Comey prepped for Trump

As­so­ci­ates say the FBI di­rec­tor pre­pared ex­ten­sively for his meet­ings with the pres­i­dent.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DEVLIN BAR­RETT, ELLEN NAKASHIMA AND ADAM EN­TOUS devlin.bar­rett@washpost.com ellen.nakashima@washpost.com adam.en­tous@washpost.com

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey pre­pared ex­ten­sively for his dis­cus­sions with Pres­i­dent Trump, out of con­cern that the pres­i­dent was un­likely to re­spect the le­gal and eth­i­cal bound­aries gov­ern­ing their re­spec­tive roles, ac­cord­ing to as­so­ci­ates of the now-fired FBI chief.

The as­so­ci­ates re­counted how wor­ried Comey was about meet­ing with Trump and re­called con­ver­sa­tions in which they brain­stormed how to han­dle mo­ments in which the pres­i­dent asked for de­tails of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

One as­so­ci­ate re­ferred to Comey’s prepa­ra­tion as a kind of “mur­der board” — a phrase used to de­scribe a com­mit­tee of ques­tion­ers that hurls tough ques­tions at some­one as prac­tice for a dif­fi­cult oral ex­am­i­na­tion.

“He was pretty in­sis­tent that he would have to find a way to po­lit­i­cally not an­swer it,” one as­so­ci­ate re­called. “He was con­fi­dent that he was not go­ing to sac­ri­fice the in­de­pen­dence of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, or his own moral com­pass, but at the same time, he would not try to pur­posely in­flame his com­man­der in chief.”

The pres­i­dent abruptly fired Comey on May 9, rais­ing ques­tions about whether he was at­tempt­ing to in­ter­fere in the on­go­ing FBI probe into pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Trump as­so­ci­ates and Rus­sian op­er­a­tives seek­ing to med­dle in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Comey was very ap­pre­hen­sive head­ing into a din­ner with the pres­i­dent in late Jan­uary, be­cause of his pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters with Trump dur­ing the tran­si­tion and im­me­di­ately af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion, ac­cord­ing to one as­so­ci­ate. Comey felt as if Trump did not un­der­stand or did not like the FBI di­rec­tor’s in­de­pen­dence and was try­ing to get Comey to bend the rules for him, the as­so­ci­ate said.

White House of­fi­cials have dis­puted the ac­cu­racy of a memo Comey wrote de­scrib­ing what was said at the Jan­uary din­ner. In it, as­so­ci­ates said, Comey de­scribed an ef­fort by the pres­i­dent to get him to drop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn.

In his prepa­ra­tion for meet­ing Trump, Comey made clear to as­so­ci­ates that he wanted to be re­spon­sive to the pres­i­dent’s ques­tions while declining to dis­cuss sen­si­tive sub­jects “in a man­ner that did not come across as a slap in the face,’’ said the as­so­ci­ate, who, like others, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

The FBI de­clined to com­ment, and the White House did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Be­fore go­ing to the din­ner, Comey prac­ticed Trump’s likely ques­tions and his an­swers with a small group of his most trusted con­fi­dants, the as­so­ci­ates said, in part to en­sure he did not give Trump any am­mu­ni­tion to use against him later.

The di­rec­tor did not take notes dur­ing the din­ner with the pres­i­dent, but there were times, one as­so­ci­ate re­called, when af­ter meet­ing with Trump, Comey started writ­ing notes as soon as he got into a car, “to make sure he could ac­cu­rately record what was said.’’

An­other as­so­ci­ate said the notes of the Jan­uary din­ner con­ver­sa­tion con­tained very nu­anced quotes from the pres­i­dent and a high level of de­tail.

CAROLYN KASTER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey went to ex­tremes to pre­pare for his dis­cus­sions with Pres­i­dent Trump, his as­so­ci­ates say.

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