Former FBI Director James Comey had a conversation with senior Brookings Institution fellow – and Lawfare blog editor – Benjamin Wittes concerning his intimate conversations with Donald Trump.
On one account, he revealed that Trump personally asked him for a special favor, requesting that Comey release a public statement saying that Trump was not under investigation by the FBI. Comey not only declined Trump’s request but explained to Trump that he needed to keep his distance from him and the FBI, being as there was an active investigation currently ongoing. He said that Trump needed to make the request with the Department of Justice through the proper channels – in this case, the White House Counsel.
Comey not only declined Trump’s request but explained to Trump that he needed to keep his distance from him and the FBI, being as there was an active investigation currently ongoing. He said that Trump needed to make the request with the Department of Justice through the proper channels – in this case, the White House Counsel.
Comey also stated to Wittes that he was deeply “unsettled” by Trump and other communications they had. Comey was under the personal belief that Trump was trying to get around the law and made repeated attempts to “get Comey on board” after Trump requested a loyalty pledge at a White House dinner.
After this meeting, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus repeated his attempts at trying to get Comey to push back against media reports that members of Trump’s campaign and transition staff had illegal and unreported contacts with Russian officials. Comey felt these types of contacts from Trump and his close aides were inappropriate, and he resisted them.
“He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration,” Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Mr. Comey’s, said in interviews.
Comey said later that he felt he “kind of got (Trump and his staff) trained” on how proper communication between the White House and the FBI should work, but he also spoke about other encounters he had with the president he was particularly worried about.
Well into the Trump-Russia investigation, Comey received a phone call from the White House and was told that “the president needs to talk to you urgently.”
“He’s about to get on the helicopter, so he doesn’t get on the helicopter,” Mr. Wittes said. “And then when the president gets on he just wants to chitchat.”
Mr. Comey felt this was Trump’s way of trying to judge his loyalty to him and “trying to get him on the team and he saw it in light of his refusal to give him his loyalty.”
Comey was also unsettled about a particular White House visit where many senior law enforcement officials gathered in the Blue Room of the White House.
Trump called out Comey from across the room while Comey was trying to not get noticed or have any individual contact with the president. Trump made that impossible. According to the New York Times:
“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” Mr. Wittes said. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms so Comey said he pre-emptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging.”
Watch that encounter here: