Former FBI director James Comey has written a memoir entitled A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. He’s currently making media appearances to promote his book. Maybe you’ve heard something about it?
I kid, of course. Unless you’ve checked yourself into a monastery, which doesn’t seem a bad idea these days, you’ve been unable to avoid the massive publicity blitz in which Comey has appeared or will be appearing on seemingly every television show on the air. He’ll probably wind up discussing the book with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. The gamut so far includes the news program 20/20, the comedy talk show The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and, well, whatever The View is.
It’s a disconcerting spectacle. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, J. Edgar Hoover chatting it up with Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg. It almost makes you nostalgic for the days when the FBI was led by a despotic puppet master who pulled presidents’ strings. You can bet that if Hoover were still in charge he’d be holding onto that alleged “pee tape” and using it as leverage. You wouldn’t hear a peep from Donald Trump, let alone a tweet.
Comey’s sit-down with George Stephanopoulos was the first to air. Not surprisingly, the event was hyped in the sort of portentous, dramatic manner usually reserved for interviews with serial killers and transgender celebrities. The broadcast attracted plenty of eyeballs, but less than half the viewership of the 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels. The public, it seems, is less interested in possible obstruction of justice than naughty spanking.
Which is why Stephanopoulos didn’t waste time getting into salacious matters. “How graphic did you get?” he asked Comey, referring to his briefing of President Trump about the infamous details in the Steele dossier. “I did not get into the business of people peeing on each other,” Comey replied, obviously not minding getting into the details now. As if to hammer home the point, he said, “I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013.” He coyly added, “It’s possible, but I don’t know.” It’s no wonder ABC didn’t air the show until 10 p.m. It’s hard for parents to encourage their children to keep up with current events when letters to Penthouse are more wholesome.
“How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the president to a mob boss?” asked Stephanopoulos, who must be happy to be alive at this moment in history. Comey generously allowed that he wasn’t accusing Trump of “breaking legs or shaking down shopkeepers,” which is a pretty low bar to set. It’s a silly notion, in any case. Trump must have people who do that for him.
Comey seemed most human when he described his feelings during his first encounter with Trump at the White House after the inauguration. It was at a group event and Comey was extremely nervous. Who hasn’t experienced the feeling of not wanting to be called on by a boss? He literally tried to blend into the background, standing in front of a blue curtain that matched the color of his suit. But it’s hard to hide when you’re the tallest elephant in the room. The president called out his name and beckoned him over. “I was determined that there was not going to be a hug,” Comey recalled, sounding like someone at the end of a bad Tinder date.
The romantic subtext continued as Comey recounted his story of being invited to dine at the White House. “I assumed it was going to be a group dinner,” he said, only to discover that he and Trump were to be dining alone. Awkward! And of course, the conversation consisted entirely of Trump talking about Trump. “It was him talking the entire time,” Comey complained, as women throughout the country nodded in understanding.
His final encounter with Trump took place on Valentine’s Day (are you sensing a pattern here?). It was at a daily intelligence briefing that also included Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence, among others. As the meeting concluded, Trump asked everyone else to leave so he could be alone with Comey, who by this point was probably carrying mace. It was then that the president famously told him, “I hope you can let it go,” referring to the FBI’s investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Stephanopoulos took the cue. “Was President Trump obstructing justice?” he asked. “Possibly,” Comey hedged. It looks like we’ll have to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to find out for sure.
Everyone has been fired from a job at some point in their life. But few have been let go as ignominiously as Comey, who found out by glancing at a television news headline while giving a speech in California. He immediately headed home on the FBI jet, nursing his sorrow by drinking red wine from a paper coffee cup. Again, everybody can relate, although it’s too bad he didn’t also have a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on board.
When asked if the Russians have something on Trump, Comey said, “It’s possible.” The phrase, seemingly so innocuous, felt intensely damning. But not as damning as his response to Stephanopoulos‘ follow-up question: “Is Donald Trump unfit to be president?”
“Yes,” Comey answered, in an historic moment. “I think he’s morally unfit to be president.” He added, “This president does not reflect the values of this country.” It sounded good, except, if you believe the polls, Trump does reflect the values of somewhere around 40 percent of its citizens.
Two nights later, Comey spoke to Colbert in a conversation that, as typical for the talk show host, blended seriousness and humor in entertaining fashion. After welcoming the audience with a jaunty “Happy Comey Day!,” Colbert greeted his guest by offering him, what else, pinot noir in a paper cup.
Colbert covered much of the same ground as Stephanopoulos, including Comey’s comparison of Trump’s presidency to the Cosa Nostra. “Were you surprised you got whacked?” he asked. “‘Cause that’s what they do. I don’t know if you’ve dealt with mob bosses before, but they don’t like to be investigated.”
Colbert asked about Trump’s tweets calling Comey “Slippery Jim” and “a slimeball,” among many other things. Once again, the former head of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency sounded like he was recovering from a bad relationship. “He’s tweeted at me 50 times,” Comey complained. “I’ve been gone for a year. I’m like the break-up he can’t get over. I’m out there living my best life, and he wakes up in the morning and tweets at me.” Forget the special counsel. What this country needs is a national couples therapist.
Colbert mentioned that he had actually stayed in the infamous Moscow hotel room where Trump had his alleged encounter with Russian prostitutes. He asked Comey if he wanted to know any details about it. Ever the investigator, Comey inquired, “Is it big enough for a germaphobe to be a safe distance from the activity?”
“You could definitely be out of what we call at SeaWorld the ‘splash zone,'” Colbert joked.
Comey defended his decision to announce the reopening of the Hillary Clinton investigation just 11 days before the election. He wasn’t terribly persuasive in his arguments, but he at least had the grace to say, “People can disagree about this.” The statement immediately set him apart from Trump, for whom disagreement is akin to treason.
Comey did offer solace for those desperately hoping that Trump doesn’t fire Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “I think you would need to fire everyone in the Justice Department and the FBI to stop that investigation,” he told Colbert. It made you pray that Trump wasn’t watching and getting any ideas.
Comey’s appearance on The View was preceded by an announcer breathlessly asking, “Can he take the heat at the Hot Topics table?” The question seemed silly, since throughout his career Comey has tussled with such hardened criminals as John Gotti and Martha Stewart.
Goldberg started things off by asking, “What prompted the book?” Comey responded with high-minded bromides including “sharing lessons” and “making good out of bad.” If he really wanted to live up to his book’s subtitle, he would have told the truth: He wrote it for revenge. And lots and lots of money.
The show’s resident conservative, Meghan McCain, told Comey, “I want to believe you’re not a political person” but said she found it hard because of his lavish praise of former President Barack Obama in his book. She also asked, “Why bring up politics now?” referring to Comey having declared that he was no longer a Republican. “I brought it up because I was asked about it,” Comey replied, quite reasonably.
During the live broadcast, Sunny Hostin informed Comey that 11 House Republicans had just sent a letter demanding a criminal investigation of not only him but also Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. It’s no wonder that Congress can barely get any legislation passed. They’re too busy conducting investigations. Comey didn’t seem upset by the news. “I’m doing a lot of shrugging today,” he said, shrugging. “I haven’t read it and don’t know what to make of it. The accusations are not true. I guess I should have said that first.”
Paula Faris pressed Comey on an aspect of his book for which he’s taken a lot of heat, namely his catty descriptions of Trump’s hair, skin color and hands, among other physical attributes.”If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t put that paragraph in,” Comey sheepishly answered, subtly making the point that the passage was hardly a major portion of his 277-page book.
“I wasn’t making fun of his hands,” he added. “I said they seemed normal-sized to me.” Comey left out that he wrote that Trump’s hands were smaller than his. And we all know what that means.
The show ended with a lighting-round segment in which Comey was asked to provide endings to various sentences, including “After spending an hour with us on The View, you feel…”
“Like my wife is going to be happy,” Comey replied, to big laughs and applause. It’s clear that he missed his true calling. He was good at law enforcement, sure. But he’s even better at sucking up to talk show hosts.