Politics James Comey reportedly rebuffed Trump's attempts to get chummy

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"It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake."

James Comey. play

James Comey.

(Win McNamee/Getty Images))
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James Comey seems to have been unsettled by repeated interactions he had with President Donald Trump while FBI director.

According to a New York Times report that cited two people briefed on a call between Comey and Trump, Comey had explained to Trump how the White House ought to communicate with the FBI after Trump had contacted Comey directly to ask when the bureau would announce that he was not under investigation.

Comey attempted to make clear the limits of the FBI's relationship with the White House and maintain his bureau's independence, which he believed was under threat since the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign's possible connections to Russia.

Comey reportedly told Trump that if he wanted details on the FBI's investigations, he ought to contact the Justice Department and follow proper procedures.

Other interactions between the White House and Comey illustrate what The Times depicted as an uncomfortable relationship between the two before Trump fired Comey last week.

During a dinner in which Trump asked Comey for his pledge of loyalty, Trump expressed his grievances with the investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, and asked Comey to drop the investigation, according to The Times, which cited sources who revealed a memo they said was written by Comey about the meeting shortly afterward.

The day after the conversation, The Times reports, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked Comey to assist in deflecting media reports saying Trump's surrogates had been in contact with Russian intelligence agents before Trump's inauguration.

The Justice Department's guidelines prohibit conversations between the White House and the FBI with regard to active criminal investigations unless they are "important for the performance of the president's duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective," The Times reported. If necessary, the conversations are limited to the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.

Comey also expressed his frustration over Trump's attempts to build a personal relationship, The Times said, citing Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey who is the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog. Wittes said Comey believed after his phone call with Trump that he had "kind of got them trained."

"He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration," Wittes told The Times.

Comey with President Donald Trump during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on January 22. play

Comey with President Donald Trump during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on January 22.

(Pool/Andrew Harrer via Getty Images)

Wittes also described another incident between Trump and Comey that had Comey concerned, according to The Times:

"One of those occurred at the White House on Jan. 22, just two days after Mr. Trump was sworn in. That day, Mr. Trump hosted a ceremony to honor law enforcement officials who had provided security for the inauguration ... Mr. Comey told him that he initially did not want to go to the meeting because the F.B.I. director should not have too close a relationship with the White House. But Mr. Comey went because he wanted to represent the bureau.

"The ceremony occurred in the Blue Room of the White House, where many senior law enforcement officials — including the Secret Service director — had gathered. Mr. Comey — who is 6 feet 8 inches tall and was wearing a dark blue suit that day – told Mr. Wittes that he tried to blend in with the blue curtains in the back of the room, in the hopes that Mr. Trump would 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,' Mr. Wittes said Mr. Comey told him."

Comey did not. Trump called him over from across the room, and the two shook hands awkwardly as attendees applauded.

You can read the full New York Times report here »