Washington Wednesday: Comey’s tell-all

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, April 25th. Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: And I’m Kent Covington, and today is Washington Wednesday.

Former FBI Director James Comey is currently on a national publicity tour, promoting his just-released book: Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.

The book paints an unflattering picture of President Trump, who fired Comey last year. In one stop on that tour Comey told ABC’s The View he’s not sure how to react to the president’s claim that he did not fire him to derail the Russia probe.

COMEY: I actually think that illustrates part of the problem that I’m trying to bring up that it matters that the president is not committed to the truth as a central American value. So I don’t know what to make of it.

The book is stirring controversy in Washington and beyond. Comey says his goal in writing it was simply for the public to know the truth. But Republican Senator Susan Collins said the former FBI chief damaged his own credibility with the timing of the book release.

COLLINS: I cannot imagine why an FBI director would seek to essentially cash in while an investigation is still very much alive. He should have waited to do his memoir.

His book deal was reportedly worth $2 million.

The book contains, among other things, Comey’s accounts of closed-door conversations with President Trump. He discussed some of the accounts on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show earlier this week.

COMEY: I also was worried that I was meeting alone with the president to talk about things that were relating to him and to the FBI’s core responsibilities. And given the nature of the person, as I understood the president-elect, I was worried that he might not tell the truth about those if it ever became an issue, and so I needed a written record.

After his dismissal, Comey leaked at least one of those written records, indirectly, to the press through longtime friend Daniel Richman.

Comey said he gave Richman what he called a “single unclassified memo” with the intent of prompting the appointment of a special counsel. And that’s exactly what happened. Soon the Justice Department tapped Robert Mueller to lead an independent Russia probe. Comey said last week…

COMEY: Look, it’s true — I’m the one who testified about it. That’s how people know about it. I gave that unclassified memo to a friend and asked him to give it to a reporter. That is entirely appropriate.

But the Justice Department’s Inspector General is not certain that it was entirely appropriate. The IG has launched an investigation into the leaks and whether Comey mishandled classified information.

Comey has testified that he considered the memos to be personal, even though he used government resources and the FBI email network.

But current FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers he believes the Comey memos to be official government records.

And joining us now with unique insight on James Comey’s new book and the Comey memos is Jim Long. Jim was an FBI investigator for 20 years. He’s also a former prosecutor and he’s a new investigative reporter for WORLD.

Jim, let’s start with what’s in the book and the thing that’s drawing the most attention, which are Comey’s accounts of conversations with President Trump. You’ve read the book, you’ve read Comey’s memos. What stood out to you about those accounts?

JIM LONG, GUEST: Well, first you’ve got to look at the theme that Comey’s trying to paint. The canvas is that Trump is the bully. He’s the bully that Comey’s fought his whole life. Comey looks at himself as the independent, the apolitical sort of vanguard of justice, the blind Lady Liberty that is trying to take the high road between two warring political parties that he calls tribes. And Trump is– he’s the Mafia don demanding loyalty at all costs, above the cost of the rule of law and what have you. And this is same don that with Michael Flynn is demanding, really, obstruction of justice saying, “Can we let this matter go?”

So did he expressly assert obstruction of justice, or was that just the tone?

LONG: It’s the tone, it’s the contextual implication so that when Trump says, “I expect loyalty” or when referencing Flynn, “Can we let this go?” that’s the connotation.

Okay, and you’ve told me that you have some concerns about the tone of the book. Why?

LONG: I think it was the prejudicial view. I mean, he’s a former U.S. attorney, he’s an experienced FBI director – or should be – and he should know the importance of not poisoning the well, not prejudicing a defendant. And he’s using hearsay statements that he knows would not be admissible in a court of law and yet he’s trying Trump in the court of public opinion. He’s taking those statements, painting them, I think, out of context even by virtue of his own statements and he’s not doing what he says he is an advocate for, making sure that persons get a fair hearing, the judicial system is fair, and truth is what is validated.

Alright, well Jim, again, you worked with the FBI for 20 years. From what you read of Comey’s accounts of those conversations with the president and his reaction to those conversations, did he handle things by the book, in your view?

LONG: Not at all. And, in fact, I think there was a distortion when he, for instance, talks about the exchange with Trump over the Flynn allegations. When he says that Trump says, “Can we let this thing go?” he’s referring to the phone calls or the contacts that Flynn had with Russian ambassadors, which Comey and Trump both agree there was nothing illegal, nothing criminal about those contacts. That’s what Trump and Comey both say Trump is referencing when he says, “Can we let this go?” He is not referencing making a false statement to an FBI agent, Comey makes that clear in his book when you read it grammatically. Two sentences earlier that’s what the pronoun is referencing. So, therefore, it’s not obstruction of justice. So trying to paint a picture or suggest or put the president in a false light that by saying, “Can we let this thing go?” this is potential obstruction of justice is very disingenuous. So, that was the first thing that I thought was poor what we call tradecraft. He should have said, “Mr. President, when you said, ‘Let this go,’ what are you referring to? He should have made that clear if there was any question, just like in the statement made with, “I expect loyalty.” He didn’t press that. Instead, in the book, he responds and said, “Mr. President, what you’ll get from me is honesty. You’ll get honest loyalty.” And President Trump responded, according to Comey, “That’s what I want: honest loyalty.”

Well, as we mentioned, the Justice Department’s Inspector General is now investigating Comey over his handling of FBI documents related to all of this. How much hot water is he potentially in?

LONG: Yeah, it’s a very dicey affair, and it becomes almost a tautology because, first of all, he as a director had the authority to classify those documents. He chose to classify certain portions of those documents and he made the assertion that those were his property. No, they’re not. Those documents, including his notes, that’s FBI property. He obtained that information and memorialized those in his notes and in an email to other FBI personnel on FBI email systems and they became FBI property. And he had a duty to immediately submit those into FBI archival systems and when he was terminated—just like me, when I was separated from service after 20 years with the FBI, I had a duty to return every single FBI document, including notes, in my possession.

So for him to hang on to any FBI document is improper, especially if classified. So, at this point he would be a U.S. citizen without a clearance, without a need to know, and he would be storing classified information at his home and it would be easy to show intent in this case, ironically, like he could not do in the Hillary Clinton case.

So, the irony is he may possibly face liability for the very thing that Hillary Clinton was being looked at for.

Well now, again, Comey contends that there’s no issue here the handling of classified information because, he says, he gave his friend a single unclassified memo and he deliberately wrote some of his memos so that they would not be classified. How well does that argument hold up?

LONG: Yeah, so this is the problem for Comey: Even though it was considered unclassified, it was deemed, whether by Comey or later by FBI headquarters, to be unclassified but for official use only, Comey would have at that point been a non-FBI employee. He wouldn’t have the authority to make the determination whether releasing to the media would have been an official use or not.

One last thing, Jim, James Comey has said that politics were not a factor in the handling of Hillary Clinton’s email probe or any other investigation. But he also told ABC News in an interview that concerns over Clinton potentially being seen as an illegitimate president was a big factor in how he handled things. Here’s a clip of what he said.

COMEY: I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was gonna beat Donald Trump. So I’m sure that it was a factor. Again I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that — she’s going to be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment this comes out.

Jim, what’s your reaction to that?

LONG: I think this is yet a part of a pattern with Comey where he oversteps his bounds. Again, he sees himself as kind of the self-anointed arbiter that has to step into controversies and settle the matter on behalf of the American people. And that’s not the case. Our job as FBI agents is to find the truth, to conduct a thorough investigation. And then our job is to present that to the attorney general’s office. And I understand his reasoning for why he felt he shouldn’t do that. But it’s not our job to inject ourselves into the election process. And there were several other options to handle that outside the FBI’s charge to resolve any problems that resulted in the need for any sort of criminal prosecution. That would be through the court system itself. And here’s something that I find ironic: How about impeachment? If Hillary Clinton had been elected, had become president, and then we concluded our investigation and revealed it for the first time, it was referred to DOJ or a special prosecutor and she was president, that’s when you have what’s called an impeachment. The very thing they’re calling for for Donald Trump. That’s just the way the system works. It’s in the Constitution. Our framers came up with procedures to have this and why Comey, again, stepped in and interfered with that process is beyond me.

Okay, Jim Long, thanks so much, sir. We appreciate it!

LONG: Thank you Kent, thanks for having me.

And given Jim Long’s past service with the FBI, we do need to note that his views and opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the FBI or any other federal agency.

(Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via AP) This photo provided by ABC, former FBI Director James Comey appears on the daytime talk show “The View,” Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in New York. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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