‘The Daily’ Transcript: Interview With James Comey

COMEY: Yeah.

BARBARO: In your account of that February 14th meeting in the Oval Office, in which the president asks you — says he hopes that you can let the Flynn matter go, you said in your book that you had no choice but to stay in the Oval Office alone with the president — those are the words you used — when he asked these other people in the room to leave, one by one. And I wonder why you didn’t have a choice? We talked a little earlier about power dynamics, but you are, at this point, the director of the F.B.I., you are a profoundly distinguished law man, you’re an independent operator, and you are, by your own description, stubborn and prideful. So why do you have to stay? Why do you have no choice in the matter to be alone with the president in the Oval Office?

COMEY: I don’t suppose there’s literally no choice. I mean, I was not handcuffed to a chair. But given that I am the director of the F.B.I., and the president of the United States has, in essence, issued an order for the room to be cleared and me to stay, it never entered my mind to walk out. Just because of my respect for the office, the literal physical office in which I stood, and the office of the president of the United States, I, I can’t imagine — many things people can second-guess, but walking out at that moment I don’t think is one that could be fairly second-guessed.

BARBARO: But I guess what I’m getting at is why, at this point, as F.B.I. director, aren’t you doing anything more meaningful about these encounters than memorializing them in a memo? If they’re becoming troubling to you, as I think you’re suggesting they very much are, why are you just writing these stories down and locking them away — even if there are two copies, one at the F.B.I., one at home — and hoping, as you said, that they never end up having to be seen?

COMEY: Well, I’m doing more than that, I think, including, in the course of the dinner with the president on the 27th, trying to interject, to explain to him why it’s important for there to be distance between the president and the Justice Department, and why I was there a week earlier, about a week earlier, February the 8th, talking to his chief of staff, and part of that conversation was about the appropriate channels for communicating with the F.B.I.

BARBARO: But, as I recall, that meeting with Reince Priebus ends with him, in your mind, inappropriately guiding you over to the president once more, to have a conversation you didn’t even really want to have, but you had it.

COMEY: Yup. And then the day after the Valentine’s Day conversation, I spoke to the attorney general, my direct boss, and told him, it can’t happen that you’re kicked out of a room and the president meets with me. You have to be between me and the president.

BARBARO: But you chose not to tell the attorney general about what the president had asked of you, which was to drop the Flynn investigation.