In recent days, the Internet has subjected James B. Comey’s new book — “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” — to the traditional “5 Takeaways” treatment. And those takeaways aren’t very takeaway-ish.
The No. 1 takeaway in a Washington Post post under the headline “3 big takeaways from James Comey’s new book” focuses on something that’s not news: “Comey does not accuse [President] Trump of committing a crime.” Other takeaways highlighted by other outlets: White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly considered resigning over Comey’s firing (as if all White House officials hadn’t considered bolting at some point or another); “there are several elements in this book that are pertinent to the Russia investigation,” said Jeff Pegues of CBS News (so is everything in Washington, it seems); Comey was “wary of Trump’s seeming calls for loyalty.”
Yes: There is nothing seismic about the revelations in the book, according to the “takeaways” and book reviews. (Disclosure: The Erik Wemple Blog has yet to read it.) That’s largely because Comey has already scooped himself, time and again. Last June, for instance, Comey testified before Congress about his interactions with President Trump — an event that, itself, launched a number of “takeaways” pieces. Of the White House’s statements after his firing, Comey said: “Lies, plain and simple.” He detailed meetings with Trump, talked about his behavior and otherwise dominated several news cycles.
Oh, and don’t forget that Comey in May 2017 essentially stage-managed the disclosure of a memo detailing how Trump had suggested that he drop an investigation into departed national security adviser Michael Flynn. And yet another thing: The New York Times did a deep investigation into Comey’s controversial decision to reopen the Hillary Clinton investigation in late October 2016, a move that may have cost her the presidency.
So, what was there left to discuss when George Stephanopoulos of ABC News sat down with Comey for an extended interview that played out in a prime-time special on Sunday night? As it turns out, there was plenty. Prodded by Stephanopoulos, Comey held forth about Trump’s mendacity: “Sometimes he’s lying in ways that are obvious, sometimes he’s saying things that we may not know are true or false and then there’s a spectrum in between”; he held forth about the Clinton email investigation: “I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. And so I’m sure that it — that it was a factor”; he held forth about himself: “My rap on myself is that — is that ego focus. That I — since I was a kid, I’ve had a sense of confidence”; he held forth on Trump’s presidential fitness: “I think he’s morally unfit to be president.”
None of those utterances, however, was as telling as what Comey said after Stephanopoulos reminded him that the president had called him a liar. “What am I going to do?” he responded. And after Stephanopoulos noted that the president denied asking him to bag the Flynn probe, Comey replied, “Well, what am I going to do? He did.”
Now: Here’s a guy who served as FBI director, as deputy attorney general, as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — and yet he’s verily speechless when faced with the lying allegations of our lying president. To watch Comey sit and process his time in meetings and phone calls with Trump is to behold the trauma and bewilderment of the political times we are now living. If you missed the proceedings on Sunday night, circle back.