On Sunday night, James Comey told his side of the story.
The former – and fired – FBI director sat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Sunday night to talk about his deep concerns about President Donald Trump and to recount a number of now-famous/infamous episodes between the two men. (Comey has written a book about his experiences titled “A Higher Loyalty.”)
ABC released the transcript of the entire five-hour(!) interview; I went through it to pluck out the lines from Comey that you absolutely shouldn’t miss. They’re below.
1. “I liken President Trump in the book to a forest fire. Going to do tremendous damage. Going to damage those important norms. But a forest fire gives healthy things a chance to grow that had no chance before that fire.”
Comey’s logic here is intriguing but he’s really talking about a controlled burn – one in which the fire is managed. The consequences of a raging wildfire that no one is able to manage are, I think, a little different.
2. “So all of us have to constantly be involved and call it out when we see the truth endangered, when we see lying.”
Remember that in his first year in office, Trump said more than 2,000 things that were either partly or totally untrue. And his pace has not slowed since then.
3. “The title [of the book] comes from a bizarre conversation I had with the President in dinner at the White House in January of last year, where he asked for my loyalty personally as the FBI director.”
Trump has denied he ever asked for Comey’s loyalty – including on Twitter on Sunday! Tweeted Trump: “I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His “memos” are self serving and FAKE!”
4. “Well, that’s why I was never going to write a book. It always felt like an exercise in ego.”
That’s what they all say! (Did I mention I wrote a book?)
5. “President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich took my breath away. Th– the notion that the president of the United States would pardon a fugitive without asking the prosecutors or the investigators, ‘What do you think,’ was shocking to me.”
6. “I thought David Petraeus should’ve been prosecuted not just for the mishandling of the classified information, but also for lying to the FBI because lying is – strikes at the heart of our rule of law in this country.”
Interesting to note here that Comey wanted to go further against Petraeus than the then Attorney General Eric Holder did. (Petraeus was charged – and convicted – only with mishandling classified information.)
7. “I’ve gone through 50 years of cases. I don’t know of a case where anyone has ever been prosecuted for just being careless, even extremely careless.”
Comey acknowledges here that from the start of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, he strongly suspected there wouldn’t be charges brought against her. That will be fodder for Trump who will say the former FBI director had prejudged the case before even seeing it.
8. “If you issue a one liner from the Obama Justice Department about one of the two candidates for president of the United States, in this case the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and say, ‘We’re done here,’ in the absence of any kind of transparency, corrosive doubt creeps in that the system is rigged somehow.”
This is Comey’s explanation for why he delivered extended public remarks about the end of the Clinton investigation. And, yes, that noise you hear is Democrats collectively rolling their eyes at his explanation.
9. “It really did surprise me. He’s a very smart man and a lawyer. And so it surprised me. He shouldn’t have done it.”
Comey here scolds then-President Obama for saying publicly he didn’t believe Clinton had done anything wrong with her email server setup. (Here’s more on exactly what Obama said on the investigation.)
10. “Classified information came into the possession of the US intelligence community in the early part of 2016 that indicated there was material out there that raised the question of whether [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch was controlling me and the FBI and keeping the Clinton campaign informed about our investigation.”
11. “And so whether or not it was true, the fact that it would be out there and allow people to argue that something terrible was going on in this investigation cut in favor of more transparency.”
Comey says the investigation into whether Lynch was purposely controlling what the FBI said and found on the investigation wasn’t true. But he is very vague about the whole thing – likely because the information remains classified.
12. “My staff convinced me that that’s just going to confuse all kinds of people, if you start talking about statutes and what the words mean. What’s a colloquial way to explain it? And elsewhere in my statement I had said, ‘Extremely careless.’”
In his original draft on Clinton’s email, Comey used the words “gross negligence” to describe her behavior. Here he explains why he changed it. (Trump has insisted the change was because Comey was going easy on Clinton.)
13. “This wasn’t your ordinary bureaucrat who just mishandles one document. This was something more than that. But not something that anybody would prosecute.”
To Comey’s mind, Clinton’s private email server was in the grey area between a very serious crime and a regular old mistake. Which made it hard to handle especially given her position.
14.”In late July , the FBI got information that there was somebody who had had – was a foreign policy advisor named [George] Papadopoulos to the Trump campaign.”
This is an important note. Trump – and some other Republicans – insist that the entire FBI investigation into his campaign and Russia was premised on the dossier put together by Christopher Steele. It wasn’t. It began with Papadopoulos looking for the dirt the Russians allegedly had on Clinton.
15. “The investigation was triggered entirely separately from the Steele dossier.”
Again, important. And counter to the Trump narrative.
16. “I discovered President Trump wouldn’t even do it privately, and I don’t know why that is.”
Comey suggests here that Trump won’t bash Russian President Vladimir Putin in private, which he finds baffling.
17. “I remember saying that I’m a little bit tired of being the independent voice on things.”
[Eye roll emoji]
18. “All of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance.”
For those who say law enforcement is totally blind to politics, I give you this sentence from James Comey.
19. “Speaking is really bad; concealing is catastrophic. If you conceal the fact that you have restarted the Hillary Clinton email investigation, not in some silly way but in a very, very important way that may lead to a different conclusion, what will happen to the institutions of justice when that comes out?”
Comey’s deliberations on whether to let the public know about the re-opening of the Clinton email investigation is totally fascinating. The issue many people will take with it is that he had no way of knowing whether the emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop were duplicates of emails the FBI had already seen. So why announce something that may not be news at all? (Turns out there was nothing new on Weiner’s laptop.)
20. “I would so much rather Anthony Weiner had never had a laptop.”
So would Anthony Weiner.
21. “Speaking is going to have some impact, potentially. But concealing is going to destroy the institutions that I love.”
Comey critics will argue that he is greatly exaggerating the impact of waiting and seeing what was on Weiner’s laptop before speaking publicly. Greatly.
22. “If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we’re done.”
But, you just said that you and everyone else were operating under the assumption that Clinton was going to win!
23. “Cause I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump.”
But, but, but [head explodes]
24. “It sucked.”
James Comey on being James Comey in the final days of the 2016 campaign.
25. “The honest answer is I screwed up a couple of things, but in the main, I think given what I knew at the time, these were the decisions that were best calculated to preserve the values of the institutions.”
[narrator voice] He doesn’t really think he screwed up much of anything.
26. “I’m glad for a lotta reasons I don’t have a time machine.”
Strong disagree. Having a time machine would rule.
27. “I– never going to run for office.”
An interesting pledge to make by Comey – and sort of out of the blue. I had been wondering if this whole experience might actually push him to run for office – or at least make him more interested in the prospect.
28. “What did it cost me? Well, (SIGH).”
Story of my life – especially the “(SIGH)”
29. “But this was– their sense that given the variety of sources and methods we had, we had this nailed.”
This is Comey on the intelligence on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. “We had this nailed.”
30. “President Obama has a great poker face.”
Coming soon to a world poker event near you….
31. “But I read it as, ‘You poor bastard.’”
What Comey believed Obama was conveying to him in advance of a sitdown with the incoming president to talk about the more salacious details in the Steele dossier.
32. “And even though I did not intend to jam Donald Trump with this, my thinking was, given his approach to the world, he may think I’m pulling a J. Edgar Hoover and assume that I’m trying to dangle this over him to