James Comey has a story to tell, and in his account, there is no doubt about who is the hero. Comey, by reputation, has a monumental ego. His prepared testimony for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which you can read here, is consistent with that image. It is also clear that Comey is a consummate creature of Washington.
Comey’s narrative suggests that from the beginning, he viewed President Trump with suspicion as an interloper in Comey’s D.C. world. He apparently never had a conversation with Trump without immediately documenting it in a memo and discussing it with his aides at the FBI. For some reason, Comey sees fit to contrast his relationships with Presidents Obama and Trump:
I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward.
This had not been my practice in the past. I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.
So in the more than three years that Comey served as FBI Director under President Obama, he spoke with Obama one-on-one only once, apart from when the president said goodbye. And he never once talked with Obama on the telephone? That strikes me as Comey’s most surprising revelation. It reflects, I suspect, Obama’s lack of concern with traditional aspects of his office, like law enforcement.
Comey the memo-writer treated Trump like some sort of alien:
And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.
A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.
At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House.
Let’s pause on that for a moment: does anyone believe for a moment that the Eric Holder/Loretta Lynch Department of Justice was “independent of the White House”? Of course not. Comey the novelist describes himself lecturing the President of the United States in a hypocritical, schoolmarmish manner.
As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.
Imagine having people working for you with whom you have dinner, and who “immediately after the dinner” create a memo. This is the snake pit in which President Trump lives.
As was my practice for conversations with President Trump, I wrote a detailed memo about the dinner immediately afterwards and shared it with the senior leadership team of the FBI.
Am I wrong to think that the “senior leadership team of the FBI” was scheming against President Trump? The leaks that have come from that group certainly support that conclusion.
There is much more in the same vein, e.g.:
I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership.
Of course he did! But what outrageous behavior on the part of President Trump did these hot-off-the-press memos document? None, in my opinion.
Trump’s comments to Comey fall into two categories. First, he said that he hoped Comey could take it easy on General Mike Flynn. This has been reported before:
President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.
The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information – a concern I shared and still share. …
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.”
The Democrats characterize this as an attempt to “pressure” Comey that may amount to obstruction of justice. I don’t see it that way at all. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go” is just that–an expression of hope that acknowledges that the decision rests with the FBI. I don’t blame Trump for expressing this hope, and for putting in a plug for his short-lived national security adviser as a “good guy.” Trump’s conduct strikes me as reasonable, honorable and humane. His fault was that he didn’t realize that he was dealing with a snake whose first act would be to write a memo and chew it over with the FBI’s “senior leadership.” Comey’s account is typically self-aggrandizing:
Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.
The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide.
James Comey thinks he is the hero of his story, but he comes across more like Sid Sawyer or Master Blifil.
Trump’s second effort was to persuade Comey to help “lift the cloud” that had been created by endless yammering about Russia. The president explained that the Russia controversy was impeding his efforts on behalf of the American people:
On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to “lift the cloud.” I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well.
Which was basically an unhelpful response.
He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.
I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need to get that fact out.” …
The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.
He finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated. I told him I would see what we could do….
Again, I find no fault with President Trump. Comey had told the president repeatedly that he was not under investigation, and Trump thought it would be helpful to get that word out to lift the “cloud” that was impeding his ability to “make deals for the country.” Trump had a point, but Comey wasn’t interested. His priorities lay elsewhere:
Immediately after that conversation, I called Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (AG Sessions had by then recused himself on all Russia-related matters), to report the substance of the call from the President, and said I would await his guidance.
Despite the heroic tone of Comey’s narrative, it is easy to see why President Trump lost patience with him. Comey relates another phone call in which the president “asked what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation.” The answer was, of course, nothing. A discussion of proper bureaucratic procedures followed.
Comey concludes his creative writing project dramatically:
I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.
That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.
If I had been president, I would have replaced James Comey sooner.