Media Seize on Claim Comey ‘Disgusted’ by Trump Handshake

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After Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Benjamin Wittes, a friend of fired FBI Director James Comey, took to PBS to accuse President Trump of a “calculated” attempt to “compromise” Comey simply by shaking the law enforcement chief’s hand at a White House event, the media ran wild with the story on Friday as another controversy for the commander-in-chief.

On CNN’s New Day, correspondent Joe Johns touted: “Wittes now recounting the day of that now famous public embrace between Comey and the President at a White House reception shortly after the Inauguration....And though 6'8", he even tried to blend in with the curtains in the back of the room, in hopes he would not be spotted.”

A clip played of Wittes declaring: “Trump singles him out in a fashion that he regarded as sort of, you know, calculated....What he told me was that he was – it was bad enough that he was there, it was bad enough that there was going to be a handshake, but you know, there really wasn’t gonna be a hug.”

Discussing the seconds-long greeting between the two men at a White House ceremony, Wittes breathlessly set the scene:

And so, if you watch the video, he extends his hand – and Comey’s arms are really long – and he extends his hand kind of preemptively, and Trump grabs the hand and kind of pulls him into a hug, but the hug is entirely one-sided. Comey was just completely disgusted by....the episode. He thought it was an intentional attempt to compromise him in public.

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On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough turned to New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, who also interviewed Wittes: “You also talk about Comey’s discomfort with a couple of interactions. The first one was the one where Trump had a lot of people in the room and this 6'8" giant tried to be a salamander with his blue suit. Explain that.”

Schmidt recounted the supposed anxiety Comey felt:

Comey’s in the Blue Room, Comey’s standing there, and he is very concerned about being at the White House. He knows all of the criticism he’s taken because of the election, he’s afraid of what Trump could do, how could Trump embrace him publicly, would that jeopardize Comey’s independence....And he’s standing there just hoping he won’t get called on. And he thinks he’s almost made it through the ceremony, and then Trump looks up and says, “And there’s Jim.”

Scarborough chimed in: “And goes in and shakes his hand, and then an awkward hug.”

On CBS This Morning, correspondent Jeff Pegues announced: “Benjamin Wittes, a friend of former FBI Director James Comey, said Comey told him how the President put him on the spot two days after the Inauguration.” Wittes was shown making his declaration that “Comey was just completely disgusted by the episode. He thought it was an intentional attempt to compromise him in public.”  

Here are excerpts of the May 19 morning shows:

New Day
6:02 AM ET

(...)

JOE JOHNS: This as a friend of Comey is breaking his silence in a new interview with PBS News hour about his conversations with the now-fired FBI Director.

BENJAMIN WITTES: Trump fired Jim Comey because the most dangerous thing in the world, if you’re Donald Trump, is a person who tells the truth, is dogged, you can’t control.

JOHNS: Benjamin Wittes now recounting the day of that now famous public embrace between Comey and the President at a White House reception shortly after the Inauguration.

WITTES: Comey really did not want to go to that meeting. He just really doesn’t believe the president and the FBI director should, you know, have any kind of social relationship, or you know, shows of warmth.

JOHNS: Wittes describes in detail why Comey was reluctant to attend. And though 6'8", he even tried to blend in with the curtains in the back of the room, in hopes he would not be spotted.

WITTES: Trump singles him out in a fashion that he regarded as sort of, you know, calculated.

DONALD TRUMP: He’s become more famous than me.

WITTES: What he told me was that he was – it was bad enough that he was there, it was bad enough that there was going to be a handshake, but you know, there really wasn’t gonna be a hug. And so, if you watch the video, he extends his hand – and Comey’s arms are really long – and he extends his hand kind of preemptively, and Trump grabs the hand and kind of pulls him into a hug, but the hug is entirely one-sided. Comey was just completely disgusted by –  

REPORTER: Disgusted?

WITTES: Disgusted by the episode. He thought it was an intentional attempt to compromise him in public.

JOHNS: Wittes says Comey tried to establish boundaries with the President.

WITTES: He saw his role as protecting the FBI from the White House.

(...)


Morning Joe
6:12 AM

(...)

JOE SCARBOROUGH: You also talk about Comey’s discomfort with a couple of interactions. The first one was the one where Trump had a lot of people in the room and this 6'8" giant tried to be a salamander with his blue suit. Explain that.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Comey’s in the Blue Room, Comey’s standing there, and he is very concerned about being at the White House. He knows all of the criticism he’s taken because of the election, he’s afraid of what Trump could do, how could Trump embrace him publicly, would that jeopardize Comey’s independence.

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

SCHMIDT: Comey loves his independence, he’s obsessed with it. And he’s standing in the back of the Blue Room and he thinks he’s gotten through because he’s standing there trying to blend in with the curtains, with his blue suit. So, he –

SCARBOROUGH: And he’s on the other side of the room, too. He gets as far away from Donald Trump as you possibly can.

SCHMIDT: And he’s standing there just hoping he won’t get called on. And he thinks he’s almost made it through the ceremony, and then Trump looks up and says, “And there’s Jim.”  

SCARBOROUGH: And goes in and shakes his hand, and then an awkward hug.

(...)


CBS This Morning
7:07 AM ET

(...)

BENJAMIN WITTES [BROOKINGS INSTITUTION SENIOR FELLOW]: He saw his role as protecting the FBI from the White House.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: “Completely Disgusted”; Friend Says Comey Upset By Meeting With President]
                                
JEFF PEGUES: Benjamin Wittes, a friend of former FBI Director James Comey, said Comey told him how the President put him on the spot two days after the Inauguration.

WITTES: He stands in a part of the room that is as far from Trump as it is physically possible to be.

DONALD TRUMP: Oh, and there’s Jim.

WITTES: Trump singles him out in a fashion that he regarded as sort of, you know, calculated.

TRUMP: He’s become more famous than me.

WITTES: Comey was just completely disgusted by the episode. He thought it was an intentional attempt to compromise him in public.

(...)