For those concerned that former FBI Director James Comey is suffering from early dementia, have no fear: His memory returned with a vengeance during a Sunday night interview with MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace.
On Friday, under questioning by House Judiciary Committee members, Comey answered, “I don’t know,” “I don’t recall,” or “I don’t remember” nearly 250 times during a six-hour closed-door hearing. His memory lapse included critical details like how the infamous Steele dossier reached his agency; who at the FBI drafted the initiation document to investigate the Trump campaign; who at the FBI had authority to open a counterintelligence probe into a presidential campaign; and his own comments about the tarmac meeting between his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former president Bill Clinton. He said he didn’t know what the word “insidious” meant and couldn’t explain the difference between collusion and conspiracy.
But perhaps Comey loaded up on ginseng over the weekend because his vague and convenient memory miraculously returned when he was questioned by a fawning Wallace at a 92nd Street Y event just two days later. Tiny details about dates, locations, meeting participants and a funny moment during a briefing with President Obama in early January 2017 were recalled with ease. He knew enough about the recent Michael Cohen plea deal to suggest the president is an unindicted co-conspirator, and even recalled how Trump “lied” about the inauguration attendance. He claimed that it’s possible the Russians have tapes of Trump “engaged in unusual activities in Moscow.”
But perhaps his most explosive revelation was when Comey smugly revealed how he exploited the disarray during the Trump administration’s first weeks to corner National Security Advisor Michael Flynn about his monitored calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. Flynn, who already was under investigation by the FBI for his alleged ties to the Kremlin, had denied to senior administration officials that he discussed recently-imposed sanctions with the Russian diplomat.
“We knew those representations were very different than what the facts were,” Comey told Wallace. “Why was he lying?”
Comey then dropped this bombshell: He admitted that he bypassed normal White House protocol when he sent two FBI agents to interrogate Flynn. “[It’s] something I probably wouldn’t have done or wouldn’t have gotten away with in a more organized administration,” Comey said. “In the George W. Bush Administration or the Obama Administration . . . if the FBI wanted to send agents into the White House itself to interview a senior official, you would work through the White House counsel, there would be discussions and approvals and who would be there. And I thought, it’s early enough let’s just send a couple guys over.” The audience laughed.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Comey continued to gloat: “We placed a call to Flynn, said ‘hey we’re sending a couple of guys over, hope you’ll talk to them.’ He said, ‘sure.’ Nobody else was there. They interviewed him in a conference room in the White House Situation Room and he lied to them.” Comey further admitted he did not alert Flynn what the conversation would be about. (According to Flynn’s sentencing request released late Tuesday, the FBI offered a false pretext to the meeting; one of the agents later recorded that Flynn “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies” and not interrogators.)
But that wasn’t the only time Comey violated norms and procedures in dealing with Donald Trump: The former top cop told Congress in March 2017 that he failed to brief senior congressional leaders about the Trump-Russia investigation due to the “sensitivity of the matter.” This is a man who claims to be a disciple and practitioner of “ethical leadership” and blames Trump for the degradation of the FBI.
Comey’s confession about how the Flynn interview was initiated surprised Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s the first time I’ve heard that directly,” he told me by phone on Monday. “We’ve pieced things together. But it speaks to how he [Comey] manipulated the system and the situation to go after Donald Trump. That’s what we see here.”
That wasn’t all Comey would divulge about the Flynn matter. He insisted that Trump’s alleged comment about “letting Flynn go” during a February 14 security briefing amounted to obstruction of justice, even though it was clear Trump was referring to Flynn’s phone call and not any pending investigation because Comey admitted in his own January 28 memo following a meeting with Trump that there was “no mention or acknowledgement of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn.” (Flynn was interviewed by disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok on January 24.)
Recalling key details of that day—including the shape of the conference table and people in attendance—Comey claimed Trump’s offhand remarks prompted him to write a memo (later leaked by a friend to the media) and discuss the exchange with his senior staff.
“Read my memo and let’s talk about what we should do,” Comey said to his advisors, “because obviously it’s evidence of obstruction of justice so how to handle that was something we struggled with and we decided to keep it tight.”
Comey decided to keep it tight, he continued, and not give it to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions because “we believed he was about to recuse himself.” (Comey told Congress last week the same thing.) Comey and his team then decided to wait for a special counsel appointment before they disclosed the memos.
“It’s a big deal, obviously, to begin an obstruction investigation into a sitting president,” Comey said.
Even though Comey has been orchestrating an obstruction charge for nearly two years, he told Wallace he’s not necessarily rooting for impeachment. “In a way, I hope Donald Trump is not removed from office by impeachment because it would let the country off the hook,” he warned us plebes. “It would drive into the fabric of our nation a third of the people believing there was a coup. And we need a moment of inflection to get off the couch and say, ‘that is not who we are.’” He wants Trump to lose in a landslide in 2020.
Comey’s sudden recall abilities—including how President Obama made a funny face at him when he told the former president he would brief Trump about the unproven Russian prostitution allegations in the Steele dossier—hopefully won’t be unnoticed by Congress
“It’s remarkable his ability to go back and now say these things,” Biggs told me. “It was difficult for him to remember things when he was questioned by Republicans, but easy for him to remember when questioned by Democrats.”
Comey returns to Capitol Hill on December 17. Hope he keeps the ginseng flowing.
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