A close friend of James Comey claims that the former FBI director was “disgusted” when President Trump tried to hug him during a public gathering at the White House in January.
Writing at his blog, Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes recounted his conversations with Comey about his interactions with Trump.
Wittes, a resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, says he has not spoken with Comey about the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling during the presidential campaign. But he and Comey have talked about how the newly-fired former FBI chief navigated his job as America’s top cop, including his interactions with Trump.
“Comey described at least two incidents which he regarded as efforts on the part of the President personally to compromise him or implicate him with either shows of closeness or actual chumminess with the President,” writes Wittes.
One incident was a phone call Comey received from Trump in March. Comey told Wittes he believed the call to be urgent so he delayed a helicopter flight he was set to take. But Comey said that Trump wanted only to chit-chat. He told Wittes that he felt that Trump was attempting to curry favor with him.
Wittes also wrote of the now-infamous Jan. 22 hug incident between Trump and Comey.
Trump had invited officials from various law enforcement agencies to attend a meeting at the White House. Comey told Wittes that he did not want to go to the meeting because he believed that “the FBI director should be always at arm’s length from the President.”
“But he also felt that he could not refuse a presidential invitation, particularly not one that went to a broad array of law enforcement leadership. So he went,” Wittes wrote.
Comey, who was fired by Trump last Tuesday, told Wittes that he tried to avoid being seen by Trump during an on-camera speech in the White House Blue Room. The six-foot-eight-inch Comey, wearing a blue suit, even went as far as attempting to blend into blue curtains.
But that strategy failed as Trump spotted Comey and beckoned him from across the room.
“Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me!” Trump said, waving Comey over.
Comey strolled slowly across the room and held out his hand. Trump grabbed the handshake and attempted an awkward hug.
“Comey was disgusted,” Wittes writes. “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.”
Trump and Comey met five days later at a one-one-one dinner at the Oval Office. According to associates of Comey, Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey told friends that he rejected the request and said that he would provide only honesty.
Comey has also claimed that Trump asked him to back off of investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn. That request allegedly came during a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting between Trump and Comey. In a memo he wrote after the meeting, Comey claimed that Trump said to him “I hope you can let this go,” regarding the investigation into Flynn.
The FBI is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Flynn’s business associations and foreign government lobbying activities during the presidential campaign.
Trump has denied asking Comey for a loyalty pledge or for him to back off of Flynn.