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James Comey Visits His Shrink: a Play in One Act

PSYCHIATRIST: So, Mr. Comey, tell me why you’re here today.

COMEY: I’m way wired, I can hardly sleep, when I do manage to fall asleep my dreams are intense and scary. I’m getting by on coffee and junk food. My wife is worried for me and demanded that I seek immediate help.

PSY: It seems like a good place to start might be the stressful situation you now find yourself in as the FBI’s director. Would you agree?

COM: You bet. It all started last summer when I decided — in what I now recognize was a bad mistake in judgement — to publicly talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails investigation. I need to stop here to clarify something: I feel I can talk about this with you only under the strictest rules of confidentiality.

PSY: Please know that I am prohibited by the law and by custom and by the ethics of the psychiatric profession from divulging anything you relate to me. Nothing you say leaves this room. In fact, I will put down my notepad and pen, so that no record will exist of our conversation. Will this suffice in alleviating your concerns?

COM: Yes, thank you. I’m placing this sound disrupter on the table — just in case anybody is sweeping for conversation. It breaks up words into shredder-like noise-chaff.

PSY: I hope you will talk more about who might want to listen in on this session. But, regardless, If this makes you feel more secure, it’s fine with me. Please proceed.

COM: So what I was about to say has to do with the political snake pit that is the FBI. There are partisan and ideological factions so entrenched in the Bureau that it makes the Justice Department ’s political culture seem like a Sunday School picnic.

PSY: Are you suggesting that these factions are actually warring with each other?

COM: Exactly. And because these tribes at the Bureau leak like a sieve to the media — it seems that every senior agent has direct access to favorite journalists at the Times, Post, Fox News, BuzzFeed, Wall Street Journal, all of them — and, since my staff memos on this subject had little to no effect, I had to quickly learn how to keep everybody happy.

PSY: What does that mean, “to keep everybody happy”?

COM: On hyper-controversial matters, I’d have to throw red meat to one faction — say the more rightwing extremists — and placate with a similar gesture to, say, the more moderate faction.

PSY: I’m guessing that you felt put upon by this situation — under constant tension.

COM: You got it. For example, last July, when I summed up our non-case with regard to Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, I felt that I had to include some harsh quotes about her sloppy security procedures — which would provide ammunition to Trump — as a balancer for not recommending a criminal indictment.

PSY: I have to ask a simple question here, one voiced by many in the days after: Why did you feel you had to say anything? It’s my understanding that the FBI does not issue public statements about ongoing cases that do not result in charges being filed.

COM: On that July matter, and the more recent statement with regard to the emails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer, I knew for a certainty that the Trump-supporting faction would leak to the press. I decided to try to dilute the impact of those leaks by issuing my own release. It was a risky strategy, I grant you, one that blew up in my face.

PSY: Why do you think it exploded that way?

COM: This is going to sound a bit strange, but I thought my reputation as a honest broker, a straight-shooter, a lawman of integrity would work its magic and—

PSY: But you issued your most recent statement with only 11 days to go before the election, something, as I understand it, that is against the FBI’s own protocols. You injected yourself into a partisan fight. Your DOJ superiors advised against your plan, but you went ahead anyway. Why?

COM: Because I was stupid, because I was exhausted, because I wanted to head off the extremists’ language, because I wanted the limelight, because in this instance, I elevated my competence-factor way beyond reality. The result is that I appeared incompetent, way too hasty and ambitious, out of my depth. And, worst of all, that I was a partisan for Trump, whereas the truth is I have few positive feelings for either of them. Both are morally suspect, both politicians carrying a lot of legal baggage. I despise her and he’s a lying demagogue who scares the piss out of me.

PSY: Given all that’s gone down, can you imagine any steps you can take to resurrect your estimable reputation?

COM: Maybe, if the facts warrant it, announce ASAP that the Clinton emails situation hasn’t changed since July and that’s the end of the matter. But there will be push-back or leak-back from rightist agents. And there may not be enough time to make it right in the first place. And/or move the Trump-and-Russia investigation front-and-center, to balance out the Clinton damage somewhat. Or maybe just resign, with a mea culpa and let time do its thing and try for a political comeback in a year or two after the dust has settled.

PSY: We have just a bit of time left. Do you want to take a look at one of the troublesome dreams you mentioned?

COM: Sure. In this one, I’m at the FBI gun range, taking target practice. I’m aiming at the red-and-black bullseye, which suddenly turns orange. Then I aim at a white suit; my gun turns into an arced bow and the arrow is now coming straight at me. I wake up in fright. You know what, doc? I get what’s being alluded to here. I think I do need another line of work.#

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BERNARD WEINER, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.

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