James Comey in Washington, DC, on May 3.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
James Comey, who was ousted last week from his job as FBI director, once tried to camouflage himself in the White House's curtains in order to avoid interacting with President Trump.
The incident happened at a Jan. 22 ceremony Trump held in the White House's Blue Room for law enforcement leaders, the New York Times reported Thursday. Comey's friend Benjamin Wittes — who spoke to the Times and wrote his own blog post mentioning the incident — said the then-FBI director didn't want to attend the ceremony because he wanted to maintain distance and independence from the White House.
However, Comey felt he couldn't turn down a White House invitation so he went, according to Wittes.
At the ceremony, Comey noticed that the curtains in the room were blue — the same color as his suit. So “he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn’t notice him camouflaged against the wall,” Wittes wrote.
Video of the moment showed Comey pressed against the curtains as far from Trump as he could be.
Trump nevertheless noticed Comey and eventually called him out, declaring “oh, there’s Jim. He’s become more famous than me.” Wittes described the comment as “the most damning faint praise possible.”
Comey then tried to shake Trump's hand, but the president instead pulled him in for an embrace. 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,” Wittes said.
The revelation that Comey tried to hide in the White House curtains prompted a flood of drapery memes Thursday evening.
The curtain incident was one of several recounted by Wittes in which Comey tried to maintained the FBI's independence from Trump, even as the president attempted to get “chummy.” Comey believed Trump was trying to “absorb” him into his team and “get him to kiss the ring,” Wittes wrote.
Other incidents include the now-infamous dinner when Trump allegedly asked Comey for a loyalty pledge, and an interaction in March in which Trump called Comey to “chitchat,” forcing the director to delay a helicopter flight.
“He regarded the call as weird for how substanceless it was,” Wittes wrote.
Throughout all of these interactions, Comey attempted to instruct the White House in the proper way to interact with the FBI — through the Justice Department and not direct contact. Over lunch, Comey told Wittes he believed he had succeeded in “training” the Trump administration.
Trump ultimately fired Comey on May 9, prompting widespread criticism thanks to the FBI director's role in investigating Russian meddling in the election. In his blog post, Wittes speculates that Trump kept Comey around “as it took him to figure out that there was no way to make Comey part of the team.”
“Once he realized that he couldn’t do that — and that the Russia matter was thus not going away — he pulled the trigger,” Wittes said about Trump firing Comey.