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Former FBI Director James Comey Says Holding The Job In 2016 Felt Like A 500-Year Flood


In a new interview, fired FBI Director James Comey tells NPR that holding the job in 2016 felt like a 500-year flood. And there was no manual to tell him how to operate in it.


JAMES COMEY: There wasn't anything ordinary at all about this. The FBI is criminally investigating one of the two candidates for president of the United States in the middle of an election year. I don't think it's ever happened. I pray it never happens again.

SHAPIRO: Comey was fired on May 9 of last year. And since then, he has largely stayed out of the public limelight until this week, as he started promoting his new book, "A Higher Loyalty." Our justice correspondent Carrie Johnson took part in NPR's interview with Comey last night and joins us now. Hi, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: The release of the Comey book is giving a new platform to members of the Hillary Clinton campaign. They are still angry about Comey's decision to talk about the investigation into her emails right before the election. How is Comey responding?

JOHNSON: Jim Comey says he doesn't think the FBI played a decisive role in the election, but he doesn't know for sure. And that makes him sick. Let's take a listen.


COMEY: What I've said in the book, which has been much misunderstood, is I'm trying to be introspective and cross-examine myself - because I'm looking back saying you were sitting in an environment where all the polls showed that Hillary Clinton was going to win. Could that have influenced you? And my answer is, of course it could have. But I don't think it would've changed the decision.

JOHNSON: And of course, Ari, his decision was to speak - to speak in July 2016 to close the Clinton investigation with no charges, to reopen it in October 2016 with the discovery of some new emails and to close it again - to speak to close it again - only a few days before the election.

SHAPIRO: Comey told you that his wife and daughters were supporters of Hillary Clinton, and they marched in the Women's March a day after the inauguration. So how did the election results go over at his house?

JOHNSON: (Laughter) Good question. Jim Comey told Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep and I that he thinks his wife was in Connecticut on election night. And he doesn't exactly remember talking with her about the returns. It's a bit hard to believe given it was the biggest political upset in modern history, but here's what Comey had to say in response to our questions.


COMEY: We didn't talk about it a lot because I knew how passionate she was about wanting the first female president - wanting it to be Hillary Clinton. And so there was nothing good for our marriage about talking about the decisions I'd had to make.

JOHNSON: Well, listeners, they're still married.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: And it sounds as if Mrs. Comey remains Jim Comey's rock. He says he married up.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like Jim Comey wrote this new book, in part, to explain himself and in part - as he says - as an exercise in introspection. So what mistakes does he own up to in this book?

JOHNSON: Not too many mistakes when it comes to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe or his interactions with President Trump after the election. We asked him about mistakes that may have lingered in his mind, and he talked about a couple of things - not very well-known. One's a speech he gave where the wording was clumsy. It caused a big uproar in Poland. And another was his wading into a fight with Apple over encryption on its devices, a fight he says he didn't think through. Remember, he wanted access to the phone of one of the attackers in San Bernardino, Calif., a few years ago and went to court over it. No resolution to that policy issue yet.

SHAPIRO: You know, Comey's still a pretty young guy. He's 57 years old. What's next for him?

JOHNSON: I asked him. He said there is no way - not a chance - he will run for political office, which...


JOHNSON: ...Is a change from what I've heard before. He's been teaching at Howard University. Soon, he's going to start teaching at his alma mater, the College of William & Mary. He's going to be teaching leadership, but he says he's going to buy his book for all the students so they don't have to pay for it themselves.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, Carrie - you've known Jim Comey for years. Did he seem different when you sat down with him last night?

JOHNSON: He's a big personality - a guy with enormous self-confidence and poise. He seemed a bit beaten down from the punches he took in 2016, but he's still standing.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.