Former FBI Director James Comey recently found himself out of a job, after he was abruptly and publicly dismissed by President Donald Trump in May. Not to worry. It seems he can always fall back on another career path: best-selling spy novelist!
Not long after his firing, Comey was asked to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He will appear on Thursday to offer his testimony, but his prepared remarks were made public on Wednesday and quickly became a must-read.
Sure, political reporters and readers alike may be combing through the testimony for revelations about the president, such as whether he really asked Comey to drop an investigation into the administration’s rumored links to Russia, and whether he fired Comey for refusing to agree.
But there’s something else going on here: Comey’s testimony is, as Twitter might say, fire emoji. If it were a book, its jacket blurbs would describe it as unputdownable, a nonstop thrill ride, and packed with twists and turns. It’s not so much stranger than fiction as it is exactly like fiction ― everything we could want in a Tom Clancy knockoff picked up at an airport bookstore. This one could certainly keep us awake during a red-eye from New York to Moscow. (Or wherever.)
Is it Comey’s deadpan yet smooth prose? The sheer weirdness of the anecdotes he relates? The naked political intrigue? We say: It’s all of those things, and so much more.
Here are 14 times Comey’s prepared testimony most strongly resembled a spy novel we’d definitely preorder on Amazon:
1. “I was asked to testify today to describe for you my interactions with President-Elect and President Trump on subjects that I understand are of interest to you. I have not included every detail from my conversations with the President, but, to the best of my recollection, I have tried to include information that may be relevant to the Committee.”
Nothing like a found-document-style framing to spice up a novel ― see The Handmaid’s Tale or The Princess Diaries!
2. “The Director of National Intelligence asked that I personally do this portion of the briefing because I was staying in my position and because the material implicated the FBI’s counter-intelligence responsibilities. We also agreed I would do it alone to minimize potential embarrassment to the President-Elect.”
Already, there seems to be something amiss in the state of the U.S. government.
3. “I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.”
This is what we might call foreshadowing that such documentation will prove vital.
4. “It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.
It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.”
A dramatic dinner alone with the president...
5. “My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.”
...who has an unusual request to make.
6. “A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”
Like Chekhov’s gun, the theme of “loyalty” has been established. What could happen next?
7. “He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want, honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.”
Uh-oh, the conversation ends with the whole loyalty thing unresolved. Watch for it to explode in Act 2!
8. “The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.”
Through these details, such as the president repeatedly saying he wants to speak to Comey alone, we gather that this desire to be alone will prove significant. Why? Intrigue, probably.
9. “When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to talk about Mike Flynn.’ Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.”
Yep, it was the intrigue thing.
10. “The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, ‘He is a good guy and has been through a lot.’ He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.’ [...] I did not say I would ‘let this go.’”
The president tries, and fails, to draw the noble FBI director into his web of intrigue.
11. “The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide. We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account.”
Who would believe the narrator, with no evidence but his word against the president’s?
12. “On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.’”
You know it’s a real post-WWII spy novel once “Russian hookers” show up.
13. “The President went on to say that if there were some ‘satellite’ associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.”
But why was the president saying this? What deeper forces are at work here?
14. “He said he would do that and added, ‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ [...]
That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.”
“That thing,” being the crux of the whole novel, will not be revealed until the final 10 pages. Can’t wait!