How Trump contrived a public display that Comey and the FBI were under his control

 

Benjamin Wittes writes: Comey described at least two incidents which he regarded as efforts on the part of the President personally to compromise him or implicate him with either shows of closeness or actual chumminess with the President.

The first incident he told me about was the infamous “hug” from Trump after the inauguration:

 

The hug took place at a White House meeting to which Trump had invited law enforcement leadership to thank them for their role in the inauguration. Comey described really not wanting to go to that meeting, for the same reason he later did not want to go to the private dinner with Trump: the FBI director should be always at arm’s length from the President, in his view. There was an additional sensitivity here too, because many Democrats blamed Comey for Trump’s election, so he didn’t want any shows of closeness between the two that might reinforce a perception that he had put a thumb on the scale in Trump’s favor. But he also felt that he could not refuse a presidential invitation, particularly not one that went to a broad array of law enforcement leadership. So he went. But as he told me the story, he tried hard to blend into the background and avoid any one-on-one interaction. He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue. So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall. If you look at the video, Comey is standing about as far from Trump as it is physically possible to be in that room.

And for a long time, he reported, Trump didn’t seem to notice him. The meeting was nearly over, he said, and he really thought he was going to get away without an individual interaction. But when you’re six foot, eight inches tall, it’s hard to blend in forever, and Trump ultimately singled him out—and did so with the most damning faint praise possible: “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me!”

Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. Bad enough that he was there; bad enough that there would be a handshake; he emphatically did not want any show of warmth.

Again, look at the video, and you’ll see Comey preemptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one sided.

Comey was disgusted. He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.

The loyalty dinner took place five days later.

Comey never told me the details of the dinner meeting; I don’t think I even knew that there had been a meeting over dinner until I learned it from the Times story. But he did tell me in general terms that early on, Trump had “asked for loyalty” and that Comey had promised him only honesty. He also told me that Trump was perceptibly uncomfortable with this answer. And he said that ever since, the President had been trying to be chummy in a fashion that Comey felt was designed to absorb him into Trump’s world—to make him part of the team. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s demands of loyalty and the term loyalty itself, seem to mischaracterize how Trump operates. Loyalty suggests discipline aligned to a common purpose, but what Trump wants and physically asserts is his need and expectation to be recognized in his position of unquestioned and unquestionable domination.

When Trump hails Comey in the Oval Office and declares, “He’s become even more famous than me,” he’s like a king awarding a loyal subject a knighthood for services rendered to the monarch. The servant is elevated with the honor but must simultaneously bow down to his ruler.

No wonder Comey was disgusted by Trump’s theatrics since they were so clearly crafted to portray the FBI and its director as a pillar of the Trump regime. Towards that end, Trump was initially largely successful.

Many people may be wondering why Benjamin Wittes spoke to the New York Times and what exactly is his relationship with Comey. Wittes thus writes:

I did this interview on the record because the President that morning was already issuing threatening tweets suggesting that Comey was leaking things, and I didn’t want any room for misunderstanding that any kind of leak had taken place with respect to the information I was providing. There was no leak from Comey, no leak from anyone else at the FBI, and no leak from anyone outside of the bureau either—just conversations between friends, the contents of which one friend is now disclosing. For the same reason, I insisted that Schmidt record the conversation and give me a copy of the recording, so that we had a good record of what was said: both what was said by Comey as reported by me, and what was said by me about the conversation. Schmidt and I have had a few clarifying phone calls since then that were not recorded.

Before I go on, let me pause briefly to explain my relationship with Comey, which has been the subject of a lot of misinformation since I disclosed that we are friends in a piece in his defense a few months back. Ever since then, and particularly since Gizmodo used me as forensic evidence in its weird effort to out a supposed Comey Twitter account, people have developed this idea that Comey and I are especially close. Some people have even started following me on Twitter because they think I’m channeling Comey or am some secret line into his thinking. The truth is rather more pedestrian: We’re friends. We communicate regularly, but I am not among his close intimates or advisers. I know nothing about the Russia investigation that isn’t public. Comey has never talked to me about a live investigative matter—and I’ve never asked him to.

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