James Comey expressed both concern and hope about the state of U.S. institutions and the rule of law during a St. Louis Public Radio interview on Wednesday.
“I think we’re in two different places,” the former FBI director told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “We’re in a place where the president of the United States relentlessly attacks the rule of law and the institutions of justice, so that’s terrible. But the second place that we’re in is that Americans have awakened to the importance of the rule of law and the danger of its erosion, and that’s a very, very important sort of antibody response. And it’s a source for optimism.”
Comey, who led the bureau from 2013 until the spring of 2017 when he was fiercely criticized and dismissed by President Donald Trump, has gained recent attention for writing “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”
Ahead of his appearance in St. Louis next month as part of the St. Louis Speakers Series, he discussed his impressions of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation, what it’s like to be on the outside of the political drama now and the potential for the FBI to investigate Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“I think based on past practice that would be up to the White House to ask if they wanted additional background investigation work done by the FBI,” Comey said with regard to the Kavanaugh situation. “The FBI traditionally does criminal investigations – that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is where the FBI at the request of a sponsoring agency, in this case the White House, does investigations to understand someone’s background or reputation. And so, my understanding is, in the past, if we’re asked to do supplemental work, we would do it.”
Comey didn’t speculate as to whether the White House would ask for such an investigation.
Marsh also asked Comey if he was concerned about the president’s recent order for the release of un-redacted Justice Department and FBI communications – some of which would be his own communications.
“Personally I don’t care – I wasn’t a big texter [as director], so I don’t know that there are any texts of mine,” Comey said. “But on email, I’m not worried about anything I said on email. I have a separate worry which is institutional, and I really hope the Department of Justice and the FBI look at this closely. You don’t want to do anything in disclosing information that’s connected to an intelligence investigation that would either screw up pending investigations or send a message to future sources that we can’t be trusted to protect you.”
The former director used the phrase “I don’t know” at various points throughout the conversation, pointing to the fact that he’s now on the outside of it all. He added that there is a “small” sense of satisfaction in being on the outside.
“I mean, I’ve never liked political types, and so it’s nice to be away from that part of the world,” Comey said. “The painful part is I still really miss the people of the FBI, who are not political people. And so that’s the worst part of being on the outside.”
When Marsh asked him where he thinks the Mueller investigation is at currently, Comey said there’s “an argument to be made that the conviction – the plea and cooperation by Paul Manafort – may represent that we’re in the fourth quarter.”
“The way you normally do investigations is you work from the bottom up, and so they're getting pretty high,” he said. “But again, the reason I'm hesitant to even say that is [because] Bob Mueller's conducted his investigation like a pro – you know nothing about it except through his public filings, and that's the way it's supposed to be. And so I can't say with certainty where he is.”
The conversation also touched on Comey’s impressions of St. Louis and how being the subject of much public debate last year was both “normal and weird."
What: St. Louis Speakers Series event with James Comey
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Where: Powell Hall (718 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis MO 63103)
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Caitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.