Westport attorney: Comey known for leadership, self-deprecating humor
Updated 6:06 pm, Friday, June 2, 2017
WESTPORT — To a former employee and Westport resident, James Comey was far from a “showboat,” but a hands-on leader who took a sincere interest in all his employees while maintaining a self-deprecating humor and acute sense of self-awareness.
After President Donald Trump fired Comey, he called the former FBI director “crazy” and a “nut job.”
But Evan Barr, who was an assistant United States attorney under Comey when he was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said those characterizations could not be further from the truth.
Comey is a “very highly principled” public servant who “believes strongly in trying to do the right thing,” Barr said.
In 2002 and 2003, Barr reported to Comey as chief of the Major Crimes Unit, where he oversaw cases related to financial institution fraud, computer hacking, health care fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases, tax evasion, money laundering and mail and wire fraud.
Although Barr disagreed with Comey’s decision to send a letter informing Congress the FBI re-opened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server just before the 2016 presidential election, he thinks his old boss did so because he felt it was his duty and was “motivated by the belief that he was doing the right thing.”
Comey was respected and well-liked by employees across the spectrum, from unit chiefs — like Barr — all the way down to junior prosecutors.
“He was the kind of guy who was interested in what cases you were working on, and he would follow the trials that the more junior prosecutors were handling. I served under a bunch of U.S. attorneys, because I was there for 10 years, and he was pretty hands-on,” Barr said.
Comey made time to get to know all members of his department. He “was equally solicitous of the secretaries and the security guards as he was the lawyers and the senior prosecutors. That’s the kind of guy he is,” Barr said.
Trump fired Comey amid an FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to alter the 2016 presidential election results.
Shortly after he fired Comey, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey was a “showboat” and a “grand-stander,” descriptions not in line with Barr’s experience.
The 6-foot, 8-inch Comey was known to have a “very self-deprecating sense of humor,” including cracks about his height, Barr said.
Comey would make jokes about how he did not quite command as much authority at home with his large family as he did in the office, Barr said.
After he was selected by then-president George W. Bush to serve as deputy attorney general in October 2003, Comey left the SDNY in December, but would occasionally see his old co-workers at dinners.
“He is a very down-to-earth, very warm person, a very inspiring leader for the office. A kind of guy who had a lot of sympathy for people in the trenches and really a great leader in the office,” Barr said. “He was widely admired in the office and people really enjoyed working for him.”
Barr was not shocked when he heard the news Trump fired the nation’s top law enforcement official: “He’s a highly principled public servant and has strongly held views, and it did not come as a big surprise that he ultimately ended up clashing with the administration.”
The New York Times reported Trump asked Comey to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who resigned. The newspaper also reported Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty at a dinner Trump initiated. The White House has disputed and denied the accounts.
Comey is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Trump administration’s possible ties to Russia.
“I think Jim will come across very credibly, and to the extent his recollection differs from the president’s, I think the people listening — including the senators and the congressmen — will believe Comey,” Barr said.