And now, if a new account of a widely circulated video clip is to be believed, we’ll be treated to an absurd rendition of former FBI director James B. Comey, all 6 feet, 8 inches of him, trying to avoid being noticed by the president of the United States by blending in with the drapes in the White House Blue Room.
The description comes from Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, editor in chief of the blog Lawfare and a friend of Comey, who said in Lawfare that Comey described the encounter to him over lunch.
While the public has seen the aftermath many times in an endlessly repeated video clip that shows Trump greeting a smiling Comey at a Jan. 22 White House event for law enforcement officials who provided security during the inauguration, the minor drama leading up to it has not been told and proves the adage that videos alone can be woefully, and perhaps hilariously, misleading.
You’d never know from the video, for example, that Comey was dreading attending the reception. But he was.
“Comey was preoccupied throughout this period,” Wittes wrote, “with the need to protect the FBI from these inquiries on investigative matters from the White House.” He continued:
Comey described really not wanting to go to that meeting, for the same reason he later did not want to go to the private dinner with Trump: the FBI director should be always at arm’s length from the President, in his view. There was an additional sensitivity here too, because many Democrats blamed Comey for Trump’s election, so he didn’t want any shows of closeness between the two that might reinforce a perception that he had put a thumb on the scale in Trump’s favor. But he also felt that he could not refuse a presidential invitation, particularly not one that went to a broad array of law enforcement leadership. So he went.
The cameras were rolling as White House caterers brought champagne and wine into the Blue Room and the president thanked the group of officials for their hard work.
According to Wittes, Comey was hoping Trump wouldn’t single him out for attention or summon him over for one of his famous handshakes. But that’s no easy task when you’re Comey’s height.
So Comey did his best to blend into the background.
“He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue,” Wittes wrote. “So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall.”
Wittes added that Comey was standing “about as far from Trump as it is physically possible to be in that room.”
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 six foot, eight inches tall, it’s hard to blend in forever, and Trump ultimately singled him out — and did so with the most damning faint praise possible: “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me!”Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. Bad enough that he was there; bad enough that there would be a handshake; he emphatically did not want any show of warmth.Again, look at the video, and you’ll see Comey preemptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one-sided.Comey was disgusted. He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.
Cameras captured the encounter, and in the days surrounding Trump’s firing of Comey the footage became video wallpaper on news networks.
It doesn’t carry quite the intrigue of Bob Woodward sneaking into an dimly lit parking garage to press Deep Throat for Watergate tips. But for anyone paying attention to the news this week, you can’t help but feel like you’re witnessing the making of the next big political satire — either that, or the next episode of “Veep.”
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