By ADRIAN MORROW
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
NEW YORK -- Donald Trump thinks James Comey should be imprisoned. After excerpts from Mr. Comey's book, A Higher Loyalty, appeared last week, the President called for the FBI director he fired to be jailed for disclosing details of his meetings with Mr. Trump to the press.
It might be easy to brush this off as more Trumpian hyperbole, but Mr. Comey says that would be a dangerous mistake.
"My reaction is a shrug, which is 'What are you going to do?' And then I realize there's a danger in that shrug, because if everyone shrugs like that 'Oh, the President just called for the jailing of a private citizen,' then we've normalized that behaviour," Mr. Comey said in an interview in his publisher's office in New York's Flatiron Building on the morning his tome hit shelves. "It reminds me that we all have to talk about it and not become numb to it."
Of course, Mr. Comey was not a private citizen when Mr. Trump turfed him. But the notion of the U.S. President weighing in on what the judiciary should be doing is an extraordinary violation of the separation of power between the political and judicial branches.
'The President, Mr. Comey warns, is a leader completely beyond the pale: Motivated purely by a "personal hunger for affirmation," Mr. Trump's "constant lying" undermines what the former FBI director sees as the central value of the world's most powerful democracy the truth.
Mr. Comey has a polished, political air himself, at odds with the President with whom he has clashed. He speaks in precise sentences, tells a good anecdote and holds eye contact with his interlocutors. But he claims to have no ambitions in that direction.
"Never," he said when asked if he would ever run for public office. "No, I'm not interested in politics, for tons of reasons. That's not who I am and that's not my thing."
Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May of last year over what the President memorably dubbed "this Russia thing" - the FBI investigation into accusations his associates helped the Kremlin meddle in the 2016 presidential election to tip it to Mr. Trump.
And Mr. Comey's book details the President's fixation on Russia - particularly an unproved allegation in a dossier compiled by a former British spy. The Russians, the book claims, videoed Mr. Trump getting prostitutes to urinate on a Moscow hotel bed in 2013 to defile it after then-president Barack Obama had slept there.
On four occasions, Mr. Trump denied the allegation to Mr. Comey without prompting - something that only made the then-FBI director think the story might be true.
"My experience as a prosecutor tells me that sometimes people bring things up defensively when there's nothing to it, but very often people bring it up when you're not asking them about it because they have a sense of a guilty conscience," he said. "I don't know which it is with President Trump. But it was often enough and odd enough that it stuck with me."
A Higher Loyalty - in which he comments on Mr. Trump's penchant for overlong ties and describes both his gravity-defying haircut and the size of his hands - has also opened Mr. Comey up to accusations of sensationalism. It's a particularly easy charge to make given that much of the book is preoccupied with Mr. Comey's assertions of the importance of values in public life and the FBI's distance from politics.
But Mr. Comey argues he would have been doing the public a disservice by not disclosing what he saw in Mr. Trump's White House.
"I'd actually rather not be doing this. This is not something I'm doing for the money, not something I'm doing for the attention. It's going to be a major pain for me," he said. "But I have a vantage point, given where I've worked and what I've seen, that I can offer a view that I think can be useful to people. And I think if I didn't, that would be the coward's way out."
And including details on the presidential coiffure and hand size?
"What I'm trying to do is be a good author, I've never been an author before, and bring people into the scene and bring them into the room with me. ... I'm trying to tell the reader, 'This is what my experience was,' " he said.
Elsewhere in Mr. Comey's book, he describes fighting with George W. Bush's White House over the use of warrantless surveillance and the torture of prisoners. But he draws a distinction between those events and the behaviour of Mr. Trump.
"Leaders like President Bush and President Obama have, when they're making hard decisions, external reference points. They think about a religious tradition or philosophy or history or the law," he said. "My experience with Donald Trump is that the only reference point is internal: 'What will give me the affirmation I crave?' ... That is disturbing in a leader."
Polling shows Mr. Trump has held a solid core of support, despite the chaos of his first 15 months in office. It would seem to suggest that what Mr. Comey fears - Americans accepting Mr. Trump's behaviour - has come to pass. But he argues that the uptick in protests and political organizing in the Trump era belies this.
"People are realizing 'You know what? This is not acceptable. This is not normal. It's not okay,' " he said. "We in America - and it's true in Canada as well - we have great battles about policy issues ... but there are things above that, that are more important."
Speaking of Canada: Mr. Comey chose a quotation from Calgary singer-songwriter Jann Arden to open the first chapter of the book, in which he describes a formative experience - being held at gunpoint during a home invasion at the age of 16 - that helped prompt his career as a prosecutor.
The quote - "To not think of dying, is to not think of living" - is widely attributed to Ms. Arden online and appears to come from an interview. But it's somewhat unclear how Mr. Comey found it.
"I was looking through, trying to find something that captured what that chapter's about, and hers just nailed it," he says. "I don't know her songs that well, but I know who she is and the kind of things she sings about. ... All my daughters are musical and so I think they introduced her into my life."
HILARY SWIFT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Ex-FBI director James Comey, in New York on Tuesday, says he would be doing the public a disservice by not disclosing what he saw in Donald Trump's White House.
HILARY SWIFT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL