James Comey book – live reading: Fired FBI director finally reveals all about the 'pee tape', Trump's hands and more

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James Comey has finally published the book on his time with Donald Trump – showing the White House in some of its most revealing and damaging hours.

The fired FBI director gives an incredibly personal and critical account of the president, including the size of his hands and his panicked reaction to the dossier that claimed there existed a video depicting him engaging in lewd behaviour with sex workers.

The book was intended to be released next week. But with parts of it leaking over the last few hours, its contents are now becoming public – and the world is finally learning deep secrets about two of the most powerful people in the world.

Live Updates

29 secs ago

Now comes the utterly bizarre story of Comey’s removal as director. Stick with this one.
It began on 9 May, when Comey was heading to LA to speak with talented young lawyers, engineers and businesspeople of colour to try and convince them to come and join the FBI. He says he liked these events, because they helped dispel the idea among young black and Latinx people that the FBI was “the man”, and that they should take a pay cut and come and work in the intelligence community.
He’s doing this, speaking to staff in the LA bureau, when he saw something –
“On the TV screens along the back wall I could see COMEY RESIGNS in large letters. The screens were behind my audience, but they noticed my distraction and started turning in their seats. I laughed and said, ‘That’s pretty funny. Somebody put a lot of work into that one.’ I continued my thought. ‘There are no support employees in the FBI. I expect…'”
Then the message on the screen changed to “COMEY FIRED”. The FBI director finished his message – telling the assembled crowd that it wouldn’t change whether or not he was still their boss – and went to try and find out what happened.
Comey describes how he travels with a special team to ensure that he can always be reached. “But nobody called.”
The aftermath sounds like utter bedlam.
“All I knew was what was being reported in the media. After much scrambling, we learned that a White House employee was down on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, trying to deliver a letter to me from the president.”
John Kelly, who was then secretary of Homeland Security, rang to say he was upset and would quit in protest. Comey says he told him not to – “the country needed principled people around this president”.
Eventually Comey got hold of the letter through his assistant, who had scanned it and emailed it over. It told him he was fired, effective immediately.
Comey didn’t even know how to get home. The new FBI boss, Andrew McCabe, who until moments ago had been his deputy, decided that the FBI still had a responsibility to look after him and so took him home to Washington. (Even this apparently infuriated Trump: Comey says the morning after, when Trump had seen news footage of him using the plane, the president called the new FBI director and demanded an investigation into how he’d been allowed to.)

14 mins ago

[We’re now into the final act stuff – Comey’s firing – and we’ve got about 10 pages left. Hang in there.]

15 mins ago

Comey then describes Trump calling him, repeatedly, to describe the Russia investigation as a “cloud” that he wanted rid of. The president wanted it to be made clear that he personally wasn’t under investigation.
Comey describes the last time they spoke. Trump wanted assurances that he needed rid of the cloud; Comey said he could only commit to having spoken to the Department of Justice, and that he should do the same. The call ended.
With it began the end of their relationship, too.

18 mins ago

Another meeting: this time around, Comey is called into talk about Mike Flynn, who had just quit as national security adviser after it became clear that he had discussed sensitive information with the Russian ambassador and then lied about doing so.
Trump appeared to suggest that the FBI should give Flynn some space. He also complained about the continual leaks of classified information.
Comey didn’t assent to either, he says. He agreed that Flynn “is a good guy” but wouldn’t agree to “let this go”.
This – combined with the other meetings – was so awkward that the next time Comey met with then-attorney general Jeff Sessions he asked him to keep the two from meeting one-on-one again. But he suggests that he wasn’t confident that would happen, even at the time.

28 mins ago

Soon after that fateful dinner, Comey was summoned to the White House to meet with Reince Priebus, who was then Trump’s chief of staff. He was asked there to explain the relationship between the FBI and the White House, he says.
But after that was over, Priebus sprung on him a suggestion: should they go and meet the president? Priebus checks that he’s in and they head on over to the Oval Office. Comey gives us another description of Trump as president:
Though this was not the first time I’d seen the new president, it was the first I had seen him in his new office. He didn’t look comfortable. He was sitting, suit jacket on, close against the famous Resolute desk, both forearms on the desk. As a result, he was separated from everyone who spoke to him by a large block of wood.
(Has Comey not heard of a desk before? That’s sort of how they work.)
Comey also notes that Trump had changed the curtains so they are now “bright gold”.
Anyway they get down to what they had apparently been brought together to talk about: a Bill O’Reilly interview with Trump. In it, the president had refused to outright criticise Putin, which many took as a weakness and a potential sign that the two were closer than they let on.
Trump jabbered on about this, describing how great his answer was and how hard the question was. Comey describes how people around Trump are used to this, and seem to let it happen because it’s easier than getting in the way. He uses this chatter to build a “cocoon of alternative reality” – because people don’t disagree with him, those things must be true, and so he is able to convince himself. But then Trump asks what Comey thinks – and Comey gets in the way.
Comey disagrees with Trump’s suggestion that, like Putin’s Russia, the US has killers of its own. “The first part of your answer was fine, Mr President,” Comey quotes himself saying, “but not the second part. We aren’t the kind of killers that Putin is.”
Comey says this signalled a discrete and profound change between the two of them. A look flashed across Trump’s face and the meeting was over. He left, and told his team the personal relationship with Trump was probably over.

42 mins ago

Anyway, the dinner’s over now. They had two scoops of ice cream for dessert. I’d expect more if I was going to the White House.

43 mins ago

That remark about laughing is characteristic of this bit: he keeps making interesting observations about the president, and then making an effort to make them into nuggets of business advice. And he continues, here, when talking about the fact that, towards the end of the dinner, Trump once again asked Comey for his loyalty.
“Ethical leaders never ask for loyalty,” he reflects. “Those leading through fear – like a Cosa Nostra boss – require personal loyalty. Ethical leaders care deeply about those they lead, and offer them honesty and decency, commitment and their own sacrifice […] It would never occur to an ethical leader to ask for loyalty.”
[Which – I mean – sure? But this is Donald Trump. Is anyone turning to him as an example of a good business leader, in this sort of sense? I don’t even think his supporters would think this, really. But Comey seems committed to the idea that he needs this book to give useful advice to leaders in business and elsewhere, and that simply describing his bizarre time with Trump isn’t enough.]

49 mins ago

Comey breaks into a disconnected, but interesting, diversion here: Has Trump ever laughed? He says that he’s never seen him laugh – that he has scoured through the thousands of hours of video footage that has been taken of him on YouTube and found only one laugh.
That laugh came at a campaign event in 2016, when there was a noise at the back that sounded like a dog barking. He asked what it was; someone said it was Hillary.
But otherwise, the man has never laughed. And it’s true – I’ve never seen Trump laugh.
“I suspect his apparent inability to do so is rooted in deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humour of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

55 mins ago

With that we’re back onto the pee tape, for the second time. (So far – it’s coming back.)
Unprompted, and in another zag in the conversation, he brought up what he called the ‘golden showers thing,’ repeating much of what he had said to me previously, adding that it bothered him if there was ‘even a one percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true. That distracted me slightly because I immediately began wondering why his wife would think there was any chance, even a small one, that he had been with prostitutes urinating on each other in Moscow. For all my flaws, there is a zero percent chance – literally absolutely zero – that [Comey’s wife] Patrice would credit an allegation that I was with hookers peeing on each other in Moscow. She would laugh at the very suggestion. In what kind of marriage, to what kind of man, does a spouse conclude there is only a 99 percent chance her husband didn’t do that?

57 mins ago

Trump spent most of the rest of the time giving his explanation of various things. Explaining to Comey what he thought of his recent work as the director of the FBI; explaining why he hadn’t made fun of a disabled reporter, despite the fact there’s video of him doing that; explaining that he hadn’t assaulted any of the various women who claim he did. Also explaining that he likes the decor in the White House (“This is luxury. And I know luxury.”)
Comey tells us all this and then breaks into a short rundown of what he thinks this says about leadership. He says that we tend to think of things being about us but they’re not really about us. Leaders have to stop doing that, he says. “I see this as the heart of emotional intelligence, the ability to imagine the feelings and perspective of another ‘me’.”
Often, as now, when Comey breaks into these sort of didactic bits about how to be a leader or a good person, it has this strange element of having just discovered basic parts of being alive for the first time. Anyway, he says that Trump didn’t have this skill – that nobody had taught him those basic aspects of emotional intelligence.

1 hour ago

Now we’re into the meat of the dinner: Trump called it to suggest that Comey owed him something, and to find out if he could rely on him to keep his part of the bargain. “The president of the United States had invited me to dinner and decided my job security was on the menu.”
This meeting has now become somewhat infamous, because someone (presumably Comey) has been fairly liberal in leaking details of it. Comey said that Trump could rely on him to tell the truth, which didn’t seem to please the president. He said he wanted more: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
Comey doesn’t like this. He compares Trump to a mafia boss again, and suggests that Trump’s supporters consider what would happen if Obama or Bush had done the same (not that they would, he says).
So the two men just look at each other for ages, in yet another awkward confrontation. They start looking at each other and they don’t stop. “In an earlier time in my career and at a younger age, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to keep my composure, to not break the icy stare with a nod or some muffled word, signaling agreement.” But Comey is an experienced man, a veteran – he’s “fifty-six, with a fair number of scars, and in my fourth year as a director of the FBI”. He is ready to look at a man awkwardly for ages, even if he has to talk to himself in his head while he does it. “I sat inches from the president, staring him directly in the face.”
Anyway eventually Trump breaks up the bizarre staring contest and they talk about something else. “My cold response didn’t seem to faze him much, if at all.”

1 hour ago

Now I know that, at least ostensibly, James Comey is so awkward because he doesn’t want to get close to Trump for both personal and ideological reasons. But he’s so awkward! And just after the hugging, we’re treated to another demonstration of that fact:
Comey is telling the story of being called up by the president and asked to come over to the White House for dinner. They settled for 6.30 and he got ready to go. He was initially worried but it was suggested to him that other people were being invited. Then he arrived – and what he saw chilled him to the bone.
Standing at the entrance to the Green Room, as we continued waiting and chatting, I saw it – a table unmistakably set for two. One place setting was marked with a calligraphy card reading, ‘Director Comey.’ The other spot, presumably, was for the president. I was deeply uncomfortable and not just because I did not love the idea of a third discussion of Russian hookers.
Anyway they sit down, have a look at their menu cards, and get to chatting:
“They write these things out one at a time, by hand,” he marvels, referring to the White House staff.
“A calligrapher,” I replied, nodding.
He looked quizzical. “They write them by hand,” he repeated.

1 hour ago

It’s inauguration day!
Comey says he didn’t want to go along, initially. But everyone told him it would look bad if he didn’t – and, anyway, he could just record the American football games he was so excited for and watch them after. So he went along after all, and just committed to keep “a health distance from Trump. So I figured out which way the president would likely enter the room and mingled my way to the opposite end […] I couldn’t get farther away without climbing out of the window, an option that would begin to look more appealing as time went by”. Comey seems like an awkward man.
But it worked, at least initially. Comey says that he’d accidentally stood next to a blue curtain, wearing a blue suit, and so had blended in. “I literally clung to the blue curtain, all in the hope that I could avoid an ill-advised and totally awkward televised hug from the new president of the United States”. Yes – he’s definitely a very awkward man!
Anyway, Trump spotted him. He called him over. And we are given our second detailed depiction of just how terrible it sounds to hug James Comey:
The president gripped my hand. Then he pulled it forward and down. There it was. He was going for the hug on national TV. I tightened the right side of my body, calling on years of side planks and dumbbell rows. He was not going to get a hug without being a whole lot stronger than he looked. He wasn’t. I thwarted the hug, but I got something in exchange. The president leaned in and put his mouth near my right ear. ‘I’m really looking forward to working with you,’ he said. Unfortunately, because of the vantage point of the TV cameras, what many in the world, including my children, thought they saw was a kiss. The world whole ‘saw’ Donald Trump kiss the man who some believed got him elected. Surely this couldn’t get any worse.
If I’ve learnt one thing from this book so far, it is this: do not try and hug James Comey.

1 hour ago

Then the dossier leaked, and with it the accusation of the tape. Trump publicly attacked the publication, and held a press conference; privately, he rang Comey and said that he didn’t even stay in Moscow. Plus, he says:
“Another reason you know this isn’t true: I’m a germaphobe. There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way.”
Comey goes on to give his response to this. And it’s a little strange itself, really:
I actually let out an audible laugh. I decided not to tell him the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in close proximity to the participants. In fact, though I didn’t know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at safe distance from the activity. I thought all of this and said none of it.

1 hour ago

After that meeting was over, Comey asked if he could have some time in a smaller group. Trump said that they could talk one-on-one. And we’re into…
“The Pee Tape.”
Comey doesn’t call it that, obviously. He says that he explained the Steele dossier in broad terms and then moved onto discussing “the allegation in the dossier that he had been with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013 and that the Russians had filmed the episode. I didn’t mention one particular allegation in the dossier – that he was having prostitutes urinate on each other on the very bed President Obama and the First Lady had once slept in as a way of soiling the bed. I figured that single detail was not necessary to put him on notice about the material”.
Comey says Trump was really interested in this one bit of the tape. (Obviously he’s not alone in that…) He kept insisting it wasn’t true; Comey kept saying that he was merely making him aware of the contents of the tape, and informing him since part of the FBI’s job was to keep him safe from coercion.
After that, he kept talking about cases of women who had accused him of sexual assault, Comey claims. He became more defensive, Comey says.
And then he used his Trump card, and told the president that the FBI wasn’t investigating him. They shook hands and left.

1 hour ago

And he lays into the team – particularly Reince Priebus – for the fact that as soon as this briefing was over they immediately began to discuss how to spin it to their own advantage. He says that he never saw this kind of thing with Bush or Obama, and how worried he was that Trump didn’t seem bothered about the mixing of politics and intelligence.
And this is where he compares Trump to a mob boss, which he says happens as he was sitting in the meeting and was struck by the image. He thought of the New York social clubs that were hubs for the mafia. “I couldn’t shake the picture. And looking back, it wasn’t as odd and dramatic as I thought it was at the time.”
He thought the meeting was working on the same logic, too. It was trying to bring him into the family, just like a mobster might do. Comey wanted intelligence to be his thing and politics to be Trump’s – but the president-elect was trying to draw the intelligence community into politics, he says.

1 hour ago

Comey says that, during the briefing, the Trump team only seemed to care about whether the election was legitimate or not. They didn’t, for instance, ask about what the threat from Russia in the future might be. (Comey criticises Trump for not asking, though he doesn’t say that he told him anyway.)

1 hour ago

And back to Trump Tower. Comey is meeting the president-elect himself, for the very first time. And it is worth quoting in full, despite the fact that you’ve no doubt read summaries of this bit already:
He appeared shorter than he seemed on a debate stage with Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, as I looked at the president-elect, I was struck that he looked exactly the same in person as on television, which surprised me because people most often look different in person. His suit jacket was open and his tie too long, as usual. His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coiffed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his. I remember wondering how long it must take him in the morning to get that done. As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.

1 hour ago

(A brief departure from Comey here to explain that he first gave this information – which includes the infamous Steele dossier, which I expect we’re getting to very soon – to Obama, in the White House. They talk about the fact that Comey will head to meet with Trump about it soon. And he ends by talking about the fact that the White House was stocked with apples as snacks, on the tables, and his daughter had asked him to get one of these presidential apples. “I scooped an apple. Nobody stopped me. I photographed it in the car and texted the picture to my daughter, delivering the product that evening She let me taste a slice. Not plastic.”

1 hour ago

We’re launched into New York, on 6 January, 2017 – two weeks before the inauguration, long after Trump has been elected. Comey is sneaking into Trump tower with other members of the intelligence community, ready to brief the president-elect on what spies have learnt about Russian interference in the election.
The four agencies had joined in the assessment, which was both stunning and straightforward: Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered an extensive effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. That effort, which came through cyber activity, social media, and Russian state media, had a variety of goals: undermining public faith in the American democratic process, denigrating Hillary Clinton and harming her electability and potential presidency, and helping Donald Trump get elected.

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