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the presidency

We’ve Heard Trump’s Version. Over to You, Mr. Comey

Dine at the White House at your peril

Inserted in President Trump's short letter firing FBI Director James Comey was a sentence that sent the media into a flurry of parsing and speculation:

"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 that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."

Trump tried in one go to plant in the public mind both that he, personally, was not involved in any collusion with Russia, and that he fired Comey despite his attempt to curry favor by telling him so. Why would anyone think the FBI's investigation was his reason for firing Director Comey if he is not an FBI target? People would read the sentence and think, oh, the firing wasn't about that and move on. So Trump must have thought.

Yet two days later, interviewed by NBC News anchor Lester Holt at the White House, Trump blew up his own story, as has become his habit (the Nunes ploy; the Rosenstein ruse). He blurted out about the firing, "In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story...". This has legal experts exploring issues of obstruction of justice.

Sally Yates had just testified in open session before the Senate Intelligence Committee about what she had told the White House counsel about Mike Flynn and Comey had just requested additional personnel from the Justice department for the Bureau's investigation. The heat was becoming uncomfortable. Time to throw some tire spikes in the road.

Q and A

About the sentence, Holt asked, "Why did you put that in there?". Trump answered, "Because he told me that". Comey had come to the White House where, "We had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me 'you are not under investigation', which I knew anyway…and he said it twice during phone calls", Trump recounted.

Mr. Trump then spelled out the occasions in which "he told me" suggesting that Comey volunteered this information, but Holt then asked, "And did you ask 'am I under investigation'"? Trump answered, "I actually asked him, yes. I said 'if it's possible will you let me know am I under investigation'. He said 'you are not under investigation'".

polar opposites

Fox commentators focused on Comey's alleged misconduct. The day after the firing, analyst Catherine Kittredge said,

"This is so important because it is most improper for the FBI director to ever discuss who the subject of an investigation is even with the president of the United States, and my contacts say that if that did exactly happen, it is more evidence that Comey had become highly political and it was an effort to curry favor in order to save his position as director".

After all, didn't Comey ask for the dinner? In the Holt interview the president said:

"He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. He wanted to stay on as the FBI head and I said I'll consider, we'll see what happens."

MSNBC commentators focused on Trump's alleged misconduct throughout the day. Their point was expressed by a White House reporter asking, "Isn't it inappropriate for the President of the United States to ask the FBI director directly if he is under investigation"? Standing in for Sean Spicer that day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered, "No, I don't believe it is".

What to believe, if anything.

One doesn't just call the White House and ask can I come for dinner. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had just retired when he was honored at a farewell lunch given by the FBI on the same day Comey was to have dinner with Trump, Clapper related to Andrea Mitchell on her midday news program three days after the firing. Mr. Comey told Clapper about the impending dinner that evening, saying that Comey "was uneasy with that" because of even the appearance of compromising the independence of the FBI. But, said Clapper,

"Anyone who is a serving officer in the government and you're asked by the president for dinner, I thinks it's a professional courtesy — you're in a difficult position to refuse to go"

Asked about the president claiming that Comey "wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on" as FBI director, Clapper continued,

"I don't know what was said at the dinner — I wasn't there — but I would find that very inconsistent with what I know of Jim Comey…it would really be inappropriate and certainly in Jim's case out of character for him to ask to stay on. I couldn’t imagine doing that myself nor can I imagine him doing that either."

Comey's associates at the FBI said Comey never gave Trump any such assurance that he was not under investigation, which would violate longstanding policies. "That is literally farcical," said one associate.

Of course, no one other than Trump and Comey know whether the director answered the president nor whether the conversation even took place. Trump has earned himself a reputation for fabricating whatever false narratives suit his needs of the moment. Comey did relate to fellow FBI staffers that Trump had twice tried to extract from him a pledge of personal loyalty, which Comey said he had refused, pledging only that he would be "honest".


Mr. Comey has not been heard from. He has apparently declined to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee's meeting to take place exactly a week after his firing. If everything Trump has said is fake — that nothing of the kind was said at that dinner — the committee hearing would have been the ideal venue for Comey — under oath — to tell the world. It is to be a closed hearing, but that statement would not be classified and committee members would be free to report that out.

That Mr. Comey has not taken advantage of that setting may be encouraging Trump supporters that he has something to hide and may not be heard from al all.

trump in question

Trump is clearly worried where the investigation is going. Why would the president want to know whether he is a target — and three times over? Why, if he knows there is nothing to be found? Why would he have uttered the following unseemly tweet other than to try to make any Comey denial appear to be a lie:

The incivility of Trump's firing a longtime public servant was stunning — a letter sent by a minion to FBI headquarters when Comey was in Los Angeles at an FBI function, left to discover his termination when an aide interrupted to tell him of breaking news on television. Not to dismiss someone face to face, or at the very least with a phone call, is rank cowardice. He has now recklessly made enemies of the FBI, adding to his attacks on the entire intelligence community.

the question of comey

Comey is viewed with distrust by Democrats, who believe he directly affected the outcome of the election by announcing ten days before Election Day that the FBI had come upon an additional batch of emails in the private accounts of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin and then, damage done, announcing only the day before the election that nothing incriminating was found. How then can one have confidence that Comey did not try to ingratiate himself before the president at that dinner?

We bet otherwise, that Comey's rectitude was severely dinged by his improper moves so close to the election and his mission now is self-redemption. MSNBC's Chris Hayes, a guest on Bill Maher's show a couple of months ago, nailed it. "It was the hospital bed moment that got him…that was the whole brand he built for himself".

(Quick background: Comey, as deputy attorney general when his boss John Ashcroft was ill in hospital, rushed, sirens keening, to his bedside to head off George W. Bush's White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff James Card when he heard they were on their way to get Ashcroft to sign in his probably sedated state the re-authorization of Bush's domestic surveillance program which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.)

Hayes continued,

"The thing that everybody says about James Comey. They say he's very talented, he inspires tremendous loyalty. They also say he has an absolute towering conception of himself and a certain kind of moral narcissism. He is very into James Comey being the guy, the only straight shooter in a crooked town."

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1 Comment for “We’ve Heard Trump’s Version. Over to You, Mr. Comey”

  1. Regarding Comey, everyone fits the facts to their own narrative. Democrats who never met the man assume he made his pre-election statements with bad intentions. Trump supporters see him as covering his own butt now.

    I’ve worked with people who have worked with Comey and he comes out not just as capable but also as principled. My take is that he has nothing to redeem himself for. He had a politically-no-win decision to make and made a principled decision which happened to hurt our candidate. (It was not his job to protect her candidacy.) Now he’s being asked questions to which his honest answers may damage the President. That’s the behaviour we get from principled people in tricky times.
    Sometimes the most accurate understanding is the straight-forward one.

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