The New York Times reported Thursday that ousted FBI Director James Comey once wore a dark-blue suit to blend in with the White House curtains during a January gathering because he hoped that would help him avoid being called out by President Donald Trump.
Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey’s, a senior fellow at Brookings, and the editor in chief of Lawfare, told the Times about the incident, which Comey described to him.
Wittes said Comey discussed a number of encounters with Trump that had troubled him, including a January ceremony for law enforcement officials that took place in the Blue Room two days after Trump was inaugurated.
Comey told Wittes he did not want to go for fear of appearing too friendly with Trump. As Comey would later announce in a March hearing, the FBI was investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians to sway the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.
But Comey still went to the event to represent the FBI, telling Wittes that he hoped he could blend in with the curtains by wearing a dark-blue suit and standing in the very back of the room. He thought that, under those conditions, Trump might not spot him and call him out.
“He thought he had gotten through and not been noticed or singled out and that he was going to get away without an individual interaction,” Wittes said Comey told him.
Comey’s plan failed.
Trump called Comey out while speaking to those gathered in the room, commenting that the FBI director had “become more famous” than him.
Comey then walked up to Trump, who appeared to try to give Comey a hug. Wittes said Comey was determined to not engage in such an embrace.
“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” Wittes said. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms so Comey said he preemptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging.”
Last week, Trump fired Comey. Earlier this week, the Times reported that Comey kept memos of his private conversations with Trump, according to sources who had seen the memos. In one, Comey reportedly wrote that Trump said he hoped he would drop an investigation into his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was ousted shortly after.
Watch the interaction from January: