Hero, villain and Shakespearean character keeps senators spellbound

Ousted FBI director James Comey was alternately searingly blunt and tepidly cautious as he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill for more than two hours on Thursday.
Ousted FBI director James Comey was alternately searingly blunt and tepidly cautious as he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill for more than two hours on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • For more than 21/2 hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee, ousted FBI chief James Comey, stern and unsmiling, rocked back and forth between stirring paeans to the men and women of the bureau and a righteous role as the one man with sufficient standing and spine to call out President Donald Trump.

Mr Comey was alternately searingly blunt and tepidly cautious. He was folksy, entertaining the senators with the story of how he had to cancel a dinner date with his wife to accept a last-minute invitation to dine with the President.

And he was melodramatic, wrapping his account of his encounters with the President in rhetoric about duty. He even tossed in a dark reference to a classic play about King Henry II and the "meddlesome priest" he wanted removed from this mortal coil.

In a capital accustomed to overcooked spectacle and insufferable congressional testimony, Mr Comey delivered on the hype.

The room fell into an anxious hush, punctured sporadically by audible emissions of surprise at the remarks of a deposed FBI director with a collection of Trump-branded knives in his reputational torso.

Senators settled into their telegenic gazes, steely but approachable, often whispering to one another as the witness held forth.

Photographers clicked with impunity, descending on every twitch: a wave of the hand, a cock of the head, a woman delivering glasses of ice water to Mr Comey's table before he arrived. And the headliner summoned a theatrical swagger to match the moment, assuming a role with little precedent: A dispatched federal employee - hero, villain, Shakespearean character in the 2016 election and early Trump administration - staring into the cameras and talking to the President who had fired him.

"I have seen the tweet about tapes," he said in one flourish, referring to a Twitter post in which Mr Trump suggested he had recorded his interactions with Mr Comey. "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."

At the Capitol, attendees took stock of the spectacle, and wondered. Mr Joe Noser, 19, camped out overnight at the Capitol to secure a prime spot in line. He invoked the Monica Lewinsky affair from the late 1990s, the period of his birth.

"It is not a sex scandal but it is still important," he said of Thursday's events. "It will be the coolest thing to tell your grandkids down the road, 'I was able to see the Comey hearing.' "

WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Hero, villain and Shakespearean character keeps senators spellbound'. Print Edition | Subscribe