The devastating testimony of the former FBI director exposes the threats to American democracy

President Donald Trump’s dealings with James Comey, the former director of the FBI, make a story which demands the talents of one of the great American crime novelists. It would open with a scene beyond most fiction writers’ imagination: a conversation between the director of the FBI and the director of national intelligence as to which of them would have to break to the president-elect the existence of an intelligence dossier setting out with unforgettable details all the blackmail material which the Russian government might have on him. Mr Comey drew the short straw. The conversation that followed – in which Mr Trump angrily denied everything, as he has done ever since – so shocked the very experienced FBI director that he emerged from it determined to record every detail he could remember. This was unprecedented. On Thursday he told the Senate why. “I knew there might come a day when I might need a record to defend not just myself but the FBI and our integrity and … independence.”

“I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Mr Comey told the Senate intelligence committee. It was what he came to know personally of the president’s character which led him to write his notes of every meeting. Of all the shocking things to emerge, this willingness to use the verb “lie” is one of the most surprising. Mr Comey is not some startled fawn who has wandered into the tiger enclosure where real politicians work. He is himself a formidable bureaucratic politician. Such people have many more subtle ways to say an enemy is lying, most of which Mr Comey also deployed in his testimony. His repeated use of phrases like “I don’t think I can answer that in an open session” is razor work worthy of Francis Urquhart.

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