At a town hall conducted by CNN on Wednesday, Anderson Cooper confronted former FBI director James Comey for releasing memos and "unauthorized disclosures" such as giving documents to a professor friend that then leaked them to the media. The town hall, hosted by The College of William & Mary, Comey admitted he leaked the document because he "wanted it to get out in the media."
Given his stance on leaking, Cooper asked Comey, using his own language on leakers, if he "should be nailed to the wall."
"Do you think there are any credence to the president's claims that you broke the law when you released your memos?" Evelyn Lawhorn, a senior at William & Mary, asked Comey.
"I don't," he answered. "In fact, I think he's just making stuff up."
"I sent one memo -- unclassified then, still unclassified and it's recounted in my book -- to my friend [Columbia University professor] Dan Richman and asked him to get the substance of it but not the memo out to the media," Comey defended his actions.
While Comey said they are unclassified, and acknowledged the FBI director is the one who decides if something is classified, said he complied with DOJ policy by making the memos and the way they were stored.
Cooper asked Comey if he did the same thing as Hillary Clinton who received scrutiny for holding classified documents on an unsecured private server in her home.
A perturbed Comey stuck to his guns that he didn't leak anything because he gave an unclassified memo to his trusted professor friend and left it up to him to disseminate what he thought would be proper to the media, washing his hands clean of the situation.
Cooper pressed Comey why he believes it is not a leak to take an internal document, one he had written while he was still in his position as director, hand it off to someone else and then have them to disclose to the media what was in said document.
"Shouldn't you be nailed to the door then? Aren't you a leaker?" Cooper asked. You gave up a document that was released to The New York Times. I know you say it's not classified but plenty of people leak non-classified information to reporters and the White House and the FBI get upset about it."
"The FBI gets upset when people make unauthorized disclosures of protected information. There was nothing protected about this. It wasn't classified. It wasn't privileged. It's also in my book," Comey responded.
Comey attempted several times differentiate what he did to "unauthorized disclosures."
The exchange that led to Cooper asking if he should be nailed to the wall:
COOPER: But as someone who has the authority to classify documents you know that stuff is retroactively classified and I believe one of the documents was retroactively classified, the lowest level of classification, wasn't it?
COOPER: If you're releasing memos which may or may not be classified, which happened to Hillary Clinton as well, aren't you taking a risk that you think you know, oh, this is not going to be classified but it turns out one of them was?
COMEY: I don't think it was a risk. I don't think of it as a risk. You're making an educated judgment based on your training and your experience as to what's classified and what's not.
COOPER: So you did leak memos. Is it okay for somebody at the FBI to leak something, an internal document, even if it's not classified? Isn't that leaking?
COMEY: There is a whole lot wrong with your question, Anderson. First, I didn't leak memos. I asked a friend to communicate the substance of one unclassified memo to the media.
COOPER: But it was an internal document and it was a document that you had written while you were FBI director. That is a leak. If you tell somebody don't give them the document but tell them what's in the document that's still a leak, no?
COMEY: Not to get tangled up in it but I think of a leak as an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
COOPER: Really? That's it? That's a leak?
COMEY: That's how I thought about it as FBI director. We investigated leaks. Unauthorized disclosures.
COOPER: In your memo, when you said the president was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the doors as a message --
COMEY: I said that.
COOPER: Shouldn't you be nailed to the door then? Aren't you a leaker? You gave up a document that was released to The New York Times. I know you say it's not classified but plenty of people leak non-classified information to reporters and the White House and the FBI get upset about it.
COMEY: The FBI gets upset when people make unauthorized disclosures of protected information. There was nothing protected about this. It wasn't classified. It wasn't privileged. It's also in my book.
COOPER: So when you were FBI director and somebody on your team had given a friend documents that they were writing that you were involved with and said, oh, just tell The New York Times what's in this document, you wouldn't have had a problem with that?
COMEY: Depending on what was in the document.
COOPER: But even if it wasn't classified information?
COMEY: Was it protected information? Was it investigative information? Was it classified information? Was it grand jury information?
COOPER: I guess I'm surprised you only think leaks, officially a leak is something that is classified.
COMEY: The reason I hesitated is that is how I think about it as a matter as a lawyer and the director of the FBI. In practice, the term gets applied to a broad range of things. I totally get it.
I intentionally gave this information to a friend intending that it be out in the media. I wanted it to get out in the media. As a private citizen, I could do that and did do that, just as I've written about it in my book.