James Comey: U.S. Leaders Should ‘Reflect Our Values’

The former FBI director spoke at GW about his new book and the erosion of American norms.

James Comey
James Comey, former FBI director, speaks at GW about his new book ‘A Higher Loyalty’ and his contentious relationship with President Donald Trump. (Harrison Jones/ GW Today)
May 01, 2018

By Kristen Mitchell

President Donald Trump should submit to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller as the investigation into his campaign, its actions during the 2016 presidential campaign and its connection to Russia continues, said James Comey, former director of the FBI, at George Washington University.

In a normal world, it would be difficult for the president not to submit to questions about an investigation that touches his conduct and the actions of those around him. The American people simply wouldn’t accept it, he said.

“I’m only hesitating because we don’t live in that world,” Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Comey spoke about his new book “A Higher Loyalty” on Monday at Lisner Auditorium. The book details his career in the FBI, his relationship with Mr. Trump and the bureau’s investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The event was co-presented by Politics and Prose and moderated by Mike Allen, co-founder of Axios.

It’s been almost a year since Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey. In May 2017, a senior Justice Department official recommended Mr. Trump fire the FBI director due to his unfair treatment of Ms. Clinton and for damaging the bureau’s credibility. At the time, Mr. Comey was leading an investigation into the relationship between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Since his book was published on April 17, Mr. Comey has been making the rounds in the country to promote it. The highly anticipated book debuted as a New York Times best seller. The line of GW students and other guests waiting to see and to listen to Mr. Comey snaked through Kogan Plaza Monday evening.

Mr. Comey said that Mr. Trump has broken norms that traditionally dictate how a president should act. The president frequently tweets insults about the former FBI director, including recently calling him “slippery” and a “slimeball.” Now a private citizen, Mr. Comey said even he has gotten used to the name calling.

“I keep saying to Republicans, close your eyes and imagine Barack Obama waking up some morning and saying that somebody who doesn’t like you should be in jail,” Mr. Comey said. “Republicans would freak out. And so where is that?”

He said that Mr. Trump behaves like the fallout between him and the president is like a bad breakup the president can’t get over.

“I’m out there living my best life, and he wakes up tweeting at me,” he joked.

If he had the opportunity to question Mr. Trump under oath, Mr. Comey said, he would ask about the president’s mindset around his interactions with Mr. Comey in February 2017. Mr. Comey detailed his interactions with the president, including an alleged loyalty pledge, in a set of memos leaked to the media last year.

Mr. Comey said he thought it was important at the time to document his interactions with the president, because he worried that Mr. Trump would lie about their conversations later. Mr. Comey said he is not sure whether the president obstructed justice since taking office.

Many critics of the president have been holding their breath, hoping the special counsel investigation ends with impeachment proceedings. Mr. Comey said any action should follow the facts and law, but that impeaching the president would sow deep divides among the American public. It would also, in some ways, let the voters off the hook, he said.

“I think the American people, without regard to their political stripe, need to stand up and say forget guns, forget taxes, forget Supreme Court justices, something matters that is above those,” Mr. Comey said. “And that is that our leader reflect our values.”

That moment of clarity and inflection would be very good for the country, he said.

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