Former FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that he hopes the American public gets “transparency” on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on President Donald Trump’s campaign and the 2016 election, and what led to the decision not to pursue obstruction of justice charges.
“I think it’s very, very important that the American people get transparency,” said Comey, speaking in Charlotte at the Belk Theater, at an event hosted by the Learning Society of Queens University of Charlotte, and just days after the long-anticipated conclusion of Mueller’s investigation. “I wasn’t hoping for a particular result, except the work be done, the facts be found... I can’t quite understand what’s going on with the obstruction stuff.”
The report has not been released, but Attorney General William Barr has said Mueller recommended no further indictments. The president has touted the report as a “total exoneration” that found there wasn’t a basis to conclude his campaign colluded with Russia.
But Comey emphasized that the report did find that the Russians interfered in the election, seeking to foment division in the U.S.
“The Russians really did massively interfere in the 2016 election, with the goal of helping one candidate and damaging another,” said Comey. “That was not a hoax.”
In an hour-long talk that drew laughs and loud rounds of applause from a supportive crowd, Comey talked about leadership — and criticized Trump for what he said was a lack of it.
“This person doesn’t know anything about leadership,” Comey said he concluded about Trump during their first private dinner, when he said the president asked for his loyalty. “A good leader doesn’t ask for loyalty.”
Comey has been a target of partisan ire from the left and the right. His announcement days before the 2016 election that the FBI would reopen its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server rocked the race and provoked fury from Democrats.
Comey called the decision over whether to publicly acknowledge the reopened investigation on Oct. 28 “a nightmare from which I can’t awaken.
“We spoke and prayed it would have no impact on the election,” said Comey, who said he believed the only option worse than revealing the investigation would have been concealing its existence. “It was excruciating.”
Since Trump’s election, the revelation that Comey had kept detailed memos on his interactions with the president because he didn’t trust him, and his subsequent criticism of Trump, has drawn Republicans’ condemnation.
Prominent Republicans have hinted since the Mueller report’s conclusion that Comey could now be a target for new investigations. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said this week that Comey should “go get a lawyer,” according to the Washington Times. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted “See you soon” at Comey over the weekend, hinting he could be summoned for Congressional questioning.
Trump has branded him “Leakin’ James Comey” on Twitter. Meanwhile, Comey has been unsparing in his criticism, calling Trump a “forest fire.”
“I believe he is doing tremendous damage to core American values,” said Comey. “I care about the truth and I care about the rule of law... This forest fire is damaging those things.”
In a talk that centered on abstract concepts of leadership and the future of the American republic, Comey, who was appointed deputy attorney general by President George W. Bush, also drew plenty of laughs. He recounted the time that he he cracked his head on a door jamb in the White House situation room and spent a meeting with Bush trying to keep blood from running down his face, and admitted that at 6-foot-8-inches, he’s “kind of a freak show.”
And Comey recounted one of his final meetings with President Barack Obama, when it was decided Comey would have to brief then incoming-President Trump on a dossier the FBI had obtained which alleged Trump was filmed with prostitutes urinating in Moscow.
“President Obama does not say a word,” said Comey. “He raises and lowers both eyebrows, just once. In that moment, I heard, ‘You poor bastard.’
“I found it comforting and warm and kind of hilarious,” said Comey. “I walked out feeling a lot better.”
He connected leadership to humor, and said both Bush and Obama were quick to laugh at themselves. “I’ve actually never seen President Trump laugh or make a joke. I’m not being facetious,” said Comey.
With the 2020 election ramping up, Comey, a former Republican, said the Republican Party has “changed in a way that makes it unrecognizable to me.”
He recalled Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose “Red Scare” tactics and Communist hunts dominated politics for years in the early 1950s, before McCarthy’s abrupt downfall.
“Demagogue fevers break very quickly,” said Comey. “He (McCarthy) disappeared from the national stage, and then there was a lot of explaining to do. I expect that history to repeat itself.”