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Home / World / "No turn back now": the insider story of James Comey's trip to the Trump Tower

"No turn back now": the insider story of James Comey's trip to the Trump Tower



As the door of the Gulf Stream opened, a cold gust of wind filled the cabin of the jet. The hiss of his engines soon faded, and the security guards on board began to make their final preparations for our arrival. They checked weapons, tested the radio communication, and went through the schedule one last time to make sure every move was recorded down to the last detail. During this jumble, our main passenger sat quietly in front of me, nodding in time to a song by John Legend playing on his wireless headphones.

Two dark SUVs, flanked by police cruisers with flashing lights, stopped at the stairs of the plane, and the chief security guard gave me a thumbs-up. It was not until I stepped on the door that I realized that we were driving past the fuselage directly on a Boeing 757 with the word TRUMP. I had seen this impressive machine before, when I flew over New York's LaGuardia airport. On one occasion, I even saw Donald Trump driving a Chevrolet Suburban with a pressed-down phone controlled by intelligence agents. To his ear as he climbed the stairs of the jet, undoubtedly on the way to another campaign stop, as he tried to get in to overcome long chances in a critical election cycle. But now, as I stood there staring at a huge plane bearing the golden Trump name, I could not help but marvel at the crafting and branding of the man who had just been elected Leader of the Free World. It was time for Comey to meet the new boss.

Whether to confront terrorists who wanted to kill innocent Americans, identify cybercriminals who are investigating our critical national infrastructure, or uncover foreign spies working to undermine our sacred electoral process, the missions of men, and the Women of US intelligence are dead serious. The four men who had traveled to New York that morning had spent most of their adult lives protecting the United States from foreign adversaries. They would now summarize their expertise in a briefing to provide the new CEO with the knowledge and tools needed to counteract a persistent – and serious – threat to the nation.

But the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had an additional task that day, which would be forwarded to the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. For months, there had been a series of memos circulating among media representatives and throughout the government, which did not contain verified but explosive charges against Trump. As the world now knows, Christopher Steele, a former United Kingdom Intelligence Officer (MI6), had been hired by a private investigator to investigate Trump's background. Steele, a veteran agent, wrote a series of memos describing information about the compromise of material allegedly received by Russian intelligence agencies from Trump. In addition to presenting allegations of illegal business practices that could lead Russia to tackle Trump, the "Steele dossier," as it later became known, also contained alleged details of Trump's sexual inclinations and unauthorized actions committed in Moscow were. Once, Steele thought the information so threatening that he turned to the FBI and reported it to him.

Indeed, Steele was not the only one who feared that Trump could take a compromising position with the Russians. Two powerful Republican senators had already addressed the FBI director separately, expressing dismay at the revelations the former British spy might have detected. In November 2016, when Comey spoke to legislators on Capitol Hill, Senate Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) pulled Comey aside to warn him of something very worrying. Their conversation had not been reported so far.

"There's some material circulating," Burr whispered cryptically. "It contains some annoying things, I just want to make sure you're persecuting them."

"We are," said Comey.

"I no longer need to know about it," Burr said, expressing his respect for the FBI's independence in countering possible counter-intelligence threats. "I just felt like I had to make sure you knew."

Then, in December 2016, Senator John McCain called our office and said he had to come to Comey. He brought along a single envelope, the contents of which were a mystery to us, as the senior statesman walked slowly past me and walked down the long corridor to Comey's office.

"He had returned from the annual Halifax Defense Conference in Nova Scotia," Comey told me later, "and someone he knew had given him Christopher Steele's material, he had read enough to know he was had to give it to me. " "

" I do not know what to do with it, "McCain had told him," but I know enough to know that you should have it. You'll never have to talk to me again. "

" Thanks, "Comey replied, not acknowledging that the FBI already had the same material.

The four intelligence chiefs decided that Comey should brief the incoming president on the brutal material, one because both the FBI had originally received the information and Comey the only one was in the group that was guaranteed to remain in office when the new administration came in (unlike the heads of other intelligence agencies, the director) of the FBI has a statutory mandate of ten years, and Comey was in the third year.) The FBI Director was aware of the personal embarrassment that this delicate mission might entail for the elected president, and decided to discuss it with Trump separately at the end of the year ng about Russian interference.

As our two dark suburbs approached the Trump Tower, we faced a difficult situation: we were early. James Clapper, the director of the National Intelligence Service, John Brennan, the CIA, and Michael Rogers, director of the NSA, had all flown to Newark Liberty International Airport, still battling traffic in Midtown Manhattan, even though marked units of the NYPD cleared the way for them. In no case did Comey want to arrive in front of the others and break through the united front that the agency's leaders had agreed on, and he did not want to find himself in a reception room – with Trump's Transition staff chatting him up – something he hated to the core Mark.

I had already experienced this as my special assistant at the beginning of my tenure when Comey was supposed to join an elected politician at an event and I assumed I would have to catch up on the time for a private meeting between the two men , "You were wrong," Comey said dryly, pulling a blue felt-tip pen out of his jacket pocket and dramatically removing that part of the timeline ahead of him. It was not that he did not like the person; He had little patience with politics. "I also see that you have put us together," he had said and with another stroke of the pen cut through the seating. "They are sitting next to him!"

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"Check," I answered, pointing to the vehicle behind us, where an FBI communications specialist was sitting with a secure bag containing a laptop certified to transmit top secret information.

Although the FBI The Director travels with a number of specialized equipment that keeps him in touch 24 hours a day with the White House and the rest of the country's command authority. It was the first time in my nine months that Comey asked me to work directly for him laptop immediately after a meeting. This may sound like a small task, but Comey wanted me to understand that it is a vital task. Aware of the unprecedented nature of an FBI director confronting a newly elected president with explosive material about his personal life, and the fact that the president's campaign was secretly being investigated for possible ties to Russia, Comey wanted to make sure he was fully documented the interaction in writing. He would tell me later that he knew it was possible that the elected president might one day lie about the exchange if he ever comes to light.

It would be the first of many meetings he would have to remember.

"You're two minutes away," the lead security officer said over his shoulder, whispering a series of instructions to his team in the microphone attached to his shirt sleeve sleeve. He told us that our vehicles and the three others who were driving the National Intelligence Chiefs were about to get together in a long convoy of cars and make the short drive through the concentric rings of the Secret Service's checkpoints in a ready-made manner. As a sea of ​​tourists, spectators and protesters watched behind the barricades erected on the sidewalk, the armored slaughter carts moved together along Madison Avenue, turned left into the closed East Fifty-Sixth Street and headed to one side entrance of Trump Tower.

Before I stepped out, I handed Comey his black leatherbinder, who carried the document that would eventually play a significant role in his dismissal.

In the lobby, intelligence agents held two elevators that carried the delegation along the residential side of the building. There they went to the non-domestic area and took another set of elevators to meet the Trump team. The group then entered a small, simple conference room. The only inappropriate object was a huge, heavy gold curtain hanging from the glass wall to the corridor. Baffled by curtains that did not seem to be suitable for such dull situations, the secret service told the officials that blocking the window would make it possible to certify the room for the discussion of classified information. They walked around waiting for the transition team. Soon elected President Donald Trump joined. Elect Vice President Mike Pence; incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Designated National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; Flynn's Deputy, K.T. McFarland; then Congressman Michael Pompeo; and a CIA shorter.

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, initiated the meeting and led the incoming government by the same assessment of the intelligence agencies on Russian interference that had informed President Barack Obama and his team the previous day. It was also the same directive that the intelligence chiefs had addressed this morning to the "Gang of Eight" – a nonpartisan group of leaders and chairmen of the intelligence committee and senior members of both houses of Congress – before we left Washington. As Comey told me, and as Clapper has been saying publicly ever since, it was more of a concern for the Trump team that day to know whether votes had been manipulated – which would possibly de-legitimize Trump's victory – as a matter of concern Message that the Russians had boldly tried to undermine a US election.

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[19659005] At the end of this discussion, Clapper spoke and told Trump that there was one last piece of information they would like to present, but that Comey would prefer to do it alone. Priebus asked Trump if he wanted him to stay behind, and Trump waved him off.

After the big group left, Comey began his prepared remarks. James Comey is not someone who usually enters an environment in which he has rehearsed his exact wording, but this was not an ordinary occasion. When Comey came to the details in the dossier, Trump became defensive, cut him off and denied the allegations. "Do I look like a guy who needs a prostitute?" Trump asked. Uninvited, he told a series of allegations that various women had made against him, claiming that they were all wrong. Comey pointed out that the intelligence services knew that the allegations in the dossier were unfounded, but he wanted Trump to know that the information was being circulated by government and media circles. Trump thanked Comey for the information and signaled the end of the brief one-on-one interview.

When Comey was with President Elect Trump, it occurred to me that we might not have the luxury of making a secret escape. In the weeks following the elections, media companies had settled down near the elevator bank on the first floor of the Trump Tower to catch a glimpse of the dignitaries who visited the transition team, whatever he met that day. I realized that we had not actually asked Trump's co-workers if he would expect the intelligence agents to join him and turn to the media. Would the elected president, with Comey Solo at his side, try to prevent the leakage of the secret document by taking it directly and describing the press representatives assembled on the first floor? A president can outclass anything he wants, but what about an elected president? Would Trump break the law if he reveals secret information? It was very likely that Trump would then give Comey the word to describe what he had just been taught. Although I was usually quiet, I suddenly approached the panic.

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I grabbed one of the Trump employees nearby and asked if the President elect planned a press release after the meeting. He shrugged and barely looked up before returning to his phone. Assuming that the Secret Service knew that a script was being prepared for that day, I went to three agents crowding about a schedule that looked like a printed schedule.

"Sorry," I interrupted, identifying myself as a special agent on the staff of the FBI director.

"Do you know if the elected president plans to hold a press conference after this meeting?"

"I do not know," one of the agents answered.

"Can that change?" I asked to see how likely it is that Trump beeps.

The three agents looked at each other and burst out laughing. When one of the agents saw my questioning look, he said, "I'm sorry, man, this guy's schedule changes every two minutes, but yes, from that second one, we do not expect him to hold press conferences today."

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When I was safely back in the car, I gave Comey the secure laptop right away. He did not say anything – the first time we got into a car without words – but started typing. He stopped from time to time to stare out the window as we drove through the city, and then continued his writing. After about twenty minutes and a thorough proofreading, he handed me the computer and pointed to the spot on the screen where I should start reading. I just learned Comey's version of a meeting that would mark the beginning of the end of his career, and one that would mark the beginning of a veritable hurricane – a flood of rule-of-law attacks that could jeopardize the viability of our national judicial institutions.

"One of the most bizarre encounters of my life," said James Comey sadly before looking out the window at the passing cityscape.


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