When President Trump lashed out Friday at former FBI Director James Comey for sharing memos about their conversations, the president highlighted the case of a lower-level figure who was given a tough sentence for mishandling classified material.
“Remember sailor!” Trump tweeted.
It was a reference to Kristian Saucier, the former U.S. Navy sailor who served a year behind bars for taking photos of classified areas in a nuclear submarine before being pardoned by Trump this spring.
Comey denies leaking classified information. But The Wall Street Journal reported that at least two of the memos he shared have been to found to contain material now deemed classified.
Critics say Comey, who does not currently face any charges, is being judged on a different standard than others the FBI has prosecuted.
“There is a clear double standard,” Ronald Daigle Jr., an attorney for Saucier, told Fox News.
“My client was sentenced to a year in federal prison, fine, probation, house arrest and a dishonorable discharge from the Navy,” Daigle said. “My client never shared or leaked any classified information. Comey leaked classified information and nothing is being done by the Justice Department. Why?”
"Comey leaked classified information and nothing is being done by the Justice Department. Why?”
There are other high-profile, recent examples of lower-level figures who have faced tough sentences for leaking classified information to the media.
Terry Albury, a 39-year-old former Minnesota FBI counterterrorism agent, pleaded guilty this month to leaking classified documents to a reporter. In a statement, the African-American former agent said he knew it was illegal but felt he had to act against a culture in the bureau that often treats minority communities with suspicion and disrespect.
Under his plea agreement, Albury faces a likely sentence of between 37 and 57 months.
“Higher-level officials routinely leak sensitive — sometimes even classified — information to advance their own personal interests and rarely face serious consequences,” Jess Radack, a whistleblower defense attorney, told the Washington Examiner. “But if a whistleblower leaks sensitive information of public interest, the hammer comes down.”
“The outcomes have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with justice,” Radack added.
There’s also the case of 25-year-old Reality Winner, a federal contractor from Georgia, who was charged last summer with removing classified material from a National Security Agency facility and mailing it to a news outlet.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at the time. “People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”
And there’s the 2015 high-profile case of Jeffrey Sterling, the former CIA officer who was sentenced to more than three years in prison for leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter.
During a Thursday evening interview on Fox News, Comey denied that he leaked classified information when he shared copies of his memos with multiple people, including his friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman. Comey acknowledges Richman gave the information in the memos to the media at his direction.
“I don't consider what I shared with Mr. Richman a leak,” Comey told Fox News' Bret Baier.
He added, “That memo was unclassified then. It's still unclassified. It's in my book. The FBI cleared that book before it could be published.”
But President Trump ripped into Comey for those comments in a morning tweet.
“James Comey can’t define what a leak is,” Trump tweeted Friday. “He illegally leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION but doesn’t understand what he did or how serious it is. He lied all over the place to cover it up. He’s either very sick or very dumb. Remember sailor!”
The Justice Department inspector general is looking into Comey’s handling of the memos – and Comey acknowledged in Thursday’s interview that the IG has interviewed him.
“And I expect a report on them,” Comey said. “Not on the handling of classified information because that's frivolous, but on, ‘Did I comply with policy? Did I comply with my employment agreement?’”
Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has also sent a criminal referral for fired FBI official Andrew McCabe to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.
The move follows a recent DOJ inspector general report that found McCabe leaked a self-serving story to the press and later lied about it to then-Director James Comey and federal investigators, prompting Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire him on March 16.
Fox News’ Judson Berger, Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.