While James Comey’s upcoming book tour seems bound to trigger President Donald Trump in potentially dramatic ways, another group of politicos also remains on edge over the former FBI director’s return to the national stage.
Veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign say they expect the former secretary of state to take a few shots in the pages of A Higher Loyalty. And while there is no consensus plan to push back on Comey, they won’t be holding their counter-punches either.
“Just because Jim Comey sees himself as a hero, I don’t think the rest of the country will necessarily see him as a hero,” Philippe Reines, former adviser to Clinton told The Daily Beast in an interview.
Few book tours have come with as much anticipation as the one on which Comey is about to embark. That’s largely because of the conditions under which the former FBI Director was fired by Trump, and the possibility that he could shed some light on the remaining vagaries of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. But the promotion of A Higher Loyalty seems likely to be as much about Comey’s desire to rehabilitate his own image as it is about settling old scores. And for that reason, it is widely expected that the former FBI Director will use a good chunk of his pages to address his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server.
For Reines, the expectation is that Comey will leave out the self-reflection as he casts himself as a stalwart beacon of justice who was repeatedly confronted with the worst of the swamp.
“I just have the hardest job in the world doing the right thing all the time,” said Reines, playfully mocking the tone he predicted the former FBI director would take. “And. Lordy, people make that tough on me to do the right thing and no matter how hard they get on me, I just keep doing the right thing and boy am I exhausted of doing the right thing.”
The Clinton political operation is famous for gaming out ways to undermine critical books, going so far as to get their hands on early copies to call into question the veracity of the work before it is released. But sources inside the Clinton alumni network insist that there is no such formal plan for Comey (perhaps because the book has been under lock and key). “No large scale pushback has been organized” and maybe none at all, is what one Clinton insider said. “I’m sure some folks have put their heads together. But they haven’t convened a conference call for the wider universe and no talking points have been pass around widely.”
The absence of a plan doesn’t mean that there will be an absence of any pushback at all. Reines is buying the book, he said— “It’s not like I spent my one Amazon book credit on Jim Comey”— and he and others continue to harbor anger at Comey for—in their estimation—costing her the election, both with his decision to castigate Clinton on live television in the summer of 2016 and in announcing a reopening of the email investigation in October.
“Why the fuck does he think it’s ok to just reopen an investigation 10 days before an election?” said Reines. “He feels a need to tell the country that Hillary Clinton is the most guilty innocent person that he’s ever looked into but neglects to mention to the same country that Donald Trump appears to be the most guilty guilty person he’s in the middle of looking at. Why? I don’t think these are things his book is going to answer for us.”
Though lacking her long-time aide’s colorful language, Clinton has pushed back on Comey herself. In her book, What Happened, she said she regretted not going after Comey harder in a public setting during the campaign.
“My first instinct was that my campaign should hit back hard and explain to the public that Comey had badly overstepped his bounds—the same argument [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein would make months after the election,” Clinton wrote. “That might have blunted the political damage and made Comey think twice before breaking protocol again a few months later.”
Comey, for his part, has defended his actions during the campaign by portraying them as the result of taking the best of two bad options. The thought of possibly swaying the election’s outcome made him “mildly nauseous,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee—a statement that may have mollified some lawmakers but has remained too bitter for many Clinton vets to swallow.
“Mr. Comey needs to put his big-boy pants on, admit that his unethical action swung the election to Trump, and beg for forgiveness,” Paul Begala, CNN contributor and former Clinton White House counselor told The Daily Beast. “My Aunt Fanny’s bean dip makes me mildly nauseous. Comey swinging the election to Trump makes me sick.”
But it’s not just Comey’s post-facto explanation for his handling of the email investigation that the Clinton world will be watching for during his book tour. Aides to the Democratic nominee are also interested in seeing if he provides additional insight into the role Russia played in undermining her campaign. That’s especially true as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion heats up, and with news on Monday that the FBI raided the office and home of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.
“James Comey has had ample opportunity to explain why he made a public spectacle of the email issue against Department of Justice protocol and it’s still a mystery,” Nick Merrill, communications director for Clinton told The Daily Beast. “An even bigger mystery is why he did so while keeping an investigation into Trump and his ties to Russia under wraps. There is ample evidence that his actions affected [the] outcome of the election, so unless his book includes directions on how to build a time machine, I’m not sure what value it will have at this point.”
While some in the Clinton orbit remained skeptical that they would get any new answers to their questions, others suggested that the former FBI director will be forced to lay out some specifics. Comey, after all, is untethered now and detached from the difficult balance he had to strike as an FBI Director. He is now a private citizen.
“I welcome the book tour,” a staffer close to the Clinton campaign, requesting to speak on background, told The Daily Beast. “I want him to answer a lot of questions. He has never been held accountable for what he did because he used his official position to evade questions from Congress and wouldn’t talk to the press. But this isn’t Director Comey anymore, this is citizen Comey and citizen Comey can’t choose what he answers and what he doesn’t. The press will force him to answer questions about the election and won’t allow him to dodge.”
Jackie Kucinich and Sam Stein contributed reporting.