With ousted FBI Director James Comey set to testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee, a friend of his, Lawfare editor in chief Benjamin Wittes, shed some insight on how he expects Comey will conduct himself in his first open forum since being unceremoniously fired by President Trump.
Acknowledging “there are certain things on which he is not unbound,” Wittes predicted Monday that Comey would not answer any questions related to the ongoing FBI investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the election.
But there are things a now-fired Comey may feel free to address, Wittes said in a Monday interview with Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga and Yahoo News Deputy Editor Dan Klaidman.
“There’s a whole range of stuff that you would never talk about when you’re in office because if you did, you might get fired, or if you did, you might harm some other objective that you’re trying to accomplish, that once you’re out of office, you don’t have to worry about those things,” he said.
He pointed to various reports about Trump’s interactions with Comey.
“And those, I would expect, include all kinds of matters related to questions like, did the president demand a loyalty oath over dinner? Did certain interactions … make you really uncomfortable and concerned about the independence of the FBI? Did the president ask you to drop the Flynn investigation?”
Wittes also said Comey is talented at handling such hearings. When he was still FBI director, Comey confirmed in an earlier, March hearing that there was such an investigation.
“This is a forum in which he does extremely well,” Wittes said. “There are very few people in our period of American politics who have made better use of the congressional hearing than Jim Comey has. He’s a terrific storyteller, and he is an enormously charismatic person.”
“You have people asking him questions, but he really controls the environment,” he continued.
Wittes sparked a round of headlines Thursday when he talked to the New York Times, and published his own account on Lawfare, of Comey’s desire to keep Trump at arm’s length while he was still FBI director.
“Mr. Wittes said Mr. Comey told him that despite Mr. Trump’s attempts to build a personal relationship, he did not want to be friendly with the president and thought any conversation with him or personal contact was inappropriate,” the Times reported.
The Senate intelligence committee announced Friday that Comey had agreed to testify publicly before the committee. The announcement came shortly after the New York Times reported that Trump told Russian officials Comey was “crazy” and “a real nut job” during a meeting in the Oval Office, according to the administration’s private account of the discussion. Wittes refused to specify whether he had spoken to Comey since that revelation came to light, but chided Trump for the continued tumult of his administration.
“Every time you think you’ve reached the point where, OK even he won’t do blank, you pick up the New York Times and somebody’s reporting that he did ‘blank’ in some particularly colorful fashion,” Wittes said.
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