Is Comey Risking Anything By Speaking Out About Trump Administration?
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Former FBI Director James Comey is on a media blitz for the release of his memoir, "A Higher Loyalty." And he's been extremely candid in his criticism of the Trump administration. The first interview to air was an exclusive with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos.
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GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?
JAMES COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible.
CHANG: And Comey has a lot more interviews lined up this week, including with NPR. Comey is also a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. So I wondered, what risks does Comey face by speaking out so publicly before the probe is over? We're going to put that question to someone who knows this sensitive territory all too well. John Dean was White House counsel for Richard Nixon, and his testimony at the Watergate hearings helped bring down the Nixon administration. But he turned down book deals and media appearances until the investigation was over. John Dean, welcome to the program.
JOHN DEAN: Thank you.
CHANG: So why wait? When you were in Comey's position in 1973, why did you decide to wait until it was all over before telling your story?
DEAN: It wasn't that it wasn't tempting because I had offers dangled in front of me.
CHANG: I'm sure.
DEAN: That - as soon as I broke rank with the White House and left, there were offers. But I had long conversations with my criminal defense lawyer. And he said John - he said they're going to - inevitably, if you do a book, they're going to cross-examine you on everything in the book. They will - you'll, you know, book tour, make statements that may be slightly inconsistent, which they will make it seem greatly inconsistent. So he said, I'm just telling you you'd be smart not to do it. I thought that was good advice, and so I followed it. I didn't do a book. I didn't do interviews. I didn't do anything. In fact, I didn't even talk to the defense lawyers on the other side at my lawyer's advice.
CHANG: So if you were Comey's lawyer, would you be worried right now? I mean, what are the potential pitfalls you see for Comey - that he'll just misremember things, and he won't be exactly consistent each and every case, each and every interview?
DEAN: Exactly. The sooner he gets well-scripted, which is very difficult to do because - for example, he gave a five-hour conversation with George Stephanopoulos...
DEAN: ...Before he did his interview. And I'm sure he doesn't remember exactly the way he phrased everything in that five-hour period. And that will be all used against him. So he's in for a rough ride. He's made the bed. He's going to have to lie in it. He's an experienced prosecutor, so he knows the problem. And I suspect he'll be appropriately cautious on the road.
CHANG: Let me put you in the shoes of another lawyer, Robert Mueller. I mean, if you were running this investigation and you saw an important cooperating witness out there giving interview after interview on things coming up in the investigation, how concerned would you be?
DEAN: I'm sure he's not happy, but they're friends. He probably has faith in Comey's competence. It was - I was certainly struck by what appeared a very truthful former FBI director Jim Comey, who hopefully will remember - mostly - the same way every time he repeats the stories he's asked.
CHANG: Do you see any upsides to having someone as integral to the investigation as Jim Comey beating the drum out there?
DEAN: I really don't.
DEAN: Other than the fact his family will get some money for the book - it's the only upside I can see.
CHANG: So what advice would you give Jim Comey going forward? I mean, now that he's already decided to go public, what advice would you give him besides developing a photographic memory at this point?
DEAN: (Laughter) To be very careful and to try to reach some agreements before he goes into interviews as to the parameters of the interviews. And use the basic interview he did with - that's now publicized by ABC - to put that out and become very familiar with it and stay right with it.
CHANG: I mean, we don't know how long the Mueller investigation will last. And in the meantime, I know you practiced some restraint. But do you feel that, at some level, the American people deserve to hear details about Trump that only Comey knows?
DEAN: Well, that's - yes, but those details will only get more interesting as he goes through the experiences - which I didn't appreciate initially - but having gone through trials, having been cross-examined, seeing how other lawyers handled me, what have you, was all part of the story. And it made for a better book.
CHANG: Thank you. John Dean was former White House counsel during the Nixon administration. Thanks very much.
DEAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.