Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
CNN Town Hall: Comey: Truth, Lies and Leadership. Aired 8-9:18p ET
Aired April 25, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: And good evening. Welcome to CNN's town hall with former FBI director, James Comey. We're live at William and Mary, where Director Comey attended college. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining us. Director Comey has become probably one of the most controversial figures in American politics.
Criticized by leaders from both parties for his decisions in the 2016 campaign and of course during the Trump administration, he's become a target of President Trump who has called him a liar and says he should be in jail. Since the release of his book, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership," Director Comey has answered questions from a lot of journalists.
Well, tonight it is your turn. All the questioners tonight are students, faculty, and staff from William and Mary. The questions are all their own. I'll ask some follow-up questions as well. Let's get started.
Please welcome from the class of 1982, a double major in chemistry and religion, former FBI director, James Comey. Welcome.
So, we've got a lot of questions from students, faculty and staff so let's get right to it. This is Zachary Smith, he's getting his Master's in chemistry. Zachary, what's your question?
ZACHARY SMITH: Hi, Director Comey. Do you believe that President Trump possesses the moral and mental capacities needed to effectively lead our Armed Forces, given his unprecedented loyalty he pledged, the general temperament, and the documented outbursts?
JAMES COMEY, FMR FBI DIRECTOR: Well, thank you for that question. A really important question. Ten seconds-just to thank the students of William and Mary for coming out and for looking so good tonight. Thank you. Thank you.
COOPER: You're trying to get them on your side right away.
COMEY: If they're not on my side I'm out of luck. That's a really important question and I don't have concerns about President Trump's physical fitness- whether he has dementia-I've read stuff like that-I don't buy it. I've dealt with him. He seems to be a person of above- average intelligence.
My concern is with his moral fitness. I don't believe he's morally fit to be President of the United States and I don't- I never thought I'd say that about a president and I don't say that lightly. And I say it because a person who sees moral equivalence across both sides in Charlottesville, who treats and speaks about women like pieces of meat and who lies constantly about things big and small and insist that we believe the lies-that person's not fit to lead, no less to be the leader of the free world, the president of the United States and so that's what I believe.
COOPER: So just to be specific, you said he's morally unfit-morally unfit to lead the Armed Forces of the United States-that was his question?
COMEY: Well, -- I'm sorry-morally unfit to be president of the United States which includes commander-in-chief responsibilities.
COOPER: I want to do a quick follow-up. You had opportunities to stand up for President Trump when you were FBI director. When he talked about saying to you, I need loyalty, or you say he said, I need loyalty. When he said, see your way to letting Flynn go, why didn't you stand up to him face-to-face, speaking truth to power, saying, that's inappropriate for you to ask of me?
COMEY: You know, that's a great question and I've asked myself those questions a lot and I'm sure I could have done it better if I'd been better prepared for those moments. At the dinner I think I did a reasonably-good job. I gave him nothing but silence when he first asked and then I interjected to try and explain the roles and so I held my ground pretty well there.
COOPER: But you never said, that's inappropriate, sir?
COMEY: Not in those words, no. I think though by the end of the dinner-by the time he asked me the second time a person of his intelligence would know that it was inappropriate to ask that of the FBI director.
COOPER: You said you were caught off guard and the first time I can understand being caught off guard but once the second time, wouldn't you be prepared for him to say something? Did you not give it any thought about standing up?
COMEY: Well, no, I didn't expect him honestly to come back to it but even after the first ask I interjected. I keep saying that because I had to interrupt to explain the importance of distance between independence of the Justice Department from the White House and the president. And then when he came to if the second time-
COOPER: But the Flynn thing- that was really the second time he said something that you found objectionable, right? That was before the loyalty.
COMEY: It was the second time that he asked me something-a directive is how I took it-that caught me by surprise. In that circumstance that's probably the one where there's the fairest criticism that maybe I should have said something in the moment.
It honestly didn't occur to me. Instead I was thinking, I must remember these exact words. And I don't want to be too tough for myself because honestly if he didn't know he was doing something he shouldn't do, why did he kick everybody out of the oval office to talk to me alone-including my own boss, the Attorney General.
So, that's the area I think the feedback is fairest.
COOPER: We got a chance to see the memos that you wrote immediately after these-and they were released detailing your interactions with President Trump. We first got a word of these last year. You had asked a friend to share some of the details from at least one memo with New York Times. I want to go to Evelyn Lawhorn, a senior studying government. Evelyn.
EVELYN LAWHORN: Hi. My question was, do you think that there's any credence to the president's claims that you broke the law when you released your memos?
COMEY: I don't. I hope that won't surprise you-I don't. In fact, I think he's just making stuff up. The memos are actually two pieces- and the details matter because the facts matter and should matter even to the president. I sent one memo unclassified then, still unclassified and it's recounted in my book, to my friend Dan Richman and asked him to get the substance of it but not the memo out to the media.
Separately, I wrote a bunch of memos about my interactions with President Trump and I was what was called an original-classification authority of the FBI, meaning I had the training and the authority to make decisions about what should be classified and what shouldn't.
Some of those memos I decided should be classified. Four others, I wrote them and was highly confident they should not be classified. Those four-I kept a copy at the FBI and a copy in my personal safe at home.
After I was fired I put together a legal team with three people, one of whom was Professor Dan Richmond at Columbia University. After I had asked him to give this information to the media I separately gave my legal team four memos which were unclassified. They included the one that he had gotten to give the substance of it to give the New York Times.
The bottom line is, I see no credible claim by any serious person that that violated the law. Here's a good thing though-the Department of Justice is all about accountability. The Department of Justice Inspector General has taken a look at not whether I mishandled classified information, because that's frivolous, but whether I complied with policy as I should in making the memos and in the way, I stored them.
COOPER: But as somebody who has the authority to classify documents, you know that stuff is sometimes retroactively classified, and I believe one of the documents was retroactively classified lowest-level classification, wasn't it?
COMEY: Sure. COOPER: So, if you're releasing memos which may later on be classified which happened to-with Hillary Clinton as well, aren't you taking a risk that you think you know this is not going to be classified but it turns out one of them was retroactively?
COMEY: I don't think of it as a risk. You make an educated judgment based on your training and your experience as to what's classified and what's not.
COOPER: But you did leak-you did leak memos. Is it okay for somebody at the FBI to leak something-an internal document, even if it's not classified? Isn't that leaking?
COMEY: There's a whole lot wrong with your question, Anderson. First, I didn't leak memos. I asked a friend to communicate the substance of one unclassified memo.
COOPER: Whether you-
COMEY: Can I finish for a second?
COOPER: Sure. Okay.
COMEY: One unclassified memo to the media and it was really important. I was a private citizen. I was not an FBI employee at that time.
COOPER: Right. But it was an internal document and it was a document you had written while you were FBI director. That is a leak. If you tell somebody, don't give them the document but tell them what's in the document, that's still a leak, no?
COMEY: Well, not to get tangled up in it but I think of a leak as an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
COOPER: Really? You did?
COMEY: That's how I thought about it as FBI director; we investigated leaks. So, unauthorized disclosures.
COOPER: In your memo when you said- when the president said he was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message-
COMEY: I said that.
COOPER: Shouldn't you be nailed to the door, then? I mean, aren't you a leaker? You gave up a document that was released to the New York Times- information from that document released to the New York Times. I know you say, it's not classified but plenty of people leak non-classified information to reporters and the White House and the FBI gets upset about it.
COMEY: The FBI gets upset when people make unauthorized disclosures of protected information. It was nothing protected about this. It wasn't classified, it wasn't privileged. It's also in my book. COOPER: So, when you were FBI director if somebody on your team had given-had given a friend documents that they were writing that you were involved with and said, oh, just tell the New York Times what's in this document, you wouldn't have had a problem with that?
COMEY: Well, depending on what was in the document.
COOPER: But even if it's not classified?
COMEY: Was it protected information? Was it investigative information? Was it classified information? Was it grand-jury information?
COOPER: So, I guess I'm surprised that you only think leaks- officially, a leak is something that's classified.
COMEY: The reason I hesitate is, that's how I think about it as a lawyer and as a director of the FBI. In practice, the term gets applied to a broad range of things -- I totally get it. I intentionally gave this information to a friend intending that it be out in the media. I wanted it to get in the media.
COMEY: As a private citizen I could do that and did that just as I've written about it in my book.
COOPER: All right. The next question comes from the Victoria Lopez. Victoria is- she's a senior studying history. And by the way, I should also point out you're going to be co-teaching a course here at William and Mary in the fall.
COOPER: Okay. Victoria?
QUESTION: Good evening. With the recent release of your memos, do you still think that you are suitable to teach a course on ethics and leadership and why?
COMEY: I do, for the reasons I said. I mean, the facts really matter, and I believe that I acted appropriately, and I handled the memos appropriately, created them for an important and appropriate purpose. So, I really don't see, and I'd be happy to debate it with anybody- we can debate it in my class because my mind is open to other points of view, but I don't see it, honestly.
COOPER: I want to ask you something else that was in the memos, it was revealed the president in the conversation with you, according to you, made a joke about how journalist might change their minds about revealing their sources if they spent a night in jail. You laughed in response.
What's funny about jailing journalists?
COMEY: Nothing. I laughed to make it clear that was a joke. It's my way of communicating he must be kidding.
COOPER: The next question is from Julia Wicks, a junior who's studying English and she has a question about some of the allegations in the Steel dossier.
JULIA WICKS, JUNIOR, WILLIAM & MARY: Hi. What do you think would happen if there were so-called pee tapes and they were leaked to the public tomorrow? Would it matter in the long run?
COMEY: That's a question that -- first, I'm not going to say that word. That's a question that you're as qualified to answer as I. I suppose it might matter in the long run to the extent it casts embarrassment and shame upon the leader of our country, but you'll be able to judge that better than I.
COOPER: You also said in your memos that the president told you twice that he did not spend the night in Moscow around the Miss Universe pageant. Since then, flight records, social media posts, congressional testimony, also photographs, prove that he actually did spend the night in Moscow.
What's the -- I mean, do you think it's significant that the president lied to you twice about that?
COMEY: It's always significant when someone lies to you, especially about something you're not asking about. It tends to reflect consciousness of guilt as we would say in law enforcement.
COOPER: You've noticed that in past interactions with a prosecutor. If someone is lying about stuff you haven't asked about, that's a tell?
COMEY: Right, two tells. If they bring things up you didn't ask about, and if they bring it up and make a false statement about it, that's -- it's not definitive, but it certainly makes you very concerned about what might be going on there.
COOPER: It sounds like President Trump did that a lot of times with you, brought up stuff that you haven't asked about.
COMEY: Correct. And again, I don't know what was in his head, I don't know whether he was intentionally misstating a fact to me or maybe when he said it to me. He thought he had stayed overnight. But he said, I didn't -- I'm sorry, that he thought he didn't stay overnight, but he definitely said that.
COOPER: The next question is from Carl Fredericks. Excuse me, Friedrichs. He's a professor of Marine Science here at William & Mary.
CARL FRIEDRICHS, PROFESSOR, WILLIAM & MARY: Hello. What else do you think Putin might have on Trump that makes Trump so reluctant to criticize Russia? Do you think it might be proof that Russian organized crime money has been laundered through Trump's businesses?
COMEY: I don't know and I'm not in a position to speculate. As I said, I was struck that the president was reluctant to criticize President Putin in public and I was very struck that he was reluctant to criticize him in private. What's behind that, I honestly don't know.
COOPER: You've used the word -- you've said it's possible many times. Do you think -- right now, you're saying you don't know. Do you think it's possible?
COMEY: Yes. Yes, I just don't know. And I try to say it's possible because I want to be complete and accurate. I can't rule it out, honestly.
COOPER: But in private conversations with you, the president would not say anything negative about Vladimir Putin. That's correct?
COOPER: And was he -- did he seem curious about Russian interference in the election? About -- did he talk to you about efforts in the next round of elections?
COMEY: He did not. In fact one of the things we were struck by in our meeting between myself and the leaders of the other intelligence agencies with the president-elect on January the 6th, before he took office, was that he had no questions and I don't think anybody else had any questions from his team as to what the future threat from Russia might be.
The second piece that you alluded to, in the book, I describe an encounter with the president on February the 8th of 2017 where he was explaining he had given a good answer to Bill O'Reilly, in an interview that ran during -- before the Super Bowl where he said in essence, we are the same kind of killers as Vladimir Putin. And I interrupted him to criticize that and read, and I could be overreading it, a very sharp reaction from him.
COOPER: You don't believe that there's a moral equivalence between Vladimir Putin and leaders of the United States?
COMEY: I do not. Nor do I believe there's a moral equivalence between the people who kill innocent people on behalf of the Russian leadership and the men and women of the United States military and our intelligence community.
COOPER: Do you see Vladimir Putin as a killer?
COOPER: Next question is from Carl -- excuse me, next question is from Daniel Powers.
We've got a lot of questions from students obviously about the decisions you made before the 2016 election. That's going to come as no surprise for you. Daniel is a senior studying history and computer science.
DANIEL POWERS, SENIOR, WILLIAM & MARY: Good evening. There's very compelling case to be made that your announcements, especially October 28th announcement, cost Hillary Clinton the election. At the same time, you never disclosed how Trump was involved in an FBI investigation into the Russians. Should you have disclosed that to the American public?
COMEY: No, for a couple of reasons. First President Trump, candidate Trump was not the subject of an FBI investigation, and the decision we had to make during 2016 is what to say about the Russian interference and then what, if anything, to say, and we honestly didn't give it serious thought for reasons I can explain, about a brand new counterintelligence investigation of a small group of Americans to try to figure out is there any connection.
COOPER: Those small group of Americans were -- some of them associates of the campaign, no?
COMEY: Correct, correct. I don't think they have bee identified publicly by the FBI or the government, so I can't use the names, but a small group that did not include President Trump.
COOPER: Wasn't George Papadopoulos one of those people?
COMEY: I don't know whether the FBI has confirmed who the small group of people were, so I don't want to say sitting here, Anderson.
COOPER: OK. But just -- if you can, just go into some more detail about that, because I mean, it would really -- we've got a lot of questions on this and I think obviously people or all sides of the political aisle question your motives, question your actions, question your thought process on this. What was -- I know you said it was early days in a counterintelligence investigation, but you've also talked about wanting to protect that investigation.
Was it more important to protect the early days of a counterintelligence investigation than it was to be transparent to the American people about something that might affect their vote?
COMEY: In a way, yes. Can I just explain that? It's important because the question is a very, very important and reasonable question. It appears to a lot of folks, you treated the Hillary Clinton case different than the Russia case. And here, it's important to realize the Hillary Clinton case began as a public referral from an inspector general to the FBI.
The subject of the investigation was the candidate herself, and we still refuse to confirm that it existed for three months. We started it in July of 2015. We wouldn't confirm it even existed until October. And then we said nothing until it was done.
Look at the counterintelligence investigation. It began in late July of 2016. With information sufficient to open an investigation that maybe there's some connection between this big thing that the Russians are doing and Americans. And so, we opened on a small group of Americans to try and figure out, is there anything there?
And so, the reason I said there was no serious consideration given to talking about it, try to imagine what we might say in the summer of 2016. We just opened an investigation, we don't know if there's anything to it, doesn't involve candidate Trump, but some people around him. We're going to look into it. That's something that the FBI and the Justice Department would never do for a bunch of reasons.
First, unfair to the targets of the investigation, subjects, but also lets them know we're looking at it, when we don't know what we have. The Department of Justice authorized me to talk about that, the next spring, to reassure the American people that we were looking at it. But they never, for reasons I think make sense, considered doing that in the summer before the election.
What we wrestled with and struggled with and President Obama struggled with was what should we say to the American people about the big thing that the Russians are doing, that they're trying to interfere in our election to hurt Hillary Clinton, to help Donald Trump, to dirty up our democracy? What should we say?
And there, I offered to be the voice of inoculation to the American people, telling them -- here's what the Russians are doing in the summertime. They didn't take me up on it, but that was the big discussion during the election year.
COOPER: You just said, though, earlier that part of your thought process was we don't know where this counterintelligence investigation of people associated with the campaign, President Trump's campaign, is going to go because it's so early days. When you announced you were reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton into the new e-mails that had been found on Anthony Weiner's computer, you didn't know where that was going to go.
You didn't know the significance of those e-mails, you didn't know what was in those e-mails, and yet -- so you didn't know that, but you chose to inform the American people of that, which many certainly supporters of Secretary Clinton view as decisive moment in the campaign.
COMEY: Yes. And the reason was we could only see two options at that point. We, meaning the Justice Department and the FBI, had told the American people in the summer of 2016, we're done here. We've done a professional investigation. There's no there, there, move on -- and taken tremendous hits for that decision.
But having said that repeatedly to the American people, to restart the investigation in a hugely significant way in late October and not talk about it put us on the horns of a dilemma. Not speaking about something where you've said the opposite under oath repeatedly is a concealment. Speaking is also really bad. So which do you choose? Do you speak or do you conceal?
The challenge we faced then is we couldn't find a door that said no action here. Here's the door to be quiet. Because either way you choose, you're choosing an action. Do you speak or do you conceal? And reasonable people can see this differently. It was a nightmare of a decision, but we chose to speak because it was bad. Catastrophic was the second option. Concealing would be catastrophic to the organizations of justice. So that's why we chose it.
COOPER: But in the announcement on Hillary Clinton, the first one in which you said, you know, this -- this is not going to be prosecuted. You didn't just say, the investigation is over. You went on to criticize her handling of emails, which is an unusual step, you know, for an FBI director. Normally, you would just say the investigation is done. You wouldn't explain more.
COMEY: Right. In -- in almost every case we say nothing about a completed investigation except where and this is recognized in Justice Department policy. There's an overriding public interest in having more transparency. We gave that in Ferguson, Missouri after the investigation there. Gave it after the Tea Party targeting investigation. Here, my judgment was and the judgment of the -- of FBI's senior team, if we don't offer that transparency the result has no credibility. If we just say one line, we know it's the middle of the election. This is one of your candidates but we're done.
ANDERSON: But I guess the -- the question then was if there's Justice Department policy allows you to give more information if there's an override in public interest. Couldn't you make that argument about associates of -- of the Trump campaign?
COMEY: You -- you could if you knew what you had and if it was an investigative stage where talking about it will be responsible. If we had finished a counterintelligence investigation of people close to the President and we are at a similar posture it would have been a much closer call. Because you would have had that important exception to policy which is if the -- the powerful public interest but it wasn't implicated in those counterintelligence cases.
COOPER: All right. I want to bring in another student. This is Emily Holtzman. She's a Senior studying government. Emily.
EMILY HOLTZMAN: Mr. Comey, my question for you is, if you want the bureau to remain independent why did you factor the legitimacy of the Hillary Clinton victory into your decision -- into your decision to announce she was being investigation prior to the election? Isn't this a political consideration?
COMEY: Yes. Thank you for that. I hope you get a chance to read my book. I don't remember consciously thinking about politics and polls during that period of time. In fact, I worked very hard to push it out of my head and just ask this question. Which of these two nightmare choices, both of which are awful, speaking or concealing? Which is most consistent with the values of the institutions of justice, FBI and the Justice Department? Which will do the least lasting damage to the FBI and the Justice Department? But the question I ask myself in the book is, given that the whole world assumed that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected could that have had an effect on me? And the answer is, of course it could.
But the air I was breathing was Hillary Clinton's going to be elected. But this is something I don't I make clear in the book the answer would be the same. As between those two options, no matter where the polls stood. You can't conceal a material huge change in facts from the American people when you've told them the opposite. So as between bad and catastrophic, no matter where the polls are, you're always going to have to choose bad, and know you're going to get hammered for it. But know you had two choices and you chose the least bad.
COOPER: Let me ask you. Shouldn't -- you book is about leadership and -- and in the book you're saying that -- I mean, you just said it basically that you -- you may have -- your beliefs that she was going to be the next President may have subconsciously impacted the -- the way you acted. Should a good leader be aware of assumptions that they are making in the moment not just in -- in hindsight?
COMEY: Sure. If you can -- if you can bring them to consciousness. And -- and I'm telling you the truth, I don't remember intentionally thinking about the polls and if that makes sense to me, because the FBI wouldn't want to track the polls. I do remember, one of my best lawyers at the FBI, brilliant woman asked a searing question in which I described in the book. She said, should you consider that what you're about to do may help elect Donald Trump President of the United States? And I said, great question. Thank you for asking it. Not for a second.
Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent organization, as an independent law enforcement organization. Because if we start considering who's fortunes will be effected in which way, we're just another part of the partisan tribal warfare. And so I remember it coming up and I was so glad she asked that question and pushing it to the side. What I'm trying to do which I -- I guess has surprised people is offer introspection in a book and I don't remember it but it must have been part of the atmosphere in some way.
COOPER: You said now that you think the country would be better if Hillary Clinton had been elected President. Why do you think that?
COMEY: I think the question I was asked was, maybe it wasn't a question. My answer was based on values. I think the American people were faced with a historic choice between the two most unpopular, least trusted candidates in modern history. As between the two, looking backwards in hindsight and I didn't vote. I hope you know. Hillary Clinton is more meshed in, trained in, respectful of the norms and traditions that I'm so worried about being eroded today. So on that basis, not on a policy judgment but on that basis, yes. That's why I said that.
COOPER: Do you think Hillary Clinton would have fired you as FBI Director?
COMEY: I don't know.
COOPER: Well -- come on. You must have given it some thought, I mean, if -- if you think she's going to win. You must have --
COMEY: I didn't think Donald Trump was going to fire me as FBI Director. Honestly. And so I -- I didn't -- I really didn't spend time thinking about it. And I don't know the answer even looking backwards whether she would have.
COOPER: I find it hard to believe thought that you think this person could be elected President and you don't even have, I mean, just for -- you know question of where you're going to live next. You weren't thinking, wow I wonder if she's going to keep me after what I've done on -- on the investigation.
COMEY: No. And maybe that sounds weird until you think about the -- the mindset when you become FBI director. President Obama was really specific in explaining to me that he thought the most important personnel choices that a President makes are Supreme Court and FBI Director. He said because I'm picking you for the future. Because I had a 10 year term. Now the President lawfully can fire the FBI Director. But Congress created that term after Watergate to send a signal to create a culture of longevity and that's -- that's the attitude in which I entered the job. And so I just -- with -- no matter who was going to be President including when I was having difficult times with President Trump. I was assuming I'll be here another six years as FBI Director.
COOPER: This is Emma White. She's a Senior studying psychology. Emma.
EMMA WHITE: In your book, you described the qualities of an ethical leader. Do you think that effectively there's have to be ethical leaders? And how would you describe President Trump's style of leadership?
COMEY: I think effective leaders, to be effective in anything near the long term have to be ethical. And what I mean by ethical is, make decisions with an eye towards lasting values above the urgency of the quarterly earnings statement or individual feelings of political forces or the news. But look at the long term and care deeply about helping their people reach their potential and find meaning in the work. To me, that's the only way to be effective as a leader to be an ethical leader. And one other thing I'll say. To bring truth to the center of your enterprise, whether it's a non-profit or company or the government, have truth at the center of it.
The truth about yourself and about the troubles that you're dealing with. It's the only way to be effective in the long -- in the long run. Don't believe that about President Trump. And the reason I say that is, ethical leaders have external reference points. When they're making hard decisions they draw on philosophy or religious tradition or logic or history. They draw on a set of norms and values that help them lift their eyes and figure out what the right decision is. As best I can tell, President Trump doesn't have any external reference points. And it's a hard thing to say but I believe it. His only reference point is internal.
What will bring me what I need? What will fill this hole in me, get me the affirmation I crave? And that's deeply concerning. Because the only way you make hard decisions is by looking to the external reference points. You can't ignore the internal of course. But your first move and your primary move is always to those external points of reference to help you make a good decision. So that's why I say that. COOPER: You've said and you're mentioned -- what you say is the
President's need for affirmation. Is that something you saw in conversations with him that in one on one conversations? He was looking for something from you positive, something to affirm, something to make him feel good?
COMEY: Yes. His, at least with me, his style of conversation was a series of assertions about great things he had done and biggest crowd at the inauguration. Awesome inauguration speech. These things that I have done. And the challenge I found was that they wash over you like a wave and even if you disagree, the waves just keep coming. But that's the style. It's, I'm great. I'm great. I'm great. And I suppose if there's a pause to, you know, to elicit a response of a similar nature. That struck me.
COOPER: It also struck you and I thought this was interesting and I had never thought about it that you've never seen him laugh.
COOPER: What does that -- why is that significant?
COMEY: Yes. That's a great question. The mark of a great leader, I believe, is a combination of things that seem contradictory. Enough confidence to be humble. That is what an effective leader has. They're comfortable in their own skin and it allows them to shut up and learn the truth from those around them and take joy in their people. To love seeing them shine. Insecure people can't do any of that. They can't listen. They can't take joy in the achievements of those around them.
And a marker of that balance of confidence and humility is humor. That if you are insecure, you cannot laugh for two reasons. First, you look silly laughing. And so you expose yourself. And engaging in a humorous encounter with somebody else is a risk for an insecure leader because I might have to acknowledge you -- that you said something funny that I didn't say.
And so, I saw Presidents Bush and Obama both use humor effectively to relax, to put at ease, to try and get to the truth. I never saw President Trump laugh -- even in an almost hour-and-a-half long private dinner. And so, I became a little concerned about this --
COOPER: Maybe he just doesn't find you funny.
COMEY: Well, it could be. There's a lot of people -- and could be I missed reams of hilarity that have been captured elsewhere on videotape, but I've actually looked for this. I've tried to find examples and I could be over interpreting this, but I tried to find examples of him laughing and I could only find one in searching YouTube.
COOPER: Is that what you've been doing the last couple of months?
COMEY: Basically -- and writing. Basically, that's two things.
COMEY: Sleeping, eating, and YouTube and book. And I looked for it and I found one, which was a rally in New Hampshire where he's speaking, and a dog starts barking and he said, "what's that," and someone yelled, "it's Hillary Clinton." And so, then he laughed but a really mean kind of laugh and that's the only one I could find. And so, to me, that's a tell that's very concerning.
Just as a positive tell is a leader who can laugh, especially at themselves, to try and get to the truth with their people.
COOPER: I want to introduce Abbe Chada (ph), he's a sophomore studying finance and government. Welcome.
ABBE CHADA: Good evening, Director Comey. In your experience with the Trump administration, what did you feel was the attitude of the administration towards established government institutions such as the FBI? Did you feel that -- did they feel that these institutions were antagonistic towards the goals of the administration or was there some level of willingness to cooperate in your experience?
COMEY: In my experience -- and so it's both the five months I worked under President Trump and since, they view the institutions of justice with contempt -- as just another piece on the board. When that piece is doing something that the leadership doesn't like, it should be knocked over and dirtied up -- and that is a terrible place for us to be as a country.
The FBI is not politicized -- that's nonsense. The FBI though is being politically attacked and the reason that is so dangerous and so stupid even if you're a Republican -- we need those institutions. All of us need those institutions and there's a reason that Lady Justice wears a blindfold, so she's not peeking out to see what President this or President that thinks about her decisions. Without that -- without that blindfold one of the major pillars of this democracy is lost and that is -- should be deeply worrying to all of us, including Republicans in Congress who know better.
COOPER: It's not just the FBI though as an institution which is under attack. You have confidence in the strength of the institutions -- I've had former General Michael Hayden of my program a lot and he's talked about the thin veneer of civilization and how thin that veneer actually is. We like to think it's very deep and solid and everlasting. He uses the example of Sarajevo -- a multicultural city which was laid siege to for years. What gives you the belief that the institutions are strong enough?
COMEY: Because I know them and because I know no president serves long enough to destroy the culture that is at the root of them.
I hear this term deep state all the time and there's no deep state but there is a deep culture and a commitment to the rule of law, equal protection of the laws, the fundamental values that are at the core of our Constitution that runs really deep in the FBI, the Justice Department as a whole, the intelligence community, the United States military services. It is the ballast that gives me comfort and I hope should give all Americans comfort.
But that can be damaged in significant ways. I don't think any president serves long enough to destroy that -- to flip that ship over but if we are silent tremendous damage will be done that will take us time to recover from.
COOPER: You said there's no deep state but when you talk about a deep culture, it doesn't sound that much different. I mean a deep culture which has ways of doing things and believes it is the right way of doing things -- isn't that some of what President Trump was elected to shake up?
COMEY: Absolutely not. I'm talking about a culture of commitment to the rule of law and to the values enshrined in our Constitution. That's the value at the heart of the United States military and the intelligence community and the law enforcement community.
No one, I hope, voted for him with the idea that he would destroy those values and so that's what I mean by a deep culture. It's a culture that we should celebrate and the rest of us who are not part of it ought to make sure we call it out when we see it threatened and damaged.
COOPER: So, when some say the deep state is trying to destroy President Trump, you're saying point-blank, that's not true.
COMEY: That's nonsense.
COOPER: I want you to meet Brian Connolly -- a junior studying government. Brian.
BRIAN CONNOLLY: Thank you. In recent weeks President Trump has nicknamed you Slippery Comey. What is your nickname for him?
COOPER: By the way, he's also called you shady, a show boater, a grandstander, a liar and a leaker.
COMEY: And you're forgetting two formulations of slimeball, right? First with no space, and then with a space.
I don't -- and I don't even, him on Twitter, people just tell me these things. I don't have a nickname for him. Honestly, I call him the president of the United States because I respect the office.
And I write this in the book and I hope I speak for all of us, no matter my concerns about him, I want him to be successful. I would be so happy if there's a way to peace on the Korean Peninsula. We should root for our president. That also doesn't mean we should fail to hold him accountable especially when he threatens our core values.
COOPER: You say you respect office. I think a lot of supporters of the president who are critical of you will say, if you respect office you would have respected the privacy of the conversations you had one- on-one with the president of the United States and not write a book so soon after you left office.
COMEY: Yes. I respectfully disagree with them. I never expected to write a book, but I thought -- and I think it even today -- that were I not sue it would be cowardly, in a way. That I have a perspective especially when I see the norms and values that matter so much to this country and that are above all of our policy disputes.
I don't care what your views are on guns or taxes or immigration -- there's something above that that really matters, and it's being threatened. And I thought, I can offer something that may be useful to try to drive a conversation about our values. And if I don't do it, my life would be a whole lot easier, but it would be in a way a coward's way out and so I thought it important to do.
COOPER: Well, let me go back to something I asked you before then and you use this word, cowardly. Was it cowardly not to face-to-face say to the president, you're being inappropriate, or this is highly unusual?
COMEY: I don't think so. Look, I'm somebody who tries to be pretty tough for myself. Standing in the oval office alone with the president of the United States after you just kicked your boss out of the room -- again, if he doesn't know that's an appropriate what he's asking me to do, why is that happening? And so, I get the feedback and I've asked myself should I have said, Mr. President, you can't ask me to drop a criminal investigation. But, really? I have to say that?
And so, I don't know that that's fair and I certainly don't think it's cowardly.
COOPER: I want to ask you about something before we go to break that happened on this campus when you were a student here -- you write about it in the book. You were living in a dorm and you had been bullied when you were in high school when you changed schools. But you took part in the bullying of a student here on this campus and it's something that kind of haunts you to this day. I'm wondering what impact that had on you and how it's affected your sense of leadership?
COMEY: Yes. That's a great question. I was picked on a lot as a kid. I wasn't a big goof -- I was a much smaller goof then and had a big mouth and I got bullied. And it -- only in hindsight was it good for me. It was very painful then and I hated bullies.
And then I lived in a dormitory annex here where there was no resident advisor in the annex -- it was sort of a Lord of the Flies at William and Mary -- unintentional I think. I don't think the administration knew what was going to happen but there was a boy that the group found irritating and I participated in picking on him. Some things I did, some things I watched, some things I just laughed
at. And I'm 40 years later ashamed of myself and it taught me a lot about myself and about people in groups.
I thought I was a good person. I thought I was somebody who cared a lot about bullying and picking on people and wanted to be an individual and stand up and I wasn't strong enough to stand up to the group. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be one of the guys and so I went along. And that lesson almost more than being bullied myself as a kid which was good for me in some ways -- that lesson has stayed with me and reminded me of my own weakness and of the weakness of all good people in groups.
COOPER: Have you ever reached out to that kid?
COMEY: Yes. Before we graduated I tried to talk to him and he claimed not to know -- not to remember anything happening and I don't know whether that was true, or he was just trying to be polite.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more from CNN's town hall with former FBI Director, James Comey.
COOPER: And welcome back to CNN's town hall with former FBI Director James Comey at William & Mary where he attended college and is going to be teaching in the fall.
I want you to meet Jenna Carroll. She's a senior studying government and finance.
JENNA CARROLL, SENIOR: Hi, Director --
COOPER: Let's see if we can turn on Jenna's mike.
CARROLL: Hi, Director Comey.
COOPER: Here you go.
CARROLL: My question is, can you give a clear example of what would constitute collusion between a presidential candidate and a foreign government, and specifically what law would that violate?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: That's a good question. I can't give a specific example because collusion is actually not a thing that exists under the federal laws of the United States. I had never heard the term until it appeared in the media.
The question that we would look at as a counterintelligence agency is, are any Americans conspiring, which is a crime defined by the U.S. code, with a foreign government to commit any offenses against the United States or to defraud the United States? Or is any American aiding and abetting? That is assisting their activities with knowledge of their unlawful nature. That's the legal question as I understand it. And as I sit here, I
can't give you an example and it would be irresponsible to give you an example. That's too close to the current case.
COOPER: Let me ask you, president Trump tweeted about your memos that they show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction, I believe was all in caps. Is that in fact true?
COMEY: It's not for me to say what they show --
COOPER: Do you believe any of the interactions you had with the president show an attempt to obstruct?
COMEY: They could. I mean, especially the encounter in the Oval Office on Valentine's Day is some evidence of obstruction of justice. The reason I put it that way is, obstruction of justice is a specific intent crime, which means the government has to show the prosecutors that the person trying to obstruct was doing it with corrupt intent. So, knowing there was an investigation, endeavoring to try and disrupt it, and that would turn on a whole lot that I couldn't see and can't see from here.
I'm a witness potentially in that matter, not the prosecutor or the investigator. That's why I answer it that way.
COOPER: But essentially what he's saying is that your memos exonerate him. Is that true?
COMEY: That's not a judgment for me to make. Really it's for the special --
COMEY: It's not.
COOPER: Do you believe they exonerate him?
COMEY: I believe they recount accurately my encounters with President Trump. Now what that means and the significance of it in light of other evidence is for the special prosecutor to figure out.
COOPER: But do you believe the interactions were so significant that you needed to write them down immediately?
COMEY: That -- yes.
COOPER: And obviously, if you believe that, that is not something you were doing every -- after every meeting with President Obama?
COMEY: No, I had never done it with --
COOPER: Or with President Bush?
COMEY: I've never done it with President Obama. I never written a memo after meeting with President Bush.
COOPER: The next question is from Tee-Tee Nguyen. She's a freshman studying government and has a question about the special counsel.
TEE-TEE NGUYEN, FRESHMAN: Hi, Director Comey.
My question is, what do you think about McConnell's decision not to bring the legislation introduced to protect Mueller from being fired for investigating the Russian interference in the election to the Senate floor?
COMEY: I don't know have an informed view, honestly, because I don't know enough about the constitutional concerns and -- especially constitutional concerns about legislation like that, so I don't know. Whether there's legislation or not, I would hope that everyone, no matter where they are on our political spectrum, would want to make sure that Director Mueller, former Director Mueller can complete his work and get the truth.
I don't know what the truth will be. But I'm confident that he's left to do his job, he will find the truth. And that's what we all should want.
COOPER: I want to ask you about your former boss, Rudy Giuliani, who you write about. You were a prosecutor on his team in New York. He's now obviously joined the president's legal team. He told CNN that he's there to help negotiate an end to the investigation and he talked about his prior relationship with Mueller as being part of that.
Is that how it works? I mean, can you based on a prior relationship negotiate an end to a federal investigation?
COMEY: No, not with any federal prosecutor, and sure as heck not with Robert Mueller.
COOPER: It doesn't work that way?
COMEY: It does not work that way. It's about the facts and the law.
He does not care about personalities. Again, I know him professionally very well. His mission is to find the truth.
And unlike most partisans, most partisans start with a conclusion and look through it to find facts. That's not the way you're supposed to do it. You're supposed to turn that around and look at the facts, find them all. And then once you have them all, see what conclusion that reasonably supports.
I'm confident that's the way the prosecutors and the agents working for Bob Mueller think about it.
COOPER: I think I know the answer to this, but Giuliani spoke today for "The Wall Street Journal" and he posted this -- he posed this question saying, does the special prosecutor really have an open mind? We're trying to assess their good faith. You obviously know Bob Mueller quite well. Does he have an open mind?
COMEY: Yes. I have high confidence he has an open mind.
COOPER: The next question is from David Grice. He's a junior studying data science.
DAVID GRICE, JUNIOR: Yes, former Director Comey, with your expertise in the FBI and with the given climate between the United States and Russia, do you believe that we are currently in or maybe on the brink of a Second Cold War?
COMEY: That's a great question, and I don't know whether I'd characterize it that way. We are certainly in -- on many levels conflict with Russia. What they did during the 2016 election was a attack by an adversary nation.
And if we are not vigilant, it will happen again in 2018, it will sure happen again in 2020. Now, whether you'd call that a cold war or a hot war in cyberspace, I don't know. But we are in conflict on many levels with the Russian government.
COOPER: I want to just quickly ask you -- you talked about the memos. I'm sorry to go back to this. And you talked about this team of attorneys you had hired. Fitzgerald was one of them at the time.
COOPER: Did you consult your attorneys, including Fitzgerald, at the time about whether it was legal, appropriate to give a memo to your friend, Richman, who then -- and tell him to tell "The New York Times" what was in it?
COMEY: Yes, I'm not going to talk about anything I talked about with my legal team.
COOPER: You're lawyering up.
COMEY: I guess in a way I am, yes, yes. And I should have said this to you before, Anderson, because the facts matter here. I'm going to be on another network tomorrow that thinks I should be in jail. The memos that I gave to my legal team after the unclassified memo to Dan Richman went nowhere besides my legal team. It was for the purpose of advising me and never went beyond the legal team.
COOPER: I want to go to -- to Aria Austin. She's a Freshman studying government and English.
ARIA AUSTIN: Good evening. Student lead marches and walkouts have occurred all over the country including -- including here in Williamsburg in response to the 20 school shootings that have taken place only 62 weeks into 2018. The issue of gun control is a major topic of discussion in America right now. And young people are taking control of that narrative. Do you think the March for Our Lives movement and several others will effectively lead to stricter gun control laws and if so why now?
COMEY: I don't know where it will lead. I'm optimistic that it will lead to sensible change around guns. But it actually inspires me in a -- in a broader way. I write at the end of my book that I think of Donald Trump's Presidency as a forest fire that will do a lot of damage to those values that are above our policy differences. But forest fires, the reason I chose that metaphor is they do damage but things grow in the wake of them. It didn't have the space or the air or the water to grow before.
I see that in the Parkland kids. I see that in the William and Mary kids. I see that in my own kids, standing up and speaking. And I hope they will inspire all of us and maybe shame the adults in this nation to get involved and not become numb to things that are critical to the values of this country. And so I don't know exactly where it will lead. I think there's plenty of room to do sensible things. Respecting the 2nd Amendment which I do very, very much in order to make all of us safer.
COOPER: I want to ask you about something that happened to you as a kid which I -- I had never heard before. You write about it in detail in the book. And it seemed to, I think, have an impact to you in terms of getting into law enforcement or certainly the way you -- the way you grew up and lived your life. And I'm talking about the Ramsey rapist. And if you could just tell -- tell the students what happened when you were how -- how old?
COMEY: High school senior.
COOPER: High school senior.
COMEY: Yes. One October night, I was home. Shows you what a geek I was. I was writing on a Friday night a literary magazine piece at 8 o'clock at night and a serial rapist and robber kicked in the front door to my parent's home. Likely looking for my sister who thank God wasn't home. And ended up taking my brother and me captive and at one point lying us down on the -- my parents bed and just pointing the gun at the back of our heads and I thought he was going to execute us. And that was an amazing moment and changed me in a lot of ways. And then we ended up talking to him. I ended up talking to him and convincing him to lock us in a bathroom and I told him we'll stay there. We'll stay there the whole night and then after the search of the house was over he locked us in the bathroom and then he went out. And we escaped out the bathroom window and he caught us again.
COOPER: He was still there.
COMEY: Yes. He had gone -- he had come around to the outside of the bathroom window to check on it, to look in and I was just having the adrenaline wear off. I was actually sitting on the floor in the bathroom and I looked up to the window and there was his face in the bathroom window and it took my breath away. And I said to my brother Peter, my younger brother, we're staying here all night. We're staying here all night. And a few seconds later he said, you know who that is? We've got to go get help. And so my younger brother opened up the window and there was plastic on it, tore it out and went out. And I followed him out barefoot out into the yard.
And the gunman had gone next door and came back and captured us and he was livid at me and started saying that he was going to kill me again. And I thought again he was -- I was going to get executed. And then a chaotic scene ensued where a neighbor intervened, that a neighbor's dog and we escaped again and locked ourselves in the house and got butcher knives and ultimately he fled into the woods as the police arrived. And we survived that night. And I wasn't hurt but I thought about the Ramsey rapist every night before I went to bed for five years. I don't mean most nights. I mean every night. And I slept with a weapon, a knife or a bat or something next to me for many, many years.
And what it created for me Anderson as a prosecutor, investigator was a tremendous sense of empathy. I wasn't hurt. Think about the people beaten, raped, assaulted, shot, what have they experienced and what are their lives like? And so it changed me in a lot of ways. I write in the book I still thought I wanted to be a doctor. I came to William and Mary to major in chemistry but I couldn't see it. I can see it now through the lens of adulthood that in a way that put me on the path. The path that I'm -- I'm on to this point. And it was -- yes, one of the most important that ever happened to me and it's in the book. The book's not a memoir.
There's lots of important stuff to me personally that's not in there. But that's in there because it effected how I think as a leader. That I think it's really important to ask questions from the perspective of the end of life looking back about who you want to be. And what you want to do and how you find meaning and I think an ethic leader's job is to help people find meaning in their work. And given that was a formative experience for me. It -- it loomed so large it had to be in the book.
COOPER: Did they ever catch this person?
COMEY: No. A guy was arrested. The attacks which had happened for almost a year on a regular basis stopped that night and they arrested someone. And never made the case against him. But it stopped that night and -- and it was a girl in my high school who had been tied to a tree and sexually assaulted and we never spoke. I would pass her in the hallway. I'd seen her at the lineup. And we just sort of nodded at each other and communicated with our eyes for the rest of my high -- that last year of my high school. But others were spared that pain, maybe because that was the guy and he quit or maybe because whoever was the serial attacker decided that that was the time to stop. I don't know. But it ended that night.
COOPER: We'll be right back with more from CNN's Town Hall with Former FBI Director James Comey.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to CNN's town hall with former FBI Director James Comey. You were -- you were actually talking to the students during the
break. And somebody asked you your favorite class was here. What was your favorite class when you were a student?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It was called death.
COMEY: And it was --
COOPER: That was actually a class.
COMEY: It was a class. I was a chemistry major. I'm walking through what was then called Rogers Hall and it also housed religion department, and I'm walking my into a chem. lab and I see the word "death" on a bulletin board.
So, I stopped as I hope you would. And I look added it and it's a course about religious perspectives, philosophical perspectives of death. So, I took it. I had a hole in the schedule. It was taught by this remarkable German-American ethicist named Hans Tifel (ph) who introduced me to Reinhold Niebuhr. And then I took another one, another one, the next thing I knew, I had enough credits for a religion major and wrote my thesis in the religion department and not chemistry.
So, it was all about death on the bulletin board.
COOPER: This is Jack Craver. He's a freshman studying government and philosophy.
JACK CRAVER, FRESHMAN, WILLIAM & MARY: Director Comey regardless of controversy surrounding the president it was no accident that he was elected. The distinct changes in political norms surrounding the Oval Office were not unexpected though outrage persists.
What does it signal to you that this is what the American people voted for? If this is what they wanted, does that legitimize his unconventional leadership style regardless how outside the norms it is?
COMEY: Yes, that's a great question, Jack, thank you. Yes in one way, absolutely not in another.
To my mind, the concern is not unconventional leadership, communicating through Twitter, breaking norms around state dinners and all that kind of stuff. To me what matters most and what the American people did not vote for and would not vote for is a derogation of the norms, the touchstone of truth, which is the heart of this country, the rule of law, equal protection of the laws, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. And one of the things I hope to do is get folks not to focus on the policy fights.
Again, as I said earlier, I don't care what people's policy views are. But instead, to first talk about the values, because a whole lot of people who supported Donald Trump come from families with inspiring military service histories. And so, the question I have is -- so, what do those folks fight and die for? Did they fight and die for a tax cut or an immigration approach or something? No. They fought and died for the core values that are all we are as a country, the ones I laid out.
I hope we first ask -- maybe we want an unconventional guy. What is happening to these? Because if we lose these, that's all we are as a country, a collection of aspirations, a collection of values. We should realize those unite us, insist that our leaders reflect those and get back to fighting like crazy about the policy issues.
But this matters so much that I hope to contribute to a conversation, even among those supporting President Trump and still do, to say we have to make sure these aren't lost.
COOPER: We have Colin Cochran. He's a freshman studying international relations.
COLIN COCHRAN, FRESHMAN, WILLIAM & MARY: Thank you, Director Comey. In promoting your recent book, you talked a lot about ethical leadership. Could you explain your claims to the moral high ground, given your endorsement during your tenure as deputy attorney general of two memos that have proved the Bush administration's torture techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation? And do you think torture is morally acceptable?
COMEY: Yes, great question.
First, I hope you don't hear me and if you do make sure you hammer me to be claiming I'm on the moral high ground. I'm a flawed person. What I try to do and inspire to do, and especially have learned from others, is figure out how to make decisions as a leader with ethical considerations in mind, with those external reference points.
I hope you read the book, because one of the things I talk about in the book is the struggle over torture. Torture is not morally acceptable under any circumstances. The challenge we faced as a Justice Department was, Congress chose to define torture different than you or I understand it. And so, the question asked of the Justice Department is, so what is the law? And what is permissible under the law?
And if you read the book which I really hope you'll do, you'll see us struggling mightily to figure out what's appropriate, what's lawful, what can be done under the law, and then you'll see me, something I regret actually not pushing hard enough on, stepping out of the lawyer role and begging the Bush administration to consider the policy, the moral considerations around torture, even if it's legal and even if the intelligence community claims it's effective, which I don't buy. That doesn't mean it's right.
COOPER: Is waterboarding torture? COMEY: Yes. Oh, yes.
And so -- and I hope you'll see that struggle in the book that illustrates all of us are flawed people, but how given our flawed nature do we make sound decisions? I hope that's what people find the book to be about.
COOPER: This is Robert Colter. He's a law student here.
ROBERT COLTER, LAW STUDENT, WILLIAM & MARY: Hi. So, I'm a Californian, a Mexican and a Republican. And my friends often urge me to switch parties. And sometimes, I've been tempted but I won't, because to me, it's still the party of Lincoln, of Ike, of George H.W. Bush, his son and my family.
That being said, I think the way Trump -- I think his demeanor has been offensive to Republican norms and civil discourse.
What first attracted you to the Republican Party? And what do you think is a positive message we could rally around today?
COMEY: I'll take the second part first. I don't know, which is why I don't -- I'm not a Republican. I've been embarrassed and ashamed by the way the Republican Party has abandoned one of the two things that led me to consider myself a Republican in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was a president.
I was attracted by the notion that character matters and values matter most of all. That that's where you start in evaluating a person, an entity, a country. What are their values? That's non-negotiable. And second, strong national defense, which I'm still passionate about.
And so, my question for the Republicans is, so where it is that? Where is that commitment to character and values?
And if people convinced themselves, well, we'll trade it temporarily for a tax cut or a Supreme Court justice -- as I say in the book, that's a fool's bargain because the values are all that you have. There are always be another Supreme Court justice, always another tax bill. You lose this, exactly what are you?
And so, what I hope they'll do is ask themselves, Republicans -- so what will I tell my grandchildren? When they ask me, so what did you do? Did you trade a tax cut for the rule of law? For equal protection of the laws for the truth? Really, grandpa?
And so, I hope they'll ask themselves that question and realize that they have to look above those policy issues and think about what matters most in this country.
COOPER: You're talking about Republicans on Capitol Hill. When you're writing about, you're about talking Paul Ryan. You're talking about -- COMEY: I'm talking Republicans on Capitol Hill, talking about
Republicans, people who identify themselves as Republicans have to ask that grandchild question of themselves.
COOPER: And you think they're failing that question?
COOPER: This is Ian Doty, a freshman who's studying international relationships.
IAN DOTY, FRESHMAN, WILLIAM & MARY: Mr. Comey, the conflict between you and President Trump have begun to characterize divisions within our country. In open reconciliation between the two of could not only allow our country to recover and unite but also demonstrate leadership. Have you begun to forgive the president? Do you think you could ever do so?
COMEY: I actually don't think of it in personal terms. I said this on CNN not long ago. I don't hate the president. I very much dislike the way he approaches issues, especially the truth and values issues.
And so, to me, there isn't a personal -- we don't really know each other personally -- a personal schism between us. There is a different approach to what matters in this country. And so, I don't see it as need for personal reconciliation. I do see it though as a need for him -- and it would be a wonderful thing -- if he were able to change and say, you know what, I have to start telling the truth.
And when I'm asked questions where I haven't given an answer that's truthful, hold myself and answer that question in a better way.
And I'll say one other thing. And stop attacking the institutions that form the pillar of the rule of law in this country.
COOPER: This is Elizabeth Peteraf. She's a pre-med freshman.
ELIZABETH PETERAF, FRESHMAN, WILLIAM & MARY: Hello. I turned 18 just before this past presidential election, and though it was exciting to be able to vote for the first time, I've been very disillusioned with what is going on in Washington, not knowing who or what to believe. What can you say to young adults who are getting their first true taste of American politics during this tumultuous time? How do we comprehend thinking of the future when the present is so unsteady?
COMEY: Don't withdraw. We need your voices. We need your minds. We need your hearts. We need your passion.
You are what is going to grow in the wake of this forest fire. Again, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, become involved. Not just vote, but participate in the conversation to make sure the values of this country are preserved and protected. And I could imagine especially given how busy you all are and all you
got going on, there's a temptation to say it's so icky, I'll pull back. Please don't do that. The one small thing I hope to accomplish with his book and I've written so I hope you can enjoy it, is to encourage to you participate in the conversation, because we desperately need you.
COOPER: Do you worry, though, that your book has just added to the divisions in this country? I mean, that people are choosing sides on you, they're choosing sides -- that it just adds to this sort of flood of vitriol?
COMEY: I don't think so. I mean, I think if you read the book, the whole book, I think you'll come away with a view that I'm -- of what I'm trying to accomplish and it's not trying to hate across divisions, it's about trying to drive a conversation about something that actually connects all of us and unites all of us.
You think about William & Mary's history, there are three buildings here named for three people closely associated with this great institution -- Washington, Jefferson and Madison. I lived in one of the three. And those people fought like cats and dogs about policy issues.
Madison and Jefferson didn't like the way that Hamilton was controlling Washington. But they had something in common, something above that that they lived their lives around, a set of values. We have to remember that and be inspired by that. And have 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds and 23-year-olds give that life today.
COOPER: Before we go to the next question, just one other question I forgot to ask on the memos. You said you gave the memos to the legal -- to your three people on your legal time are team. Are those the only people you gave memos to?
COMEY: Yes, correct.
COOPER: Nobody else?
COMEY: Nobody else, just the three lawyers, only for the purpose of advising me and to give them to nobody else, share the content with nobody else.
COOPER: Michael Murphy is the director of I.T. support here at William & Mary.
MICHAEL MURPHY, DIRECTOR OF IT SUPPORT, WILLIAM & MARY: Director Comey, I assume the point of your new book was to share your side of what happened as your time at FBI director. How is an average American supposed to be able to sort through the information in your book against the conflicting information coming out of the White House and know what is fact and what is not?
COMEY: Yes, great question. First, I hope people read it. And I hope what they'll discover in there is someone who is trying to be transparent about things I've done wrong, things I've done right, criticisms that could be leveled at me. And it's about far more than my time as FBI director. It goes back to being bullied as a kid and bullying someone else here at William & Mary.
It's designed to try and offer some framework how leadership should be and must be. And so, in terms of how to figure out what's true, draw on as many sources as possible and evaluate track record consistency, take everything with a grain of salt. That's what you learn that at William & Mary. Love everyone, trust no one, right?
Understand biases, cross-examine yourself. Find other pieces of information. Crash it all together in order to make your best judgment.
But always make the judgment knowing I could be wrong. I've worked as hard as I can to get this right. I could be wrong. That's my best advice to you.
COOPER: What do you think you've been wrong about in your leadership, if there's one thing that you regret the most?
COMEY: Well, how much time do you have? A lot of -- a lot of different things.
I made a bunch of poor personnel decision as FBI director. I did some things like -- I carelessly created a rift with Poland by speaking about them in a speech that wasn't about Poland. I did a bunch of other knucklehead things. No huge thing, but probably about -- I could probably tick off about 30, sitting here, of those kinds of things.
COOPER: I want to you meet Danny Banks, who is an I.T. analyst here at the college. He's got a question about your future.
DANNY BANKS, IT ANALYST, WILLIAM & MARY: Good evening, Director Comey. Schadenfreude, a German word that means enjoyment gain from the troubles of others. There have been many schadenfreude moments in our country over the last couple of years. For example, your abrupt firing and resignation and election losses in both parties, and the president's manifold of troubles to name a few.
While many people obtain joy from these moments, they actually do more to divide this country. You are experienced, talented and still relatively young.
So, will you run for political office and try to effect change in Washington? Thank you.
COMEY: I will not. Thank you for that. I won't. I never will. That's not who I am.
But you don't have to run for office to be part of effecting change in this country. I hope part of teaching at William & Mary about leadership and ethics is, I can both teach and learn from an amazing group of young people and I'm gong to travel around and lecture at universities and other places trying to facilitate this conversation.
And so, I think there's lots of ways for me to be useful without running for office.
COOPER: I got to ask you, on "The Today Show", I saw that you repeated over and over you wouldn't run for president. You said you wanted your wife to hear you. Does that mean that your wife wants to you run for president?
COMEY: No. She keeps talking about my second wife might be OK with that.
COMEY: No, we have actually had this debate about whether I would ever feel compelled -- she knows I don't ever want to do it, but because I felt I could make a difference no other way, whether I would consider it. And we've talked about it a lot, and the answer is no. That I -- it's just for a lot of reasons, it's not who I am. But she and I have or now of a like mind that there are lots of ways to contribute short of that.
COOPER: You write a lot about your family in the book, the loss of a child which is the -- you know, indescribable, the worst loss any parent can experience. How has your family shaped you all those experiences as a leader? What you learned from that?
COMEY: They've centered me, mocked me, given me absolutely wonderful and brutal feedback. They're a source of incredible laughter.
And someone asked me walking through the airport in the other day basically how could I be happy. And I said, I'm surrounded by people I love. I have this amazing family and friends. I'm the happiest richest man in the world given that.
And so, they bring me all that and they help compartmentalize in a great way. And I come home from work and we work really hard not to make dad the center of the family. Dad has issues. OK? We put those to the side, and then we talk about what everybody else is doing.
And we laugh and we cry. And it helps me refresh. But look, one of the reasons I'm worried about is I don't want my children to be James Comey's daughter or son. They're amazingly talented kids. I want them to be them.
And my family helps me with that. By saying, yes, yes, dad, you're great. OK, and move to the next thing.
COOPER: How have they dealt with the president of the United States saying you should be in jail? How has your family dealt with that?
COMEY: Different levels of reaction. Mine, which is something that concerned me a great deal, is a shrug. Like, oh, there he goes again.
And then I catch myself, because I hope you're not shrugging, because that's numb to something that is not OK. That is not normal. And that Republicans, if they just close their eyes and imagine Barack Obama waking up in the morning saying someone should be in jail, they will understand that it's not normal.
Now, my family has different levels of reaction.
COOPER: But you're saying, essentially, the danger is it becomes normalized.
COMEY: Yes, and we become numb to it. That is not OK. This is the United States of the America. The president of the United States is saying -- forget me, saying that lots of private citizens shall be in jail, should be in jail, must be in jail. That is not OK, given our commitment to the rule of law.
And again, I'm ashamed of Republicans for this. And that's why I urge them, close your eyes and imagine the next president if it's a Democrat doing that, what are you going to say? You'll be sitting in front of Anderson Cooper saying it's outrageous, it's an attack on America. So, why is it not today? It's bipartisan, it should be the outrage of that attack on our norms.
So, my reaction is a shrug. To my family, it's probably -- especially to my wife, it's more painful to see and to watch me in the middle of all this kind of stuff. But at the end of the day, given that centering that my gang has had since the very beginning, it's fine.
COOPER: You say the president's comments are an attack on America, yes?
COMEY: America -- right. The reason I say that is America's core is really two things: truth and, closely related, the rule of law.
COOPER: I just want to point out how -- not only just how extraordinary it is to hear the man who was the FBI director saying that the current president's words are an attack on America. I mean, that's not -- I don't think that's happened.
COMEY: I never -- you ask me three years ago ten years ago ever be coming out of my mouth? Of course not. But it's happening.
The president of the United States is attacking the Justice Department, attacking the FBI, attacking the federal judiciary and pronouncing that private citizens who have been accused of no crime should be in jail. Just pause for a second and reflect on that. No matter what your political orientation is.
That's not normal. That is an attack on our core values. And it should stop. And everybody should call on it to stop.
COOPER: Former Director James Comey, thank you very much. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thanks for being with us.
COMEY: Thanks for having me.
COOPER: All right. Appreciate it. Chris Cuomo starts right now.