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.)