They used to be called “megalomaniacs”, people who had outsized, larger than life images of themselves. Today they’re described as having narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by a sense of their own grandiose uniqueness. Not having a true sense of their own self, narcissists create themselves in the roles they play. They are the heroes of their own lives. Everyone else is a bit player. James Comey was such a man. He was Hamlet. Everyone else was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Comey identified with theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who believed that political life should serve moral ends. And being a prosecutor, Comey believed, meant doing the right thing “by definition.” Think of it as a syllogism. If A is a prosecutor, then A is doing the right thing. A is a prosecutor. Therefore A is doing the right thing. Quod erat demonstrandum
Then, when his downfall came, when he was fired by President Trump, Comey saw himself as Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry II’s “meddlesome priest.” That’s what he told the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8.
Two days after he was inaugurated, President Trump hosted a ceremony to honor law enforcement officers and officials. They’d had a lot to deal with, considering the Antifa riots, the shattering of storefront windows, and other conspiracies to harm Trump voters, like sending a nasty gas that could cause burns and blindness through the ventilation system at one of the inauguration balls. Throughout these events, the officers had handled themselves with magnificence and restraint.
As the head of America’s top law enforcement agency, no rational person would think to question why John Comey would attend that ceremony. Yet Comey was uneasy. He wanted to go, but he worried that his very presence would send heads a spinning and tongues a wagging. He’d be seen as having too close a relationship with the White House.
Whereas Hamlet, as he told his mom, knew not “seems,” Comey did. So he devised a plan, which he confided to the Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes, who in turn related it to The New York Times.
Comey would choose a costume to match the décor of the Blue Room, where the ceremony was to be held. He would wear a dark blue suit that would blend in with the room’s dark blue draperies. Like a chameleon, he’d disappear into the background, all 6 foot 8 inches of him. This sort of thing works in a French farce, and one can’t but wonder how Comey would have handled the situation had the drapes been orange paisley.
But there was no hiding from the sharp-eyed President. He spotted Comey amongst the folds of the drapes and beckoned him come. Comey put on a happy face as he boldly strode across the room to where the President was waiting, his right hand outstretched. That’s when Comey was treated to the famous Trump handshake.
We’re all now familiar with that handshake. When you take his hand he grips it and jerks you towards him. If he’s in a position to do so, he’ll then put his left hand on your left arm, like you’ve always been best buds. We’ve seen him do it with Justin Trudeau, Shinzo Abe and Emmanuel Macron, among others. Some grin, some look surprised, some enter into the spirit of it all and turn it into a kind of hand wrestling contest.
However they react to the Trump handshake, everyone treats it as good fun. Honi soit qui mal y pense.
But if you’re Jim Comey, you discern the hidden meaning behind every gesture, and he perceived that his virtue had been compromised. So much so, that he had to defend it. Rather, his friend Mr. Wittes had to. Thus arose the Wittes clarification of the handshake to the Times. “Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate.”
An embrace? Yes, Comey “regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.”
Of course! Now that it’s been explained, we wonder how we could have missed it. History will remember the incident as “The Matter of the Handshake.” It will be analyzed and discussed in spy training seminars for generations.
Already, we can use “The Matter of the Handshake” to illuminate the following exchange between Comey and Senator Jim Risch on June 8.”
RISCH: … Boy, you nailed this down on page 5, paragraph 3. You put this in quotes. Words matter. You wrote down the words so we can all have the words in front of us now. There’s 28 words now in quotes. It says, quote, I hope — this is the president speaking — I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is good guy. I hope you can let this go. Now, those are his exact words, is that correct.
RISCH: You wrote them here and put them in quotes.
RISCH: Thank you for that. He did not direct you to let it [the Flynn matter] go?
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go?
COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.
RISCH: He said, I hope.…
COMEY: … The reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.
RISCH: You may have taken it as a direction but that’s not what he said.
RISCH: He said, I hope.
COMEY: Those are his exact words, correct.
RISCH: You don’t know of anyone ever being charged for hoping something, is that a fair statement?
COMEY: I don’t as I sit here.
RISCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” asked Frank Readick Jr. at the beginning of every episode of The Shadow radio show.
In the background, sinister laughter. The Shadow was a vigilante crime fighter with supernatural powers, and the answer was “The Shadow knows.”
So, apparently, does James Comey. For Comey, there’s more to everything than meets the eye. And that includes a handshake, and also a hope.