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The strangest things James Comey said in his ABC interview

The strangest things James Comey said in his ABC interview
Essential Politics (Los Angeles Times)

"Really weird."

That was James Comey's description of his first meeting with Donald Trump, when he needed to tell the then-president-elect there was a document alleging Russia had information about him engaging with prostitutes.

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The phrase could also describe the ousted FBI director's interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

Ahead of a national book tour, Comey sat down for hours to provide material for what was a much-hyped hourlong special report that prompted early and frequent backlash from the president on Twitter.

Like his statement before testifying on Capitol Hill, Comey offered precise detail on his interactions with Trump, from "shrimp scampi" on the menu to believing the president had marks from wearing tanning goggles. He said he stared at the president's hair "too closely" and remarked on the length of Trump's tie.

The interview also offered more information about Comey himself, including scenes of him working at a laptop and a strange interaction where he pointed out he was "rocking the bangs" in a childhood photo.

The biggest headline, of course, was the former head of the FBI saying, three times, he finds Trump to be "morally unfit to be president." His explanation had little to do with his own job status or the investigation into the campaign's interactions with Russia. Instead, he was casting judgment on things Trump has said about women and in response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va.

Asked in the interview whether he thought Russia "has something" on Trump, Comey said: "I think it's possible. I don't know."

"These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible," he said.

Comey accused the president of lying "constantly, about matters big and small." The president this weekend called Comey a "slimeball." Keep track of the insults on this timeline.

Comey, who said he did not vote in the 2016 election, sounded a bit like a candidate. He noted voters will have an opportunity to cast their judgment on Trump, and saying pointedly, "This president does not reflect the values of this country."

As Comey continues his tour (he'll be in Los Angeles on May 24), let's revisit the competing claims made by each man.

ABC's Comey interview is dominating political conversation, even as congressional reaction to the attack in Syria might ordinarily have been the biggest story of the day.

The president declared "Mission Accomplished," but there are larger concerns about whether he had the proper authorization to launch the surgical strike in response to the use of chemical weapons.

Make sure to sign up for breaking news alerts from the Los Angeles Times.

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THE MAYOR GOES TO IOWA

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was in the early presidential caucus state of Iowa this weekend, doing all the things candidates do. He visited with firefighters and union carpenters. He met with Latino and Asian American activists, and attended a gay rights gala. He took a walk through Des Moines' hipster East Village neighborhood and picked up Iowa-themed gear at an edgy boutique.

He didn't pretend he was there for some other reason, and promised a decision in 2019.

"I didn't run for governor partially because I didn't want to be gone from home for a year. At the same time, I don't want my daughter to grow up in an America that looks like this right now and that feels like this," Garcetti told Mark Barabak in an interview in Des Moines.

The mayor is back in town, and delivers his state of the city address Monday morning. He'll outline a new plan to "reward" Los Angeles neighborhoods that accept temporary homeless shelters by performing more encampment sweeps in those communities than in areas resistant to the housing.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

-- David Cloud explains a case being heard by the Supreme Court that normally might draw the interest of only those accused of stock fraud but actually turns on the president's power to hire and fire officials throughout the government.

-- Speaker Paul D. Ryan endorsed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy as his successor Friday, vastly increasing chances that the Bakersfield congressman will lead House Republicans come November. Still, it may not seal the deal for a divided GOP. McCarthy has long been expected to seek the position if it came open. (It's worth revisiting this 2015 piece, which reports that McCarthy and Democractic leader Nancy Pelosi hardly ever speak.)

-- Former First Lady Barbara Bush, 92, will not seek any additional medical treatment, a family spokesman said over the weekend.

-- The Trump administration is abandoning its crackdown on legal marijuana after the president negotiated with a Republican senator from Colorado.

-- An unexpected labor uprising has gripped some red states over the last two months as public school teachers have staged protests and strikes over low pay and strained education budgets.

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-- Chastened and anxious, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will return to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday for a crucial summit with Trump.

Get the latest about what's happening in the nation's capital on Essential Washington.

AUDITIONING FOR THE JOB, WHILE DOING THE JOB

Xavier Becerra took Kamala Harris' job four days after Trump's inauguration. As California's appointed attorney general, Becerra has had the opportunity to challenge the administration ever since, filing 31 lawsuits and keeping himself in the news at every turn. His rivals for winning the job outright aren't pleased, Patrick McGreevy reports.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

A group backing Kevin de León's efforts to topple Sen. Dianne Feinstein launched a blistering ad against the veteran Democrat. It aired for one day on cable television in Los Angeles.

Billionaires Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, prominent supporters of charter schools, donated $8.5 million to a group backing Antonio Villaraigosa in his campaign for governor. Their support reflects Villaraigosa's role as the most prominent California Democrat to challenge the teachers unions, despite his roots as a labor organizer, Seema Mehta reports.

The Republicans in the race, meanwhile, are clashing over money to pay for the campaign to repeal California's gas tax increase.

A reminder you can keep up with these races in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

THE LONG CALIFORNIA BALLOT, THE MAJOR MISTAKE?

With election day now just seven weeks away, a key part of the California voting experience is going to draw some close scrutiny: ballot design.

The two most prominent races -- for governor and U.S. Senate -- both have a bumper crop of candidates. And as John Myers writes in his Sunday column, there's real potential for voters in some counties to mistakenly vote for more than one candidate.

A QUESTION OF FREE SPEECH

Last year's bloody clashes on California college campuses have spawned a battle in the state Legislature over how far the law should go to protect unpopular speech and prevent violence between those with opposing political views.

Alex Wigglesworth takes a look at five protest movements that shook college campuses in California.

WILL THE NEXT GOVERNOR PULL THE PLUG ON THE TWIN TUNNELS?

Gov. Jerry Brown scored big last week in his tenacious effort to build twin water tunnels in the California delta, George Skelton writes in his Monday column, but his legacy project could still collapse because no potential successor supports it. The next governor could pull the plug.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

-- With fears that the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship status in the 2020 census could hurt California, Brown formed a commission tasked with planning outreach for the decennial count.

-- This week's California Politics Podcast looks at the new effort in Sacramento to give the state control over price decisions in private sector healthcare.

-- Brown has agreed to boost the California National Guard's work on crime that spills beyond the state's borders, but not in the way Trump had envisioned.

-- The man accused of threatening to kill Rep. Maxine Waters is expected to plead guilty.

-- The internet is no longer the infant that needed freedom to innovate and grow unregulated, Skelton wrote in his column last week. It has grown into a monster and now needs to be restricted, like the railroads at the turn of the last century and financial institutions during the Great Depression, Skelton says. One potential ballot initiative gathering signatures in California would do just that by regulating profiteering off consumers' private data.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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