President Trump and the man he recently fired, former FBI Director James Comey, made clear last week that they both think the other guy is a bald-faced liar. In fact, “cowardly” Comey said he distrusted Trump so much that he felt the need to document his interractions with him in a way he had never felt the need to do with either Barack Obama or George W. Bush. But John Hinderaker over at Powerline highlights some evidence that appears to indicate that “Comey misled the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
Here is the exchange in Comey’s testimony on Thursday in which he expanded on his claim that he never documented his conversations with Obama or Bush like he did Trump:
WARNER: And so, in all your experience, this was the only president that you felt like, in every meeting, you needed to document, because at some point, using your words, he might put out a non-truthful representation of that meeting. …
COMEY: That’s right, Senator. And I — I — as I said in my written testimony, as FBI director, I interacted with President Obama. I spoke only twice in three years, and didn’t document it. When I was deputy attorney general, I had one one-on-one meeting with President Bush about a very important and difficult national security matter. I didn’t write a memo documenting that conversation either — sent a quick e-mail to my staff to let them know there was something going on, but I didn’t feel, with President Bush, the need to document it in that way, again, because of — the combination of those factors just wasn’t present with either President Bush or President Obama.
But as Hinderaker explains, the anti-Dick Cheney book Angler by Barton Gellman contains evidence that Comey did document the exchange far beyond a “quick e-mail.” The evidence comes via Gellman’s account of the Bush-Comey conversation, which “obviously” came from Comey and is “strikingly similar” to Comey’s account of his meeting with Trump. The most important detail of that account is a footnote citing very detailed “unclassified notes” that had to have come from Comey, whether written by his own hand or dictated.
First, here’s a comparison of Comey’s account of his conversation with Trump followed by the account of his meeting with Bush in Angler (formatting adjusted):
From Comey’s written testimony:
“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. …When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, ‘I want to talk about Mike Flynn.'”
“Bush stood as the meeting ended, crossing behind Cheney’s chair. Comey moved in the opposite direction, on his way out. He had nearly reached the grandfather clock at the door when the president said, ‘Jim, can I talk to you for a minute?’ … This time the vice president was not invited.”
Here’s the “quick e-mail” Comey sent to his staff that he referenced in his testimony that was published in Angler:
The president just took me into his private office for a 15 minute one on one talk. Told him he was being misled and poorly served. We had a very full and frank exchange. Don’t know that either of us can see a way out. He promised he would shut down 5/6 if Congress didn’t fix FISA. Told him Mueller was about to resign. He just pulled Bob into his office.
Yet Gellman footnotes his account of the conversation between Bush and Comey by citing extensive “unclassified notes” that present the Bush-Comey conversation verbatim.
317 “You don’t look well”: Quotations from the Bush-Comey conversation are taken verbatim from unclassified notes describing Comey’s report of the meeting shortly afterward.
Hinderaker notes that while Gellman does not make clear whether it was Comey himself or someone else who produced the verbatim notes, the conclusion is the same: Comey did deem it necessary to extensively document his exchange with Bush, which contradicts his sworn testimony:
Gellman’s phrasing is clumsy; it isn’t clear whether the notes were Comey’s or someone else’s. But it is crystal clear that Comey rendered a “report” on his meeting that included these extensive, self-serving quotes, and that Comey’s side of the story was preserved in notes–unclassified notes, that sounds familiar!–against any possible future contingency.
In short, Comey’s statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee that “I didn’t feel, with President Bush, the need to document it in that way” was false. He did document his story about his meeting with President Bush, in great detail, in a “report” that was turned into “unclassified notes.”