James Comey slumps strategically in restaurants — all 6-foot-8 of him, drooping faux-furtively with his back to the room — and daydreams about deleting the civic-minded Twitter feed where a bipartisan coalition pronounces him a national disgrace.
He sleeps soundly — nine hours a night, he ballparks — and organizes the self-described “unemployed celebrity” chapter of his life around a series of workaday goals. “One of my goals has been to get to 10 consecutive pull-ups,” Mr. Comey said in an interview, legs crossed on the back porch of his stately Virginia home. “I’m at nine now. So, I’ve been doing a lot of pull-ups.”
He writes and thinks and reads and worries from a tidy downstairs office surrounded by the trinkets of his past: the White House place card from the night President Trump asked for his “loyalty” as F.B.I. director; a book by Nate Silver, the political data whiz who believes Mr. Comey’s explosively ambiguous letter in October 2016 about the Hillary Clinton email investigation probably handed Mr. Trump the election; a page from a quote-of-the-day calendar, saved for its resonance: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
“It reminds me so much of the F.B.I.,” Mr. Comey said.
But then, a lot of things have lately. Another Trump-branded election interference scandal is upon us. Institutions are wobbling. And Mr. Comey, as ever, cannot fight a nagging conviction about it all: James Comey can help. He must help.
“I feel stuck,” he said. “Like I can’t do something else. And I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I went and did something easy.”
What he is doing, exactly, is not entirely clear even to him. Rather than proceed with the standard arc of an erstwhile intelligence leader — think tanks, corporate boards, studied political silence — Mr. Comey has pledged to spend the next 13 months working to drive Mr. Trump from power.
The former F.B.I. director, a lover of order, sees little of it in a norm-smashing president spiraling toward impeachment, riffing on “sick and deranged” Democrats at a recent rally and playacting the dialogue of F.B.I. officials like an insult comic. In this concern, Mr. Comey has ample company. In this company, he carries a kind of customized psychic baggage.
Who can know how it feels to wonder, to have everyone you meet wonder, if the president is standing behind that seal because of you?
“Thanks for giving us Donald Trump,” an older woman heckled recently, adding an expletive as Mr. Comey strolled through a Yale Law School building, where he had come for a talk that focused largely on his fateful 2016 decisions and attendant personal anguish.
“Thank you for the feedback,” he told her. [Continue reading…]