I didn’t know much about James Comey until about two years ago. Since then, I thought pretty highly of the guy and that really hasn’t changed.
Arguably, Comey was the big political story of the week – so far.
Today, his new book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership was officially released and Sunday, it was ABC News’ 20/20 that got the first interview in the Comey media blitz to promote it.
One hour of George Stephanopoulos’ five hour interview aired Sunday night, at least in most places.
I say that because a TV news director friend in Virginia wrote about the nasty reception he and his team got because they had to break away to report on severe storms (a technical term, not just anybody’s opinion) and a tornado warning in the area. See and read for yourself how potentially saving lives, safety and property turned into a major inconvenience from some loudmouths. Always has, always will. Good thing this wasn’t a soap opera! I especially love the comment that people were able to watch the interview at another time on demand, or watch clips and commentary on any channel for days after.
I have to say, his problem could’ve been worse. I don’t know what the CBS station there – his competition – did. They were carrying the Academy of Country Music Awards and this was Virginia!
Anyway, James Comey is scheduled to be in Philadelphia as part of Widener University’s Philadelphia Speakers Series at the Kimmel Center. That’s Oct. 1 at 8.
Widener’s bio says,
“Comey was appointed Deputy U.S. Attorney General by President George W. Bush. Appointed FBI Director in 2013 by President Obama, he served until 2017 when fired by President Trump amidst political storms regarding the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”
Sounds like a serious career guy who had important supporters in both parties who promoted him to positions of increasing responsibility.
I was sick and asleep, and didn’t watch the Stephanopoulos-Comey interview. I saw some clips on Monday.
According to this ABCNews.com article that was published in the middle of the interview (10:22pm), everyone including Comey thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election and become the nation’s first female president. He said he believes President “Obama, possibly Russian President Vladimir Putin and even” Donald Trump “thought Clinton was going to win, too.”
Meanwhile, Comey was leading the investigation of Clinton’s handling of emails. ABC News reported, “He says that the assumption of a Clinton victory ‘must have’ influenced his actions in the email investigation, though he says not consciously.”
“I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was gonna beat Donald Trump. And so I’m sure that it was a factor,” Comey admitted. “Like I said, I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been. That she’s gonna be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out,” he told Stephanopoulos. That’s understandable and believable for someone in a tough position.
After the election and its surprising results to many, he said, “I heard the president [Obama] say, as I recount in the book, ‘Putin backed the wrong horse.’ That is, all of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance.”
Comey added, “Obama’s remark was made in relation to when and if the intelligence community and White House should go public with their findings about Russian interference in the election.”
Specifically, “I think what the president meant by that was the Russian effort is wasted,” according to Comey, “and so why should we help them by announcing what they’re doing when their work is not gonna achieve their goal?”
Stephanopoulos mentioned an announcement like that
“would give people a reason to question the outcome of the election” and Comey agreed, since “Donald Trump was already saying, ‘If I lose, that means the system is rigged.’ And so if the Obama administration comes out saying, ‘The Russians are trying to help elect Donald Trump,’ that walks right into his narrative that’s, ‘See, I told ya,’ that the whole system is fixed and you can’t trust the American democratic process. And the Russians would have accomplished their goal.”
But he decided to keep the fact the FBI was investigating interactions between a “small number of Americans” from the Trump campaign and Russians private until months after the election.
“That was actually not a hard call, given the sensitivity of the matter and that it was ongoing. We didn’t wanna tip anybody off,” he explained, adding President Obama didn’t want to be seen as having tipped the scale in Clinton’s favor.
Clinton wrote in her book What Happened, she “felt I’d been shivved” by Comey “three times over the final five months of the campaign.”
That’s not entirely true, considering Comey went on national TV less than five months before, specifically described what his FBI investigation found what Clinton had and had not done, and concluded she should not face charges.
Statement by FBI Director James B. Comey on the Investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Use of a Personal E-Mail System
July 5, 2016
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. … None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”
Then, with the FBI’s recommendation to the Department of Justice:
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.
“In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.
“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”
Sounds great for the Democrats who were a shoo-in against Donald Trump, right? That was four months and three days before the election but may as well have been years before Americans went to the polls.
In fact, the Democratic National Convention here in Philadelphia wasn’t even held until July 25-28 and some Bernie Sanders supporters hadn’t given up, despite the delegate count including superdelegates who make up just under 15 percent of all Democratic convention delegates. And they were angry over the party machine including Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile.
Trump had just won the nomination a week earlier, July 18-21, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. That was despite speculation everyone in the GOP against Trump would suddenly embrace somebody else.
But who could forget Comey coming out late on that Friday, just 11 days before the election?
According to Politico on Oct. 28, 2016 – you may even remember when you heard the news – “Democrats have soured on James Comey.
“In July, they praised the FBI director’s decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. But on Friday, top party officials turned on Comey. …
“Comey sent a letter to several congressional leaders to inform them that the FBI had come across new emails pertinent to its Clinton investigation and would take additional steps to look into them, adding that the FBI did not yet know if the emails were significant and that he did not yet know when the additional review would be finished.
“The letter set off a political firestorm. And while Republicans pounced, Democrats fumed.”
Those new emails were from disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s computer. Weiner was married to Huma Abedin – then vice chair of Clinton’s campaign and before that, deputy chief of staff to the former Secretary of State.
Comey replied “I hope not” to Clinton’s assertion she’d be president if not for the release of the letter 11 days before the election “in which he announced that the FBI would be looking into more emails.”
“But the honest answer is, it wouldn’t change the way I think about it,” he added.
The next day, Politico reported,
“Hillary Clinton and her aides and allies forcefully criticized FBI Director James Comey .. demanding that he release more information about the bureau’s discovery of Clinton-related emails and criticizing him for bad timing.
“At a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., Clinton said it was ‘pretty strange’ for Comey to ‘put something like that out with such little information right before an election,’ adding: ‘In fact, it’s not just strange; it’s unprecedented and it is deeply troubling.’”
I don’t believe James Comey hated Hillary Clinton. She was the favorite in the Comey house.
He said in addition to his wife, Patrice, “At least my four daughters, probably all five of my kids, wanted Hillary Clinton to be the first woman president.”
He, himself, told Stephanopoulos he didn’t vote in that election and testified on Capitol Hill that year he’d “been a registered Republican for most of his adult life but wasn’t any longer.”
Comey told lawmakers,
“I’m trying to be outside of politics so [I] intentionally tried not to follow it a lot. And that I shouldn’t be choosing between the candidates. I’m trying to lead an institution that should be separate and other.”
And what about accusations Comey, as ABC News put it, “disclosed a great deal of information about the investigation into Clinton’s emails but did not immediately release information about the probe into some members of Trump’s team and their alleged contacts with Russians?”
He said there were fundamental differences in the cases.
“The Clinton email case … was public, and we were actually investigating the candidate herself; and the counterintelligence investigations trying to figure out whether a small group of people, not Donald Trump — we were not investigating Donald Trump. …
“I get the initial reaction. It seems inconsistent. But if you take the time and look at the posture of the two cases, they’re very, very different. And actually illustrate the rule that we’re following.”
Most of what I heard was Comey going off on the man who fired him last May, President Trump. (Did anybody expect forgiveness?!)
“leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election,” according to The New York Times. “The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.”
(See: Mueller, Robert and presidential mistakes.)
The Times continued,
“Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign. …
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice (reportedly Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein) that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Mr. Trump wrote to Comey.
“But,” the paper continued, “many in Washington, including veteran F.B.I. officers, saw a carefully choreographed effort by the president to create a pretense for a takedown of the president’s F.B.I. tormentor.”
Comey called Trump unfit to lead the nation, saying the president is “someone for whom truth is not a high value” and who treats women “like they’re pieces of meat.” (I didn’t hear a great deal of defense for the president.)
The Huffington Post mentions the Russia dossier “compiled by a former British spy and alleged that footage exists of Trump watching prostitutes urinating in a Moscow hotel suite,” and the litany of sexual misconduct allegations.
The Post reported,
“Comey informed Trump about the allegations in private before his inauguration several times, and he writes in his book that Trump was obsessed with disproving them.”
Comey recalled the president asking, “Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?”
He said he wasn’t sure if the rumors were true,
“but said they left the president open to blackmail by the Russian government.
“I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the ― the ― current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible, but I don’t know,” Comey said.
He said something similar when Stephanopoulos asked if he thought Russia had “something” on the president.
“I think it’s possible,” Comey said. “I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”
Other interview highlights chosen by The Huffington Post:
— In regards to Trump asking Comey to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, there was “certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.”
— Comey said Trump was “of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on.”
Comey summed it up.
“The challenge of this president is that he will stain everyone around him,” but said he’d still be working for the government had he not been removed.
“I was dreading it,” Comey said, noting he’d be “an unhappy F.B.I. director, but in a way proud of the organization and in my role in trying to protect it.”
According to TVNewser, “That took my breath away,” Stephanopoulos said of Comey’s retelling of events. “I thought I knew this story. Collectively we weren’t really ready for everything that he was getting ready to say.”
Republicans had their say about Comey and the interview. In fact, it was apparently on the president’s mind for days.
“White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Comey would “be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack that broke his sacred trust with the president of the United States.”
Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement,
“James Comey’s publicity tour reaffirms that his true higher loyalty is to himself . … The only thing worse than Comey’s history of misconduct is his willingness to say anything to sell books. He has no credibility and President Trump was right to follow through on the bipartisan calls for him to be fired.”
Who didn’t try to sell their books?
Comey responded in part, “3 presidents are in my book: 2 help illustrate the values at the heart of ethical leadership; 1 serves as a counterpoint.”
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership has already sold close to 200,000 copies.
By the way, President Bush’s brother Jeb – the former Florida governor who lost to Trump in the primaries and caucuses – will be speaking as part of the same Widener University Philadelphia Speakers Series on Jan. 28, 2019, at 8.
P.S. Condolences to the Bush family on the loss of former first lady Barbara Bush today
and to the
loved ones of Jennifer Riordan, killed in today’s Southwest Airlines tragedy here in Philadelphia.
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