Former FBI Director James Comey put in his two cents on President Donald Trump and his increased social media attacks over the last several days. Embedded in one of the president's many tweets about Comey over the weekend was the suggestion that he should be locked up. In interviews airing Tuesday, April 17, Comey responded to Trump's jail threat — among other threats he perceives from Trump — urging citizens not to become numb to them.
Comey has appeared on news circuits as his new memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, hit store shelves on Tuesday. Comey's hour-long bombshell interview with ABC's 20/20, hosted by George Stephanopoulos, was slated to air the night of Sunday, April 15. Trump tweeted about the former FBI director a dozen times in the week leading up to Sunday's interview.
In the early hours of April 15, Trump tweeted: "The big questions in Comey's badly reviewed book aren't answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn’t they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe's $700,000 & more?"
In interviews airing Tuesday with NPR and ABC's Good Morning America, Comey weighed in on what he thought of the president's comportment — including his incessant taunts on social media — and what it means that Trump suggested he be imprisoned.
Comey explained that while he doesn't follow the president, he does see his tweets through others on the site. Citing Trump's tweet on Sunday suggesting the former FBI director be locked up, Comey told NPR:
The president of the United States just said that a private citizen should be jailed. And I think the reaction of most of us was, 'meh, that's another one of those things.' This is not normal. This is not OK. There's a danger that we will become numb to it, and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms. ... This is not some tin pot dictatorship where the leader of the country gets to say 'the people I don't like go to jail.'
Comey reiterated his response to Trump with GMA's George Stephanopoulos, stressing that Americans should not become desensitized to his threats. Comey told ABC,
The president of the United States is calling for the imprisonment of a private citizen, and that is not acceptable in this country. The president doesn't get to decide who goes to jail. ... That should wake all of us up with a start, but there's been so much of it that we're a little bit numb, and that's dangerous.
It's not the first time Trump has called for imprisonment. The president's tweets about Comey harken back to his 2016 tweet calling for his competitor Hillary Clinton to be in jail, accompanied by campaign chants of "Lock her up."
On Twitter, some users weighed in, taking Comey's side regarding Trump's threats of jail. University of Southern California law professor Orin Kerr wrote, "You'll note that Trump says all of his major critics and opponents should go to jail; it's his standard defense."
Comey was dismissed by Trump in May 2017 while away on business, and found out about his firing through news reports on TV. The decision to fire Comey came after a fraught year in which Comey had been investigating Clinton. In July 2016, a year after opening an investigation into her private use of an email server, Comey exonerated Clinton, but later announced in a letter to Congress on October 28 — just days before the election — that he was reopening the case to account for additional emails discovered, a decision that likely influenced the election.
Even before the book's release, excerpts and snippets of its contents — and Comey's marathon interviews the last couple of days — have drawn a lot of attention. And the president himself has only fueled the fanfare, bringing the focus back to Comey in his ongoing virtual dialogue all weekend between promotional cheers about the Syrian airstrikes, America First policy, and the military. In other tweets over the weekend, Trump called Comey an "untruthful slime ball," and in another, "Slippery James Comey," and implicated former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Comey as belonging to "den of thieves and lowlifes." (This is a sampling.)
In regards to the presidency overall, Comey told NPR that Trump endangers American values, saying,
[T]here's something we all have in common, which is a core set of values that is us as America. Like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, rule of law, equal protection of the laws, the truth. .. What I'm worried about with this president is, he threatens those.
Comey also spoke out on the rumblings that the White House was considering firing Rod Rosenstein, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Deputy Attorney General overseeing various investigations, who authorized an April 9 raid by the FBI of the office of Trump's attorney. Trump has also reportedly floated the idea of dismissing FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and obstruction of justice. Referencing Rosenstein and Mueller, Comey tells NPR, "With respect to the deputy attorney general, I think it's very important that he stay ... I really do think it would be an attack on the rule of law for him to be fired, or for the special counsel to be fired."
If his track record is any guide, Trump's calls for imprisonment aren't likely to change. But as Comey says, the big takeaway for American citizens is not to become numbs to them.