Former FBI Director James Comey’s moment in the spotlight has finally arrived.
Since being fired last year by President Trump, Comey has been hard at work on a memoir – “Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” – which is set to be released on Tuesday (and for which he reportedly received a $2 million advance).
And true to form, the former FBI director and admitted leaker has supplied copies of the transcript to the Washington Post, New York Timesand Associated Press so they could published its most salacious claims at a time when Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation appears to be entering its most active stage yet. We’re sure the timing is just a coincidence.
In the memoir, Comey describes Trump as “untethered to the truth” and compares him to a “mafia don” whose leadership is “ego driven and about personal loyalty,” and that he created a “cocoon of alternative reality that he was busy wrapping around all of us”, per the Associated Press.
In one of the book’s more amusing claims, Comey says Trump approached him about investigating the Steele dossier’s infamous “pee tape” claim. Trump said the story was making him sick because he worried that there might be a slight chance that his wife, Melania Trump, might believe it. Trump said there was “no way” he would’ve done that, and, furthermore, that he didn’t stay in the Moscow hotel where it allegedly took place overnight – but rather only stopped by briefly to change clothes.
In one particularly interesting passage, Comey describes receiving a phone call from John Kelly – then head of the Department of Homeland Security – after the FBI director was unceremoniously fired by the president. According to Comey, Kelly said the firing made him “sick” and that he was thinking about quitting in protest. Comey says he urged Kelly to stay, arguing that the president needs principled people around him.
The former FBI director provides new details of his firing. He writes that then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — now Trump’s chief of staff — offered to quit out of disgust at how Comey was dismissed. Kelly has been increasingly marginalized in the White House and the president has mused to confidants about firing him.
Moving on, after describing the president’s moblike behavior…
Interacting with Trump, Comey writes, gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
…Comey moves on to the centerpiece of his interactions with the president: his account of a dinner with the president where Trump purportedly asked him to pledge his loyalty.
After one week as president, Trump invited Comey to dinner. Comey describes the scene on Jan. 27: The table in the Green Room was set for two. The president marveled at the fancy handwriting on the four-course menu placards and seemed unaware of the term “calligrapher.” White House stewards served salad, shrimp scampi, chicken Parmesan with pasta, and vanilla ice cream.
Comey writes that he believed Trump was trying “to establish a patronage relationship,” and that he said: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
“I was determined not to give the president any hint of assent to this demand, so I gave silence instead,” Comey writes. “I stared at the soft white pouches under his expressionless blue eyes. I remember thinking in that moment that the president doesn’t understand the FBI’s role in American life.”
Comey also describes the February 2017 meeting where Trump asked him to “let Flynn go”…
Comey describes a Feb. 14, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office where Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clear the room so he could bring up the FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn directly with Comey — a key event in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to Comey’s account of the meeting, some of which he first shared in Senate testimony last year. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
In a rare defense of Trump, Comey says that he made a point to check the size of Trump’s hands at the time of their first meeting – and he noted that they seemed “smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
The first time Comey met Trump was at the pre-inauguration intelligence briefing. Comey, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, writes that the 6-foot-3 president-elect looked shorter than he did on television. “His face appeared slightly orange,” Comey writes, “with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his.”
“As he extended his hand,” Comey adds, “I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
As anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past two years would expect, Comey devotes a sizable chunk of his memoir to defending his handling of the Hillary Clinton probe. Explaining his decision to reopen the Clinton email probe a week and a half before the vote, Comey admits that he expected Clinton to win, and that he feared that – if he didn’t disclose the reopening of the probe – that it would make Clinton an “illegitimate” president.
But would he have made a different decision if Trump had been leading in the polls? Even Comey concedes that he doesn’t know.
The book also serves as a platform for Mr. Comey to once again defend his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the decisions that for a time made him one of the most despised figures among political liberals and other supporters of Mrs. Clinton.
However, Mr. Comey acknowledges that he thought Mrs. Clinton would win the presidency and said it is “entirely possible” that he decided to reveal that the email investigation had started up again 11 days before the election because he was primarily concerned that if he concealed the renewed investigation, it would make her an “illegitimate president.”
Would he have made a different decision if Mr. Trump had been ahead in the polls? “I don’t know,” Mr. Comey concedes.
During the section of the book dealing with the bungled Clinton probe, Comey conveniently blames most of the FBI’s shady behavior (a phenomenon that has been well documented since Comey left the bureau) during the Clinton probe on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. In fact, Comey stops just short of accusing her of outright bias and criminality, per the Washington Post.
Comey is critical of then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, saying she had a “tortured half-out, half-in approach” to the Clinton investigation and that he considered calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
One day shortly before the election, Lynch and Comey met privately. Comey writes that the attorney general wrapped her arms around him and implied that she thought he had done the right thing.
But as their meeting ended, Comey writes, “She said, with just the slightest hint of a smile, ‘Try to look beat up.’ She had told somebody she was going to chew me out for what I had done. What a world.”
And in the Times…
Mr. Comey is less gentle with former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, whom he skewers for suggesting that he refer to the Clinton email case as “a matter,” not an “investigation.” He says that he responded to her, “The F.B.I. didn’t do matters.”
Comey – a professed “life-long Republican” – doesn’t reserve his attacks solely for Trump. He also writes unsparingly about the administration of George W Bush.
And he retells stories from his days working for President George W. Bush.
He offers less-than-flattering portraits of Mr. Bush’s political and diplomatic advisers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and David S. Addington, a top adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. From their point of view, he says, “The war on terrorism justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.”
Comey devotes a large chunk of the book to waxing about the greatness of America’s past – and worrying about the impact that the Trump administration will have on its future.
“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” he writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”
The book is already climbing up the best-sellers list ahead of its official release on Tuesday. At this rate, it’s set to be the most popular book published so far during the Trump era – second only to Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury”, which has been accused of including multiple factual inaccuracies.
Comey is also expected to sit for an interview with ABC Sunday night.
Now, we wait to see how much of Comey’s account appears in Robert Mueller’s investigation.