(CNN)The Justice Department's internal watchdog has interviewed multiple individuals who saw copies of former FBI Director James Comey's memos recounting his conversations with President Donald Trump prior to Thursday's widespread release, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Justice Dept. watchdog looking into Comey's handling of memos
Until now, Comey has publicly stated that he shared the memos with top officials at the FBI, Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman and special counsel Robert Mueller's office. But CNN has learned of additional close associates of Comey -- outside of the FBI -- who have been questioned by the inspector general's office about precisely which memo or memos they saw and when Comey shared them, sources say.
The answers to such questions could prove critical for Comey, as the inspector general's office is expected to release a significant report in the coming weeks on how the FBI handled politically sensitive investigations related to Trump and his 2016 presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.
The inspector general's office is reviewing how the former FBI director handled the memos, including whether any classified information was improperly shared, according to sources familiar with the matter.
A spokesperson for the inspector general's office declined to comment. A spokesperson for Comey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The existence of the memos was first revealed last spring when The New York Times reported Comey had written a memo suggesting Trump asked him to scuttle the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey told senators he provided that one to "a friend" to read to the Times in hopes it would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
At the time, officials at the FBI knew Comey had memorialized his interactions with the President, but were not aware he shared the contents outside of the bureau until Comey divulged it during his testimony last June, one source explained.
"I thought it was something that needed to be done," Comey told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview on Thursday, explaining his decision to give the memo to Richman. "And a private citizen can talk about their unclassified conversations with the President."
This week the Justice Department turned over to Congress a set of seven documents, which include Comey's contemporaneous notes and emails to top FBI officials with some redactions of classified information. Lawmakers were also provided fully unredacted documents to review in a secure setting on Capitol Hill.
Earlier this year, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and other Republican lawmakers raised questions about Comey's handling of classified information.
"If it's true that Professor Richman had four of the seven memos, then in light of the fact that four of the seven memos the Committee reviewed are classified, it would appear that at least one memo the former FBI director gave Professor Richman contained classified information," Grassley wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein while asking for further clarification.
In Comey's book "A Higher Loyalty" released this week, the memo that he focuses on the most is the February 2017 one detailing the Flynn conversation, which, according to the copy of the memo obtained by CNN, does not contain any redactions.
But Comey said Thursday he could not recall exactly how many memos in total were classified.
"I don't know exactly how many there are," Comey told Tapper. "Some may be memos, some may be e-mails. ... And I think some of them -- I know when I created some of them, they were classified, but I don't know how many of that group."
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Justice Department's inspector general is investigating at least two memos alleged to contain classified information that Comey shared with Richman. The newspaper reports that Comey himself redacted portions of one memo before sharing it and that a second memo was later determined by FBI officials to be classified "confidential," the lowest level of classification.