Last night ABC broadcast its special edition of 20/20 carrying the interview of former FBI Director James Comey by former Clinton flack George Stephanopoulos. ABC has posted the transcript of the interview online together with video excerpts.
It’s a friendly interview of a difficult subject. Stephanopoulos is helping Comey sell books; tomorrow is the official publication date of Comey’s memoir. Comey continues his bid for addition to Mount Rushmore or admission to the Christian Trinity with no impediment from Stephanopoulos. The interview has made news with Comey’s unsparing criticism of President Trump. The criticism is unsurprising. Trump fired him. It’s personal. And we’ve heard it before.
In a sense, moreover, Trump’s flaws are transparent. Not so with Comey. He is an incredibly sophisticated operator. Comey’s flaws are manifest in his actions, but one needs some willingness to delve into the relevant facts and standards to assist viewers who want to render an informed judgment on Comey. Stephanopoulos brings nothing to the task.
In the interview, perhaps most notably, Comey likens Trump to an organized crime figure. (He nevertheless wanted to continue to work for him, but put that to one side. He saw himself as protecting the country from Trump.) This is one notable exchange revealing a simple fact: Comey did not disclose to Trump that the “salacious and unverified” allegations on which Comey briefed him in January before his inauguration had been procured by the Clinton presidential campaign:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you tell [Trump] that the Steele dossier had been financed by his political opponents [the DNC and the Clinton campaign]?
COMEY: No. I didn’t… I just talked to him about additional material.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did — but did he have a right to know that?
COMEY: That it had been financed by his political opponents? I don’t know the answer to that. It wasn’t necessary for my goal, which was to alert him that we had this information.
Comey himself sounds like a mob boss in this exchange. Former Clinton pollster Mark Penn also focuses on this point in his column “Comey’s last stand for the deep state.” He puts it this way:
It was…Comey who went to the president during the transition seeking a one-on-one meeting to tell him about the inflammatory dossier, but who critically omitted telling the president that the dossier was a product of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. These facts, he knew, if revealed at that moment in January, would have ended further inquiry. This was no effort to inform the president and douse the fires of unverified and salacious information, but one to inflame the president and spread the stories everywhere.
Which is of course exactly what happened.