- As Thousands flee California fires, state of emergency in British Columbia
Donald Trump has accused James Comey, the former director of the FBI, of leaking classified material by passing a memo of their private conversations to the press.
“James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media,” the president tweeted at 6.40am on Monday. “That is so illegal!”
The allegation, the latest phase of Trump’s war on Comey’s credibility, appeared to come in response to a report first published by the Hill which then gained extensive coverage on the conservative Fox News channel.
But Comey’s defenders are likely to object that, even by the Hill’s account, not all the memos he kept were classified, and there is no proof he released one in that category.
Comey told a high-profile congressional hearing last month that he had decided to keep a written record of his dealings with Trump because he thought the president “might lie about the nature of our meeting”.
He explained to the Senate intelligence committee: “I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function.”
He also testified that, following his dismissal, he used a third party to pass to the New York Times the details of conversations with Trump, in the hope of increasing pressure to get a special counsel appointed in the Russia investigation. A special counsel was appointed the day after the resulting Times story.
The Hill reported that Comey wrote seven memos – all considered to be government documents – about his nine conversations with Trump. Four of the memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the “secret” or “confidential” level, unnamed officials told the website.
It added: “This revelation raises the possibility that Comey broke his own agency’s rules and ignored the same security protocol that he publicly criticised Hillary Clinton for in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election.”
The Hill article was discussed at length on Fox and Friends, a favourite show of the president’s, who duly retweeted the clip before adding his own comment.
Meanwhile White House counselor Kellyanne Conway seized on the story, describing it as an “incredible bombshell” during an appearance on Fox and Friends.
Conway said: “The boy scout, choir boy defense doesn’t hold up here because if it contains classified information, he is apparently violating, at the very least, what all FBI members sign – they sign a document saying you will not do something like this. He was the director of the entire bureau.
“The irony to me, anyway … is that this is exactly the problem that Hillary Clinton had with her illegal server – the handling of classified and confidential information that Jim Comey was meant to investigate, if not prosecute.”
But it is far from certain that the memo the former FBI director released into the public domain was among those classified, and some critics detected an attempt to deflect attention from revelations over Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised damaging information about Clinton.
During his appearance at the Senate intelligence committee, Comey recalled a conversation about Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and said: “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership.”
In the meantime, more than a dozen wildfires were raging across California on Monday, forcing thousands of residents of the most populous US state to flee their homes.
Further to the north, the Canadian province of British Columbia was under a state of emergency as fire crews there also battled blazes fueled by searing temperatures and high winds.
The worst of the brush fires in California was the Alamo fire in San Luis Obispo County, which had burned nearly 29,000 acres (117 square kilometers) as of Monday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection known as Cal Fire.
More than 1,200 fire personnel were battling the Alamo blaze, Cal Fire said, adding that hot and dry conditions were expected to continue for the next several days and the inferno has been only 15 percent contained so far.
The California fires have forced the evacuation of around 8,000 people while another 10,000 have fled their homes in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, where around 200 blazes of varying degrees of intensity have been reported.
The Alamo fire, which began four days ago, has spread to Santa Barbara County, approximately midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and is currently the state’s largest active fire, according to Cal Fire.
Fire containment efforts were particularly aimed at guarding mountain peaks holding vital infrastructure such as a high-voltage line that delivers power to nearby cities, according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
Another fire in Santa Barbara County, the Whittier fire, is threatening hundreds of homes in the Santa Ynez Valley and forced the evacuation of nearly 150 children and counselors from a youth camp over the weekend, authorities said.
DC-10 tanker aircraft were spreading retardant in a bid to prevent the blaze, which has engulfed some 10,800 acres, from spreading, according to the Los Padres National Forest service. The Whittier fire has destroyed 20 structures and is threatening 150 more, according to Cal Fire.
Guardian with additional report from Vanguard