James Comey’s 7-page opening statement in advance of his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday about his relationship with Donald Trump in the months before the president fired him as FBI director reads like a novel.
It’s the sort of document that will go down in the annals of political history – a sweeping condemnation of Trump’s conduct in regard to both Comey and the ongoing federal investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. (You can read the whole thing here or my analysis of the whole thing here.)
But, there’s one exchange between the two men in the testimony that stood out to me as a perfect encapsulation of how radically different they are. Here it is in its entirety:
“Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.”
Talk about two ships passing in the night.
Trump, aggressive and oblivious to the rules of engagement, making a direct pitch to the FBI director for loyalty – and suggesting strongly that his future employment depended on the answer.
Comey, all nerdy bureaucrat well aware of the lines being crossed, insisting all he could offer Trump was his honesty.
Trump, a dealmaker used to always getting his way, hearing what he wants to hear and deciding the agreed-upon phrase “honest loyalty” means Comey is good with the deal.
Comey, knowing he wasn’t good with any sort of deal, says nothing to “end a very awkward conversation.”
Everything you need to know about the two men is contained in that single exchange. Everything. As is all the evidence you need to understand why they would never have any sort of working relationship. And why this was always fated to end badly.