Donald Trump repeatedly tried to compromise former FBI Director James Comey through phone calls, private sit-downs, and even a hug, according to a friend of Comey’s. Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes, a Comey confidant, recounted the time Trump hugged the former FBI Director.
According to the New York Times, Comey tried to blend into the blue curtains in the back of the room during a White House visit for a ceremony honoring law enforcement officials who provided security at the inauguration. Comey wanted to avoid contact with Trump.
“He thought he had gotten through and not been noticed or singled out and that he was going to get away without an individual interaction,” Wittes said.
Wittes went on to say that Comey “really did not want to go to that meeting.” He wanted to ensure the FBI’s independence from the White House.
Comey, who is 6’8″ tall, tried to blend into the background by using the blue curtains to blend in with his blue suit, but Trump spotted him and called him out.
“Oh and there’s Jim,” Trump said at the time. “He’s become more famous than me.”
Comey then walked up to Trump.
“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” Wittes said. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms so Comey said he pre-emptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand.”
“But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging,” Wittes added.
Comey told Wittes of a phone call from the White House on March 1, that also troubled him.
Wittes recalled that Comey said that he had received a call from the White House and was told that “the president needs to talk to you urgently.”
The Times reports:
He’s about to get on the helicopter, so he doesn’t get on the helicopter,” Mr. Wittes said. “And then when the president gets on he just wants to chitchat.”
Mr. Wittes said that Mr. Comey told him that he perceived the call as Mr. Trump still “trying to get him on the team and he saw it in light of his refusal to give him his loyalty.”
“Trump was still trying to get him on board,” Wittes said.
An interview with PBS:
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) May 19, 2017
At one point, Comey had to explain the procedures Trump should take in order to find out if he’s under investigation and to not contact him directly about it, but instead, the White House counsel should send any inquiries to the Justice Department.
“Comey was preoccupied throughout this period with the need to protect the FBI from these inquiries on investigative matters from the White House,” Wittes wrote, according to CNN. “Comey understood Trump’s people as having neither knowledge of nor respect for the independence of the law enforcement function. And he saw it as an ongoing task on his part to protect the rest of the bureau from improper contacts and interferences from a group of people he did not regard as honorable.”
“While I am not in the habit of discussing with reporters my confidential communications with friends, I decided that the things Comey had told me needed to be made public,” Wittes said. He added that he was not speaking at “Comey’s request.”
Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images.