I’ve now read the whole of James Comey’s new book, being trailed madly on both sides of the Atlantic. Comey has now arrived in London for his UK press tour and was interviewed on BBC’s Newsnight by the brilliant Emily Maitlis. It’s long, but worth watching for the pee tapes alone.
This book’s last third is a very clear, logical account of Comey’s most controversial decisions as FBI Director. The first two-thirds is about his life until that point, in various law enforcement and legal roles around New York and Washington. As a keen observer of American political life, I really enjoyed it. It’s selling well. But it seems inevitable to feel disappointed.
For political junkies and partisans alike, this book will be read closely. It provides a useful, and fairly dispassionate, timeline of the key meetings with Trump and helps to fit a narrative around events that at the time seemed a little random from London. I do believe Comey’s account. Relatively inexperienced as a media personality, as all FBI staff should be, he sought buy-in for most of his big decisions, had press statements reviewed and has good logic underpinning those controversial decisions he took onto his own shoulders, sometimes against convention.
For everyone else, such is the intensity of the marketing campaign around the book that it doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know. All the most salacious points have been reported to death since Comey was fired last year. Sometimes the book feels a little cheap, commenting on the white rings around Trump’s eyes from his sunbed. No doubt this is factually true, but it just empowers Comey’s critics that he is using the whole thing to denigrate Trump. He comes across much better in the long interviews than he does in writing. He seems to be a sincere and serious character, somewhat swept up in the media storm. This is not a bad book, but it needed some new revelation, something really eye-opening, to make it work. It simply does not stand up on its own to the hype.
Just to emphasize how quickly this story continues to evolve, Congress has this morning released the redacted contemporaneous notes taken by Comey immediately after his meetings with Trump. You can read them yourself here.
I’m interested in what Comey chooses to do next. Clearly any kind of public servant role is out of the question, at least until Trump leaves the White House. Perhaps he will become the new Al Gore, teaching us not about environmental harm but about how the office of the Presidency has been undermined and devalued by its reality TV occupant. There’s a high risk with that kind of role. Comey will become even more closely associated with his nemesis Trump, and forever be defined as a contrast to Trump. Nobody wants to be that person, especially not James Comey. The environment is a grand ambition to fight for. Warning people about Trump is too little, too late. We’re stuck with him for two more years and, here in London anyway, people seem to be getting used to him. His tweets are reported less frequently and thoroughly, mercifully, and he may even do some good in North Korea. From this distance, Trump as grand statesman is a role thought impossible a year ago. Time, as it always does, will tell.