FBI Denies FOIA Request for Comey Memos Citing 'Pending' Action

The fired FBI director said in public testimony he had written unclassified memos after unusual private meetings with the President.

Published June 19, 2017

 (Brooklings Institute / FLICKR)
Image courtesy of Brooklings Institute / FLICKR

On 16 June 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation notified us that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for memos that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote after one-on-one meetings with President Donald Trump had been denied. Comey described the memos in a public testimony on 8 June 2017, his first public appearance since Trump fired him on 9 May 2017.

In his prepared testimony, Comey said that he had written memos immediately after meetings with the President out of concern that Trump might later lie about the nature of their interactions. In those meetings, Comey said that the President had demanded loyalty and on 14 February 2017 told Comey that he hoped he could "let go" of the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who Trump fired in February.

Although Comey testified at least one memo was unclassified, the FBI denied our request saying they are exempt from disclosure because they are "law enforcement records." The letter says:

There is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records, and the release of the information in these responsive records could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.

On 14 June 2017, The Washington Post reported that Trump had come under investigation for obstruction of justice after firing Comey, who did not comply with Trump's requests.

Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for the government accountability and transparency advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) told us the memos have likely come under the purview of an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 electionby Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Libowitz told us in an email:

[T]here's an exemption to the Freedom Of Information Act that says they don't have to turn over information that's part of an ongoing legal investigation. Since the memos will undoubtedly play an important part of Mueller's investigation, it's not surprising that they don't want to turn them over.

During his testimony, Comey detailed multiple meetings, one in which he said he felt the President was pressuring him to back off investigating Flynn. He testified:

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." I replied only that "he is a good guy." (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would "let this go." ...

I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn's departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency.


Barrett, Devlin, et al. "Special Counsel Is Investigating Trump for Possible Obstruction of Justice, Officials Say."   The Washington Post. 14 June 2017.

Wallace, Gregory. "FBI Denies CNN FOIA Request for Comey's Trump Memos."   CNN. 16 June 2017.

CNN. "READ: James Comey's Prepared Testimony."   8 June 2017.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.