How we, as a country, ever reached a point where we would have to choose between the credibility of a man who was a former U.S. Attorney, U.S. Deputy Attorney General, and Director of the FBI, and the credibility of a sitting U.S. president marks a sad chapter in American history.
At the end of the last part of this series, I’m going to ask readers a question that I hope they will seriously consider.
Last week, I sat down and watched many of the media interviews of former FBI Director James Comey regarding the release of his book, Higher Loyalty, Truth, Lies and Leadership. They included ABC News, USA Today, the unedited version of Late Night with Stephen Colbert, PBS News Hour, Fox News with Bret Baier as well as a CNN Town Hall with William and Mary college students.
While the country is clearly divided into two camps – those who believe Comey and those who side with President Trump – I wanted to watch as many interviews as I could to get a sense of who Comey is, how he addresses the issues in different interviews and what his decision-making process was like. Throughout all the interviews, Comey comes off clear, calm, and reflective. In many questions, he offered “yes” or “no” answers, and plainly pointed out when he wasn’t sure of an answer or just didn’t know. I watched all of this before carefully reading his book, which I’ll discuss later this week.
Since much of the controversy surrounding Comey has to do with his decision-making regarding the Clinton email investigation, the former director was consistent in all his interviews in pointing out that he was wrestling with a deeply ethical decision, one not lightly or easily made. It was this decision that not only caused him to come under intense criticism from Democrats, but purportedly formed the basis for Comey’s firing by President Trump.
This came, however, before the president’s interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt, in which Trump stated, “I was going to fire him, anyway. 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.”
The week following Comey’s firing, Trump invited Russia’s top two officials in the U.S. into the Oval Office and told them, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump’s reasoning has evolved further. In an interview with former New York City Mayor and current Trump team lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani revealed that “He fired Comey because Comey would not — among other things — say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation.”
Throughout the weekend, both Trump and Giuliani struggled at aligning their statements regarding the Stormy Daniels matter only to raise more questions about what the real truth is — as if we’re ever going to know.
And this is just one distinction between listening to Trump and Comey; while Trump and his allies equivocate, Comey remains consistent.
One point that Comey makes throughout many of his Q&A exchanges is that ethical decision-making requires external reference points such as religion or history. It calls for asking the opinions of others before coming to a decision based on as many facts as possible.
The ABC/George Stephanopoulos interview was the first. Two points stood out to me.
Regarding Trump’s fitness to be president –
“I think he’s morally unfit to be president.
“A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”
On why Comey never challenged Trump when he asked for loyalty –
“…given what I know now, maybe it would’ve been better to give a more explicit– say, ‘Sir, I can’t promise you loyalty.’ ”
“My loyalty’s supposed to be to the American people and to the institution. But more than that, it grows out of a lifetime of my trying to be a better leader and figure out what matters in a leader and realizing from a whole lot better leaders than I, that there must be a loyalty to something above the urgent, above the political, above the popular. We have to think, ‘What are the values that matter in the institution I’m involved with and in the country that I care a lot about?’ ”
Fox News’ Bret Baeir, while respectful, grilled Comey with rapid fire questions centering around apparent inconsistencies in Comey’s previous public statements. However, it was a question sent in by a former FBI agent, that caught my attention in this exchange:
BAIER: We asked people to tweet in or write in. We have one from Jay Harper Wilson. “I am a retired FBI agent, serving almost 25 years, retired in 1995 as a Senior Executive Special Agent. Please ask, Thursday, why a grand jury was not used in the Hilary Clinton investigation, as would be normally, and why was it run out of HQ, the book did not address?”
COMEY: Yea, this second one, I’ll take first. It was run out of HQ because it was a case of intense interests outside to the media and so, to keep it tight, it was worked in the counterintelligence division at headquarters.
You can reasonably disagree with that if your [an] FBI person. You could have put it in Washington Field Office, could have put it in New York but the decision that Counter Intelligence made was it’ll be kept tighter and leak proof which it was in the Counter Intelligence Division.
BAIER: And no Grand Jury?
COMEY: I’m not allowed to comment on the way in which the Grand Jury was used. I can say this though, she was not interviewed in front of a Grand Jury which is another judgment call that prosecutors and investigators make all the time.
Comey is spot on with regards to commenting on the use of a Grand Jury. I remember asking an archivist at the National Archives to look at a specific file in independent counsel Ken Starr’s files. His response was that it was sealed. “Does that mean,” I asked, “we are talking about Grand Jury information?” He wasn’t permitted to tell me.
One key exchange had to do with the memo Comey sent to a law professor to ostensibly “leak” to the media.
BAIER: So, did you leak other things through Mr. Richman?
COMEY: … I don’t consider what I did with Mr. Richman a leak. I told him about an unclassified conversation with the president.
BAIER: OK, but the FBI protocol —
COMEY: I gave — let me answer your question — let me answer your question. I gave him –I gave him nothing else, ever —
BAIER: The FBI protocol says your own employment agreement with the FBI prohibits, quote, “The unauthorized disclosure of any information or material from or related to FBI files, or any information acquired by virtue of my official employment without prior written permission from the FBI.” Did you have written permission?
COMEY: No, and I didn’t consider it part of an FBI file…
BAIER: You wrote it as an FBI director. It was a work product.
COMEY: No, it was not. It was my personal aide de memoire [aid to memory].
BAIER: You were talking to the president?
COMEY: Sure. I created two copies of it, one to keep in my personal safe at home and I left another one with the FBI so the bureau could always have access to it. But I always thought of it as mine, like a diary.
Baier plays a tape of Trump’s comments regarding Comey, calling him a “leaker and a liar,” then asks Comey to comment.
COMEY: He’s just wrong, facts really do matter which is why I’m on this show to answer your questions. That memo was unclassified then, it’s still unclassified. It’s in my book. The FBI cleared that book before it could be published. That’s a false statement.
BAIER: What about not telling Congress that he was an agent for you, or had worked at the FBI or somehow is some employee that — you 35,000 FBI employees?
COMEY: But none of that was true at the — I mean, I described [Richman] in my [book], I hope, in a good way, as a good friend. There might be a bias in my connection to the guy. He had left his FBI job months earlier. And so, there’s lots of other connections. I know him because we were prosecutors together. He didn’t mention that. I taught with him at Columbia, he didn’t mention that. I think I offered the Congress a fair picture of my connection to the guy.
Baier’s questions came fast and furious. Throughout it all, Comey remained composed, and straight-forward in his responses. I saw no hint that he was trying to deceive, mislead or change the subject.
Tuesday: More on the Comey interviews.