The Telegraph
Saturday , May 20 , 2017

Height of arm's length relationship

- Comey's friend tells a hilarious story on hide-and-seek in White House

ABC News footage shows Comey (right) in a blue suit standing near the blue curtains at the back of the Blue Room of the White House on January 22

May 19: If you are 6 feet and 8 inches tall, wearing a dark blue suit and looking for a place to hide from the occupant of the White House standing a few feet away, what do you do?

James B. Comey, the then FBI director, tried to blend in with the blue curtains in the back of the Blue Room of the White House. "He thought he had gotten through and not been noticed or singled out and that he was going to get away without an individual interaction," Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey's, told The New York Times.

It didn't work.

Donald Trump, who had been sworn in as President only two days earlier and was hosting a ceremony to honour law-enforcement officials, spotted Comey and called out: "Oh and there's Jim. He's become more famous than me."

With an abashed look on his face, Comey walked up to Trump. "Comey said that as he was walking across the room, he was determined that there wasn't going to be a hug," Wittes said. "It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms. So, Comey said, he pre-emptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the President's hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn't reciprocate. If you look at the video, it's one person shaking hands and another hugging."

Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the editor in chief of the Lawfare blog and a frequent critic of Trump, was describing how Comey had tried to maintain literally an arm's length relationship with the President.

Justice department guidelines say the White House should have a limited contact with the FBI.

The contact between Trump and Comey, who was fired last week and whose memo on an alleged request by the President to close a probe into former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn has caused tumult in Washington, assumes significance in the light of new accounts.

Trump called Comey weeks after taking office and asked him when the federal authorities were going to put out word that the President was not personally under investigation, according to two people briefed on the call.

Comey told the President that if he wanted to know details about the bureau's investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the justice department, according to those people.

At the time, Comey was overseeing the investigation into links between Trump's associates and Russia.

The FBI's longest-serving director, J. Edgar Hoover, had close relationships with several Presidents. But in the modern FBI, the guidelines prohibit conversations with the White House about active criminal investigations unless they are "important for the performance of the President's duties and appropriate from a law-enforcement perspective".

When such conversations are necessary, only the attorney-general or the deputy attorney-general can initiate those discussions.

Wittes recalled a lunch he had had with Comey in March at which Comey told him he had spent the first two months of Trump's administration trying to preserve the distance between the FBI and the White House and educating the latter on the proper way to interact with the bureau.

Wittes said he had never intended to publicly discuss his conversations with Comey. But after The New York Times reported earlier this month that Trump had asked Comey for a loyalty pledge shortly after his inauguration, Wittes said, he saw Trump's behaviour in a "more menacing light" and decided to speak out.

Wittes said Comey had told him that he had initially not wanted to go to the January 22 event because the FBI director should not have too close a relationship with the White House. But Comey went because he wanted to represent the bureau.

Comey described all of his contacts with the President and the White House in detailed memos that he wrote at the time and gave to his aides.

Congressional investigators have requested copies of the memos, which, according to two people who have read them, provide snapshots of a fraught relationship between a President trying to win over and influence an FBI director and someone who had built his reputation on asserting his independence, sometimes in a dramatic way.

It is not clear whether, in their interactions, Comey answered Trump's question or ever told him whether he was under investigation.

In the letter Trump sent to Comey last week informing him that he had been fired, Trump told Comey: "I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation."

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