James Comey strategically sinks into restaurants – all thirty inches from him, dreaming to erase the Twitter feed, in which a bipartisan coalition declares him a national disgrace.
He sleeps deeply – nine hours at night, he parks – and organizes the self-described chapter of "unemployed celebrity" of his life for a series of everyday goals. "One of my goals was to do 10 pullups in a row," Mr. Comey said in an interview, legs crossed on the porch of his stately home in Virginia. "I'm nine now, so I did a lot of pull-ups."
He writes and thinks and reads and worries in a tidy office on the ground floor, surrounded by the jewels of his past: the white house card The night that President Trump asked for his "loyalty" as FBI director, a book by Nate Silver, the political data expert, who believes that Mr. Comey's explosively ambiguous letter in October 201
"It reminds me so much to the FBI, "said Mr. Comey.
But a lot has happened lately, and another Trump election scandal is coming up, and institutions are shaking. And Mr. Comey, as always, can not fight a nagging conviction: James Comey can help. He has to help.
"I feel stuck," he said. "As if I could not do anything else, and I could not look in the mirror if I did something light."
What he does exactly is not clear to him, even. Rather than go back to the usual arc of a former intelligence leader-think tanks, corporate boards, studied political silence-Comey has committed himself to spend the next thirteen months driving Mr. Trump from power.
The earlier F.B.I. The director, a regulatory lover, sees little of it in an inter-presidential president dedicated to impeachment, scolding at a rally on "sick and disturbed" Democrats and discussing the dialogue of F.B.I. Officials like an insulting comic. Mr Comey has plenty of company in this matter. In this company he wears a kind of customized psychic luggage.
Who knows what it feels like to be surprised when everyone you meet wonders why the President is behind this seal because of you?
"Thank you for giving us Donald Trump," an elderly woman recently hooked up and added an explanation as Mr. Comey sauntered through a Yale Law School building where he had come for a lecture, mainly on his fateful decisions 2016 and his companions focused personal anxiety.
"Thank you for the feedback," he said.
The state of Mr. Comey, separate from its peculiar context, is a little typical of the urgency with which many critics of the President of the 2020 election are approaching. The season of medium-term activism in the past year has given way to a long election winter of democratic primary skirmishes in which only a few states with early votes have come to the fore, and Trump's opponents have been in a barrage of executives who they can not counteract who made the effort to do their part.
The legislature can sue. Whistleblower whistle. What about the private citizen who is determined to live in public?
"It is difficult for people who have had much power to come to terms with the fact that there is actually very little that you can do if you are not a candidate. Said Jennifer Palmieri, a former top adviser to Mrs. Clinton. "Or the FBI director."
While lacking formal authority, Mr. Comey has no shortage of platforms, saying he has signed a contract to write opinion papers for The Washington Post A mini-series starring Jeff Daniels as Mr. Comey, based on his best-selling memoir, He travels the country giving speeches on ethical leadership and mixing pro-bono college appearances with paid bookings for which there is a six-figure ("It's a lot!"), Enthused Mr. Comey, while refusing to give his exact course. "Seriously, it's crazy.")
Over nearly two hours in his last month House in Northern Virginia, whose coordinates he prefers not published Given the President's affection, followers with stories about "Leakin & # 39; Lyin & # 39; Director James Comey, a former FBI director, could register as a spindly contradiction: he is just-the-facts lawyer and at the same time an amazing feeling-feeling person who is thoughtful about the size of his ego and can not completely suppress it.
He says he is "not so important in America's great history" but believes that his first-hand look into the president's psyche can provide unusual value for the anti-Trump movement. In one breath he can carry out the humiliating task of maintaining bird feed and in another call the teachings of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. He says a lot of "age".
Sometimes Mr. Comey sounds like he's suggesting that the Twitter account from which he gives serious warnings and measures the hope ("This country is so much better off than this president") is good for your health of the nation.
"I have a fantasy about January 21, 2021, to erase my Twitter and move on to something else," he said. "But I can not until then."
The graduation has also escaped some of its listeners. They harass Mr. Comey's public events with skeptical questions about his decisions in 2016. The Inspector General of the Ministry of Justice arrested Mr. Comey at this time for "rude" behavior and accused him of having broken with the longstanding policy by He publicly discussed a case in Mrs. Clinton 's use of a private e – mail server, including a letter to Congress less than two weeks before the election.
Mr. Comey has acknowledged that he may have unconsciously been influenced by the political consensus that Mrs. Clinton would win. But he has not given much regret and defended his chosen course as the best of the bad options. "I wish we had not been involved," he said. He predicted that history would kindly judge him for appreciating the disguise of disguise (not, as some Clinton allies see, who opt for spectacle over discretion).
Mr. Comey, wondering if he cares, how he would be remembered for eternity, 58 said, "I wanted to say, I do not care. I'm sure I'm a little interested, "he added. It generally frustrates me that millions of people have a wrong impression of me. I wish they knew I was funnier. "
Mr. Comey paused when asked if, given his role in 2016, it would be a measure of catharsis to defeat Mr. Trump. "Hmm," he said. "I do not believe so, at least in my own consciousness I do not associate these things."
There is little template for a modern F.B.I. Boss has a prominent place in political advocacy. Mr. Comey has performatively balked at the observation that he is the most consistent head of the office since his first inauguration, and recently grimaced when a forum moderator called him "the first F.B.I. Director, since J. Edgar Hoover is a household name. "
" There is no precedent, "said Tim Weiner, author of" Enemies: A History of the F.B.I. "about Mr. Comey's current ambitions." "But then there has never been a president who was seen as a threat to US national security."
A former registered Republican who intended to complete his 10-year FBI. In his tenure in 2023, Mr. Comey called on the Democrats to oppose the "socialist left." He is open to appearing with presidential candidates in election campaigns or even at a nomination convention if they have vowed him, never Mr Comey donated money to Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a former faculty member of the Law School, earlier this year, but said sparingly in the interview about the remainder of the democratic field in 2020, barring it from a compliment to the thoughtfulness of South Bend, Indiana Mayor, whose name he unsure of one appeared ("Is it Pete Boot-ed-edge?").
Some law enforcement veterans have challenged the value and appropriateness of Mr. Comey's new phase and mocked the emotional turnaround. He has found that he publishes images of nature and the open road in social media.
Rod J. Rosenstein, the former Deputy Attorney General, whose memo was cited on Mr. Comey from 2017 to streamline the FBI's dismissal director in May, was particularly cutting-edge. At a speech last spring, Mr. Rosenstein mocked the former director, "to sell books and earn speech fees while speculating on the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul."
Rosenstein said. "And that's disappointing. To speculate about souls is not a task for the police and prosecutors. "
Those who know Mr. Comey admit that he is often the hero of his own anecdotes, and in those moments he can most closely resemble a politician.
] "I've probably had dozens – and maybe dozens are not enough – encounters with uniformed military, intelligence and the FBI people in grocery stores, at airports, in hardware stores," said Comey. "They just come up and touch my arm and say," Please keep talking. Please continue. "
While his audience chooses themselves, Mr. Comey has clearly retained a constituency and given hugs and autographs and a frozen selfie smile everywhere.
Charles Grady, Community Outreach Specialist at The FBI office in New Haven, which Mr. Comey visited to speak at Yale, then wrapped him in a bear hat and said Mr. Comey was the man who hired him first recruited. "I joined the F.B.I. because of him, "Mr. Grady said. "And I stay because of the work he started."
The next evening, hours after meeting Heckler at the law school, Mr Comey was jubilant when a young woman in the street praised his subsequent conversation with student democrats.
"At least three of those for each & # 39; scumbag & # 39;" he guessed as he walked away.
In the interview at his house, Mr. Comey imagined that it was "bleakly funny" for Mrs. Clinton to be recaptured as the "Cabal Leader" to destroy the president, after he stood in Congress against the behavior and the character of Mr. Trump – and less funny for Mr. Comey's wife Patrice, who had herself been a devout Clinton fanatic.
We protect him very much, "said Mrs. Comey. "It's not okay, the way the Republicans, the President and the politicians in Congress – I mean, it's just not OK."
Mr. Comey has found comfort in the longer term. In speeches and writings, he almost miraculously appears supremely convinced of his ability to truly differentiate from and be recognized for having ultimately done so.
His public career – in self-realization and often enough in reality – was an exercise to tell powerful people what they did not want to hear, in accordance with Mr. Comey's own professional compass. As deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, he was known to confront advisers to the president with a surveillance program that he found legally dubious.
On the way, Mr Comey often talks about "getting the punch" in the service of the institutions. He enthuses and says he knows that his actions in 2016 will be "catastrophic" to me as a human being.
There is a story he likes to tell about his grandfather William Comey, a former leader of the Yonkers Police Department whose picture hangs in Mr. Comey's private work area. During Prohibition, the elderly Mr. Comey caught the wind of a piracy program to channel beer through fire hoses between Yonkers and the Bronx.
He loved beer. He knew that did not matter. His order came quickly: ax the hoses and let the alcohol fill the sewers.
"It has angered many people," Mr. Comey recently told the students. But has that proven wrong?
"Pop did the right thing," Mr. Comey told her.
And then once again a little firmer: "He did the right thing."