In a Monday morning tweet, President Donald Trump tried to deflect from the debilitating Russian influence scandal that has been casting a shadow over his still-young administration by lashing out at former FBI director James Comey for allegedly leaking classified information.
The president's accusation appeared to be based on an anonymously sourced story in The Hill which says that several of the memos that Comey wrote after meetings with Trump were deemed classified documents when they were provided to Congress last month.
During his May testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey argued that he believed that the memo he wrote after Trump asked him to stop investigating Michael Flynn --- Trump's former national security adviser who was fired for failing to disclose contacts he had made with the Russian government --- was not a government document but rather his personal recollection. Based upon that perception, Comey said he had shared some of the memoranda with a friend of his so that they could be provided to the public.
The Hill reported on Monday that four of the seven Comey memos recently handed over to the Senate Intelligence Committee were deemed to be classified. There were no details provided as to which were classified and which were not.
Responding to the report, Trump appeared to conflate all of the memos together as he lashed out at Comey.
Notably, Trump did not actually reference The Hill story, perhaps because it was based on anonymous sources, a journalistic practice which his administration frequently condemns but in which it also engages frequently.
As CNN noted, Trump's favorite cable news show, "Fox & Friends," tweeted a segment based on The Hill's report less than eight minutes before Trump's tweet on Monday. The "Fox & Friends" tweet was also shared by Trump:
"Four of the memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the 'secret' or 'confidential' level, according to officials directly familiar with the matter," Fox News' Jillian Mele reported.
Appearing on "Fox & Friends" on Monday, top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway called it the "bombshell" story of the day. More than eight hours later, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "there are a lot of questions out there and a lot of reports" that Comey leaked classified information.
According to The Hill’s account, however, most of the memos Comey wrote were marked as containing some classified information when they were recently shown to Congress. It’s unclear whether the classified information in the memos was classified at the time the memos were written. As Politico reported on Monday, some of Comey’s memos were classified retroactively.
Contacted by Fox News, Daniel Richman, Comey's friend who has admitted to helping the fired FBI director leak news of his meeting with Trump, said the accusation was "a non-story."
“No memos were given to the press, and no memos were classified at the time I received them,” Richman told Fox News, saying that he had never given the actual memos to any journalist but rather that he had provided information about "the substance" of one document..
“That was not classified at the time, and remains unclassified,” he was quoted as saying.