Since the Afterword to my book (which follows) was written, two months later I came to represent Michael Cohen. After the reporting of a story relating to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, I realized my error in not much more clearly telling reporters of my uncertainty and inability to confirm the story they were working on. I apologized for this error and for any unintentional misleading comments I made to try explain my error. I took full responsibility for these mistakes and blamed no one else.
I learned a number of important professional and personal lessons for the future—at least I hope so. The most important lesson—the one I thought I knew but need to remind myself even more from now on—is to verify and confirm for myself all information I share with reporters. If I have doubts, I have learned, then be silent.
In contrast, former FBI director James Comey never apologized for sending the Oct. 28 letter that I believe my book proves with hard data was the final decisive reason why Donald Trump won the election. Even after the DOJ Inspector General found Comey’s sending that letter to Congress 11 days before the election to be a violation of long-standing DOJ policies and an act of “insubordination”—as well as his July 5 globally televised press conference that offered his negative opinion on the subject of the investigation without bringing any charges—Comey never apologized or even admitted to an erroneous judgment. —Lanny J. Davis
Afterword to the paperback edition of The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency
The Unmaking of the President 2016 was published in February 2018, a little more than three months before former FBI director James Comey published his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Comey completed his book tour having received mostly softball questions from mainstream media interviewers. This must have pleased Donald Trump, for these interviews helped confirm to his loyal base that Trump was right about the bias and anti-Trump hatred of the mainstream media and vindicated in his decision to fire Comey. The coverage also helped strengthen his strategy to nationalize the November 2018 midterm elections around the issue of impeachment. And thus, the interviews helped divert attention away from the fact of his illegitimate election, thanks to Comey’s improper intervention. The fly in the ointment of that strategy, as we shall see, is someone named Robert Mueller, who won’t be deterred and couldn’t care less about political attacks. His focus will remain on one thing and one thing only: the facts.
1. Comey’s Big Lie About His October 28, 2016, History-Changing Letter
As Comey’s book tour proceeded, I watched with amazement as among all the interviewers in the mainstream media—in print, cable, morning and evening network news, you name it—not one interviewer asked Comey why he lied about the reason he said he was “obligated” to send the history-changing October 28 letter to Congress.
I don’t use the word “lie” easily. I didn’t use it to describe Comey’s behavior in the chapters of this book. After all, it means accusing Comey of not just being wrong or mistaken. It goes to his intent—an intentional misrepresentation of facts—an act of willful deceit.
Comey lied, I believe—knowingly misled and deceived—when he wrote in a memo to FBI employees on the evening of October 28, 2016, and subsequently repeated afterward many times and in his 2018 book tour interviews, that he had an “obligation” to disclose the new Clinton emails to Congress on October 28 because he had previously told Congress and the public that the Clinton email investigation was “closed.” He framed his choice as “concealing”—misleading Congress and the public by not telling them about the discovery of Clinton’s emails on Anthony Wiener’s laptop—or “speaking”—i.e., sending his October 28 letter to Congress. Between those two options, Mr. Comey saw no choice but to uphold the integrity of the FBI (and his own) to speak and not to conceal. He had to keep his and the FBI’s integrity with such a binary choice, of course—because, after all, to paraphrase Marc Antony speaking of the hypocritical Brutus in a different (but not so different) context: “For James Comey is an honorable man.”
But Comey’s statements in his October 28 memo and throughout his book tour that he faced only these two choices are belied by his own testimony on September 28, 2016, before the House Judiciary Committee. Here is the exact exchange with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who, along with all the other Republicans on the committee, was critical of Comey’s decision not to prosecute Clinton:
“My first question is this, would you reopen the Clinton investigation if you discovered new information that was both relevant and substantial?”
“It’s hard for me to answer in the abstract,” Comey replied. “We would certainly look at any new and substantial information.” (Emphasis added.)
So, in fact, Comey never said he would disclose first and then look. He said the opposite: He would look first and then decide. He knew that, since this testimony was publicly reported many times after he sent his October 28 letter and much repeated in the months after in 2017–18. The false choice between “speaking” and “concealing” was contradicted by his own congressional testimony on September 28. The true fact was that he told Congress there was another choice—to look at the new email information first.
That’s right. “Look at” first before disclosing. A huge difference. A historically huge difference.
So why did Comey frame his choices in such an obviously false way? Why didn’t he look first at the Clinton emails before deciding whether to publicly reopen a new investigation, which he knew could hurt her presidential chances considerably?
He’s not pathological about lying, as is Donald Trump—knowing that he is lying and not caring. The best explanation is that he was so good at his “Lordy, Lordy” image of innocence and sanctimony that he thought he could get away with fudging the truth, and the book tour interviewers proved he was right.
So, what was the truth? Comey, I believe, just couldn’t, wouldn’t, step up to the line. To do so would have meant that the entire carefully crafted image of himself promoted so meticulously over the years—Mr. Transparency, Mr. Integrity, Mr. “I Never Consider Politics Noble Prosecutor”—would have been shattered.
We should now have no doubt as to the true reason why he sent the letter. Comey gave a strong hint of the truth when he said during one of his interviews, apparently without understanding how revelatory it was, that when he wrote the letter he was certain that Donald Trump would never win the presidential election.
So there, I am confident, you have the key to the truth he was reticent to admit: Comey thought, since there was no chance that Trump could win, what the hell? Why not protect his political rear end with the congressional Republicans, throw them some red meat to immunize himself from their criticism after Hillary Clinton was elected president? Even if something new was found among the Clinton emails on Wiener’s laptop, the chances the emails were appropriately marked as classified and still ignored by Clinton—the prerequisite (as Comey had correctly stated in his July nonprosecution finding) to any finding of criminal intent necessary to bring a criminal case—were close to zero. (Out of 33,000 Clinton emails reviewed by the FBI, Comey conceded at a July 7, 2016, congressional hearing that none had been appropriately marked as classified.) So why not write the letter to protect himself from postelection GOP critics?
In other words, Comey made the ultimate political decision that every politician understands: It’s called CYA, or “Cover Your Ass.” But he self-servingly called it a decision to “speak” rather than “conceal.” But wait: Comey also knew that he had opened a criminal investigation in August 2016 of possible illegal collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, which the intelligence community knew by then had embarked on an active effort to interfere in the U.S. presidential election through cyber attacks, hacking, and disinformation via Facebook, to tilt the election to Trump over Clinton. Did the “apolitical” James Comey use the same standard and decide to “speak” rather than “conceal” the fact of this FBI investigation of the Russian meddling and the Trump campaign’s (or Trump’s own) complicity?
Oops. How to explain the disparate treatment between “speaking” in the case of Clinton’s emails on Wiener’s laptop—which he had never seen before he sent his letter—and “concealing” the Russian-Trump collusion investigation, then ongoing? Well, Comey said, this was different: It was about a sensitive counterintelligence investigation about the Russians meddling in our elections, not the email practices of one of the presidential candidates.
As a law school professor once said to me when I was straining to distinguish one harmful precedent from another helpful one: that is a “distinction without a difference.”
During 2017 and up to and through the writing of his book, Comey knew, and we all knew, that had he looked at the Clinton/Wiener laptop emails first before informing Congress, he would have determined within six days that there was nothing new there. (We know this with certainty because that was the amount of time, between October 31 and November 5, that it took the FBI to obtain a warrant and review all of Clinton’s emails on Wiener’s laptop to determine just that.) Thus, Comey knew with certainty that had he looked first, he never would have written his October 28 letter. Ergo: Donald Trump would have lost the presidency to Hillary Clinton. Ergo: Comey’s impulse for CYA political protection gave the country Donald Trump as president.
So, when asked for the reason he wrote the letter, I believe he lied. He just couldn’t confront the truth that his ill-considered and improper October 28 letter was the decisive reason how America came to elect Donald Trump as president.
Then, in early June 2018, a final reckoning of James Comey’s misconduct occurred when the inspector general of the Department of Justice issued a five-hundred-page report that confirmed everything already written in this book: James Comey violated policies and protocols when he held his July 5 press conference and sent his October 28 letter. The inspector general stated his unequivocal conclusion: James Comey doesn’t get to decide which policies to follow and which to ignore. The IG called him “insubordinate”—an understatement, to say the least.
The revelation that Comey used a private email system, mixing FBI official business with personal messages, on his gmail account stored on Google’s private servers rather than the Justice Department server, added a spice of irony and a “you can’t make this up” aspect to the IG’s report. Seriously? I thought, when I first heard this juicy new fact. Mr. Transparency, Mr. Speak Not Conceal, forgot to tell us that he had a private email system while he was investigating Hillary Clinton for hers? Oh, some of his apologists said, but unlike Clinton, Comey’s private emails on a server that could have been hacked did not contain classified information. Oh really? I wondered. How would we know—since Mr. Transparency never told us and kept it a secret until the IG’s report? And of course, no interviewer during his book tour ever asked Mr. Comey about his email practices.
2. The Mainstream Media’s Complicity
Why did the mainstream media let Comey get away with this false narrative?
I think the answer is obvious, indeed human, but don’t take it from me. I am a biased longtime friend and supporter of Hillary Clinton and a lifelong partisan liberal Democrat. You can discount my opinion: That the mainstream media gave disproportionate coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email practices as opposed to her policy positions and preferred to blame her loss to Trump on her campaign’s mistakes rather than take responsibility for their own excessive coverage of the email issue that dominated her campaign from March 2015 to Election Day.
Instead of accepting my opinion, take a look at what the Washington Post editorial board wrote, with remarkable prescience, on September 8, 2016, about three months from Election Day, words I chose to begin my book with:
Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of… a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Mrs. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.
Yet, reporters and pundits who interviewed Comey during his book tour were disinclined to press Comey to take responsibility for the election of Trump and thus draw attention to their own responsibility for excessive coverage of what the Post described as a “minor email scandal.”
Then there was the fact that when asked whether he thought his letter contributed to the election of Trump, Comey said repeatedly, with undisguised pain in tone and body language, “I don’t know.” Why weren’t there immediate tough follow-up questions, based on hard, undisputed data? “What do you mean you don’t know? Have you seen the virtually immediate drop in Hillary Clinton’s substantial leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin from the morning of October 28, before your letter hit the media? Do you recall the 24/7 headlines your fact-free letter created throughout the media—‘New Hillary Clinton Emails Criminal Investigation’? Didn’t you realize those headlines and the dramatic drop of Clinton in the polls couldn’t be nullified by your announcing, quietly on Sunday morning, two days before the election, that the investigation had found nothing new at all? Didn’t it occur to you that all you had to do was look first before you decided to ignore long-standing Justice Department policies by writing a letter that could have at least some effect on the election results?”
I am not aware of any interviewer who cited the detailed data contained in the definitive May 3, 2017, study by the highly respected Nate Silver (and expanded upon in Chapter 8 of this book with many other sources of data) regarding the decisive post-Comey effects on the election results in these three and other key battleground states.
The obvious explanation, human and true, is that the mainstream media to this day prefers to blame Hillary Clinton’s many mistakes and shortcomings as a candidate (which she acknowledged in her own book What Happened ) rather than step up to the line and take responsibility, as the Washington Post suggested, for their over-coverage of a “minor email scandal” as a significant reason why the nation now has Donald Trump as president rather than Hillary Clinton. I have close friends at The New York Times who have written me and told me how angry they are with my criticisms of the Times’ email coverage in my book, even though I still regard the paper as one of the world’s greatest. Yet none of them mentioned any inaccuracy in my reporting on their coverage of the Hillary Clinton emails.
3. Trump’s Likely Happiness with the Comey Book Tour Interviews
Ironically, there was one person in the viewing audience of Comey’s mostly soft mainstream media’s interviews who, one can reasonably assume, enjoyed them: Donald Trump.
Why? For two reasons. First, Trump loved being vindicated, especially to his loyal base, that, in fact, the mainstream media hated him and loved James Comey. And second, the last thing he wanted was any focus on the Comey letter as the decisive event 11 days out that delivered him the presidency, since this fact seriously threw into doubt the legitimacy of his election as president.
Trump and his strategists have decided to make impeachment the issue for the November 2018 elections to rev up and increase Trump Country turnout. That way, they can sidetrack the issue of the Comey letter and Trump’s obstruction of justice and possible complicity with Russia in helping Trump get elected. They know that their best argument against impeachment is that partisan Democrats want to use impeachment to achieve what they couldn’t accomplish at the ballot box in November 2016. The decisive impact of Comey’s letter undermines that argument of overturning a free and unimpaired democratic election. Certainly, given the Comey letter’s decisive impact in the last 11 days, the election outcome was not an unimpaired reflection of the popular will.
So, Trump and all the president’s men (and women) have tried to reframe the 2018 congressional midterm elections as an up-or-down vote on impeaching Donald Trump, which they have good reason to believe will rev up their base and increase turnout. In the late spring of 2018 they escalated their efforts to politicize the Mueller investigation by accusing the FBI falsely of inserting a “spy” into the Trump campaign organization, leading Trump to compare his plight to the corruption of Watergate, calling this FBI operation “Spygate.”
But an “oops” moment occurred for Trump on this Spygate conspiracy theory. After a highly controversial briefing of congressional officials, first limited to Republicans and then to the bipartisan “gang of eight” by senior DOJ and FBI officials, the highly partisan conservative Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy—the same Gowdy who spent millions of dollars and more than a year investigating Hillary Clinton on Benghazi and ending up in a political rabbit hole—openly contradicted Trump and declared there had been no spying and nothing improper done by the FBI.
Embarrassing to Trump and favorite lawyer–TV spinmeister Rudy Giuliani? Probably not. Both men seem beyond embarrassment. They know their base will accept anything they say—including lies that they know their base knows are lies. Giuliani openly admitted his purpose was to appeal to the Trump base, undermine Mueller’s credibility, and get ready for an impeachment battle.
4. The Undeterred Silent Submarine
There is one big problem with the Trump/Giuliani strategy of attacking the credibility of the FBI and Mueller. That problem is Robert Mueller.
Some in Trump’s camp have claimed to be taking a page out of the book of the Clinton strategy of attacking the independent counsel Kenneth Starr as partisan, leading a partisan investigation. (I was a part of that effort, and in retrospect, I have my regrets about too many attacks on Starr’s motives and not enough on his questionable judgment and inexperience.) But Bob Mueller is no Ken Starr. Mueller doesn’t come out his front door each morning to get into his car, with a cup of coffee in hand, and smile, ready to answer a few questions from the awaiting throngs of reporters. Mueller’s office isn’t filled with leakers who made no secret to reporters of their hatred for Bill Clinton and their belief in his guilt.
No, it’s not even close. Bob Mueller is no Ken Starr. He is, however, something else—more akin to a silent but deadly submarine. Soundless, moving underwater without anyone seeing or knowing what is going on inside the ship; the fuel and ammunition of that submarine are called facts. Facts, facts, facts.
So far, as of late June 2018, Mueller’s team has already issued more than twenty indictments and obtained five guilty pleas to felonies from key officials, including Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and a top Trump campaign official. All of this was done in a little over a year—compared to more than eight years of the Whitewater/Clinton investigation and two years of the GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy Benghazi investigation. Yet a national public opinion survey conducted in May 2018 showed that a substantial majority of the American people—59 percent—did not know that Mueller’s investigation has already resulted in these guilty pleas and serious charges against people in Trump’s inner circle. That ignorance won’t last forever. Additional indictments and published facts will start to get through to the American people and cannot be rebutted by partisan Trump rhetoric or Spygate slogans. Facts are stubborn things. And that is all Mueller does: facts.
In 1973, Richard Nixon said, “One year of Watergate is enough.” One year later, Nixon was forced to resign. Trump’s attempt to shut down Mueller’s investigation—“one year of Muller is enough”—will fail. Despite all of Trump’s and Giuliani’s and other Trump surrogates’ rants and attacks and attempts to politicize the issue of the investigation, the silent and leakproof submarine called Mueller motors on… and the silence and absence of leaks is driving Donald Trump crazy.
5. The November 2018 Midterm Elections and Beyond
If Trump doesn’t fire Mueller, the result inevitably will be that Mueller will emerge from his underwater investigation and announce indictments of “all the president’s men” (and some women, perhaps). And he will likely send a report to Congress, providing substantial evidence that Donald Trump was aware of, if not actively complicit in, the criminal conspiracy of his campaign officials and perhaps family members working with the Russian government, directly or indirectly, to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump and had knowledge that the Russian government had engaged in criminal acts of hacking and computer crimes to accomplish their pro-Trump goals. (Indeed, Trump publicly encouraged the Russians to engage in such criminal conduct when he urged at public rallies that the Russians expose Hillary Clinton’s alleged missing emails.) And, perhaps, he will produce even stronger evidence that Donald Trump was involved in a conspiracy to obstruct justice with the corrupt motive of impeding a criminal investigation of himself and abusing presidential powers and fundamental constitutional values and norms in doing so.
To date all signs suggest that, even before such a Mueller report to Congress, in the November 2018 elections the Democrats will ride the Blue Wave we have seen in the last year, especially replication of the enormous increased turnout of anti-Trump women, young people, and traditional Republican conservatives in suburban and exurban areas who elected Democrats in heavily Trump-supporting areas in the various special elections that have occurred in 2017 and 2018. Such a surge of anti-Trump voters will almost certainly outvote even a surge from anti-impeachment Trump voters. A Democratic House, with Democratic majorities controlling the House Judiciary Committee, subpoena powers, and an impeachment process, now appears most likely, though not yet certain.
However, make no mistake: Trump doesn’t really care if the Democrats take over the House and launch an impeachment effort. His reaction will be higher levels of adrenaline and greater numbers of early morning frenetic tweets—all adding up to “Make my day . . . bring it on.” It will be just another opportunity to say to his base: “I told you so.” Trump also is comforted knowing there is virtually no chance that there can be a two-thirds vote to remove him in the U.S. Senate, even if there is a worst-case result in November 2018 and the Democrats capture the U.S. Senate by a small margin. That is, if there is no smoking gun evidence, akin to the Nixon tape proving that he conspired to get the CIA to try to kill the Watergate investigation and then lied about it. Even then, Trump would likely hang on unless there are a group of principled Senate Republicans, as there were in August 1974, led by “Mr. Conservative,” Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who went to the White House to tell Richard Nixon he must resign or be removed by greater than two-thirds vote by the U.S. Senate. If that is to happen, today’s Senate Republicans will have to come to realize that they must do so not only to save their party, but also because our nation’s fundamental constitutional principles and historic friendships with long-standing allies are seriously at risk. More likely that won’t happen. So that leaves 2020 for Trump to survive and get reelected or to be humiliated and lose—or, given his excessive level of malignant narcissism, to avoid the humiliation and to decide not to run again, blaming it all on “The Swamp.” Meaning, he can decide not to run again and look forward to playing golf, being a media celebrity, perhaps starting a new version of The Apprentice, and maybe even actually getting to build a Trump Tower in Moscow with his buddy Vladimir Putin cutting the ribbon.
Of course, I and most people were wrong about Trump not having a chance to win in 2016. We can be wrong again. But I cannot resist reminding everyone who says we all missed it and the polls were wrong in 2016. In fact, the polls were virtually dead on in predicting Hillary Clinton’s nearly three million popular vote margin over Trump nationally. And they were virtually all correct in showing her in the lead in the key battleground states as of the morning of October 28, despite all her alleged mistakes, especially by significant margins in the three critical states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and thus, the next president as of that morning, but for the alien intervention of James Comey.
Whether another October surprise occurs in 2020—if Trump wins the nomination—remains to be seen. Given that Donald Trump has offered strong proof that he was right when he said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and his hard-core base would still love him and vote for him, anything is possible. In mid-June 2018, that not-so-funny boast by Trump might be tested, even among his core base voters, at the widely televised scenes of children torn from their parents, a baby taken from her mother while nursing, thousands of children in detention, many literally in cages—all a direct result of Trump’s policies. His outright lie that it was all the fault of congressional Democrats was so blatant, so shameful, that even some within his own administration and Republican congressional supporters could not summon up the ability to repeat and support this indisputable and vicious Trump lie. Then he was soon forced to reverse himself and stop the child-parent separations, i.e., he lied about his lie that only Congress could do that. Everyone knew the truth: Trump had callously used these innocent children to try to deter those seeking political asylum from crossing the borders and to coerce Democrats to support funding the Mexican wall that Trump had repeatedly stated would be paid for by Mexico.
The utter immorality and heartlessness of Trump’s use of innocent children was repudiated even by his own wife and eloquently by former First Lady Laura Bush. Signs of loss of support among his core supporters could be seen by late June, even among previous lock-solid supporters in the Christian-right evangelical movement.
Thus, by late June, Trump still could not get above the low or mid-40s in approval ratings, nor win significant support among independents, women, and suburban conservative Republicans. These low approval ratings for this stage of the presidency, despite a strong economy and the lowest unemployment in many years, showed that even in the best of times Trump remained a minority president elected by illegitimate means. It is therefore doubtful that he can win in 2020. If such is reflected in most of the polls as the 2020 election approaches, as noted above, I am guessing he won’t run at all. His vanity probably could not sustain such a humiliating defeat for a second term. There is a serious chance that historians will rank him as the worst president in U.S. history—way below even Republican James Buchanan, another one-term president whom most historians now rank at the bottom.
Stay tuned. The wheels of history are rolling.
Excerpted from The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency by Lanny J. Davis. Copyright © 2018 by Lanny J. Davis.Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.