The former FBI director James Comey denounces Donald Trump as “untethered to truth” and likens the president to a mafia boss, in an explosive new book set to bring fresh turmoil to the White House.
Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, out next Tuesday, is published 11 months after he was fired by Trump, who allegedly tried to lean on him to shut down an investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey’s sacking triggered a chain of events that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Trump has denied collusion and frequently called the investigation a “witch-hunt”.
In Comey’s book, obtained by the Guardian from a bookseller in New York, the former FBI chief describes his first trip to Trump Tower in January 2017, to brief the president-elect about the dossier on his links to Russia compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele.
Comey writes that Trump “appeared shorter than he seemed on a debate stage with Hillary Clinton”.
He adds: “His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assume he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coiffed, bright blond hair, which on close inspection looked to be all his. I remember wondering how long it must take him in the morning to get that done.”
Comey then describes discussions by Trump’s team of the political implications of the dossier and possible strategies when details from it made the news media, all while intelligence community leaders remained in the room.
“Holy crap,” Comey writes, “they are trying to make each of us an ‘amica nostra’ – a friend of ours. To draw us in. As crazy as it sounds, I suddenly had the feeling that, in the blink of an eye, the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family.”
Comey, who likens the Trump presidency to a “forest fire”, repeatedly in the 304-page book paints Trump as a mafia-style boss.
For example, in a discussion of an uncomfortable White House meeting with Trump and his then chief of staff, Reince Priebus, in February 2017, Comey says that “because he never stops talking”, Trump “pulls all those present into a silent circle of assent”.
“The encounter left me shaken,” he writes. “I had never seen anything like it in the Oval Office. As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.”
Of Trump’s now famous demand over dinner at the White House in January 2017, “I need loyalty”, Comey writes: “To my mind, the demand was like Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony – with Trump in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man’.”
Comey also considers his experiences as acting attorney general under George W Bush, his appointment as FBI director by Barack Obama and his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
He writes that he told Trump during that first meeting at Trump Tower he was not under investigation personally, despite the FBI general counsel, Jim Baker, having “argued powerfully” such an assurance could be “misleadingly narrow”, given the scope of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia. Trump has repeatedly referred to that assurance since.
Describing a visit to the FBI’s Manhattan office immediately after the Trump Tower session, Comey writes: “After the uncomfortable conversation I’d just had, it was like taking a shower.”
Comey also writes that Trump fixated upon an allegation that he invited prostitutes to his hotel room in Moscow during the Miss Universe event in 2013. In a later call, Comey writes, Trump denied the most lurid allegation, insisting: “I’m a germaphobe. There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me.”
“I actually let out an audible laugh,” Comey writes, adding: “I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity.”
Comey did not, he writes, communicate this thought to Trump.
Of his firing, in May 2017, Comey describes “a blizzard of bad behavior”. He says he first thought news of his firing – which those in the room as he gave a speech in Los Angeles saw first on a TV screen behind him – was a practical joke.
“I now saw the same words,” he writes. “COMEY FIRED. I wasn’t laughing any longer.”
Eventually, he writes, John Kelly, then secretary of homeland security, called to say “he was sick about my firing and that he intended to quit in protest. He said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner. I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.”
Kelly is now White House chief of staff, subject to reports he has fallen out of favor.
In an epilogue, Comey passes judgment on Trump’s character. Writing that “our country is paying a high price” for the 2016 election, he says: “This president is unethical, and untethered to the truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty.”
The book, an instant bestseller online, will be supported by a media blitz. In response, the Republican party has organized a Trumpian scheme to brand the former director “Lyin’ Comey” – and has set up a rebuttal website.