President Donald Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey last May might prove to have been one of the most consequential of his presidency. It certainly has given him a powerful enemy, one whose new book, "A Higher Loyalty," contains explosive accusations about the current White House occupant.
Given that Comey has an obvious bias against the man who terminated him, it is fair to say that the claims in the book should be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, considering that Trump himself lies so often that uttered more than 2,000 falsehoods during the first 355 days of his presidency, it's hardly like the president has the credibility to persuasively rebut anything that Comey has written.
Here are some highlights.
1. Comey continues the legend of the "pee tape"
As The Washington Post reports:
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.”
Comey also noted that the president's explanation as to why this couldn't have happened — namely that he had only stayed in the hotel room in question in order to change his clothes — didn't actually make sense.
"I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants. In fact, though I didn’t know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity," Comey wrote in his book.
2. Comey compares Trump to a mob boss
The former FBI director, whose career took off in part because of his successful prosecution of members of the Gambino crime family, knows a thing or two about mob bosses. In his mind, the parallels between the current president and the organized crime lords he helped take down are deeply unsettling.
As the Post reports, Comey describes how "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."
3. Comey was not impressed by Trump's physical appearance
The president is well-known for taking pride in his looks, from bragging about his physical toughness to becoming hypersensitive about the alleged tininess of his hands. Comey apparently decided to size up the president after meeting him, with the Associated Press summarizing his conclusions:
The 6-foot-8 Comey describes Trump as shorter than he expected with a “too long” tie and “bright white half-moons” under his eyes that he suggests came from tanning goggles. He also says he made a conscious effort to check the president’s hand size, saying it was “smaller than mine but did not seem unusually so.”
4. Comey has a much more tender view toward Obama
It is important to remember that Comey was until recently a registered Republican, even donating to the presidential campaigns of the two GOP nominees running against President Barack Obama — the man who would be his boss —according to Open Secrets. Yet when describing the controversy over his decision to report that the FBI was revisiting its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails — one that many have speculated could have cost the Democrat the 2016 presidential election — Comey seemed very grateful for Obama's expression of confidence and support, according to the Post.
Comey writes that Obama sat alone with him in the Oval Office in late November and told him, “I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing — nothing — has happened in the last year to change my view.”
On the verge of tears, Comey told Obama, “Boy, were those words I needed to hear. . . . I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
“I know,” Obama said. “I know.”
Nevertheless, Comey seems to go to great lengths to prove that he didn't want to cost Clinton the election, even implying that he acted as he did because he was so certain that she'd win.
"It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know," Comey writes, according to The New York Times.
5. It's a believable defense of James Comey
In the end, the question of whether or not you believe Comey's memoir depends entirely on your assessment of Trump's character. Those inclined to support the president aren't going to be swayed by what Comey has to say about him; those inclined to dislike him aren't going to be more inclined to feel that way after reading his text. Nevertheless, as the Times' critic Michiko Kakutani writes, there really is a detached way of breaking down the question of whether to believe Trump or Comey that is difficult to refute.
One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.
The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.
One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.
The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his brother-in-law.
One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”
The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”
6. The president seems to be taking it well
Here's how the president is reacting to the first wave of publicity.
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