One of James Comey‘s friends said the former FBI director was “disgusted” when President Trump publicly embraced him earlier this year.
Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of Lawfare, published a post Thursday evening detailing “recollection of things [Comey] told about his interactions with Trump that I now believe flesh out the relationship between the two men.” He said he and Comey are friends and regularly catch up over lunch.
Wittes described one fraught interaction in particular: a meeting in the Oval Office after the inauguration in January, during which the president hugged the then-FBI director. Wittes said Comey was uncomfortable going to the meeting in the first place, because “the FBI director should be always at arm’s length from the President, in his view. There was an additional sensitivity here too, because many Democrats blamed Comey for Trump’s election, so he didn’t want any shows of closeness between the two that might reinforce a perception that he had put a thumb on the scale in Trump’s favor.”
But he felt that he couldn’t refuse a presidential invitation, so he went, but tried to stay in the background, Wittes said. “He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue. So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall,” Wittes wrote.
“But when you’re six foot, eight inches tall, it’s hard to blend in forever, and Trump ultimately singled him out — and did so with the most damning faint praise possible: “Oh, and there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me!” Wittes continued. “Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. Bad enough that he was there; bad enough that there would be a handshake; he emphatically did not want any show of warmth.”
But when Comey went in for a handshake, Trump wrapped him in a hug instead. “Comey was disgusted,” Wittes wrote. “He regarded the episode as a physical attempt to show closeness and warmth in a fashion calculated to compromise him before Democrats who already mistrusted him.”
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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.Rogers@time.com