ABC aired George Stephanopoulos’ exclusive interview with James Comey on Sunday — the former FBI director’s first since being fired by President Trump nearly a year ago. It was the most highly-anticipated television interview since the adult film star Stormy Daniels revealed to Anderson Cooper that she once spanked the president using a magazine with his face on the cover. (Somehow, that Sunday night special was only three weeks ago.) The ABC event marked the official kick-off to a promotional blitzkrieg Comey’s publisher has planned around the release of his candid memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.
Comey's book doesn’t hit shelves until Tuesday, but more than 200,000 copies have reportedly already sold, a quarter of an initial print run of 850,000. The memoir is already being heralded as surprisingly "bitchy" by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, "smarmy, mendacious, self-aggrandizing claptrap" by Trump-boosting blogger Chris Buskirk, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calls it the work of a "disgraced partisan hack," that "belongs in the bargain bin."
The president, who did not live-tweet the event, wrote on Twitter Sunday morning, "I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His 'memos' are self serving and FAKE!"
Here’s what we learned from Comey’s interview with Stephanopoulos.
Comey thought Attorney General Loretta Lynch lacked the credibility to update the public on Hillary Clinton’s emails
The reason Comey took the unprecedented step of announcing, in the summer of 2016, that the FBI was not bringing criminal charges against Clinton was because he believed Lynch was unable to do so herself.
"I actually thought, 'As bad as this’ll be for me personally, this is my obligation, to protect the FBI and the Justice Department,'" Comey explained to Stephanopoulos. "Given all that had gone on, the attorney general of the United States could not credibly announce this result. And if she did, it would do corrosive damage to the institutions of justice."
Comey operated under the assumption Hillary Clinton would win the election
"I don’t remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been because I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, and so I’m sure that it was a factor," Comey said. "I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been [my belief] that she’s going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected — the moment this comes out."
He considered, and dismissed the Idea, that his actions might help elect Trump
In October 2016, Comey sent a letter to members of Congress alerting them to the fact that the FBI had reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails. At the time, one of Comey’s FBI colleagues asked him if he was concerned the letter might boost Trump’s chances of winning the election.
"I paused, and then I said, 'Thank you for asking that question. That's a great question. But the answer is not for a moment because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life,'" Comey said. "If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we're done."
He wouldn’t do anything differently
Comey was defiant when questioned about whether he would do everything the same way again. "I would. I would," he said. Later, Comey added, "I think I did it the way that it should have been done. I'm not certain of that. Other people might have had a different view. I pray to God no future FBI director ever has to find out."
Trump’s first thought, on hearing about Russian interference, was allegedly about the optics
After the 2016 election, Comey was part of the team that first briefed the president on Russia’s active measure campaign. "President-elect Trump’s first question was to confirm that it had no impact on the election," Comey recalled. "Then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a PR conversation about how the Trump team would position this, and what they could say about this, with us still sitting there. And the reason that was so striking to me [is] that’s just not done. That the intelligence community does intelligence, the White House does PR and spin."
Remarkably, he added, no one in the room spoke about retaliatory measures or preventing another attack. "It was all, 'What can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had,'" Comey said.
Trump allegedly thinks he looks like a guy who does not need to pay for sex
Despite his pattern of allegedly trying to pay (or pay off) his sexual partners, Trump apparently believes he does not "look" like a guy who needs to pay for sex. We know this because, after being told of the allegations contained in the Steele dossier, Trump asked James Comey, "Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?"
Comey, for what it’s worth, did not respond. "I assumed he was asking that rhetorically, I didn't answer that, and I just moved on and explained, 'Sir, I'm not saying that we credit this, I'm not saying we believe it. We just thought it very important that you know.'"
Trump was worried Melania believed the "golden shower" rumor
Comey told Stephanopoulos that, during a private dinner at the White House, he and the president discussed the dossier’s most graphic allegations, concerning a sexual act Trump may or may not have witnessed at a Russian hotel in 2013. Comey recalled Trump telling him he may want the FBI to prove that it didn't happen. "And then he says something that distracted me because he said, you know, 'If there's even a one-percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible,'" Comey recalled.
"'And I remember thinking, 'How could your wife think there's a one-percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?' I'm a flawed human being, but there is literally zero chance that my wife would think that was true. So, what kind of marriage to what kind of man does your wife think [that] there's only a 99 percent chance you didn't do that?"
Comey doesn't have a firm opinion on that rumor
The former FBI director said he told Trump, "I'm not saying that I believe the allegations, I'm not saying that I credit it. I never said, "I don't believe it,' because I couldn't say one way or another."
Pressed by Stephanopoulos, Comey added: "I honestly never thought this words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know."
As of May 9, 2017, the FBI was not in possession of the pee tape
The information remained "unverified" at the time of his firing, Comey said.
He believes that his criticism of Putin changed his relationship with Trump
Comey described to Stephanopoulos an exchange he had with the president about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump was proud of an answer he’d given in an interview to Bill O’Reilly, in which he defended Putin’s political tactics by saying America has a lot of killers, too.
"He was telling me it was a good answer and gave me an opening by saying, 'You think it was a great answer. You think it was a good answer.’ And then he was starting to move on," Comey remembered, "And I jumped in and I said, 'Mr. President, the first part of the answer was fine, not the second part. We're not the kind of killers that Putin is.'
"And when I said that, the weather changed in the room. And like a shadow crossed his face and his eyes got this strange, kinda hard look. And I thought in that moment, I've just done something unusual maybe. And then, "Comey snapped his fingers, "it passed and the meeting was over. And, thanks for coming in,' and Priebus walked me out."
Comey is not sure about collusion
Asked by Stephanopoulos if he believes the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Comey waffled. "I don't know is the honest answer," he said. "That was what we were trying to investigate at the time. Was anyone aiding the Russians, conspiring with the Russians? There's no doubt there was smoke around that. Whether there's fire, I didn't stay long enough to know."
...But he believes there is evidence of obstruction
"It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. It would depend and – and I'm just a witness in this case, not the investigator or prosecutor – it would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent."
He thinks of Trump as "morally unfit" to be president
"I don't buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who's tracking conversations and knows what's going on. I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president."
He thinks it’s "possible" the Russian government is blackmailing Trump
"I think it's possible," Comey said. "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.”
"You can't say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised by the Russians?" Stephanopolous asked.
"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 would have been able to say with high confidence about any other president I dealt with, but I can't. It's possible."
He’s not in favor of impeachment
"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," Comey said. "People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values. We'll fight about guns. We'll fight about taxes. We'll fight about all those other things down the road. But you cannot have, as president of the United States, someone who does not reflect the values that I believe Republicans treasure and Democrats treasure and Independents treasure. That is the core of this country. That's our foundation. And so impeachment, in a way, would short circuit that."