John blogged this NYT story last night about Comey trying to gently discipline Trump about what is and isn’t appropriate to say to the director of the FBI about pending investigations. But he left out the funniest detail, about a gathering at the White House a few days after the inauguration that Comey didn’t want to attend because he feared Trump would try to act too chummy with him. That would be bad optics for the FBI under any circumstances but really bad optics with Democrats howling that Comey had helped Trump win the election.
How could he get the president not to notice him when they’d be in the same room, though? He hit upon an idea:
The ceremony [on January 22nd] occurred in the Blue Room of the White House, where many senior law enforcement officials — including the Secret Service director — had gathered. Mr. Comey — who is 6 feet 8 inches tall and was wearing a dark blue suit that day – told Mr. Wittes that he tried to blend in with the blue curtains in the back of the room, in the hopes that Mr. Trump would not spot him and call him out.
“He thought he had gotten through and not been noticed or singled out and that he was going to get away without an individual interaction,” Mr. Wittes said Mr. Comey told him.
But Mr. Trump spotted Mr. Comey and called him out.
“Oh and there’s Jim,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s become more famous than me.”
When I read that, I assumed Comey was joking to Wittes, maybe taking a shot at Trump’s intelligence. I.e. “He’s so dimwitted, I thought I could literally blend into the background right in front of him.”
But no, he wasn’t joking. This dude really did stand in front of blue drapes, in a blue suit, as far away from Trump as he could. There he is, all 6’8″ of him, trying to be inconspicuous to great comic effect:
I’ve been laughing at that since a Twitter buddy pointed it out last night. You can read it two ways. One: Comey’s really weird, and not as brave as he’d like people to think:
All my stories of undaunted moral courage start with physically hiding from my adversaries in a style reminiscent of a Vaudeville sketch.
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) May 19, 2017
Two: Comey’s really concerned about impropriety, to the point where he’d try to duck a compromising scene with the president by feebly camouflaging himself. The first read undermines Comey’s credibility. The second enhances it: The guy was so nervous about the Bureau’s integrity taking a hit from perceptions that it was in the tank for Trump that he resorted to “vaudeville” to try to protect it.
Comey also reportedly thought ahead before his dinner at the White House with Trump a few days later. What do you do when you’re the only one in the room with the president and can’t hide in plain sight? You rehearse:
FBI Director James B. Comey prepared extensively for his discussions with President Trump, out of concern that the president was unlikely to respect the legal and ethical boundaries governing their respective roles, according to associates of the now-fired FBI chief…
Before going to the dinner, Comey practiced Trump’s likely questions and his answers with a small group of his most trusted confidants, the associates said, in part to ensure he did not give Trump any ammunition to use against him later.
The director did not take notes during the dinner with the president, but there were times, one associate recalled, when after meeting with Trump, Comey started writing notes as soon as he got into a car, “to make sure he could accurately record what was said.’’
This was the dinner at which Trump allegedly asked Comey for his “loyalty.” Assuming that’s true, it’s also funny that Comey read Trump’s intentions at the dinner so clearly beforehand, although the comedy in this case is much darker.
Here’s the clip of the January 22nd ceremony. Wittes told the Times that Comey “was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” although as you’ll see, Trump did his best to turn the handshake into one. Exit quotation from Wittes: “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.”