When James B. Comey woke up on Tuesday, he was the director of the FBI, leading an effort to determine whether President Trump’s campaign may have colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
By the end of that day, Comey was out of a job.
The frantic hours in between — especially just after the president abruptly fired Comey — have since been heavily scrutinized. Why, exactly, was Comey fired? How and when did Trump arrive at that decision? And who could make sense of the White House’s conflicting explanations for Comey’s firing?
But the bombshell news also cast an intense spotlight on someone who already was one of Washington’s most dissected figures. Comey was in Los Angeles when he first heard about his firing, reportedly from television, and before long, local news helicopters were following his car as it traveled down Interstate 405.
And although Comey technically became a private citizen after the firing, he has remained in the public consciousness, even as he has tried to maintain a low profile.
The day after the firing, the Associated Press went full TMZ on Comey, capturing paparazzi-esque photographs of the former FBI director “casually puttering in his yard” at his home in McLean.
On social media, everyone was suddenly a judge of what the photos revealed. “He looks relaxed,” one Twitter user suggested. “Deposed FBI directors, they’re just like us!” another joked. At least one person compared it to when a rumpled Mitt Romney was spotted pumping gas shortly after losing the 2012 presidential race to Barack Obama.
Wednesday was also the day Comey wrote a rather short, pragmatic farewell note to his FBI colleagues, telling them not to “spend time on the decision or the way it was executed” but rather to focus on “protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.”
“It is done,” he wrote, “and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”
Still, Comey’s former FBI colleagues reeled. The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that at least a dozen FBI agents had posted pictures of Comey on their private Facebook pages, some even making his image their temporary profile picture. At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe defended his former boss against President Trump’s accusations that the FBI was “in turmoil” because of Comey.
“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him,” McCabe said at the hearing. “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”
Meanwhile, a 9-year-old neighbor of Comey’s, Abby Grace, in a burst of sympathy for her now-jobless acquaintance, reportedly baked chocolate chip cookies to bring over, according to a text that NPR reporter Mara Liasson said she received from the girl’s mother:
FBI Director Comey lives in our neighborhood, and, as you would imagine — there were a lot of reporters at the foot of his driveway today. Abby thought that was quite inhospitable. Well — either a 9 year old in a parochial school uniform dress doesn’t look very threatening — or the smell of the choc chip cookies was so good that the security detail could smell them from the other side of the gate … in either case, Abby Grace just hand delivered a dozen cookies fresh from the oven. She walked up, shook the hand of the 6’10” agent, introduced herself, and, hopefully made Director Comey’s day a little bit better!
According to a photo that was published with the NPR story, the cookies were accompanied by a heart-shaped note that read, “to: Director Comey.”
Finally, four days after his dismissal, Comey completed his transition into the quasi-private life of a formerly public official — by taking in a Broadway show.
Comey and his wife, Patrice, attended a Saturday matinee performance of “Fun Home,” which was in Washington on its national tour, according to a widely shared tweet from the show. In the photograph, Comey — at least a head taller than most everyone else — can be seen smiling alongside cast members backstage.
— Fun Home (@funhomemusical) May 13, 2017
“Fun Home” is based on the life of Alison Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist who grapples with her father’s suicide and her own sexuality. It won five Tony Awards in 2015, including for best musical; the show’s website describes it as a “musical about looking back … and moving forward.”
Fitting, perhaps, for the former director’s first public outing since Trump fired him in front of a national audience.
Kate Shindle, who plays the role of Bechdel in the show, told the New York Times in an email that both Comey and his wife “were really emotionally affected by the show.”
“It’s awfully moving, but I would imagine doubly so at the end of a week like this,” Shindle told the newspaper. “I was a little tongue-tied, and as they were leaving, I said, ‘Get home safe,’ as if I were his mom, and also as if he doesn’t know every FBI agent in the country.”
Despite now being a private citizen, it’s not likely that Comey will fade into obscurity anytime soon. Controversy over his dismissal is likely to rage on. On Saturday, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that just 29 percent of Americans said they approved of Trump firing Comey, while 38 percent disapproved. Roughly a third of the respondents had no opinion.
Some, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have called for Judiciary Committee hearings on Comey’s firing.
“President Trump and the White House have presented an ever-changing narrative on the rationale for the firing of FBI Director Comey,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This triggers a need for the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings and get to the bottom of this. This is a very serious matter, with significant implications for the rule of law and the strength of our democracy.”
And last week, Comey reportedly said he would be willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about why he was fired — but only if he could do so publicly.