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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

WASHINGTON — Recently fired as FBI director, James Comey arrived at the teeming Senate Intelligence Committee hearing room. He rode a white horse into the big story, which casts him as a truth-teller versus a new president with few scruples. Sure, the white horse is in my imagination, but that’s the kind of guy Comey likes to be: 6’8″ tall and just as upright.

That president would be Donald J. Trump, furious about the FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. He and Comey pretty much agree on one thing: He was fired for not publicly saying Trump was not personally under investigation, despite pressure from the president.

A tete-a-tete dinner at the White House was presented to the Senate panel as a centerpiece of Trump’s threats and wrongdoing. “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” Trump said, according to Comey’s detailed notes of their nine conversations — or coercions. The narrative, which reads like a novel, was released to the public the day before, a sharp break from custom. Curiously, Trump said, “We had that thing,” as Comey wrote.

“What thing?” Senator John McCain asked, time and again. Comey refused to answer, but his main point was that Trump took every chance to remind him that his 10-year term could be ended at any time. Comey is a strange bird, a Republican appointed by a Democratic president, Barack Obama, in 2013. He thus has no strong partisan support.

Comey was directing the active Russian investigation in 2016 — kept a tight secret — and another into presidential candidates Hillary Clinton’s email server — which he made public in bungled ways that might have influenced the election. He had no remorse to express in the public square. None. Will history forgive this high-minded contrarian?

At one point, the 56-year-old remarked, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” The reference to the Richard M. Nixon White House underlined the remarkable downward distance Trump has traveled in office from January to June.

Comey lives for such moments and prepares for them meticulously. If he can somehow seize the political spotlight for standing up to presidential power, he will do it, with spectacular bonanzas to his reputation. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said about Trump’s acid insults, which followed him out the door. His dander was up and broke momentarily through the practiced polish.

“He was asking; I was refusing,” Comey said, when the president asked to call off the dogs on Michael Flynn, forced to resign as the national security advisor for his Russian contacts.

Comey’s sudden firing, which aired on cable before he knew, was vintage Trump humiliation. The former director said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t get to say good-bye to the FBI workforce.”

There was no telltale blood left on the cathedral floor, but Comey’s firing was a modern counterpart to the martyred priest Thomas Becket, whom King Henry II considered “troublesome.” His knights got the hint.

In a hospital scene that became famous, Comey rushed to the bed of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent two George W. Bush White House officials from getting Ashcroft’s signoff on extending a surveillance program. It’s likely that 2004 incident lighted the path to Obama’s appointment, creating a halo of independence over Comey.

I know people who know Comey, who say his legal mind is fine, but not brilliant. In many minds, his decision to speak out on one investigation — a few days before the election — and stay mum on another was a grave disservice to American democracy. He has a few skeletons in his work closet suggesting he is hostile to the Clintons.

I’m convinced his genius is for pious self-promotion, on both sides of the Washington street. Remember the Blue Room handshake? Comey said he was trying to blend into the curtains to avoid Trump; yet he stood right across the room in his line of sight.

For me, Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., nailed Comey’s conduct: “You continued to show up for work the next day.”

Comey did not resign in protest or conscience. If Trump had not fired him, his sweet nothings would be lost on us.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.