Comey would not say whether he believed Trump had obstructed justice, but said Trump’s direction regarding Flynn was “evidence of obstruction of justice” and referred to the “pretense” of his firing “melting away.” He defended his decision to send memos about his meetings with the president to a friend to send to the press, and pointedly called them unclassified memos, against Trump’s repeated claims that Comey leaked classified information. He said he had hoped for the appointment of a special counsel, and tried to frame the debate over a possible firing of Mueller.
“It would, I hope, set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law,” Comey said. “And it would be something that our entire country—again, Democrats and Republicans, that is higher than all the normal fights about policy. That is about the values of this country and the rule of law. And it would be to the everlasting shame of partisans if they were unable to see that higher level and to protect it.”
Stephanopoulos pressed Comey at some length on his choices during the Clinton email investigation, and in particular his decision to publicly reopen the investigation on October 28, 2016, which Clinton and some analysts believe cost her the election. Comey has already laid out his somewhat tortured explanation for why he did what he did, and he comes across as regretful about how things played out. It was for this that Comey was ostensibly fired, and his decisions have been criticized by former Justice Department officials of both parties. Comey said he would still have made the choices he made, but nothing new in his explanation is likely to convince doubters.
In one of the starkest moments of the interview, Comey said he still did not know whether Russia possessed blackmail material on Trump.
“I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible,” he said. “It is stunning and I wish I wasn’t saying it, but it’s just—it’s the truth. I cannot say that. It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely, and I woulda been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can’t. It’s possible.”
The climax of the interview was Comey’s judgment that Trump was unfit to serve. He rejected the idea, floated by some, that Trump is mentally incompetent, or suffering from dementia that endangers his judgment. “He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on,” Comey said. In other words, the problem is not that Trump does not know what he’s doing: It’s precisely that he does know what he’s doing.
Comey hedged a bit when quizzed about whether he would back impeachment. He wouldn’t rule it out, but said, “I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they’re duty-bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.” It’s a curious answer, to say that a president is a chronic liar unfit to serve yet also be willing to leave him in office for another two years.