By Melissa Quinn
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want the Justice Department to turn over documents explaining why notes written by a top Justice Department official about conversations with former FBI Director James Comey were deemed classified.
The handwritten notes from Dana Boente, former acting attorney general, were initially marked “top secret” by the Justice Department, but their contents should not have been considered classified, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the panel, and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on National Security, wrote in a letter to committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
The notes from Boente detail a conversation with Comey about the former FBI director’s interactions with President Trump. Boente’s notes appear to corroborate Comey’s recollection of an exchange he had with Trump, during which the president asked Comey to lift the “cloud” of the Russia probe and make public the fact that he was not under investigation.
Cummings and Lynch asked the Justice Department last month to provide its rationale for classifying Boente’s notes from March 2017 as top secret, but their request was rebuffed.
The pair now wants Gowdy to issue a subpoena to force the agency to turn over records related to the efforts to classify the handwritten notes.
“It is unclear who at the Department of Justice tried to improperly classify these notes, but it is an abuse of the classification system to try to classify information merely to conceal information from the American people for political reasons, and the Department of Justice is obstructing our investigation into this abuse by withholding these documents from Congress,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Gowdy.
Boente was reportedly interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and turned his notes over the investigators.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained a copy of the notes in April, as well as a letter from the FBI to Boente that indicated the Justice Department improperly classified them.
“Understanding that your notes were marked as TOP SECRET by an employee of the Department of Justice without your consultation, this letter memorializes a duly authorized OCA finding that the contents of your notes are not TOP SECRET (or classified at all),” the letter said.
Cummings and Lynch are asking Gowdy to compel the Justice Department to hand over communications within and outside of the Justice Department related to the efforts to classify Boente’s notes, as well as records related to the efforts to designate Boente’s records as classified.
“The president has a long history of accusing his political opponents of misusing classified information,” Cummings and Lynch wrote. “Most recently, he accused former FBI Director Jim Comey of illegally leaking classified information — in an apparent attempt to attack the credibility of Director Comey’s statements and the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.”
Comey himself memorialized his conversations with Trump in a series of memos that were recently turned over to Congress.
The president has accused the former FBI director, who he fired one year ago, of leaking classified information and said Comey “committed many crimes.”