Comey’s conundrum

I urge readers following the IRS scandals to review the sworn testimony of FBI Director James Comey in response to the questions posed to him by Rep. Darrell Issa before the House Judiciary Committee on June 11 (video below). Rep. Issa homed in on the transmission of 1.1 million 501(c)(4) documents in a database submitted to the FBI by ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in 2010. The database (I’ll refer to it here as “the documents”) had been transferred by the IRS onto 21 disks for the FBI and the Department of Justice apparently to initiate a criminal investigation.

John wrote about Comey’s testimony here yesterday (with links to his previous posts on the underlying incident). The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman reported on the disclosure of information regarding the database here. Reps. Issa and Jim Jordan write about it here.

We have only recently learned that the 1.1 million documents transmitted to the FBI included confidential information protected by Internal Revenue Code § 6103. Under section 6103, the transmission of such information to the FBI was illegal. Only days before Comey’s testimony last week, the FBI “returned” the documents at the request of the Department of Justice. (It isn’t clear to me whether the documents were “returned” to the IRS or transferred to the Department of Justice for, ah, safekeeping.) The FBI no longer retains custody of the documents.

The documents had been sitting at the FBI for four years. Issa asked Comey what the FBI had done with the documents. According to Director Comey, an unnamed FBI analyst in the criminal investigation division had only reviewed the documents’ table of contents, apparently prepared by the IRS. That’s it.

Comey’s responses to Issa’s questions appear to be calculated to provide the minimum possible information. Comey is an impressive witness, but his curiosity about, and knowledge of, this serious matter appears to be extraordinarily limited and his attitude to the illegal activity of which his agency would/should have had first-hand knowledge (“constructive knowledge,” as lawyers call it) appears (literally) to be a shrug of the shoulders.

Quotable quote (via the Wall Street Journal article on Comey’s testimony by Devlin Barrett): “I can’t imagine that we would be part of some effort to intimidate someone without some lawful purpose.”

What is going on here?

NOTE: John clipped the video above from C-SPAN’s complete, nearly three-hour video of Comey’s testimony, which is posted here.


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