On April 15th, 2018, ABC aired part of a five hour interview with James Comey agreed to promote his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. The entire unedited content of this interview is thankfully readily available here in text. I don’t think it’s necessary to read the entire transcript. The aired TV segment certainly hits the most important points and represents Comey’s words honestly.
My beef is with Comey. Specifically, with how James Comey the person has been portrayed even by liberal critical analysts.
Very broadly, all of the public statements made by Comey, specifically in this interview and his book, can be broken down into three categories.
- Personal attacks on Trump himself. This is much more so in the book than in the interview which contains very little of this. This ranges from everything to Trump’s famously small hands to his general poor temperament.
- Recollection of Trump’s actions between when Trump became president and when Trump fired James Comey.
These first two categories are largely unimportant in the context of this discussion. It’s not that Trump is dishonorable or that Trump is mentally unstable are not important in general, it’s that these things are already known and easily verifiable with or without Comey’s input. If even 1/8th of the scandalous things said in the popular media about Trump are true, than he is completely unfit to hold any job in government, let alone president of the united states. The truthfulness of any of Comey’s statements in these two categories are only important in the context of establishing him as a reliable and truthworthy individual. The third category is as follows:
3) Comey’s decision to inform Congress (which was then almost immediately leaked to the public) that he had reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails because of content found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop in an unrelated case, which was then closed almost immediately after the election because it was found to be more or less completely unrelated.
This is Comey’s singular importance to politics and pop culture at large. This is why his name will not be forgotten for hundreds of years after he is dead. It’s why his book is going to make millions and millions of dollars. It’s why ABC spent five hours interviewing him.
He is important to listen to because this decision was made entirely by his own accord. We don’t have the technology to read minds, so only Comey’s claims about his own internal logic are evidence for why he made that decision.
First, there are a few charitable interpretations of his decision that were formed when it happened that can be dismissed outright because they are debunked by Comey, ABC and other journalistic outlets from the onset.
- He made this decision because he was strictly following FBI guidelines.
This is wrong. The interview mentions that FBI policy is to not disclose anything found when investigating an election 30 days or less before election day. Comey disclosed his temporary reopening of the Hillary Clinton investigation 10 days before election day.
- James Comey did not actually inform the public of this. He informed Congress, who then leaked this information to the public.
James Comey at no point makes this defense on his own behalf. He has largely given up on claiming a certain idealistic naivette in believing U.S congressmen wouldn’t leak classified information for political gain. He knew it was more likely than not that informing Congress about his decision (against FBI’s official protocol) would more than likely become public knowledge before Election Day.
- His decision had no impact on the election.
It is not possible to actually prove Comey’s decision flipped the election, but Comey does not claim at any point in the five hour interview that it did not. He even says during the interview that if he had the knowledge of the outcome of his decisions, that he would do them again. FiveThirtyEight’s polling expert Nate Silver even says on their politics podcast that “There are three people who had the most influence on the election. Trump and Clinton are 1a and 1b in no particular order, and James Comey is three.”
So while it is impossible to definitively prove Comey’s impact on the election, the assumption by most experts (including Comey himself) is that it impacted the election.
This is Comey’s first question directly answering the reasoning for his decision.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And– and one of the things you write that was influencing the president and his administration was the assumption that Hillary Clinton would win.
JAMES COMEY: I think so. In fact, I heard the president say, as– as I recount in the book, “Putin backed the wrong horse.” That is, all of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance.
As the aforementioned FiveThirtyEight podcast points out, their forecast had Donald Trump at about a 20% chance to win the election before the Comey leak. As the podcast points out “A one in five or a one in six chance is certainly a contingency America’s most important investigator should be prepared for.”
It is also directly contradictory to many of his previous statements, and even to his very general premise that his decisions were not politically motivated. This statement is ridiculous and proves that Comey was in fact thinking politically when he made the decision to inform Congress (and by proxy, probably inform the public) against the FBI’s official guidelines about his reinvestigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
And throughout it all, he uses the words Americans so desperately want to hear. “Honor, Leadership, Truth, Loyatly, Patriotic, America, Apolitical,” all these allegedly bipartisan values that are the same G-spot of nationalism that were used by George W. Bush’s administration in the previous decade to convince America it needed to invade Iraq.
Merely typing in the words “James Comey interview” into google reveals several more interviews he has conducted promoting his book since the ABC interview. He seems to do at least one a day. It’s also very easy to see him constantly contradict himself when looking at the whole picture. He contradicted himself about Russia within a 24 hour period as recently as a few hours before writing this piece.
All of these criticisms of what Comey said are not wholly unique to me. Many of them I simply read about in my research of the topic. But there is always a disclaimer, even among the most liberal podcasts and writers, about how “Comey’s a high character guy but…”
This is how both the ABC televised interview and its original unedited transcript begin.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Simple start. Why did you write this book?
JAMES COMEY: I r– I was never going to write a book. But I decided I had to write this one to try and be useful. That was my goal after I was fired, to be useful. And it occurred to me maybe I can be useful by offering a view to people, especially to young people, of what leadership should look like and how it should be centered on values. And so–
I really hope we don’t take leadership classes from James Comey. There is very little difference between James Comey and the Washington politicians he claims to be on the moral high ground to in comparison.
He’s less polished than a Washington politician, and therefor more authentic. In the age of hyper-authenticity, this is mistaken for honesty. His incidental uncalculated aesthetic presentation does what Paul Ryan wishes he could do. It does what Trump’s uncalculated brashness did in the eyes of Trump’s original supporters. It is a surface level aesthetic that tricks its audience into believing its content without analyzing the actual words that are being said.
Barack Obama said Comey is a man of integrity. The media has more or less unanimously said the same. We don’t trust politicians and journalists, but it is their statements that have created a near unanimous opinion of Comey as a flawed but ultimately noble paragon of bipartisan patriotic virtue. Comey may have been a great FBI director, or he might have been a mediocre FBI director who rose all the way to the top by spitting the same empty platitudes to Republican and Democratic presidents and FBI officials alike. There’s no way for the average citizen to know. We can only judge James Comey by what he has said and done since November 8th, 2016.
If you view James Comey’s actions not through the prism of the person we were told he was, but simply the actions of a man you know nothing about, then it becomes increasingly clear that they are the actions of a politically motivated coward whose primary objective is to shape the narrative around his actions for his own legacy. He is a more believable Mitch McConnell.
There’s another reason the myth of James Comey exists.
Republicans, Democrats, journalists and Washington pundits more than anything else want to believe in the #NeverTrump Republican. They forever search for this unicorn, a mythical creature who is a Republican because of his or her moral values but is strong enough in them to resist the pull of Donald Trump. They have forever believed that Democrat and Republican are two deeply flawed institutions that must balance each other out to maintain order and dignity. For a long time this was true, but something changed, and they refuse to admit it out of fear of partisanship accusations.
The #NeverTrump Republican is statistically non-existant. Since it’s all time-low during the original #Women’sMarch, Trump’s approval rating has consistently trended upward. Some polls conducted in February and March of this year had it as high as 49%. Every day, more Republicans have come to accept Trump as the leader of their party, and have chosen Trumpism over independent thinking of god-forbid a Democrat. The United States is now a country with two parties, one (Democrat) that is deeply flawed, and the other (Republican) that is completely devoid of any positive attributes that could be argued by anyone living in factual, verifiable reality.
Comey is nothing more but false wish-fulfillment by an America that refuses to accept reality at a risk of partisan labeling, and America will only fully recover from Trumpism when “Trump” becomes synonymous with “Hitler,” and when mere association to the name “Trump” becomes just as toxic as “Hitler” is in the twenty first century.