'That's crazy, how could that be?': Comey describes what he felt right after finding out he'd been fired

  • Former FBI director James Comey said his first thought after he read a letter from the White House telling him he had been fired was: "That's crazy. How could that be?"
  • Comey was in Los Angeles at the time and said that as he flew back to Washington, he drank red wine out of a paper coffee cup while looking "out at the lights of the country I love so much."
  • As the plane came close to landing, Comey said he asked the pilots if he could sit in the cockpit with them and watch the flight land.
  • At the end, he recalled, they all shook hands "with tears in our eyes" before he got off the plane and was driven home.

Former FBI director James Comey's first thought when he found out he'd been fired last year: "How could that be?"

He made the revelation during a one-hour interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos ahead of the widely anticipated release of his book, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership."

Comey was in Los Angeles on May 9, 2017 and speaking to a group of FBI employees when he found out he'd been removed, via a breaking news alert on TV.

Initially, however, the chyron read, "Comey resigns."

Comey said he did not believe the news at first because he thought it was a trick.

"One of the many great things about the FBI is we have some hilarious pranksters in that organization, and so I thought it was a scam by someone on my staff," Comey said. "So I turn to them and I said, 'Someone put a lot of work into that.'"

Comey said he grew more wary when the chyron eventually changed to reflect that he had been fired.

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Inside the White House on the day Trump fired James Comey
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Inside the White House on the day Trump fired James Comey
White House Deputy Press Secretary Lyndsey Walters hands out documents to reporters in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House, advising them that there will be no further on camera statements, after US President Donald Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture shows a copy of the letter by U.S. President Donald Trump firing Director of the FBI James Comey at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Writers work on the story about Director of the FBI James Comey's firing by U.S. President Donald Trump in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Writers work on the story about Director of the FBI James Comey's firing by U.S. President Donald Trump in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
This picture shows a copy of the letter by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to U.S. President Donald Trump recomending the firing of Director of the FBI James Comey, at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Reporters work on the story about Director of the FBI James Comey's firing by U.S. President Donald Trump in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Reporters work on the story about Director of the FBI James Comey's firing by U.S. President Donald Trump in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Deputy White House Press Secretary Lindsay Walters hands out a statement relating to the firing of the Director of the FBI James Comey by U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Deputy White House Press Secretary Lindsay Walters (R) hands out a statement relating to the firing of the Director of the FBI James Comey by U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Deputy White House Press Secretary Lindsay Walters (R) hands out a statement relating to the firing of the Director of the FBI James Comey by U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A journalist looks at a copy of the termination letter to FBI Director James Comey from US President Donald Trump in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on May 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A journalist looks at a copy of a letter from US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to US President Donald Trump recommending the termination of FBI Director James Comey in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on May 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
White House Deputy Press Secretary Lyndsey Walters speaks to reporters in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House, advising them that there will be no further on camera statements, after US President Donald Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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"And the audience could see my face change, so they start turning around looking at the back," Comey recalled. "And I said, 'Look, I don't know whether that's true or not. I'm going to find out.'"

After he finished talking to the employees and saying goodbye, Comey said he went into a room to find out whether he had been ousted, "because I did not expect to be fired."

Eventually, he said, his assistant, Althea James, sent him a scanned copy of the letter outlining Trump's decision to fire Comey. Trump said he had made the decision based on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

Comey said his first thought while reading the letter was, "That's crazy. How could that be?"

As he read over the recommendations from Rosenstein and Sessions, Comey said he thought to himself, "That makes no sense at all."

The White House said Comey had been fired because of his handling of the FBI's investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. Rosenstein harshly criticized Comey's management of the investigation and his decision to publicly announce that the Clinton investigation had been closed in July 2016.

Rosenstein further added that as a result of the decision, "the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions."

Comey said that after reading the White House's letter and Rosenstein's and Sessions' memos supporting his removal, he thought, "This is a lie."

He said his confusion grew when he began seeing headlines in which the White House claimed the FBI's reputation was "in tatters" and that the workforce had lost confidence in Comey, and was relieved that he had been fired.

"More and more lies," Comey said. "And so I was worried about the organization, worried about the people."

Afterward, Comey departed Los Angeles to head to Washington. He said that he wasn't sure if he could use the FBI's plane because by that point, he was no longer the FBI director.

"I actually gave thought to renting a convertible and driving almost 3000 miles," he told Stephanopoulos.

However, at that point, Comey said the head of his security detail told him that "if I have to put you in handcuffs, we're taking you back on the FBI plane."

Once he was on the plane, Comey said he pulled out a bottle of red wine from his suitcase that he was bringing back from California and drank some of it from a paper cup while looking "out at the lights of the country I love so much as we flew home."

As the plane neared Washington, Comey said he asked the pilots if he could sit with them in the cockpit because he wanted to watch them as they worked.

"So they put the headphones on me and I sat on a jump seat between the two pilots and watched them land along the Potomac," Comey said. "And then we shook hands with tears in our eyes, and then I left and got driven home."

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