In yet another article fraught with innuendo but devoid of any hard evidence of actual wrongdoing by President Trump, The New York Times highlights the account of Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and frequent Trump critic, who is now making the rounds by airing what Comey told him privately about his relationship with the new administration. In the piece, suggestively titled "Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted to Keep Him at a Distance" (more on that title later), we incidentally learn that Comey did not seem to fear that Trump was trying to unduly influence the FBI, which seems to align with his sworn testimony earlier this month.
The Times provides quotes and summaries of some of the statements made by Wittes in interviews concerning what his friend Comey told him privately about his efforts to get the new administration to properly interact with the FBI in order to protect the bureau's independence and protect against public perception issues.
"He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration," said Wittes. During a lunch in March with Comey, The Times explains, the then-FBI director told Wittes that "he had spent the first two months of Mr. Trump’s administration trying to preserve distance between the F.B.I. and the White House and educating it on the proper way to interact with the bureau."
Wittes makes clear that he was not really concerned about what Comey had told him during the lunch in March, at least not enough to feel it necessary to publicly discuss it. He also does not indicate that Comey himself was particularly worried about it. Only after reports of the alleged "loyalty pledge" Trump supposedly asked of Comey did Wittes retroactively interpret Trump's actions as "menacing." Here's how The Times puts it:
Mr. Wittes said he never intended to publicly discuss his conversations with Mr. Comey. But after The New York Times reported earlier this month that shortly after his inauguration Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey for a loyalty pledge, Mr. Wittes said he saw Mr. Trump’s behavior in a “more menacing light” and decided to speak out.
Immediately following that paragraph, we have more evidence that Comey perceived Trump's actions as being motivated by wanting to "build a personal relationship" rather than insidiously influence, intimidate or strong-arm him:
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.
But the most significant thing Wittes said is that Comey felt that after that first two months of "training" the White House on proper communications with the FBI, the issue was resolved:
Their conversation took place after Mr. Comey’s phone call with the president, Mr. Wittes said, and Mr. Comey told him that his relationship with the president and the White House staff was now in the right place.
"'I think we've kind of got them trained,'" Mr. Wittes said, paraphrasing what Mr. Comey told him.
The Times goes on to provide the (hilarious) account of the 6'8" Comey trying to "blend in" with the White House curtains so he wouldn't be noticed by Trump, and Wittes' recollection of Comey saying that at one point Trump invited him to meet with him to "just chitchat," which "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.'"
In other words: not much to see here, which is what Comey himself indicated when he said that obstruction of an FBI investigation by the administration has "never happened" under his watch.
Which brings us back to the title of The Times article: "Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted to Keep Him at a Distance," which is a case study in the establishment media's current, transparent strategy in taking down Trump. The Times clearly understood that Comey wanting to keep the president at a distance is simply not news. FBI directors consistently try to maintain a proper distance from the president, especially if there is an ongoing investigation that in any way involves the executive branch. Realizing that "Comey Is Said to Have Wanted to Keep Trump at a Distance" isn't newsworthy, The Times inserted the suggestive descriptor "unsettled by Trump" to inject some intrigue. However, if you read the full article, Comey's issue with Trump is more correctly described as being "unsettled" with the new administration's misunderstanding of proper etiquette with the FBI, not something more nefarious, as The Times would have you conclude.