CBS’s “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert could barely contain his glee as he started his show on Tuesday night. “It’s Comey Day, everybody!” he announced to his studio audience, which cheered wildly.
Sure enough, Colbert and former FBI director James B. Comey — promoting his new book “A Higher Loyalty” — had plenty to discuss in regards to President Trump, the Russia investigation and much more. While making fun of Trump is one of Colbert’s favorite activities, Comey was pretty even-keeled — until Colbert asked him about the president’s tweeting habits.
“In the last few days, he has called you ‘Slippery [James],’ and he has called you a slimeball,” Colbert said, doing his best Trump impression. “Anything to say back?”
“No. He’s tweeted at me probably 50 times. I’ve been gone for a year. I’m like a breakup he can’t get over,” Comey said, in a rare bit of dry mockery. “I’m out there living my best life. He wakes up in the morning and tweets at me.”
Even though the crowd loved that line, Comey admitted that actually, he’s tempted to shrug those tweets off — until he realizes that ignoring them would be dangerous.
“Does that mean we’ve become numb to this? It’s not okay for the president of the United States to say a private citizen should be in jail,” said Comey, referring to another recent Trump tweet. “It’s not normal. It’s not acceptable. It’s not okay.”
As the two sipped pinot noir from paper cups (Comey’s drink after Trump fired him last year), things also got heated as Colbert grilled Comey about his choice to send a letter to Congress saying he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, 11 days before the election. Here are three takeaways from the interview:
Comey calls Trump’s leadership “strikingly similar” to a mob boss’s
Comey, who prosecuted organized crime members, got a lot of attention for comparing Trump to the mob. He doubled down on this to Colbert.
“The leadership style is actually strikingly similar,” Comey said. “I don’t mean it in the sense that Donald Trump is out breaking legs or shaking down shopkeepers. I mean it in the sense that he leads, it’s all about the boss. What will serve the boss best? How are you helping the boss? It’s all about that person and nothing external to that.”
“If you felt like you were working for a mob boss, were you surprised that you got whacked?” Colbert asked.
“I actually was quite surprised because I thought I’m leading the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “Even though our relationship was becoming strained, there’s no way I’m going to get fired or whacked.
“Why? Why wouldn’t you get fired?” Colbert pressed.
“Because that would be a crazy thing to do. Why would you fire the FBI director who is leading the Russia investigation?” Comey said.
Colbert paused. “Because you’re leading the Russia investigation!” he exclaimed, as the audience laughed.
Comey says there’s no policy that the FBI can’t discuss a political campaign 60 days out from an election
As the two discussed Clinton, Colbert asked, “What was the consideration to sending a letter to Congress saying you were reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after Anthony Weiner’s laptop was found to have 100,000 emails on it? … Again, the norm and the standard was that the FBI does not discuss anything having to do with a political campaign 60 days out from the election.”
Although that’s an often-repeated statement, Comey countered, “That’s not true — the 60-day thing, I don’t know where that comes from.” The actual important norm, he said, is, “You take no action, if you can avoid it, that might have an impact on any election.”
“Well, you had to imagine this would have an effect,” Colbert said. Comey’s letter to Congress was released on Oct. 28.
The two went back and forth on this point. Comey defended his decision, saying Clinton’s emails on Weiner’s laptop were from her earliest months as secretary of state, and those messages could have contained a “smoking gun” in the investigation he had missed before.
“So at that point, what do you do? Take no action if you can avoid it,” Comey said. “And I kept looking for a door that said, ‘No action here,’ and I can’t find it. I could only see two doors and they were both action. One said ‘speak’ and the other said ‘conceal.’”
“‘Conceal’ naturally has a pejorative to it — it’s ‘speak’ or ‘standard discretion of the FBI,’” Colbert shot back. “It’s not the same thing as concealing.”
“Yeah, I disagree, though,” Comey argued. Eventually, he concluded with, “Speaking would be really bad. Concealing would be catastrophic, in my judgment. Again, people can see it differently. So as between really bad and catastrophic, it’s not that hard a call. You gotta do the really bad thing.”
Comey does have one more question about the Steele dossier
Of course, Colbert couldn’t wait to ask about the tape — you know, the one described in the dossier from the British spy that claimed Trump watched prostitutes urinate on themselves in the same Moscow hotel bed where the Obamas once stayed.
“You went in January of 2017 to tell President Trump about the Steele dossier. How did you tell him that there was a — and I want to put this delicately — pee-pee tape? How did you tell him about that rumor?” Colbert asked.
“I spoke about information, unverified, that related to an allegation that he was with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow, and that the Russians had videotaped it,” Comey replied. “I didn’t go into the rest of it.”
“So you didn’t mention the salacious detail of the two prostitutes getting up on the bed that the Obamas had stayed in — because it was the presidential suite — and, you know, engaging in some water play,” Colbert confirmed.
Comey agreed, and said Trump denied everything: “He interrupted me and denied it in pretty strong terms and asked, I assumed rhetorically, whether he looked like a guy who needed the services of hookers.”
Colbert mentioned that he actually traveled to the Moscow Ritz-Carlton during “Russia Week” on “The Late Show” last summer — and, to do his research, stayed in that infamous presidential suite. “Would you like to ask me anything about that room?” Colbert said.
Comey considered this. “Is it big enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity?” he asked. (In his book, Comey writes that Trump, as one way to deny the allegations of the tape, said he is a germaphobe.)
“The bedroom is very long,” Colbert assured him. “You’d definitely be out of, what we call at Sea World, the splash zone.”
As the audience cracked up, Comey smirked, and took another big sip of wine.