Former FBI Director James Comey sat idly by on Friday while his friend, Benjamin Wittes, made a comparison between House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency analyst who stole and leaked classified government documents.
During an event Brookings Institution hosted, Benjamin Wittes asked Comey about a recent battle between Nunes and the Justice Department over records related to a top secret source who has reportedly provided information about President Donald Trump’s campaign to the FBI, CIA and the special counsel’s office.
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 11, 2018
Nunes has requested documents related to the mysterious source, but the Justice Department has pushed back, claiming that revealing the information could put the source’s life at risk and expose intelligence community methods. House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, have backed Nunes’ push, arguing the Intelligence Committee has a right to view the records.
Ryan told reporters on Thursday the request is “wholly appropriate.”
Wittes and Comey clearly disagree.
“[Nunes] is affirmatively acting in a fashion that some of us judged Edward Snowden very harshly for, right, for behaving in a fashion that puts at risk intelligence sources and methods…when being told by senior levels of the Justice Department,” said Wittes, who operates Lawfare, a blog Brookings hosts.
“I can’t understand it,” said Comey, who appeared to grimace at the mention of Nunes’ name. “I’m sure there is some story he tells himself that tries to make sense of it all, but I can’t explain it.”
Snowden has been indicted under the Espionage Act for stealing and leaking thousands of government documents. He is currently living in exile in Russia.
The irony of the battle over the top secret source is their existence is known because of the Justice Department’s release of a letter revealing an individual was at the center of Nunes’ document request. The agency released a letter it sent on May 3 to Nunes regarding a subpoena for documents related to the source.
“This information was leaked, but it wasn’t by us. We didn’t even have the information yet. It clearly was leaked by someone within the Department of Justice or the FBI, and I believe they hoped they would be able to taint us with that leak,” Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican on the Intelligence panel, told Fox News on Friday.
Stewart also challenged the premise of the pushback from the Justice Department, Wittes and Comey. He disputed a Snowden-like scenario in which classified information about the source would be leaked to the public.
“This doesn’t have anything to do at all with national security. We certainly would protect that. We would protect the source. We would protect their identity,” Stewart said. “This has to do with them protecting the FBI and some of the actions, again, I don’t know how they can defend it in any way.”
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