May 20, 2019

Comey Discusses Trump, Mueller and Life After the FBI

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Taking center stage before 1,600 people at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Feb. 10, former FBI Director James Comey broke the ice by commenting on what he believed everyone in the audience was thinking about: his height. 

“It’s a freak show, it really is,” said the 6-foot, 8-inch Comey. “In my head, I’m about 5 feet, 11 inches.”

Comey, who served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, was appointed FBI director in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama. As most people are aware, he was fired on May 9, 2017, by President Donald Trump.

Recalling that fateful day, Comey spoke of how he had been addressing a room of FBI employees in Los Angeles when a headline flashed on the television screen that he had been fired. “I was numbed, honestly, and stunned, and felt like I’d been pushed out of a bullet train,” he said.

Trying to figure out how to move on, Comey said he followed the example of his wife, Patrice, who had coped with the death of their infant son from a preventable infection by working to spare other mothers from that pain. 

Comey spent most of the next year writing a book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” which was published in April 2018. The idea, he said, was to write about leadership and disguise the book as a memoir. 

Comey told the audience at the Saban that he did not want to focus on his feud with Trump, rather, he wanted to discuss the qualities of ethical, effective leadership. An effective leader, he said, should combine kindness with toughness and confidence with humility. He noted that Obama had these abilities, adding, “I was stunned by how good Barack Obama was as a listener.” 

“We should all, wherever we are on the political spectrum, just root for Mueller to finish his work and let the facts be found that illuminate the truth, whatever that is.” — James Comey

Comey also touted having a sense of humor as an essential tool for any good leader. He praised both former President George W. Bush and Obama for having the ability to be funny. He noted that he could only recall one instance when President Trump had laughed. 

Following his 50-minute address to the audience, Comey participated in a 30-minute question-and-answer session moderated by attorney Kevin James. 

Comey was asked how he felt about being hated by both Republicans and Democrats over his decision to announce the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days before the November 2016 presidential election. Comey replied that announcing the investigation or keeping it from the public was a choice between a bad decision and a catastrophic one. He said he chose the bad decision. 

People who are still upset with how he handled the Clinton investigation are viewing the incident through partisan lenses, Comey said. In its decision to reopen the investigation, he added, the FBI was attempting to rise above partisanship. 

When James asked Comey if he believed Trump’s legal troubles were
mounting, Comey took the opportunity to speak about his own views on the Mueller investigation. 

“I don’t know what [Mueller] is going to come up with,” Comey said. “I hope people don’t root for a particular result. We should all, wherever we are on the political spectrum, just root for Mueller to finish his work and let the facts be found that illuminate the truth, whatever that is.” 

Following the event, attorney William Bloch, who had read Comey’s book, told the Journal he was impressed that Comey made the evening about more than his bitterness toward the president. “I thought he was very thoughtful and philosophical in his approach,” Bloch said. “He took it up a notch from being about who is right and who is wrong.”

Julie and Charles Shamash attended with their son, Griffin, a junior at Milken Community Schools. Julie said she was opposed to Trump, while Charles said he supported the president. 

“America is not L.A. and New York,” Charles said. “We live in a bubble here. … There are people who think differently.”

Julie retorted, “When you ask someone who supports Trump, ‘Why do you like Trump?’ they can’t give you one reason.”