In the run-up to what political pundits are terming the most important election of the 21st century, a new brand of films and television shows has emerged – political films for the Donald Trump era. In Netflix’s tragicomedy ‘Space Force’, Steve Carell parodied the eponymous real-life military branch pioneered under Trump; post the second 2020 presidential debate, Aaron Sorkin’s ‘West Wing’ cast will reenact an episode of the hit television show as a call-to-action for voters; Lin Manuel Miranda reworked the lyrics in ‘Hamilton’ to GOTV (Get Out The Vote). Showtime’s ‘The Comey Rule’ is no parody or reenactment, but a biographical account and bird’s eye view of the 2016 election that brought Trump to the corridors of power and its turbulent aftermath.
‘The Comey Rule’ unfolds like a political horror story. The Showtime series makes ‘House of Cards’ – a thrilling series on its own – look like children playing dress-up. The series is an inside-the-Beltway look at politics during and post-2016, told through the eyes of insider-turned-outcast, former FBI director James Comey.
Is The Comey Rule Based on a True Story?
Yes, ‘The Comey Rule’ is based on a true story – although Donald Trump and his administration might just dispute the veracity of the claims made in the film. The movie is an adaptation of Comey’s best-selling yet polarizing autobiography, entitled ‘A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership’. ‘A Higher Loyalty’ chronicles Comey’s fall and fall as FBI Director. The title itself is a riff on a line reportedly uttered by Trump to Comey during a private and intimate dinner between the two, an act of political hob-nobbing that has usually been off the table since the times of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. During the dinner, newly-minted commander-in-chief Trump allegedly asked Comey to pledge his loyalty, so to speak, to him and his administration. Comey, acutely aware of the separation of executive and judicial powers, refused.
For Comey and America, it all began in 2016. Right from campaign season, the 2016 election was a volatile and unpredictable one. When Trump eked out an upset over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the election would become an even greater point of contention. But Comey didn’t know that yet. During campaign season, one of the political trump cards the Republican businessman would wield over Clinton was the mishandling of her email server when she served as Secretary of State under President Obama. Clinton was accused of using a non-governmental email to discuss confidential and classified information. When this came to light in 2015, Comey and the FBI launched an investigation with the code name Midyear Exam.
Under Comey, the investigative team followed due course; they eventually arrived at the conclusion that although Clinton had used a private account to share classified resources, the recipients were solely those who had clearance. The team unanimously agreed that the snafu was merely a product of Secretary Clinton’s technological ineptness and there was no cause for prosecution; they announced as much to the public in July 2016. But the ordeal was far from over.
In October 2016, on the monthly eve of the election, new information came to light. In a separate investigation, the FBI unearthed several thousand of Clinton’s emails from her Blackberry AT&T account. Now, Comey was in a fix: with the election a stone’s throw away, what response would exert the least amount of influence on the election, even while being transparent about their intentions? The FBI director was walking a tightrope in full view of the American public. If he and his team tried to covertly investigate, the press could catch wind of it and spin it into a media frenzy. Moreover, since he had declared the investigation closed in July, he felt he owed it to the American people to be open and honest about new developments. And so, on October 28, 2016, the FBI issued a statement saying that, in light of new information, they had reopened the investigation. Many would later call this moment the nail in the Clinton campaign’s coffin.
With the help of new software, the FBI sped up its investigation. A couple of days before D-Day, on November 6th, the bureau announced that it had concluded its investigation and found that no chargeable offense was committed by Clinton. Two days later, Clinton would lose the election and Trump would be declared President-elect. To what exact extent the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s affairs influenced the 2016 election is unknown and, of course, hotly debated. But compared to the uphill battle Comey would then face, this was just the calm before the storm.
Then came Russiagate, a political scandal that would come to rival the intensity and scrutiny of Nixon’s Watergate. When Comey and his team caught wind of alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, they hastened to inform then President-elect Trump. This marked the first time they met. In the book, Comey likened his first meeting with Trump to encounters with mafia bosses he had once helped to nab as a prosecutor. Comey wrote, “As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview.”
Over the course of the next few months, the allegations against undue Russian influence would heighten and the FBI would launch an investigation code-named Crossfire Hurricane. Comey claims that with each passing day, Trump would make more phone calls to him to deny reports of interference and attempt to quell Comey’s doubts. Then Trump went a step further – he invited Comey to dinner (this was the same dinner where Trump reportedly demanded Comey’s allegiance and he refused). Yet again, Comey analogized, in his book, the President’s demands to oaths the mobster Sammy Gravano would insist upon. Trump placed his last call to Comey on April 11, 2017. During the call, the President expressed his profound disappointment that Comey hadn’t made the effort to ‘lift the cloud’ of the investigations into Trump and his campaign.
Come May 9, 2017, Comey was relieved of his directorial duties. Trump then attempted to spar with Comey over Twitter, sending a scathing tweet that said, “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”
The tweet provided more impetus for Comey to leak information about their conversations to the press; as a private citizen now, he was well within his right to do so. When Comey did leak memos of their conversation, Trump categorically denied the allegations Comey levied. The former director ends his book with a proclamation that he believes justice will prevail.
Read More: The Comey Rule Season 1: Everything We Know