In his written testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, James Comey made a point of saying that he wrote memoranda documenting all of his conversations with Donald Trump, something he didn’t feel compelled to do regarding his (very few) conversations with Barack Obama. In his appearance before the committee, Comey broadened this claim to include President George W. Bush, under whom he served as Deputy Attorney General. The reason, he explained, was that Trump was the only one of the three presidents whom he considered untrustworthy. This was his exchange with Senator Warner:
WARNER: And so, in all your experience, this was the only president that you felt like, in every meeting, you needed to document, because at some point, using your words, he might put out a non-truthful representation of that meeting?
COMEY: That’s right, Senator.
And I — I — as I said in my written testimony, as FBI director, I interacted with President Obama. I spoke only twice in three years, and didn’t document it. When I was deputy attorney general, I had one one-on-one meeting with President Bush about a very important and difficult national security matter.
I didn’t write a memo documenting that conversation either — sent a quick e-mail to my staff to let them know there was something going on, but I didn’t feel, with President Bush, the need to document it in that way, again (ph), because of — the combination of those factors just wasn’t present with either President Bush or President Obama.
WARNER: I — I think that is very significant.
The one-on-one meeting with President Bush concerned the reauthorization of the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program, a drama in which Comey played a key role. As Deputy Attorney General, he refused to sign the reauthorization order on behalf of DOJ, and he was one of those who rushed to John Ashcroft’s hospital bedside.
A sharp-eyed reader pointed out that, as it happens, Comey has left behind an account of that meeting with President Bush. It is recounted in Angler, a book-length attack on Dick Cheney by Barton Gellman. Comey was one of Gellman’s chief sources.
Angler includes a description of Comey’s meeting with Bush that obviously came from Comey. It is strikingly similar to Comey’s description of his critical meeting with Donald Trump in his written Intelligence Committee testimony.
From Comey’s written testimony:
The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. …When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.”
Bush stood as the meeting ended, crossing behind Cheney’s chair. Comey moved in the opposite direction, on his way out. He had nearly reached the grandfather clock at the door when the president said, “Jim, can I talk to you for a minute?” … This time the vice president was not invited.
In Comey’s account, as transmitted by Gellman, he was a hero, telling the president something that other aides had kept from him: that the Department of Justice was in revolt over the surveillance program, and mass resignations, including his, were imminent. Comey claims to have quoted Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms, as he explained that as a man of principle he would have no choice but to resign rather than execute an order he believed to be illegal. One of Comey’s colleagues, who also was about to resign, was Comey’s good friend Bob Mueller, who waited for Comey downstairs at the White House while Comey had his dramatic conversation with President Bush.