One-on-one interview with James Comey. TRANSCRIPT: 04/19/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 19, 2018
Guest: James Comey
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Our guest tonight is James Comey, who is the director of the Federal Bureau
of Investigation until President Trump relieved him of that role last year.
That firing has reportedly led to the president himself coming under legal
scrutiny for potential obstruction of justice.
Now, as me and the whole staff here were preparing for this interview
tonight with Mr. Comey, some news broke about Mr. Comey. You will remember
that he was fired last May, May 9th.
The following day, on May 10th, President Trump, surprise, hosted two
Russian government officials in the oval office where he told them, quote,
I just fired the head of the FBI, he was crazy, a real nut job. I faced
great pressure because of Russia. That`s taken off.
That was May 10th, the day after the president fired Mr. Comey. The
following day, May 11th, President Trump told NBC`s Lester Holt what he had
foremost in his mind when he decided to fire Mr. Comey was the Russian
Now, if in terms of criminal laws, the president fired the FBI director
because it was a Tuesday or because he just decided he just likes a lot of
turnover in national security jobs, or just because James Comey rubbed him
the wrong way for no meaningful reason, that would basically be fine.
Legally, the president can fire presidential appointees without anybody
telling him that he can`t.
If, however, the president fired Mr. Comey because of the Russia
investigation, because he wanted to influence an ongoing FBI investigation
into him and his campaign that Comey was overseeing as FBI director –
well, that might be obstruction of justice. Criminal liability here hinges
on intent, evidence of the president`s intent in that firing. That`s
So, the 9th, Comey is fired, the 10th, the president tells Russian
officials that firing him will take off great pressure because of Russia,
the 11th, he tells NBC News he`s thinking about Russia when he fires the
man, all potentially evidence of intent. Enough to sink the president on
that? Don`t know.
But then, just a few days later, exactly one week after Comey was fired, we
learned on May 16th from this “New York Times” report that Mr. Comey had
written several memos, contemporaneous memos documenting his interactions
with the president, interactions that led up to him being fired. Mr. Comey
had given at least one of those memos to a friend who shared it with “The
It was a memo about a now very famous interaction in the Oval Office in
which Mr. Comey claims President Trump asked him to drop the Russian
investigation into his national security adviser Michael Flynn. “The
Times” reported, quote, Mr. Comey also created similar members including
some that are classified about every phone call and meeting he had with the
president. So, “The Times” reported the existence of those memos on a
Tuesday, one week after Comey was fired. Later that same day, the FBI got
the first request from a congressional Republican to hand those memos over
Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz was the chair of the House Oversight
Committee then. He`s since left for a gig at Fox News. But Congressman
Chaffetz wrote to the FBI that same day the memos were first reported and
he insisted that the bureau hand over, quote, all memoranda, notes,
summaries and recordings referring or relating to any communications
between Comey and the president, which created this very interesting
question. Would the FBI hand those over? Does the FBI even have the
option to hand those over if those memos are going to end up being evidence
in a live FBI criminal investigation?
Well, the very next day, the day after the existence of those memos were
revealed and Congress demanded to see them, Deputy Attorney General Rod
Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to take offer the investigation. And
if Comey`s firing was directly connected to the Russia investigation, which
Trump himself had said it was, then Comey`s fire would presumably fire
under the remit of the special counsel`s active open investigation.
And so, the FBI said no. The FBI told Congress, no, we cannot turnover
James Comey`s memos to you because they are evidence in an ongoing
investigation and we don`t turn over evidence in an ongoing investigation
That standoff between the FBI and congressional Republicans over Mr.
Comey`s memos, it`s been going on ever since, ever since may of last year.
Republicans in Congress demanded that the FBI hand over the memos. They
demanded that Rod Rosenstein make the FBI turn them over. Rod Rosenstein
That tracks with longstanding precedent at the Justice Department, evidence
in ongoing criminal investigations is closely guarded. In this case in
particular given what we`ve seen over the last year or so, there is in
addition if we`re being real here, every reason to believe if those memos
or any other evidence was turned over to congressional Republicans, it
would probably be leaked, perhaps selectively to the media and it seems
safe to guess any such material would also be shared with the president and
his legal team while the president or at least his campaign is the subject
of the special counsel`s ongoing investigation and reportedly that includes
an investigation of whether the firing of Mr. Comey is evidence of
obstruction of justice.
So that is where things stood until right now, until tonight. After days
of reporting that Republicans in Congress were putting incredible pressure
on Rod Rosenstein to produce documents, threatening to hold him in contempt
of Congress, threatening to impeach him, tonight the Justice department has
handed over to Congress Mr. Comey`s memos about his interactions with the
president. Memos that presumably are still important evidence in an
investigation that we believe is still under way.
So, it is fortuitous timing that the man who wrote these memos is our guest
tonight. I`m very much looking forward to asking him about that and
everything else under the sun.
James Comey has been a lifelong public servant and law enforcement
professional. He served as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of
Virginia and Southern District of New York where he rose to become U.S.
attorney in the Southern District. He then became deputy attorney general
of the United States and then director of the FBI.
At this point, he expected to be about halfway through the normal ten-year
term for an FBI director, but President Trump fired him in May. Mr. Comey
has now written a book about his time in public life and his views of
ethical leadership. It is driving everybody absolutely crazy up to and
including the president. It`s called “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and
Director Comey, it`s really nice to meet you. Thanks for being here.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It`s great to meet you. Great to be
MADDOW: Thank you for timing this whole thing, so the memos came out just
before you sat down.
COMEY: I had no idea.
MADDOW: Yes. And I haven`t actually had a chance to read what they have
released. I can tell you how they start. What follows are notes I typed
in the vehicle immediately upon exiting Trump Tower on 1-6-17, although I
wrote this in less than five minutes after the meeting and I have tried to
use actual words spoken, including quoting directly in some places. I have
not used quotation marks throughout because my purpose was to capture the
substance of what was said. I`m not sure of the proper classification
here, so have chosen secret. Please let me know if it should be higher or
lower than that.
Do you recognize those as your words?
COMEY: I do.
MADDOW: Why did – you explained to Congress that you didn`t write memos
like this after other interactions with other presidents. What trained you
or told you or made you believe that you should write a memo like this
after interactions with President Trump?
COMEY: Well, the first meeting in particular I was concerned that I needed
a record to show the other intelligence agency chiefs who had been with me
but didn`t stay behind for the second private meeting, and I also was
worried that I was meeting alone with the president who talk about things
that were relating to him and to the FBI`s core responsibilities. And
given the nature of the person, as I understood the president-elect, he
might not tell the truth about those if it ever became an issue, and so, I
needed a written record.
MADDOW: And is this the sort of thing that FBI officials and even FBI
special agents and people throughout the bureau do as a matter of course?
Is there a template for this kind of thing? Do you train one another this
is a way to approach your role as a potential witness and important
COMEY: These are different than what agents would normally do. Agents
would normally prepare a, what`s called a 302 and making an official
record. This was an e-mail to my team who had been there just telling them
what went on. The other memos I wrote were more sort of aides to my own
But none of them were done in sort of the way an FBI agent would do. I`m
not an FBI agent. I wasn`t. I was the director.
MADDOW: You have shared a lot of your details in congressional testimony,
in particular now in the book, which I buried under my notes here, about
your meetings and interactions with President Trump. And so, we know some
of what is in these memos. Is Congress, is the public going to learn
substantially new information and important new information about your
interactions with the president, or do you feel like you conveyed the most
important stuff to Congress?
COMEY: I don`t know because I don`t – I haven`t had access to my memos in
quite a while so I don`t know whether there`s significant stuff that`s in
there that I wasn`t able to tell in the book. I don`t think so.
COMEY: But I haven`t read them myself. So I`m OK with transparency. I
just assume the Department of Justice went through the steps to make sure
it wasn`t jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.
MADDOW: Well, I mean, to that point, you say in the book that you don`t
know if the president`s requests to you about the Russia investigation and
your firing constituted obstruction of justice. You said a prosecutor
would need to review all the evidence of the president`s intent behind
those actions in order to do that.
Do you think these memos are part of the evidence that a prosecutor, Robert
Mueller or somebody else, should be considering when determining the
COMEY: Yes. In this way – I`m sure the special counsel`s considering my
recollection of those events, which are reflected in these memos, but it`s
my recollection that is the evidence that would be used if there was ever a
proceeding. These would be to show that I wrote it down at the time, sort
of bolster the credibility of my recollection.
MADDOW: Can it as a general matter impede an ongoing investigation to have
central evidence, important evidence, made available to the public and
that, of course, includes being shown to the person who may be the subject
COMEY: Could in general, it could.
COMEY: It would depend upon the circumstances of the case and the
MADDOW: And in this case, do you worry that that`s a possibility?
COMEY: I don`t know because I haven`t gone through them in detail. I
think all the significant parts are also in my book, which the FBI reviewed
and approved as part of the pre-publication review. So, I really can`t say
MADDOW: In terms of what Congress has had access to – Deputy Attorney
General Rod Rosenstein has come under a lot of really intense political
pressure to hand over internal documents from the investigation. It has
led to some unprecedented stuff being made either public or given to
Congress, information about a FISA warrant to surveil a Trump foreign
policy adviser, the E.C., the electronic communication from July 2016,
which is a term I didn`t know before this week, but that`s apparently the
document that officially launched the Russia investigation and also now
these memos, even though they`re part of an ongoing investigation.
What do you think of the kind of demands that Republican members of
Congress have been making to see these documents that are internal to this
investigation? Is it – does it worry you that this kind of stuff is being
exposed for the first time?
COMEY: I don`t know enough about what the considerations are inside the
department to know whether I should be worried. I assume there`s a robust
back and forth and they`re protecting the prerogatives of the special
counsel and the FBI but I don`t know enough to say.
MADDOW: In terms of the Carter Page FISA warrant, because I mentioned it,
it used to be that even the existence of a FISA warrant or sometimes even
the existence of the FISA court was something that public officials didn`t
even want to acknowledge. But now we know that you and many other
officials are among those who at one point or another signed off on
applications for a surveillance warrant against this guy who at one point
was part of the Trump campaign. Nearly a dozen members of Congress this
week said that every official who signed off on those warrant applications,
including you, should be prosecuted for doing so, that that FISA warrant is
a scandal and that Carter Page was wronged.
What do you make of that whole – that whole line of criticism?
COMEY: I don`t think it`s based in substance or law or a genuine concern
for the integrity of the FISA process, which is incredibly rigorous and
overseen by independent federal judges. So, I think it`s a political deal.
MADDOW: Carter Page was a foreign policy adviser to the president`s
campaign. From what we know in terms of him being mentioned in other court
cases, including a Russian spy ring that was wrapped up in here in New
York, which he was in contact with, it seems, just from a layman`s
perspective, that there was reasonable cause to at least look at him in
terms of his contacts with the Russian government. He`s then announced as
a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
Paul Manafort is announced as chairman for the Trump campaign. It has been
credibly reported that Paul Manafort was under FBI investigation as far
back as 2014 because of his dealings in the former Soviet Union and
potentially with the Russian government.
When the FBI knows that kind of stuff about people, who end up getting
vaulted from relative obscurity into important positions in an active
presidential campaign for the nominee of a major party, is there some duty
to warn? Is there any sort of – is there some action that the FBI should
take? You`re not asked to do background checks on people for political
campaigns, but when you know what you know about these folks, you know
about ongoing investigations involving these people and serious matters,
should something have been said?
COMEY: I don`t want to talk about those in particular, but in general, it
depends upon what the facts are that started the investigation and what
you`ve learned. The goal is always to disrupt and defeat the adversary`s
So, sometimes, that means building a criminal case and locking up the
person who has been working with the foreign power. Sometimes it means
going to the person and saying, hey, we know you`re hooked up with them,
knock that off. Sometimes, it`s a – it is a laying in the weeds trying to
develop sources of information to get close to them.
Lots of different techniques. Always the goal is to defeat the adversary`s
actions in an effort to influence the United States.
MADDOW: Did anything like that happen in terms of Paul Manafort?
COMEY: I can`t answer that. I mean, I could but I can`t. And that kind
of stuff is not in the book because the book can`t contain classified
information or investigative information.
These memos that have just been made public tonight, they literally became
public as you sat down. I want to ask you about a couple of things that in
my control room, they`ve just identified as information that they think is
new to the public. As I read this to you, I will be reading it to myself
for the first time. I`ve not seen this.
From one of your memos dated February 8th, 2017, quote: As I waited in the
West Wing lobby, Mike Flynn stopped by and sat down. We chatted for about
five minutes about his new job, the challenges in building a staff and
working with folks who had never been in government before, how he
maintains fitness, et cetera. There was no mention by either of us of
redacted, redacted, redacted.
Mike Flynn at that point had already been interviewed – February 2017, had
already been interviewed by FBI agents. He was interviewed by FBI agents
at the White House two days after he was sworn in in January 2017.
Clearly, the FBI had reason to be questioning him while he`s serving as
national security adviser.
Was that awkward? I`m not going to ask you what`s redacted here.
Presumably, it`s redacted for good reason. But your interactions with Mike
Flynn at that point when he`s at least been just questioned by the FBI,
there`s been a warning about him from the Justice Department to the White
House, clearly he`s still in his national security adviser role.
COMEY: Yes, it was awkward. One of the reasons I recorded it was given
those circumstances, I wanted to make sure I was able to remember that we
didn`t talk about the subject of the interview. I didn`t say a word about
it. He didn`t say a word about it. It was just sort of chit-chat as I
waited for another meeting that wasn`t involving him.
MADDOW: Why was Flynn interviewed by FBI agents after he was sworn in?
COMEY: I don`t know whether I can answer that, Rachel. Again, I don`t
know – I want to be careful that I don`t say anything that steps on Robert
Mueller`s investigators` work. And so, I don`t think I can answer that as
I sit here.
MADDOW: Let me ask you a related question that I also don`t know if you
can answer. This has bothered me just as a citizen. This has sort of made
me itch from the very beginning.
Given what the FBI and other intelligence agencies knew about Flynn at the
time, it has always bothered me to think that he was sitting in on the
president`s daily brief, that he was involved in the highest level national
security discussions at the White House as the president`s duly sworn
national security adviser. I mean – and this is after the Justice
Department had taken this remarkable step where the Acting Attorney General
Sally Yates went to the White House and warned them that he was compromised
by the Russian government, that he was not being honest, that he appeared
to be vulnerable to blackmail. Did the FBI – did any intelligence agency
that was involved in coming to this conclusion about Flynn take any
measures to keep sensitive information from him, to protect national
security from somebody who is believed to be compromised? He stayed in the
White House for a long time after that warning was given.
COMEY: Yes, you predicted correctly. I understand why you have that
COMEY: I`m not permitted to answer that.
MADDOW: In terms of what happened once Flynn was sworn in, once that
warning happened, once he stayed on in the office, ultimately he does get
fired. The president, you`ve testified to Congress and you write about in
the book, told you to lay off the investigation to Flynn. It`s been
publicly reported that President Trump did more than just ask you himself.
It`s been publicly reported that he also asked the director of national
intelligence, Dan Coats, to intervene with you, to end the investigation
into Flynn. And you said in June that you never talked to DNI Coats on
Did anybody at any time other than the president ever ask you to back off
the Flynn investigation?
MADDOW: Has there ever been any interaction between either yourself or the
FBI in general and CIA, NSA, Treasury, any of the other agencies that might
have been involved in this investigation that seemed not fulsome, that
seemed not in keeping with the way previous counterintelligence
investigations might have gone? Was there any reason to worry about
anything going on in any other agency?
COMEY: Not that I`m aware of. I have seen the public reporting that you
mentioned, but I have no personal knowledge of that.
I want to ask you about George Papadopoulos.
MADDOW: On page 189 of your book, you say, in late July, the FBI learned
that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser named George Papadopoulos had
been discussing months earlier obtaining from the Russian government e-
mails damaging to Hillary Clinton.
Now, that was news to me in the book. And I know the FBI had to sign off
on everything that`s in the book. But the statement of offense around
George Papadopoulos just says that he was told that the Russian himself e-
mails of Hillary Clinton`s. You appear to be going further here saying
that it was more than that, that he actually was in conversations with them
about obtaining those e-mails presumably for the Trump campaign.
Is that how you meant that?
COMEY: Yes. I took that – that comes from – the public source for that
is the two versions of the memo. I don`t know what they called it, from
the HPSCI over the Page FISA.
COMEY: So that`s an accurate description of what is in the public record.
MADDOW: So, Papadopoulos, that information came to the FBI and the FBI
brought together a multi-agency working group to start this investigation
or did the FBI start this on its own?
COMEY: The FBI opened it in our counterintelligence division in late July
MADDOW: OK. That timing ends up being important for the late
politicization of that question because there`d been a lot of allegations
that maybe the FBI started that investigation because of Christopher
Steele`s dossier, those intelligence memos he prepared. That`s not true?
COMEY: Not true.
MADDOW: Did the FBI have a relationship with Christopher Steele that you
would consider to be a – one of trust, a useful relationship, fruitful
relationship with him?
COMEY: All I`m permitted to say about that as I understand it is he was
considered a reliable person by the FBI.
MADDOW: OK. And in terms of how that broke down, I want to talk to you a
little bit about some stuff that happened closer to the election. But it
seems like there was a mutual breakdown in the relationship between Mr.
Steele and the FBI getting close to the time of the election. He`s
characterized it that way. Would you see it that way as well?
COMEY: Yes, I don`t know anything about that. And if I did, I wouldn`t
say. But I don`t know anything about it.
MADDOW: All right. I`m going to ask you more questions that you can
answer when we come back –
COMEY: OK, good.
MADDOW: – in part because I`m going to read this memo that just came out.
James Comey is our guest tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is former FBI Director James Comey. His new
book “A Higher Loyalty” is driving everybody crazy. It`s very good
actually. It`s very readable book. Usually, public official books kind of
feel like paint by numbers, but you can kind of tell that you wrote this
and you`re into it.
COMEY: It`s a high bar, isn`t it?
MADDOW: I know, I`m sorry. The same thing – you should hear when cable
news hosts write books. It`s not even paint by numbers, it`s just
Since you sat down, we have been absorbing the memos that you wrote after
interactions with President Trump before he fired you, which have just this
hour been made public. I want to ask you about something that is new to me
in these memos, which concerns a conversation you apparently had with then
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Quote: Mr. Priebus then asked me if this was a private conversation. I
replied that it was. He then said he wanted to ask me a question and I
could decide whether it was appropriate to answer. He then asked: do you
have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?
I paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here but that
this illustrated the kind of question that had to be asked and answered
through established channels. I said the answer redacted. I then
explained that the normal channel was from DOJ leadership to the White
House counsel about such things, redacted. I would normally make sure the
A.G. and deputy A.G. were aware and they would likely inform the White
House counsel and he could decide whether to inform that chief of staff. I
explained that it was important that communications about any particular
case go through that channel to protect us and to protect the White House
from any accusations of improper influence.
What`s the context there? What`s going on there in this moment?
COMEY: I was in a meeting with him in the White House. This is the
president`s then-chief of staff, Reince Priebus. It was a follow-up to the
dinner I`d had with the president on the 27th. As I understood the
meeting, it was for me to introduce myself, get to know him and to explain
how we interact, how the FBI interacts with the White House. He seemed to
want to get it right. That was what I understood the purpose to be.
MADDOW: And so, this – when he was asking you this, when you`re having
this interaction with Reince Priebus, at that time, the White House had
been warned that Mike Flynn was perceived to potentially be compromised by
a foreign power, that FBI interview had happened, the warning from the
acting attorney general had happened – and at that time, Mike Flynn was
still in the White House.
This actually goes to the questions I was asking you a little bit before
about the potential threat that it poses to national security to have
somebody compromised by a foreign power in a national security job in the
White House. It sort of sounds like Reince Priebus was asking for a little
help on that. Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?
I mean, was he asking – is – I mean, was he asking if Mike Flynn is
currently under surveillance or if Mike Flynn is under a very serious form
of investigation? Do you know what he was getting at by asking you that?
COMEY: Not for sure. I think he was asking, is there current electronic
surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of the
national security adviser?
MADDOW: Yes, and you did give him an answer?
COMEY: Correct. And then told him that the way that should work is you
should go to ask the Justice Department. They`ll figure out whether they
can answer the question and they`ll get back, White House counsel should.
MADDOW: Was it improper for you to tell him directly in that moment?
COMEY: I didn`t think so. I hesitated because I thought – I`m trying to
illustrate how it should work and I made a judgment in the moment that the
answer – that I was confident that if the president`s chief of staff,
White House counsel, asked the Justice Department, they would get the
answer. And so, I could give the answer in the moment and use it to
illustrate the way it should work going forward.
MADDOW: So, you`re sort of teaching the White House chief of staff how
these things are supposed to happen when they`re handled – when the
relationship between the Justice Department and the White House is properly
COMEY: Yes, trying to.
MADDOW: Did he learn?
COMEY: I don`t know. Some indication that he didn`t because at the end of
this, after I have explained the importance of regularized communication,
he took me to see the president on the way out. Even though I said, I`m
fine, I`m sure he`s really busy, I don`t need to see him, but – so that
was at least was some indication that he wasn`t getting it.
MADDOW: I have a bunch of questions to ask you about this. One particular
question about Rod Rosenstein, who`s deputy attorney general, who remains
in his role, although he`s been attacked a lot by the president and there`s
a lot of political pressure on him because of his role overseeing the
Russia investigation. Obviously, you explain in the book your concerns
about the way he handled your firing. He produced that memo that –
essentially, the way you see it and the way a lot of people see it sort of
cooked up a pretense for firing you.
Did he know at the time that he did that about the president asking you to
lay off Mike Flynn and to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation? Was
Rosenstein one of the people who was in the know in terms of the kinds of
interactions you`d had with the president that you felt were alarming.
COMEY: I don`t know. I didn`t inform him of those, but I don`t know what
he`s – there was an acting person in that role before he got there, Dana
Boente. I don`t know what briefing Dana gave him on what we`ve been
MADDOW: Ii have a question about Dana Boente. We – I don`t know if you
know this, but we obtained some handwritten notes that we believe Mr.
Boente took after talking with you on March 30th, 2017. They`re in what we
confirmed are his handwriting.
And he has since – or, sorry, I should say, “The Washington Post” has
since obtained confirmation that these notes are what they appear to be,
which is his handwritten note. So, it`s all caveats. That`s why we think
But this is something that we haven`t reported and I wanted to ask you
about it because it`s essentially hearsay. Mr. Boente in these notes is
writing down what appears to be what you`re telling him about your
conversation with the president. And one of the things that was most
striking to us which we`ve already reported is these phrases “lift the
cloud,” talking about needing relief from the Russia investigation, very,
very directly tracked with what you testified to Congress about what the
president told you. Mr. Boente also took a note that looks like it says,
“going to bring lawsuit” with something we candidate read, “Steele.”
This looks from Boente`s notes, I don`t know if you know his handwriting.
But that`s what he says.
COMEY: I don`t.
MADDOW: It looked like he was taking a note when he was talking to you
about your interactions with the president and which the president – it
looks like the president told you he was going to bring some sort of
lawsuit over the Steele dossier.
MADDOW: Did the president say that to you?
COMEY: You know, I have some – looking at this, I have some recollection
of that. I don`t know whether it`s in my memo. I wrote a memo after that
March 30th call from the president, but it actually rings a bell as I sit
MADDOW: And the content of the dossier, particularly the prostitute
allegation involving the Ritz Carlton Hotel room and all of that, you write
in detail about bringing that up with the president, how unnerving that was
for you both after – shortly after the election in January 2017.
Was it your impression that the president was concerned about the real
damage that the dossier could do to him as a legal matter, as sparking an
investigation or was – did he seem more concerned in terms of
embarrassment or sort of the way (ph) he might have to personally answer
for it to his wife or to his family?
COMEY: I don`t know. It may have been both. But my sense is he was
focused most on the personal piece because he would bring it up with me
repeatedly. And at least once or twice in bringing that up, he mentioned
his wife and how bad it would be if she thought – at one point, he said,
if there was even a 1 percent chance it was true.
So, it could be both by I remember mostly I believe that the focus on the
MADDOW: In terms of the president`s personal concerns there, you say at
one point in these memos that when you were talking with him about those
kind of allegations in the dossier, the president on his own terms brought
up women who, quote, falsely accused him of grabbing them or touching them,
says there was a, quote, stripper, and Trump gave me the sense that he was
defending himself to me.
What – does that mean when you were talking to the president about the
dossier, he on his own accord brought up other allegations that have been
made against him by other women during the course of the campaign?
MADDOW: And was he asking you to investigate those matters? Was he – why
would he bring that up with the director of the FBI?
COMEY: I had no idea. It seemed off axis from what I was there to talk to
him about. And so, it was kind of spontaneous from him. I didn`t ask any
question that elicited that statement and I didn`t know.
MADDOW: A bunch of the senior officials who you briefed at the time, who
you gave these memos to about your interactions with the president. A
bunch of these folks have ended up having their lives follow curvy paths in
the past year. Obviously, you`ve had the biggest curveball of them all.
But Jim Rybicki, is how you say it I think?
MADDOW: He`s resigned from the FBI.
James Baker I believe is still there, although he`s been reassigned, and
our reporting indicates that he`s been reassigned to what`s basically sort
of a potted plant job at the FBI, in comparison with the kind of high level
job he had in the past.
Your deputy, Andrew McCabe, very publicly fired, publicly attacked by the
You, of course, have not just lost your job but have spent a year as a
pinata for the president and for congressional Republicans.
Andrew McCabe said when he was fired: Here`s the reality, I`m being singled
out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took,
the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The
release of this inspector general report against McCabe was accelerated
only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I
would corroborate former Director Comey`s accounts of his discussions with
Do you think that`s the case? Do you – are you concerned there`s been an
orchestrated campaign to target you and other people who could corroborate
your testimony as witnesses?
COMEY: There`s certainly been an organized campaign to target me. There
was definitely an organized campaign to attack Andy McCabe, and urge his
firing, tear down his reputation, attack his wife – just shameful attacks
from the president directly.
And with respect to the others, I know them all well, there`s different
stories. Rybicki was going to leave anyway, Baker was reassigned, very
talented general counsel and is in a job, I don`t think you call it a
potted plant job, but he is way away from the leadership floor of the FBI.
MADDOW: Andrew McCabe was raked across the coals in this inspector general
report. We`re now told today that it has resulted in a criminal referral
to a U.S. attorney`s office. McCabe`s lawyer says he doesn`t think that
Andrew McCabe will end up being charged here.
But this all stems from an incident in which Mr. McCabe was involved in
talking to the press about the Clinton investigation, how it was being
handled by DOJ and FBI. He says everything he did was – it was within his
job description, it was to preserve the public standing of the FBI. He
says it was all authorized.
Clearly, the inspector general doesn`t agree with him on that. While you
were director of the FBI and he was your deputy, was there clarity under
your leadership about talking to the press, about the issue of leaks, about
who could authorize people to discuss things with reporters?
COMEY: I think so. There were two people who could authorize disclosures,
the director and deputy director. So, Andy had the authority to speak to
the media and to authorize communications with the media.
MADDOW: Do you think he improperly spoke to the media in that capacity
COMEY: I don`t know for sure. I know that he didn`t tell me about it,
didn`t ask me about it before he did it. I think the inspector general`s
report is right in that respect. And I would have expected that.
But I think he had the authority to do that and I think if he were here, he
might say, well, I didn`t need to talk to the boss because I had the
authority to do that.
COMEY: And that`s a hard one, because given all that was going on at that
point in time, I would have expected him to talk to me. But I think as a
matter of rule, he had the authority.
MADDOW: We`ll – another matter to ask you about that relates to the press
learning something the press probably should not have learned. We`ll do
that right after we come back from this break.
MADDOW: Thank you, sir.
Look, here it is in the memo –
MADDOW: We`re back now – we`re back now with James Comey, former director
of the FBI, author of the new bestselling book “A Higher Loyalty.”
Thank you again, Mr. Director.
COMEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: We are still absorbing these memos of yours which were just
released as we sat down to talk. We were discussing the fact that in Dana
Boente`s notes, which we obtained about his conversation with you, he
references the president maybe want – telling you he wanted to bring a
lawsuit against Christopher Steele. You did note that in your memo, which
we found here. Yes!
COMEY: That`s why I created them.
MADDOW: The president reportedly telling you, I have a beautiful wife, it
has been very painful, can you imagine me, hookers? The president then
telling you, according to your own memo, he`s bringing a personal lawsuit
against Christopher Steele.
As far as we know, the president never did that, but he advised you he
might at that point.
I want to ask you about one other statement that the president reportedly
made to you that`s in these memos that have just been released tonight.
This is in your words.
The president brought up the golden showers thing and said it really
bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it. He then explained as he
did at our dinner that he hadn`t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss
Universe trip. Twice during this part of the conversation, Reince Priebus
tried to interject a comment about the redacted, and why it was even in
there, but the president ignored him.
The president said, the hookers thing is nonsense, but that Putin had told
him we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. He did not
say when Putin had told them this – told him this and I don`t recall
redacted. Some of this is redacted. The president was conveying this to
you at the White House.
COMEY: In the Oval Office.
MADDOW: And he told you he`d had a personal conversation with President
Putin about hookers?
MADDOW: Did you believe him or did you think he was speaking
COMEY: He didn`t seem to be speaking hyperbolically.
MADDOW: Do we otherwise know the president had personal conversations with
Vladimir Putin at that point?
COMEY: I can`t recall. I think there was public reporting that he had
spoken to Vladimir Putin as sort of a welcome – you know, congratulations
on taking office thing at that point. I`m not suggesting they talked about
how beautiful the hookers were in Russia, but do I know there was at least
one publicly reported conversation.
MADDOW: That would be an unusual first call between new heads of state, a
congratulatory phone call to be bragging about the relative value of each
country`s hookers would be an unusual –
COMEY: I think that`s a fair statement.
MADDOW: I think so, too. I`m just going to go ahead and assert that my
statement is fair there, which is probably improper.
All right. I`d like to ask you something about Rudy Giuliani. On October
28, 2016, you sent a letter to Congress notifying them that the FBI was
reopening the investigation on Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. Eleven days
before the election, and event that Hillary Clinton perceived to have
landed on them like a meteor in the closing days of that campaign. Two
days before you did that, President Trump`s friend, former mayor of New
York, your predecessor as U.S. attorney SDNY, Rudy Giuliani, said this on
FOX News –
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mayor, we got 14 days. Does Donald Trump plan
anything except for a series of inspiring rallies?
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC NEW YORK: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What? When will this happen?
GIULIANI: We got a couple of surprises left.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: October surprises?
GIULIANI: Well, I call them surprises in the way that we`re going to
campaign to get our message out there, maybe in a little bit of a different
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
GIULIANI: You`ll see, and I think it will be enormously effective. And I
do think that all of these revelations about Hillary Clinton finally are
beginning to have an impact.
He`s got a surprise or two that you`re going to hear about in the next two
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.
GIULIANI: I mean, I`m talking about some pretty big surprises.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard you say that this morning. What do you mean?
GIULIANI: You`ll see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, he`s not just hinting there, he`s bragging that he has
advanced notice that something is coming. Two days later, you announced
the reopening of the Clinton e-mail investigation. And then whether or not
we can guess what he was hinting at there, Mayor Giuliani then thereafter
did go back on Fox and say, yes, that`s what he was hinting about, that`s
what he was talking about, he explained basically that FBI agents had told
him that announcement was coming in advance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I had expected this for the last – honestly, tell you the
truth, I thought it was going to be about three, four weeks ago because
back – way back in July this started. So, this has been boiling up –
GIULIANI: I did nothing to get it out. I had no role in it. Did I hear
about it? You`re darn right I heard about it. And I can`t even repeat the
language that the heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did Rudy Giuliani and therefore the Trump campaign have advanced
notice from inside the FBI, from the New York field office or wherever,
that this announcement from you was coming?
COMEY: Not that I know of, but I saw that same publicity and so I
commissioned an investigation to see if we could understand whether people
were disclosing information out of the New York office or any other place
that resulted in Rudy`s report on Fox News and other leaks that we were
seeing in the media.
I don`t know what the result of that was. I got fired before it was
finished, but I know that I asked that it be investigated.
MADDOW: Did you – you write in the book about how the New York field
office, how some agents in the New York field office had been leaking
information related to the Clinton investigation. You talk about that on
page 208 of your book. I read it many times.
COMEY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Whether or not they were behind those leaks to Rudy Giuliani, did
agents in that office and their propensity to leak specifically about
Hillary Clinton, did they basically force you to make that public
notification because you knew they`d put it out whether or not you said
COMEY: Yes. No, I did not consider the prospect of a leak. Now, that
actually figured in a conversation I recount in the book that Loretta Lynch
and I had the following week, where she appeared to be saying to me it
would have come out anyway basically. But that`s not why I made that
decision, because I didn`t know and still don`t know as I sit here whether
people in the FBI office in the New York were leaking.
MADDOW: Given what you know about the Mueller investigation and Rudy
Giuliani, I want to ask you about news that just broke tonight. Rudy
Giuliani is going to be joining the president`s legal team. You obviously
worked for Rudy Giuliani when he was U.S. attorney in Manhattan and then
you later got his job.
This is a little bit about what you write about that experience in the
book. Quote: There was something of an unwritten code about working in the
office of Giuliani, as I suppose there is in most organizations. In his
case, the message was, that Rudy was the star at the top and the successes
of the office flowed in his direction. You violated this code at your own
Giuliani had extraordinary confidence and as a young prosecutor, I found
his brash style exciting, which is part of what drew me to his office. It
took me a while to realize that his confidence was not leavened with a
whole lot of humility. The cost of that imbalance was that there was very
little oxygen left for others.
Then you describe your first press conference with Giuliani in a case you
worked on. Quote: My supervisor told me I was to stand behind the podium
while Giuliani, the NYPD commissioner and the head of the FBI New York
office spoke to the press. I was not under any circumstances to speak or
He then repeated a line I heard before, the most dangerous place in New
York is between Ruddy Giuliani and a microphone. I stood frozen in the
back, looking like an extra from a basketball movie who had wandered on to
the wrong set.
Though Giuliani`s confidence was exciting, it fed an imperial style that
severely narrowed the circle of people with whom he interacted, something I
didn`t realize was dangerous until much later. A leader needs the truth
but an emperor doesn`t consistently hear it from his underlings.
My sense in reading that striking description is that you are drawing a
comparison between Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump as men and in terms of
their leadership styles. Is that a fair reading?
COMEY: In some ways, yes. This imperial style, the boss is the dominant
figure is consistent in my impression in both of their leadership styles.
MADDOW: Given what you know about the Mueller investigation and about Rudy
Giuliani from working with him, what is your reaction to the news tonight
that Mr. Giuliani is going to join Trump`s legal team? He says he`s going
to join the team to, quote, negotiate an end to the Mueller investigation
and he`s told reporters tonight that he expects that he will be able to
negotiate that end. He`ll end the Mueller investigation in about two
COMEY: I saw that in the media, struck me as interesting. I don`t know
what his vision would be for that. I also don`t know how it will be coming
into the new legal team and working with the president, given the strength
of Rudy`s personality and the president`s. I just don`t know.
MADDOW: If somebody did want to end the Mueller investigation, how would
they do it?
COMEY: I actually don`t think you could accomplish that by firing Director
Mueller. I think you`d have to fire everybody in the FBI and the Justice
Department to accomplish that in practice, given the commitment of the
people in those organizations. So, I don`t know what he has in mind. I
MADDOW: Somebody new to oversee the investigation orders it – orders it
staffed to be unseconded. Orders the – that there be no new major
investigatory steps taken. I mean, presumably someone in an oversight role
– in the oversight role that Rod Rosenstein has now who wanted to kill it
could kill it.
COMEY: It would be hard to kill given the culture of that, the people in
those organizations. Maybe not impossible, but very hard to kill.
MADDOW: FBI Director James Comey, I have one more question I want to ask
you after the break.
MADDOW: Thank you again for doing this.
All right. We`ll be right back with James Comey.
MADDOW: Joining us once again James Comey, former FBI director, the author
of the book “A Higher Loyalty” which is out there week and you can`t get
because everybody else already bought it. But do what you can.
Director Comey, thank you again.
COMEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: In the book you spell out three reasons, I hesitate to call them
concerns. Sort of three reasons you had worries about Attorney General
Loretta Lynch when it came to the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.
One is that you say that she asked you to call the investigation a matter,
which instead of an investigation. There was the meeting that she had with
former President Clinton on an airport tarmac which you note didn`t seem
that consequential to you but it did get a tide of critical media
attention, which was important. And then there`s something that you very
carefully describe as an unverified intelligence report suggesting that she
had offered assurances to the Clinton campaign about the investigation,
improper assurances, or that she was somehow controlling you with regard to
Because of those worries you basically – the way you put it is you step
away from Loretta Lynch, you announce the FBI findings in the Clinton e-
mail investigation without her. The FBI separates from her.
MADDOW: Part of why you decided to do was the existence of the unverified
intelligence document that could have cast doubt on her independence from
the Clinton campaign, even though you didn`t think she really had that
problem. Did you ever brief her on that and give her a chance to defend
COMEY: That`s another one you can`t answer.
I`m very concerned and wrote this very carefully, because I don`t want to
be unfair to Loretta, who I like very much, she`s a friend of mine over a
long time –
COMEY: – and respect, and don`t think she acted improperly.
The problem here was, there was real material, not bogus material, real
material that at first I thought would come out in 50 years when it was
COMEY: And once the Russians started dumping stuff in the middle of June,
I thought, oh, man, it`s going to come now. And it would allow – even
though I didn`t believe it to be true, it would allow people to have
significant doubts about whether the fix was in some way that the Justice
Department was in cahoots with the Clinton campaign.
MADDOW: And when you say it was real, you mean that this was – this was a
thing that happened that Loretta Lynch did?
COMEY: No, no.
COMEY: That`s why we`re very clear about, we had not verified that the
thing recounted in these documents was – had had happened.
COMEY: But the documents was real.
MADDOW: So, it was a real description of a fake thing?
COMEY: Well, I believe it to be fake. I never saw any indication that
Loretta was compromised and had acted inappropriately. We never spoke
about the investigation after that “call it a matter” conversation from the
MADDOW: The thing that troubles me about that is it seems like even the
way you talk about it in the book sort of cast aspersions on Loretta Lynch
and whether or not she was doing anything wrong with regard to this
investigation. She did take herself out of the – out of the loop in terms
of overseeing that investigation.
And you write early in the book, page 42 about a mentor that you had in the
Eastern District of Virginia, about a U.S. attorney who you felt like you
COMEY: Yes, Helen Fahey.
MADDOW: Helen Fahey.
You say, she didn`t care much what misinformed people said about her, a
lesson I would find very valuable as I grow older. She put the interest of
the team and the important job we had to do higher than her own feelings or
her worries about reputation.
It seems to me like with Loretta Lynch, you worried very much about what
misinformed people were going to say about her? That they were – that
there was no true reason to have concerns about Loretta Lynch`s integrity
with that investigation but misinformed people would get the wrong idea and
you took action to account for that rather than the truth.
COMEY: Well, maybe in a slight sense. That was one of the bricks in the
load that led me to believe that if I do the announcement next to Loretta,
it won`t have credibility. The most important was her decision not to
recuse herself after the airplane business and to say she would accept my
Look, I get it, which is why it`s in the book because it`s true that this
one of the factors that I considered.
MADDOW: And it was – but there – but do you see what I`m expressing as a
MADDOW: That effectively, something untrue about her that people would
have misperceived ends up being the limiting factor in terms of whether or
not she`s allowed to do her job.
COMEY: It`s a little tricky though because untrue about her, I – we had
not verified it and I did not believe she had acted in any way
MADDOW: And you later investigated those claims and found them not to be
true. You explained to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday night. I read the
COMEY: Yes, I don`t – I can`t remember what I said, but anyhow, I`m
trying to be careful because I`m not supposed to talk about our
investigation. But I don`t believe that Loretta did anything improper.
MADDOW: James Comey is the author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and
Leadership.” I`m sorry that I asked you 40,000 questions you were not
allowed to answer. I am very grateful to you that you sat here and were
kind to me about it throughout. Thank you for your lifetime of public
service. I`m sorry that the president ended it the way that he did.
COMEY: Yes, me, too. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: I appreciate it.
COMEY: Thank you.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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