(CNN)Former FBI Director James Comey makes important allegations about President Donald Trump and about the state of American democracy in his new book.
He’s blowing the whistle about Trump. The way he’s doing it is going to sell a whole lot of books. And it will necessarily undercut the image he has carefully crafted of a straight-shooting G-Man offering just the facts.
A flair for theatricality is not a new allegation against him. When he fired Comey, among the reasons Trump gave in a TV interview was that Comey was “a showboat, a grandstander.” The President called him a “slime ball” on Twitter Friday after the first teases from his book and media blitz started popping this week.
The GOP and the White House, by the way, have their own counter-Comey plan to discredit the scorned former FBI director.
Comey had been mostly silent for months during his book writing. He taught seminars at universities and had become a thoughtful, even philosophical, Twitter troll of the President. He’s also popped up as a theater enthusiast, spotted at Broadway shows and high school theater productions. Some of the drama appears to have worn off on him.
But the axe he had to grind with the President who fired him is clear. And that can’t be completely separated from the allegations he makes in his book, both substantive and prurient.
Why else include every detail of Trump’s obsession with discounting the lewd allegations in the Steele memo?
In his new interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Comey talked about Trump’s focus on disproving the unproven allegations about Russian prostitutes and urination.
That’s one step further than Comey went in congressional testimony last year, when he simply referred to Trump’s focus on “hookers in Russia.” That bombshell testimony was clearly a first draft for the main event Comey has published in the book, which has the title “A Higher Loyalty.”
Those allegations seem likely to overshadow what Comey has to say about Trump’s lack of interest in Russian election meddling and his troubling demands of loyalty.
CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd pointed out the difficulty for Comey in his media blitz and gutter talk Friday on CNN.
“He has the right to say what he wants. The question is whether it undercuts his credibility,” said Mudd. “He is a straight shooter and in Washington I think he is regarded as a man who is honorable. I think he tells the truth. But he comes across as someone with an edge of revenge.”
It’s not just salacious stuff. In excerpts of the book described in press reports he also plays up emotion and drama, saying that then-President Barack Obama forgave him for the pre-election bomb Comey dropped on Hillary Clinton’s campaign when, days before the election, he re-opened the investigation into her treatment of classified email after agents found emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer.
Obama’s forgiveness, Comey writes, had him on the verge of tears. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is described as having tears in his eyes at a different meeting when he too forgave Comey, according to the book. Tears, forgiveness, drama.
Clinton, for the record, still thinks Comey cost her the election.
He held multiple press conferences in 2016 that fanned and then doused and then fanned and doused again the questions about her email.
He has a compelling argument that he was in an impossible position. He dealt with it by holding spectacular press conferences and giving damning testimony on Capitol Hill.
The difference between the things he did to frustrate Clinton, calling her regard for classified information careless, but not enough to prosecute, all happened before November of 2016.
It’s not clear if that disconnect is covered in the book, but Comey said on Capitol Hill last year the idea he affected the outcome of the election made him “mildly nauseous,” but that concerns about the Obama Justice Department led him to end-run around them with his pronouncements on Clinton.
The alarm he is raising about Trump came first after he was fired as FBI director and now again that he has a book to sell.
Why not wait until Robert Mueller completes his special counsel investigation? Why not humbly spare people from having to explain “golden showers” to their children if there’s no evidence there is a pee tape? Just the facts.
Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook talked about the book on CNN Friday morning and said it’s important for Comey to keep from appearing to grind an axe with the President.
“On the one hand I think it is important for people to call out Donald Trump for the things he does,” said Mook, though he later added, “But I think where Comey needs to be careful is to not give the White House an out to make this a personal spat about an employee instead of about his fitness to be in office.”
Comey’s flair for drama predates both Trump and Clinton. He riveted audiences on C-SPAN and watchers of TV news with testimony he gave in 2007 about the hospital showdown he had with officials from the George W. Bush White House who he said were trying to manipulate a sick man, his boss at the time, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was incapacitated in a hospital bed.
One thing that ties all these moments together is that Comey is not the pawn of any political party. He will stand up to Republicans and Democrats alike. The other thing is drama. Whether he’s standing up for the Constitution in a hospital room or hiding beside the drapes in the White House, James Comey knows how to spin a yarn.
He’s spinning one now, which has to be considered alongside the things he alleges against the President, which are so very important.