Speed Reads


Friend describes James Comey's attempts to fend off Trump's embrace, doubts about Rod Rosenstein

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that President Trump had pressed James Comey, then FBI director, to spread word that he was not personally under federal investigation. That detail was news to Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey's and a named source for other anecdotes in the Times article, but Wittes wanted to elaborate on his casual lunchtime conversations with Comey, he wrote in Lawfare Thursday night, because after reading the article, "I immediately understood certain things Comey had said to me over the previous few months in a different, and frankly more menacing, light."

Wittes' general impression is that Comey was preoccupied with protecting the FBI from inappropriate White House interference and also from attempts to "absorb him into Trump's world — to make him part of the team." But the details Wittes recalls are pretty interesting, like his elaboration of Comey's attempt to avoid Trump's literal embrace at a post-inaugural reception in the White House Blue Room:

As he told me the story, he tried hard to blend into the background and avoid any one-on-one interaction [with Trump]. 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. ... 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 6 foot, 8 inches tall, it's hard to blend in forever, and Trump ultimately singled him out. ... Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. ... Look at the video, and you'll see Comey pre-emptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one sided. Comey was disgusted. [Wittes, Lawfare]

The other detail that retroactively struck Wittes was that Comey, to his surprise, was wary about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, who hadn't been confirmed at that point. "Rod is a survivor," Comey said, according to Wittes, and political survival doesn't come without compromises. Since Comey had been asked to pledge personal loyalty to Trump, Wittes surmises, "he was asking himself, I suspect: What loyalty oath had Rosenstein been asked to swear, and what happened at whatever dinner that request took place?" Read the entire post at Lawfare.