Bugged by a Hug: Comey Complaint Makes NYT Front Page

FBI director reportedly 'disgusted' by Trump embrace, media cry investigation interference

A self-described friend of former FBI Director James Comey, Benjamin Wittes, said Comey was “disgusted” when President Trump hugged him at a ceremony at the White House on January 22. The New York Times knit its journalist brow in a front-page story in Friday’s paper, describing the hug as an encounter that “troubled” Comey.

Trump isn’t the first president to hug an FBI director.

Just four short years ago President Barack Obama hugged outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller as Comey, the incoming FBI director, stood by. And Mueller, like Comey, didn’t really hug back. He was stiff, showing he did not share the president’s desire for physical contact — at least not at that moment.

While Mueller was leaving the job at the time, some eyebrows certainly could have been raised about the Obama-Mueller hug — if such a gesture is worthy of being Page 1 news for the current president.

How close was their relationship that Obama was moved to hug Mueller on his leaving the job?

Was the president thankful for something Mueller did for him or his administration?

(Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Had Mueller done Obama some favor? What favor?

The point of The New York Times story, “Comey Struggled to Put Trump at Army’s Length During Russia Inquiry” (online headline: “Outreach from President Made Comey Uneasy”), was that Trump was trying to compromise the FBI director by buddying up to him.

But in Obama’s case, there wouldn’t have been a need to buddy up as Mueller was leaving the job. The hug would have been the result of something that had already happened. Maybe The New York Times will look into it.

And maybe we can all learn why Mueller stood ramrod straight as Obama was attempting to hug him. Was he also “disgusted”?

The overall issues are important ones, having to do with the independence of the FBI in pursuing investigations apart from politics. The Times describes guidelines in the modern FBI era, where “directors have sought an arm’s-length relationship with the presidents they serve.”

A hug is not arm’s length. It is no surprise why an FBI director would not want to hug a president. But why is it Page 1 news in The New York Times when the president hugs the FBI director, or when the FBI director’s friend, who dislikes the president, goes to the media to say the FBI director didn’t like it when the president hugged him?

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If it is, should it not be on Page 1 when all presidents do it?

“[Obama] wasn’t culpable for anything,” says Tim Graham of the Media Research Center. He compares the coverage of a Trump hug to the coverage of Obama’s whereabouts the night that the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by jihadists, and four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, were killed.

The New York Times, whose reporter, Michael Schmidt, describes “pushing on doors” to get information on the Comey memos and describes Comey as “troubled” about a hug and a small-talk session with the preseident, did not push to find out where President Obama was that night.

“We still don’t know to this day,” he says.