Comey Book Is A Shot Across Trump’s Bow
Hang on, the ride on the Trump Train is about to get a lot bumpier.
It’s been yet another rough week for the Trump Administration. It started out with the office and home of Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen being raided by Federal authorities executing a search warrant that appears to have been broad-ranging, covering everything from the payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to allegations regarding other incidents in which Cohen may have been used as a conduit to purchase the silence of women that the President had an affair with or has been accused of sexually harassing. While Trump was freaking out over that event, he’s been forced to deal with everything from formulating a response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, the consequences of his irresponsible rhetoric on international trade, and Paul Ryan’s decision to step aside as Speaker of the House at the end of the year. All of this has been marked, without much surprise, by a President who has been increasingly outspoken both on Twitter and in press appearances and who appears to become more and more unhinged as the days go by.
Now, as the week comes to a close, things are only seeming to get worse as former F.B.I. Director James Comey begins to take a shot across the President’s bow with the release of his new book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, which is set to be released next Tuesday:
WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump asked Director James B. Comey of the F.B.I. to investigate and knock down a lurid but unverified report that placed Mr. Trump years earlier in a Moscow hotel suite with prostitutes, explaining to Mr. Comey that the fantastic story was untrue and was painful and distressing to his wife, Melania Trump.
Mr. Comey describes two January 2017 conversations between himself and Mr. Trump in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” Mr. Comey’s new memoir, which is set to be released Tuesday. The New York Times acquired a copy of the book before its release, and accounts of the exchange appeared in reports by several other news organizations on Thursday evening.
By Mr. Comey’s accounts, Mr. Trump, then the president-elect, disputed the so-called Steele dossier, a document compiled by a former British intelligence officer that detailed an allegation in which Mr. Trump watched prostitutes urinate on each other. Mr. Comey writes that Mr. Trump insisted that “there’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me” in part because he is a self-professed germophobe. “No way.”
Four months later, Mr. Trump abruptly fired Mr. Comey, setting in motion a cascade of political and legal consequences that led directly to the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump have been engaged in a verbal war with each other, often on Twitter, since then.
The 304-page memoir by Mr. Comey is the only firsthand, insider account to emerge so far by a former Trump official describing what it was like to work in the chaotic early days of the administration. In it, Mr. Comey, a veteran law enforcement agent, writes unsparingly about Mr. Trump, calling him a tempestuous president whose connection to honesty was tenuous at best.
“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,” Mr. Comey writes in the book, saying his service to Mr. Trump recalled for him the days when he investigated the mob in New York. “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
With the book’s release set for next week, Mr. Comey is planning a media blitz, beginning with an intensely hyped interview with ABC News that is set to air Sunday night. Republican allies of Mr. Trump’s have already set in motion a counteroffensive, creating a “Lyin’ Comey” website aimed at discrediting the former F.B.I. chief.
Mr. Comey’s book does not include dramatic new revelations about the Russia investigation itself, which is continuing. But Mr. Comey does not pull punches as he provides rigorous detail — pulled from his contemporaneous notes — about his charged interactions with Mr. Trump during the transition and in the White House.
Laced with excruciating detail, Mr. Comey — who is 6 feet 8 inches tall — describes meeting Mr. Trump for the first time, noting that the soon-to-be-president, at 6 feet 3 inches tall, appeared shorter than he had assumed.
“His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles,” Mr. Comey writes of his impressions during that first in-person session. He said Mr. Trump had “impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his.”
The book also serves as a platform for Mr. Comey to once again defend his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the decisions that for a time made him one of the most despised figures among political liberals and other supporters of Mrs. Clinton.
However, Mr. Comey acknowledges that he thought Mrs. Clinton would win the presidency and said it is “entirely possible” that he decided to reveal that the email investigation had started up again 11 days before the election because he was primarily concerned that if he concealed the renewed investigation, it would make her an “illegitimate president.”
Would he have made a different decision if Mr. Trump had been ahead in the polls? “I don’t know,” Mr. Comey concedes.
Mr. Comey reveals that after he was fired, he received what he calls “an emotional call” from John F. Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security and would go on to become Mr. Trump’s second chief of staff.
During the call, Mr. Kelly said he was “sick” about the firing and intended to quit in protest, Mr. Comey writes, adding: “I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.”
Mr. Comey has already told some of the stories about Mr. Trump that he writes about in the book, including descriptions of a January 2017 dinner in which the former F.B.I. director says the president sought to extract a loyalty pledge from him.
He describes in detail the moment when he says Mr. Trump raised the issue of Michael T. Flynn, the onetime national security adviser who had been fired for lying. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Comey.
“It was very concerning,” Mr. Comey writes.
But in the book, Mr. Comey goes much further than he has before in offering his assessment of the president’s character. Describing one exchange with Mr. Trump and Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff, Mr. Comey comments on the president’s assertions of what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true.”
“I could see how easily everyone in the room could become a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions,” Mr. Comey writes about the president. He says he watched Mr. Trump build “a cocoon of alternative reality” around the people in the room.
More from The Washington Post:
The nation’s intelligence chiefs had just finished briefing Donald Trump on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election when FBI Director James B. Comey stayed behind to discuss some especially sensitive material: a “widely circulated” intelligence dossier containing unconfirmed allegations that Russians had filmed Trump interacting with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013.
The president-elect quickly interrupted the FBI director. According to Comey’s account in a new memoir, Trump “strongly denied the allegations, asking — rhetorically, I assumed — whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations.”
The January 2017 conversation at Trump Tower in Manhattan “teetered toward disaster” — until “I pulled the tool from my bag: ‘We are not investigating you, sir.’ That seemed to quiet him,” Comey writes.
Trump did not stay quiet for long. Comey describes Trump as having been obsessed with the portion dealing with prostitutes in the infamous dossier compiled by British former intelligence officer Christopher Steele, raising it at least four times with the FBI director. The document claimed that Trump had watched the prostitutes urinate on themselves in the same Moscow suite that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama had stayed in “as a way of soiling the bed,” Comey writes.
Comey writes that Trump asked him to have the FBI investigate the allegations to prove they were not true, and offered varying explanations to convince him why. “I’m a germaphobe,” Trump told him in a follow-up call on Jan. 11, 2017, according to Comey’s account. “There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way.” Later, the president asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” because it was so painful for first lady Melania Trump.
Then, on May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey, leading to the Justice Department special counsel’s Russia investigation.
In his memoir, Comey paints a devastating portrait of a president who built “a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us.” Comey describes Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader, devoid of human emotion and driven by personal ego.
Comey narrates in vivid detail, based on his contemporaneous notes, instances in which Trump violated the norms protecting the FBI’s independence in attempts to coerce Comey into being loyal to him — such as during a one-on-one dinner in the White House residence.
Interacting with Trump, Comey writes, gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
The result, in Comey’s telling, is “the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.”
“What is happening now is not normal,” he writes. “It is not fake news. It is not okay.”
Not surprisingly, Comey’s reemergence on the scene just about eleven months after being fired by President Trump is not sitting well with the President, or with the Republicans who are slavishly supporting him. This morning, for example, President Trump lashed out at Comey on Twitter, and the Republican National Committee is falling in line behind him with a campaign centered around a party-established website called “Lyin’ Comey” that alleges to catalog the lies that Comey has told over the years as well as the attacks that were made against him by Democrats during the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and handling of classified information as well as the letter he wrote to Congress advising that he had reopened the investigation just eleven days prior to the election. Despite all these attacks, which are being slavishly repeated by the usual suspects on Fox News Channel and within conservative media and the conservative blogosphere, Comey’s memoir is receiving largely positive reviews, most especially from The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani. While this conservative pushback will no doubt work among the true believers, it’s clearly not going to stop Comey from speaking, or the press from covering what he has to say.
Here are Trump’s morning tweets in response to the Comey rollout:
James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH. He is a weak and…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2018
….untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst “botch jobs” of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2018
Much of the current attention is being focused on the more salacious aspects of Comey’s book, such as Trump’s apparent obsession with the allegations of bizarre sexual preferences contained in the dossier prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. That dossier has played a limited role in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election, potential collusion between the Trump campaign and people connected to the Russian government, and the host of other apparent legal and ethical violations that people within Donald Trump’s orbit have committed over the years. What has received the most attention in some circles, though, are the allegations that Trump has been involved in certain sexual practices with prostitutes that are, to say the least, unusual. This is also apparently the portion of the dossier that the President has become most obsessed with, and which has been among the primary reasons for his year-long efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, although a large part of that is also motivated by the fact that he clearly believes that acknowledging the reality of Russian interference in the election would undermine the legitimacy of his own Presidency. In the process, of course, all he’s really done is further undercut that legitimacy, and that’s only likely to accelerate in the future.