Former FBI Director James Comey charged that the Trump administration views “institutions of justice with contempt — as just another piece on the board” to be manipulated.
Comey, on a media tour to promote his new book, fielded questions Wednesday evening from students and faculty at his alma mater, William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in a live CNN townhall.
One member of the audience asked, “In your experience with the Trump administration, what did you feel was the attitude of the administration towards established government institutions such as the FBI? Did you feel that — did they feel that these institutions were antagonistic towards the goals of the administration or was there some level of willingness to cooperate in your experience?”
Comey replied that in viewing the nation’s institutions of justice like a chess piece, the administration believes “when that piece is doing something that the leadership doesn’t like, it should be knocked over and dirtied up — and that is a terrible place for us to be as a country.”
“The FBI is not politicized — that’s nonsense. The FBI, though, is being politically attacked and the reason that is so dangerous and so stupid — even if you’re a Republican, we need those institutions. All of us need those institutions and there’s a reason that Lady Justice wears a blindfold, so she’s not peeking out to see what president this or president that thinks about her decisions,” he said. “Without that blindfold, one of the major pillars of this democracy is lost and that is — should be deeply worrying to all of us, including Republicans in Congress who know better.”
Pressed about the strength of those institutions, Comey declared that “no president serves long enough to destroy the culture that is at the root of them.”
“I hear this term ‘deep state’ all the time, and there’s no ‘deep state’ but there is a deep culture and a commitment to the rule of law, equal protection of the laws, the fundamental values that are at the core of our Constitution that runs really deep in the FBI, the Justice Department as a whole, the intelligence community, the United States military services. It is the ballast that gives me comfort and I hope should give all Americans comfort,” he said. “But that can be damaged in significant ways. I don’t think any president serves long enough to destroy that — to flip that ship over, but if we are silent tremendous damage will be done that will take us time to recover from.”
“You said there’s no ‘deep state’ but when you talk about a deep culture, it doesn’t sound that much different,” said host Anderson Cooper. “I mean, a deep culture which has ways of doing things and believes it is the right way of doing things — isn’t that some of what President Trump was elected to shake up?”
“Absolutely not. I’m talking about a culture of commitment to the rule of law and to the values enshrined in our Constitution. That’s the value at the heart of the United States military and the intelligence community and the law enforcement community,” Comey replied.
“No one, I hope, voted for him with the idea that he would destroy those values, and so that’s what I mean by a deep culture,” he added. “It’s a culture that we should celebrate, and the rest of us who are not part of it ought to make sure we call it out when we see it threatened and damaged.”
“So, when some say the ‘deep state’ is trying to destroy President Trump, you’re saying point-blank, that’s not true,” Cooper said.
“That’s nonsense,” Comey said.
Comey theorized during the townhall that President Trump lacks the “external reference points” needed of ethical leaders.
“When they’re making hard decisions, they draw on philosophy or religious tradition or logic or history. They draw on a set of norms and values that help them lift their eyes and figure out what the right decision is. As best I can tell, President Trump doesn’t have any external reference points. And it’s a hard thing to say, but I believe it. His only reference point is internal,” Comey said.
“What will bring me what I need? What will fill this hole in me, get me the affirmation I crave? And that’s deeply concerning. Because the only way you make hard decisions is by looking to the external reference points. You can’t ignore the internal of course. But your first move and your primary move is always to those external points of reference to help you make a good decision.”
Comey was asked by a student if he has a nickname for Trump, who has called Comey “slippery,” “shady,” “showboat,” “slimeball,” “slime ball,” and more.
“I don’t have a nickname for him,” the former FBI director said. “Honestly, I call him the president of the United States because I respect the office.”
Trump did not respond to Comey’s statements on Twitter yet, but was scheduled to call into “Fox and Friends” first thing in the morning.