Former FBI director James Comey spent the day in Sarasota reflecting on his career and President Trump.
Comey was a guest speaker for the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series.
Before he gave his talk, he spoke candidly with reporters.
“It really was never one of my goals to be a celebrity,” said Comey.
Since President Trump dismissed Comey from the FBI in 2017, Comey has openly criticized him.
“He is one of the worst listeners of a leader that I’ve ever seen. And that is, all of us who thought of leadership, that is deeply concerning. And [Trump] doesn’t have an external framework. The only reference he has for making decisions is right here in the center of his chest,” Comey said.
“I’m really worried about the impact this president has on our values that we all have in common.”
In his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey called Trump a “forest fire.”
“I chose that metaphor on purpose because a forest fire brings tremendous damage and threat. But in the wake of it, amazing things grow,” he said.
Days after Comey’s firing, Robert Mueller was tapped to investigate possible Russian interference into the 2016 election.
Today, Comey believes this complex case is being handled swiftly and productively.
“I don’t know where it will end up, and I tell folks I hope people don’t root for a particular outcome. We should all root only that the work be finished and the facts be found, whatever they are, they are,” said Comey.
He doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary with the raid at Roger Stone’s home, or the handling of this investigation.
“I’m confident that those cases were treated like any other case….They’re not doing it to send a message or to scare people, they’re trying to keep people safe,” Comey said.
He ultimately wants to see the Mueller report made public.
“I think transparency is important to public faith and confidence in the work of law enforcement,” said Comey.
That’s the same feeling he had in October 2016, when he announced the reopening of the Clinton email investigation. He says he wrestled with the announcement and its consequences.
“There’s only two doors. Do I tell that we reopened this investigation? That’s bad. Or do I conceal that fact, when I know that the entire country is relying on the fact that we told them we’re done, we’re done, we’re done. There’s nothing to see here. Move on. As painful as it is, I can’t imagine that I would conceal. Think about what you would be saying about me today if I had hidden from Congress the fact that we had restarted that investigation?” Comey said.
He stressed that he doesn’t have regrets.
“I don’t think differently about the decisions, but it makes me sick to my stomach to think we might have had an impact [on the 2016 election] and honestly I secretly hope that someday someone will prove that the decisions that I made, that we made, had nothing to do with the outcome,” Comey said.
When pressed, he did say he wished he could’ve done something differently.
“The Anthony Weiner laptop, the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails on there, was known to the FBI just about a month before I knew it. And so, if I could go back in time, I would’ve made the decision in made on Oct. 27, three weeks earlier, and maybe that would’ve gotten us out of the way of any election impact. But look, I can’t go back and relive life,” said Comey.
Comey stressed that the FBI was apolitical and was doing its due diligence.
“There is zero chance, zero chance, on the facts of the Hillary Clinton case, that she would be prosecuted. Or that anybody similarly situated would be prosecuted. Not even a close call,” he said.
Comey is conflicted over whether he’s happy to no longer be in the FBI.
“In a way I’m glad to be away from icky politicians, but I really miss the people of the FBI and the mission,” said Comey.
He said during his tenure, the FBI was making great strides in attracting female and minority candidates.
“I worry that without that sustained attention, a lot of the progress that we made and the controversy frankly, surrounding the FBI, that we will lose the momentum we had in attracting a more diverse workforce,” expressed Comey.
Despite this charged political climate, Comey is not discouraged. He’s optimistic about the future, especially now that youth are becoming more engaged in politics, and more women and veterans are running for office.
“There’s a lot of cool stuff happening in this country right now. So we are going to be okay and we’re going to be okay because we are driving a conversation that focuses on those values,” said Comey.