News broke Tuesday evening that then-FBI Director James B. Comey had written notes in February indicating that President Trump had asked him to end an investigation of former White House national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.
It was big news to the rest of us. To Matthew Miller, it was as predicted.
Five days before the New York Times broke that story, the former top Justice Department spokesman tweeted this:
One thing I learned at DOJ about Comey: he leaves a protective paper trail whenever he deems something inappropriate happened. Stay tuned. https://t.co/sENlYyhL5B
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) May 12, 2017
Given that foresight — and Miller’s experience in the DOJ during the Obama administration — I thought it worthwhile to find out what else he saw coming down the pike. As you’ll see below, he thinks that this is the tip of the spear and that Comey’s actions suggest he may have been building a legal case against the president of the United States.
Below is our conversation, edited lightly for clarity and length.
Q: You were pretty prescient in noting that the #Comey memos would come back to bite Trump — saying “stay tuned.” How widely known are Comey’s note-keeping habits? Is it exceptional in some way?
MILLER: I don’t think it’s exceptional either for an FBI director or for anyone at the FBI or at the Justice Department. If they have a conversation with someone where the other person raises something inappropriate, it’s a pretty standard practice to then write a memo to the file, basically, putting that down. There were times when I was at Justice when I got phone calls from people that would make inappropriate requests of me, and I would usually tell them, “That’s an inappropriate request; I can’t do that.” And then I would send an email to my deputy after the conversation describing it, so if anyone ever asked about it, there was a record of exactly what happened and that I didn’t do anything wrong.
Q: And so you would generally not only write the memo, but you would talk to somebody about it in real time?
MILLER: I think people do it different ways. You can either just send a memo to the file and just kind of keep it to yourself, or the safer thing is to actually memorialize it, either in a conversation or a written record with someone else at the Justice Department.
Q: What kinds of things are usually in these notes? Is it a pretty straight recounting of the conversation, or will they also include things like, ‘Well, I think this may have been illegal?’
MILLER: I think it completely depends on the conversation and the person you’re having it with. It’s a very different thing if someone outside the Justice Department calls you and asks you to find out the status of an investigation, and you tell them no. That’s one thing — versus the president of the United States telling you to quash an investigation. In the orders of magnitude of wrongdoing and impact, they’re two very different things.
I guess my point is, there’s not a great parallel between conversations with the president and anything else — mostly because it’s pretty infrequent that the FBI director would be having one-on-one conversations with the president. Something that’s important here is that it was inappropriate for Trump to have any conversations with Comey about the status of this case — let alone to make the kind of request that we now know he did.