The 70 must-see lines in James Comey's ABC interview
By Chris Cillizza , CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN) — On Sunday night, James Comey told his side of the story.
The former -- and fired -- FBI director sat down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos Sunday night to talk about his deep concerns about President Donald Trump and to recount a number of now-famous/infamous episodes between the two men. (Comey has written a book about his experiences titled "A Higher Loyalty.")
ABC released the transcript of the entire five-hour(!) interview; I went through it to pluck out the lines from Comey that you absolutely shouldn't miss. They're below.
1. "I liken President Trump in the book to a forest fire. Going to do tremendous damage. Going to damage those important norms. But a forest fire gives healthy things a chance to grow that had no chance before that fire."
Comey's logic here is intriguing but he's really talking about a controlled burn -- one in which the fire is managed. The consequences of a raging wildfire that no one is able to manage are, I think, a little different.
2. "So all of us have to constantly be involved and call it out when we see the truth endangered, when we see lying."
Remember that in his first year in office, Trump said more than 2,000 things that were either partly or totally untrue. And his pace has not slowed since then.
3. "The title [of the book] comes from a bizarre conversation I had with the President in dinner at the White House in January of last year, where he asked for my loyalty personally as the FBI director."
Trump has denied he ever asked for Comey's loyalty -- including on Twitter on Sunday! Tweeted Trump: "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!"
4. "Well, that's why I was never going to write a book. It always felt like an exercise in ego."
That's what they all say! (Did I mention I wrote a book?)
5. "President Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich took my breath away. Th-- the notion that the president of the United States would pardon a fugitive without asking the prosecutors or the investigators, 'What do you think,' was shocking to me."
6. "I thought David Petraeus should've been prosecuted not just for the mishandling of the classified information, but also for lying to the FBI because lying is -- strikes at the heart of our rule of law in this country."
Interesting to note here that Comey wanted to go further against Petraeus than the then Attorney General Eric Holder did. (Petraeus was charged -- and convicted -- only with mishandling classified information.)
7. "I've gone through 50 years of cases. I don't know of a case where anyone has ever been prosecuted for just being careless, even extremely careless."
Comey acknowledges here that from the start of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, he strongly suspected there wouldn't be charges brought against her. That will be fodder for Trump who will say the former FBI director had prejudged the case before even seeing it.
8. "If you issue a one liner from the Obama Justice Department about one of the two candidates for president of the United States, in this case the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and say, 'We're done here,' in the absence of any kind of transparency, corrosive doubt creeps in that the system is rigged somehow."
This is Comey's explanation for why he delivered extended public remarks about the end of the Clinton investigation. And, yes, that noise you hear is Democrats collectively rolling their eyes at his explanation.
9. "It really did surprise me. He's a very smart man and a lawyer. And so it surprised me. He shouldn't have done it."
Comey here scolds then-President Obama for saying publicly he didn't believe Clinton had done anything wrong with her email server setup. (Here's more on exactly what Obama said on the investigation.)
10. "Classified information came into the possession of the US intelligence community in the early part of 2016 that indicated there was material out there that raised the question of whether [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch was controlling me and the FBI and keeping the Clinton campaign informed about our investigation."
11. "And so whether or not it was true, the fact that it would be out there and allow people to argue that something terrible was going on in this investigation cut in favor of more transparency."
Comey says the investigation into whether Lynch was purposely controlling what the FBI said and found on the investigation wasn't true. But he is very vague about the whole thing -- likely because the information remains classified.
12. "My staff convinced me that that's just going to confuse all kinds of people, if you start talking about statutes and what the words mean. What's a colloquial way to explain it? And elsewhere in my statement I had said, 'Extremely careless.'"
In his original draft on Clinton's email, Comey used the words "gross negligence" to describe her behavior. Here he explains why he changed it. (Trump has insisted the change was because Comey was going easy on Clinton.)
13. "This wasn't your ordinary bureaucrat who just mishandles one document. This was something more than that. But not something that anybody would prosecute."
To Comey's mind, Clinton's private email server was in the grey area between a very serious crime and a regular old mistake. Which made it hard to handle especially given her position.
14."In late July , the FBI got information that there was somebody who had had -- was a foreign policy advisor named [George] Papadopoulos to the Trump campaign."
This is an important note. Trump -- and some other Republicans -- insist that the entire FBI investigation into his campaign and Russia was premised on the dossier put together by Christopher Steele. It wasn't. It began with Papadopoulos looking for the dirt the Russians allegedly had on Clinton.
15. "The investigation was triggered entirely separately from the Steele dossier."
Again, important. And counter to the Trump narrative.
16. "I discovered President Trump wouldn't even do it privately, and I don't know why that is."
Comey suggests here that Trump won't bash Russian President Vladimir Putin in private, which he finds baffling.
17. "I remember saying that I'm a little bit tired of being the independent voice on things."
[Eye roll emoji]
18. "All of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance."
For those who say law enforcement is totally blind to politics, I give you this sentence from James Comey.
19. "Speaking is really bad; concealing is catastrophic. If you conceal the fact that you have restarted the Hillary Clinton email investigation, not in some silly way but in a very, very important way that may lead to a different conclusion, what will happen to the institutions of justice when that comes out?"
Comey's deliberations on whether to let the public know about the re-opening of the Clinton email investigation is totally fascinating. The issue many people will take with it is that he had no way of knowing whether the emails found on Anthony Weiner's laptop were duplicates of emails the FBI had already seen. So why announce something that may not be news at all? (Turns out there was nothing new on Weiner's laptop.)
20. "I would so much rather Anthony Weiner had never had a laptop."
So would Anthony Weiner.
21. "Speaking is going to have some impact, potentially. But concealing is going to destroy the institutions that I love."
Comey critics will argue that he is greatly exaggerating the impact of waiting and seeing what was on Weiner's laptop before speaking publicly. Greatly.
22. "If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we're done."
But, you just said that you and everyone else were operating under the assumption that Clinton was going to win!
23. "Cause I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump."
But, but, but [head explodes]
24. "It sucked."
James Comey on being James Comey in the final days of the 2016 campaign.
25. "The honest answer is I screwed up a couple of things, but in the main, I think given what I knew at the time, these were the decisions that were best calculated to preserve the values of the institutions."
[narrator voice] He doesn't really think he screwed up much of anything.
26. "I'm glad for a lotta reasons I don't have a time machine."
Strong disagree. Having a time machine would rule.
27. "I-- never going to run for office."
An interesting pledge to make by Comey -- and sort of out of the blue. I had been wondering if this whole experience might actually push him to run for office -- or at least make him more interested in the prospect.
28. "What did it cost me? Well, (SIGH)."
Story of my life -- especially the "(SIGH)"
29. "But this was-- their sense that given the variety of sources and methods we had, we had this nailed."
This is Comey on the intelligence on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. "We had this nailed."
30. "President Obama has a great poker face."
Coming soon to a world poker event near you....
31. "But I read it as, 'You poor bastard.'"
What Comey believed Obama was conveying to him in advance of a sitdown with the incoming president to talk about the more salacious details in the Steele dossier.
32. "And even though I did not intend to jam Donald Trump with this, my thinking was, given his approach to the world, he may think I'm pulling a J. Edgar Hoover and assume that I'm trying to dangle this over him to get leverage on him."
Knowing Trump, that is exactly what he was thinking.
33. "My impression was he looked exactly like he did on television, except he looked shorter to me than he did on television, but otherwise exactly the same."
Of all the things Comey said in this interview, taking a shot at Trump's height is probably the thing that upsets the president the most.
34. "I stared at it pretty closely and my reaction was, 'It most take a heck of a lot of time in the morning, but it's impressively coifed.'"
Well, I can die happy. The "What does Comey think of Trump's hair?" question has been answered.
35. "I shook his hand I made a note to check the size and it seemed like he had average-sized hands."
"I buy a slightly smaller than large glove," Donald Trump.
36. "I came to conclude that a lot of times what he said was just kind of pleasantries to begin a conversation, so I don't know whether he really thought I had handled it well."
This is correct. Trump, in person and one on one, is hugely solicitous. To a fault.
37. "I did not go into the business about -- people peeing on each other, I just thought it was a weird enough experience for me to be talking to the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow."
"People peeing on each other." Holy moly.
38. "He was very defensive and started to launch into-- for reasons that I don't understand, started going into the list of people who had accused him of touching them improperly, sexual assault and how he hadn't done this, he hadn't done that, he hadn't done that."
This is Trump's first reaction to the Comey briefing on the Russia hotel allegations. His first one!
39. "I don't know whether the -- 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."
I mean, it is impossible to overestimate the seriousness of this statement. The former FBI Director isn't able to say, conclusively, that the president wasn't involved with prostitutes in Russia.
40. "Remember, that was what I worried about is that he would think I was pulling a J. Edgar Hoover, to come in there and jam him by raising the prospect of salacious, compromising material."
"Pulling a J. Edgar Hoover" is a phrase I could get used to using more often.
41. "Another reason you know it's not true is I'm a germaphobe. There's no way I'd let people pee on each other around me."
Comey quoting Trump. And I thought urine was sterile but apparently it isn't?
42. "And I just remember thinking, 'Everything's gone mad.'"
So say we all.
43. "You would think that you would notice me, this giraffe standing at the end of the room."
Comey on Comey: "This giraffe."
44. "Isn't he master of television, this is disastrous."
This is Comey on the Trump handshake. And, yes. And yes.
45. "So I extend my hand and he grabs my hand and he pulls in and back."
This is the classic Trump handshake move. The tug and pull. I believe he's patented it.
46. "He was going for the hug, going for the hug."
I would not have guessed Donald Trump was a hugger.
47. "I'm not an unusually strong person but I work out."
48. "And so the whole world saw him kiss me."
This took an unexpected turn.
49. "It was to make me a friend of ours."
All I can think of is "Donnie Brasco."
50. "He said, 'I expect loyalty, I need loyalty.'"
Trump says he never said any such thing. Someone is not telling the truth.
51. "We just stared at each other and then he went on eating."
Sounds like every date I went on in high school.
52. "It was him talking almost the entire time, which I've discovered is something he frequently does."
A little bit of monologuing never hurt anyone, right?
53. "On and on and on and on. Everyone agrees, everyone agrees, I did this, the-- I never assaulted these women, I never made fun of a reporter."
The Trump presidency, in three sentences.
54. "He is someone who is -- for whom the truth is not a high value."
I actually think Trump thinks he is telling the truth. Because he repeats it to himself enough times that he becomes convinced that whatever he says is the truth no matter what the actual facts bear out.
55. "So what kind of marriage to what kind of man does your wife think there's only a 99 percent chance you didn't do that?"
If Trump wasn't already pissed off about this Comey sitdown (he was!) then this would make him crazy. Comey offering judgment on the state of his marriage? Rough.
56. "I'm not a comedian but I occasionally say something that's funny that people chuckle with each other."
57. "The president was talking about something that had happened during an airing of a interview he did with Bill O'Reilly on Fox."
"I don't get to watch much television. Primarily because of documents. I'm reading documents. A lot." -- Donald Trump
58. "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."
This is Comey's response to a Stephanopoulos' question about whether the Russians might actually have something on Trump. His inability to say "absolutely not" is -- and should be -- stunning.
59. "If he didn't know he was doing something improper, why did he kick out the attorney general and the vice president of the United States and the leaders of the intelligence community?"
This is a very good question from Comey about the Feb. 14 Oval office meeting between he and Trump in which the president allegedly asked the FBI director to see a way to end the investigation in former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Why kick everyone else out if the conversation was totally innocuous and above board?
60. "It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice."
A big accusation here from Comey in regards that Feb. 14 meeting...
61. "Wow, the world s-- continues to go crazy."
A variation on a theme.
62. "She somehow got the FBI police to go down and get it, scanned it, e-mailed it to me."
Comey formally found out he was fired because his assistant scanned him a copy of the letter that the White House had dropped off at the Bureau. So, so weird.
63. "[John Kelly] was very emotional and said he had seen the news and that he intended to resign because he wouldn't work for people who would treat someone like me in such a dishonorable way and that he was going to quit."
[Narrator voice] He didn't quit.
64. "I actually gave thought to renting a convertible and driving almost 3,000 miles, something I've never done."
I would totally watch that reality show.
65. "I took a bottle of red wine out of my suitcase that I was bringing back from California, a California pinot noir, and I drank red wine from a paper coffee cup and just looked out at the lights of the country I love so much as we flew home."
This was the alternative ending of "The Great Gatsby," I believe.
66. "One of the orders that was issued is I was never to be allowed back on FBI property, like I had killed somebody."
This does deem overly harsh for a former director.
67. "My sense of him, maybe it's unfair to him, was that he was over matched for the job."
That "thud" you just heard was Comey pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus.
68. "I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president."
This will be the lasting and lingering quote of this interview and maybe of the entire Comey book rollout.
69. "A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person's not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds."
While the quote directly above -- #68 -- will get most of the attention, this one is , to my mind, more damaging. Comey is saying Trump is amoral, that he lacks any basic moral structure at all. Which is a very dangerous thing for the leader of a country.
70. "I don't follow [Trump] on Twitter, but I'm sure [a tweetstorm is] going to come."
Oh, it came alright! "Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her (lied in Congress to Senator G), then based his decisions on her poll numbers," Trump tweeted at 8:25 am ET Monday. "Disgruntled, he, McCabe, and the others, committed many crimes!"