government having indicted and convicted Navalny of a petty fraud charge, and then used it to disqualify him to run against Putin? That’s what Comey was trying to avoid in dismissing the Clinton email case.

    • There are campaign/candidate crimes which, if they exceeded a threshold, the FBI would pounce, such as an attack on the opposing campaign using poison, death threats or financial cybertheft. For sub-threshold wrongdoing, Comey’s decision was to give the voters the case outline, and then let them decide at the polls.

      WTF!? That may certainly be keeping within the traditions of the FBI but that IS NOT the rule of law. What, don’t bother prosecuting candidate crimes because the voters will sort it out? Pure horseshit!

      • Have you considered the alternative, criminalizing candidate(s) for President as a routine campaign tactic? Isn’t that exactly how Putin is disqualifying his main opponent, Navalny?

        • Have you considered the alternative, criminalizing candidate(s) for President as a routine campaign tactic?

          The “alternative” is the crux of the complaint regarding the previous administrations FISA abuses through the IC/FBI/Democrats, Steele dossier, etc. The alternative is already happening. The Russians have simply more experience at this level of corruption. The election of Donald Trump was the spoiler in that corruption process.

    • Ethical? HRC operated a private email server in her basement so she could avoid FOIA – this was a clear breach of national security – certainly not “petty or harmless” She was not questioned under oath. Her aides were allowed to destroy their laptops after questioning. Pay for Play and on and on it goes.

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