Four Takeaways From The Comey Interview [VIDEO]
Four Takeaways From The Comey Interview [VIDEO]
James Comey has given a lengthy interview to ABC in promotion of his new book, “A Higher Loyalty,” and it turns out that no one is a bigger fan of James Comey than James Comey.
That being said, here are a few takeaways from the Comey interview (the transcript can be read here).
1) Why is George Stephanopoulos, of all people, conducting this interview?
For those who have totally forgotten, Stephanopoulos, before becoming a fixture on ABC, was one of the 1990’s examples of the revolving door between government and media, as he served as Bill Clinton’s press secretary during Clinton’s first term as president. One could say that Stephanopoulos has a marked preference between the two candidates who ran for president in 2016, and his candidate didn’t cross the finish line a winner. From the outset, Stephanopoulos is busy establishing Comey’s work history… which stretches all the way back to Whitewater and Vince Foster’s death. Holy freaking cow, we are in the wayback machine here – and in a time period where Stephanopoulos, definitively, was NOT an objective bystander!
2) Comey likes to minimize or heighten his importance when it suits him.
Back to Whitewater. This is how Comey describes his role in that time period:
JAMES COMEY: I worked for five months as a staff lawyer on the banking committee’s special committee I think they called it on the Whitewater investigation. My role was to focus on the suicide of a White House official who was the deputy White House counsel–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Vince Foster?
JAMES COMEY: –named Vincent Foster, yeah. And whether any documents were taken from his office and mishandled. I was only there five months. Patrice and I had a personal tragedy. We had a healthy baby boy, Collin Comey. Was born after I’d been there five months and died unfortunately of a infection that was preventable. And so I never went back.
While the death of a child is definitely a tragedy that would change a person’s life, and explains why Comey didn’t complete his role in the investigation, his description in this case is definitely downplaying his role. No less a source than CNN calls Comey a “deputy special counsel” during his first interaction with the Clintons.
In fact, the email server probe marked the third time Comey has investigated Bill or Hillary Clinton.
Their first run-in came in the mid-1990s, when Comey joined the Senate Whitewater Committee as a deputy special counsel. There he dug into allegations that the Clintons took part in a fraud connected to a Arkansas real estate venture gone bust. No charges were ever brought against either Clinton, but the scandal would eventually lead to independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s probe that would result in the Lewinsky scandal.
“Staff lawyer”? Not so much!
But on the other hand, it was his presence alone that stopped the Bush administration dead in its tracks on NSA surveillance when he rushed to John Ashcroft’s side.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That same issue led to a now famous confrontation in the hospital room of the attorney general at the time, John Ashcroft. You sped to that room. Why?
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I did. I think it was the next day after the meeting with Vice President Cheney when I was on the way home, driving along Constitution Avenue. So on my left, I could see the Washington Monument. On the right, we’re coming up on the ellipse where you can see the White House. And the phone rang.
It was– the attorney general, my boss was John Ashcroft. He was in intensive care. Very, very seriously ill at George Washington Hospital. And his chief of staff was on the phone, telling me that although we had told the White House we can’t certify to this, I’m the acting attorney general, we can’t certify to its lawfulness. And so it has to stop.
He was calling to alert me that the president was sending two of his top people, the White House counsel and the chief of staff, to the intensive care unit at George Washington Hospital to see the attorney general. And so I hung up the phone, told the driver, “Ed, I have to get to George Washington Hospital immediately.”
And he didn’t need to hear more than the tone in my voice. And so he turned on the lights and siren and drove this armored vehicle like it was a NASCAR race to George Washington Hospital. We pulled up in front. I jumped out with my security detail. And I ran into the hospital and ran up the stairs. Didn’t wait for the elevator to get to that floor because I needed to be there to make sure a desperately ill man wasn’t asked to sign something when he wasn’t competent to sign it and I was the acting attorney general.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And in the end, he didn’t sign it?
JAMES COMEY: In the end, he was remarkable. I went into that hospital room and got there before they did. And I tried to orient Attorney General Ashcroft as to time and place. And he didn’t seem to be following me. He looked gravely ill, gray and lying in his bed, barely conscious. And I then sat down next to him as close to him as I am to you.
His wife stood on the other side of the bed the entire time and never let go of his arm. And I waited. And two of my staff members stood behind me. I didn’t know that one of them was taking notes the whole time. But in came the White House chief of staff and the– the– the White House counsel. And they were carrying an envelope. And they were going to try and get John Ashcroft to sign off on this program that we had said couldn’t continue because it didn’t have a lawful basis.
And they started speaking to him. And he shocked me by pushing himself up on his elbows and blasting them. And telling them he had been misled, he hadn’t understood what they were doing. They had deprived him of the legal advice he needed. And then exhausted, he fell back. And as he fell back, he said, “But that doesn’t matter because I’m not the attorney general.” And then he pointed at me and said, “There’s the attorney general.” And the two men didn’t acknowledge me. They just turned. One said, “Be well” to the attorney general, and then they walked out.
Call me crazy, but the real man of the moment there was Ashcroft, not Comey. And who made that confrontation famous?
But nooooo, this man is all about “A Higher Loyalty.”
I question the timing of Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, as a matter of the public interest, adding, as it does, to the circus at a critical time in the probe.
But I have no doubt about its brilliance when it comes to book sales.
Maybe he should have called it Higher Royalties?
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) April 15, 2018
Ooooooof, points to Axelrod for the burn.
3) Comey plays coy, but likes the spotlight, because he has a gigantic ego.
During the interview, Comey often talks about how he agonized over his decisions. And how he hopes he made the right ones, blah blah blah, buy my book. In truth, the man admits to having an ego that probably rivals those of the presidents he most often interacted with.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Right at the top of the book, y– you write that you’re aware that it could be seen as an exercise in vanity.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you worried about there?
JAMES COMEY: Well, that’s why I was never going to write a book. It always felt like an exercise in ego. And one of the things I’ve struggled with my whole life is my ego and– and a sense that I– I have to be careful not to fall in love with my own view of things. And so that battle with ego and my sense that memoirs are an exercise in ego convinced me I was never going to write a book.
And I’m sure friends of mine from college and law school are out there laughing right now, saying, “Ah-ha, he wrote a book.” I never wanted to write a memoir. And I hope folks will read the book ’cause my goal was to be useful. It’s not a memoir. Lots of stories about my life that aren’t in there, important stories. But I tried to pick stories that relate to leadership to try and explain, including mistakes I’ve made, how I think about ethical leadership and what I think it ought to be.
I’m not a perfect leader. There– I don’t think there are any perfect leaders. But I’ve learned from working with great people, from making a lot of mistakes, and from working for people who aren’t effective leaders, here’s what I think it should be. And so that’s what I’m trying to offer in the book.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: As you say, no one’s perfect. What’s James Comey’s rap on James Comey?
JAMES COMEY: How much time do you have? Yeah. My rap on myself is that– is that ego focus. That I– since I was a kid, I’ve had a sense of confidence. That I know I’m good at certain things. And there’s a danger that that will bleed over into pride, into not being open minded to the fact that I could be wrong and other people could have a better view of it.
And so I think that’s my primary worry about myself, is an overconfidence that can lead to that– that pride, that closed mindedness. I’ve tried to guardrail that my whole life. First of all, by marrying someone who will tell me anything at any time. But then also surrounding myself with people who will cut through that and say– “No, no, no, no. Slow down. Have you thought about this? Have you thought about that?”
Seriously, the man complains about Donald Trump, and yet…
A source of mine told me that Comey was, at times, showered with cult-like admiration inside the @FBI esp. at upper levels. This source said some FBI'ers even had mugs with Comey's photo on it that said "Comey's Homeys." #TrueStory pic.twitter.com/LAjGprwy2D
— Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) April 16, 2018
HuffPo: FBI employees wear 'Comey is my homey' T-shirts to bureau's Family Dayhttps://t.co/uXhJ9oLFm7
— Uri Blago (@UriBlago) April 16, 2018
James Comey is reportedly already mulling a Hollywood deal to secure the rights to his memoir. The big question? Who should play the guy President Trump famously fired, of course. https://t.co/s8zYClkLZh pic.twitter.com/Ow5agqb2QV
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) April 15, 2018
But remember, since he STRUGGLES WITH CONTROLLING HIS EGO, he should be seen as BETTER than Donald Trump. And buy his book.
.@Comey: “He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who's tracking conversations and knows what's going on. I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president.” https://t.co/itnTAb22eu #Comey pic.twitter.com/oqZE23S9yT
— ABC News (@ABC) April 16, 2018
4) Comey paints himself as the poor bearer of bad news when it comes to the Clinton emails.
A large part of the interview was devoted to the Hillary Clinton emails, and while Comey takes great pains to compliment former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, she unceremoniously threw him under the bus just hours before the interview aired.
Statement from former AG Loretta Lynch on Comey pic.twitter.com/w9lRIT0dwS
— Laura Jarrett (@LauraAJarrett) April 15, 2018
We had better invest in popcorn futures, given Lynch’s reaction and Andrew McCabe showing up to spoil Comey’s planned book tour.
But back to the Clinton emails. While Comey posits that he was in an impossible position between omission and commission, as it were:
JAMES COMEY: That’s a great question. I think the answer is because how could that possibly be true? How could there be a connection between Anthony Weiner’s laptop and Hillary Clinton’s emails? And so I think it was sort of a passing comment to me, and I’m sure I stored it away thinking, “Okay, well, that doesn’t make any sense, but I’m sure they’ll tell me if it does.” And they did. They c–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s l– it’s led your critics to say that the FBI, for several weeks, sat on the knowledge that they had several thousand Hillary Clinton emails.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, more than several thousand, hundreds–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hundreds of thousands.
JAMES COMEY: –of thousands on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. And I don’t know the answer to that criticism. I don’t know whether the Bureau team could have moved faster to– to bring it to me for a decision. All I know is that they did bring it to me on the morning of October 27th. And so, there’s an inspector general investigation going on– about our work on that investigation. I’m sure they’ll say, which I think is great. But I don’t know the answer to that now–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So th– and– and– and– and to be clear, between that first mention and October 27th, you didn’t hear anything about Hillary Clinton’s–
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I don’t–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: –emails?
JAMES COMEY: –remember hearing anything else about it until I walked into a conference room early in the morning on October 27th. So we’re now less than two weeks from the election. The deputy director emailed me at about 5:30 in the morning and said, “The midyear team,” which was the code name for the Clinton email investigation, “needs to meet with you.”
And it’s unusual to email me at 5:30 in the morning. And so I m– arranged to meet with the team. And I walked in with a stupid smile on my face, I think, and said, “The band is back together.” ‘Cause they were sitting in the same seats they’d sat in so many times.
And I didn’t smile again for a long time like that– after that. And what they told me was, “We have found, for reasons we can’t explain, hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. And something much more important than that. Thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s Blackberry domain.”
She used a Blackberry for the first three months or so of her tenure as secretary of State before setting up the personal server in the basement. And the reason that matters so much is, if there was gonna be a smoking gun, where Hillary Clinton was told, “Don’t do this,” or, “This is improper,” it’s highly likely to be at the beginning.
And we never found those emails. And so now they’re telling me, “For reasons we can’t explain, thousands of those Blackberry emails are on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.” And so I said, “Okay. We gotta go get ‘em. How fast can you review these?” And the answer was, “We can’t possibly finish before the election because we have to read tens of thousands of emails.
We can’t ask recruits to come in and review them because you have to know the context.” And so I’m sitting there on the morning of October 27th, they’re telling me there’s material that may change the conclusion in this case. We all agree, including the Department of Justice, we’ve gotta get a search warrant to go get these.
And then the question for me now is, “So what do we do now?” Remember the– the standard is, the norm is, “If you can avoid it, you take no action that might have an impact on an election.” And I’m sitting there, on the morning of October 27th, and I can’t see a door that’s labeled, “No action here.” I can only see two doors, and they’re both actions. One says, “Speak,” the other says, “Conceal”–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no. You– you c– you could you f– try to find out first whether or not they were indeed relevant. Whether they– there was evidence there of a crime.
JAMES COMEY: Well, maybe. And maybe another director might have done that. My view is that would be a potentially deeply irresponsible and dangerous thing to do, to gamble– remember, the team is telling you, “We cannot evaluate this material before the election.”
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But we don’t know what’s in it?
JAMES COMEY: Well, we know there are hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails there, including Blackberry emails. And so there is reason to believe that this is evidence in our case, and may change the result. And so maybe what you do is gamble and say, “I’ll be quiet about it,” but that comes back to my doors.
That’s an affirmative act of concealment, right? Because I’ve told Congress and the American people– the whole point of July 5th was transparency. “Look, American people, what we’ve done. We did it carefully, we did it well. There’s no there there.
You can take that to the bank. You can rely on the FBI. We’re done. Everybody can get on with their lives.” It’s October 27th, that’s not true anymore, in potentially a huge way. So you could speak about it, or you could not speak about it. But the not speaking about it is an action.
Notice how Stephanopoulos is trying to find a loophole here for Hillary? “Objective interviewer” at work here, everyone step back!
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But there’s no– there’s– there’s no precedent for– putting out information like this at the end of a campaign?
JAMES COMEY: Oh, I’ve never heard of it before. I– I– as I say in the book, I– I think I did it the way that it should have been done. I’m– I’m not certain of that. Other people might have had a different view. I pray to God no future FBI director ever has to find out.
I– I hope so much this is just a 500-year flood we never see again. We have the FBI’s criminally investigating one of the two candidates for president of the United States during the campaign. And– and just over a week before the election, we find on Anthony Weiner’s laptop– and by the way, I– I know this is obvious, but I didn’t put the emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
Right? I would so much rather Anthony Weiner had never had a laptop. I’d rather never have heard about this situation. But a week or so before the election, we find material on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that may change the result, including the missing Blackberry emails.
Look, I finally found something I can wholeheartedly agree with James Comey about. Anthony Weiner should never have had access to a laptop connected to the internet. The world would have been a much better place. But, here we are. Comey’s initial explanation on why the FBI didn’t pursue criminal charges against Hillary earlier was all tied up in an explanation that the “World’s Smartest Woman” was too stupid to understand how a computer or email or top secret clearance worked, and that they couldn’t prove that she’d been told NOT to set up her own server. Which is an entirely dumb explanation, but then the Weiner laptop just blew the whole situation up. And yet, everyone was still assuming that Hillary Clinton would win the election, right until she didn’t. Comey then plays dumb on whether his decision made any difference.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You said you hoped it didn’t change the result, but what does your gut tell you?
JAMES COMEY: I really don’t know. I’ve read a fair amount, ’cause– ’cause I’m– again, I hope very much. I’d love to have a group of academics establish it had absolutely no impact on the election. I’ve read people argue that it had. I don’t know.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Nate Silver has a pretty persuasive– analysis that suggests it made a huge difference.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I– again, I don’t know the answer. And in a way, I care about the answer, and in a way it doesn’t matter at all.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And– just take us inside your house at that point. You– you’ve written about this. Your wife, Patrice, Hillary Clinton supporter.
JAMES COMEY: Oh yeah. And– and the– the– I didn’t take a poll among all the kids, but I’m pretty sure that at least my four daughters, probably all five of my kids, wanted Hillary Clinton to be the first woman president. I know my amazing spouse did. My — my wife and girls marched in the women’s march the day after President Trump’s inauguration.
There was a lotta passion in this house for Hillary Clinton. And I– I get that. But again, I hope it illustrates to people that I really wasn’t making decisions based on political fortunes.
But now, Comey has to think about making his own fortune.
What’s next for James @Comey:
“I'm gonna teach. I'm gonna travel around and speak about leadership. I want to offer them a vision of here's what it should look like. Values matter. This president does not reflect the values of this country.” https://t.co/nzGYlTEmON #Comey pic.twitter.com/PdtDWHMKbQ
— ABC News (@ABC) April 16, 2018
When you destroyed Hillary Clinton's campaign and then retire off of selling your book to her supporters pic.twitter.com/eKakWqQa52
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) April 15, 2018
I’m sure there is a ton more stuff that is going to be dug out of the Comey interview, and the book, over the coming days. But this entire interview shows me that what led to Comey’s firing was the clash of “deep state” versus “business state,” with two gigantic egos battling it out. Also, Comey is extremely long-winded. I can’t imagine how he goes on and on and on in his book. If you make the effort to read it, I applaud you. And James Comey thanks you.