The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Almost no one in James Comey’s new book comes off as virtuous — except maybe Obama

Former FBI director James B. Comey details his conversations with President Trump in his new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.” (Video: Patrick Martin, Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Yes, former FBI director James B. Comey’s new book is a takedown of President Trump. But not exclusively. In what we’ve seen so far of Comey’s telling of the 2016 campaign and aftermath, almost no one in the political world comes out clean.

That fact both lends Comey’s version of events more credibility and opens the door for both sides to focus on what, according to Comey, the other did wrong. And there’s plenty for both sides to point to on that front.

“What a world,” Comey says after a conversation in the fall of 2016 with President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch, calling her “tortured” about how to deal with the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Comey also details how Senate Democrats blasted him for his handling of the Clinton probe. He even has words for Clinton for blaming him in part for her loss. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker details this and more from the book, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday.

There were lots of reasons for Comey to be on the receiving end of each party’s worst instincts. Republicans were livid when he declined during the campaign to prosecute Clinton for using a private email server while secretary of state.

Democrats were annoyed he made a point to publicly call out Clinton for being “extremely careless” in her use of a private email account. Then they were furious when, 11 days before the election, Comey moved to reopen the entire email investigation. When it became clear on election night that the results were not going to work in their favor, Democratic leaders had a one-word answer: Comey. Nearly six months later, they were still blaming Comey and pressing him on his decision whenever they had a chance — both publicly and, as Comey shares in his new book, privately.

Things between Democrats and Comey got so bad that, when Trump abruptly fired him in May, he had reason to believe Democrats might cheer it.

They definitely didn’t. Democrats didn’t like what they believed Comey did to their presidential candidate, but they didn’t want to see him fired, either.

After that, it was pretty much Trump and his allies’ turn to be upset at Comey. Some congressional Republicans thought Comey was fired unfairly, but many backed Trump’s decision.

Then, a fired Comey shared with the world his contemporaneous notes of private meetings with Trump. In a sensational congressional hearing, Comey testified that he was pretty sure Trump inappropriately interfered in the FBI’s Russia investigation. And he made no secret of the fact that he thought the president was a liar.

'I need loyalty': James Comey's riveting testimony about what Trump asked him

Even then, when he was called before Congress to talk about why he thought the president fired him, Comey had tough words for Democrats. He testified that Lynch directed him not to call the Clinton email investigation an investigation but a “matter.”

Key moments from the former FBI director's testimony on his interactions with President Trump. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Perhaps the only politician who comes off well in the excerpts so far is Obama. Comey says Obama’s kindness in the aftermath of the Clinton investigation nearly brought him to tears. The Post's Rucker reports:

Comey writes that Obama sat alone with him in the Oval Office in late November and told him I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing — nothing — has happened in the last year to change my view.”
On the verge of tears, Comey told Obama, “Boy, were those words I needed to hear . . . . I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
“I know,” Obama said. “I know.”

Comey also said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed empathy for the difficult decision he faced in reopening the investigation.

But for nearly everyone else, this book is Comey’s version of the unvarnished truth, which can pretty much be summed up like this: At one time or another, the former FBI director felt pressured by members of each party to shape an investigation in their favor.

In other words, politicians will probably see this book the same way they see everything: through their own, often self-serving, partisan lens.