Despite largely salivating over the leaked copies of James Comey’s book to news outlets, there was plenty of consternation during the Thursday edition of MSNBC’s Hardball, thanks to host Chris Matthews and other guests taking issue with Comey’s “cheap stuff” going after the President’s hand size, height, and skin color.
In fact, Matthews predicted without any pushback that such lines in the Comey book could be used by the President, his allies, and Comey detractors in criticizing the former FBI Director as he begins his book tour next week.
Matthews spent time singing the accolades of the book with “juicy” details and quipping that Comey has “throw[n] the book at Trump,” but he made sure to offer some criticism.
He first brought up Trump’s physical appearance in asking The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker: “Two more questions, the small hands reference which I thought was a bit cheap but also the more serious question about Trump's admitting he likes oaths of loyalty.”
Rucker told him that Comey found Trump to be “smaller in person, shorter rather in person” with hands that were smaller than Comey’s and his face being orange. He added that Comey “would look at the sort of center of his eyes where he suspected there were tanning goggles,” making for “a real personal attack in this book leveled at the President.”
Matthews brought this back up to Rucker’s colleague Robert Costa and what he made “of Comey putting in this cheap stuff about his hands and all” because “I always believed in if you write a book, your weakest, cheapest charge becomes your vulnerability, that people will focus on that and take you apart” with this being pitched as “a personal vendetta.”
Matthews continued later:
He’s not going to go after the main charges. He's going to go after motive on the part of Comey. Now, he has said this whole thing is a vendetta by the deep state. There's Comey, a classic product, a figure of the deep state...this guy writes a book in which he makes fun of his hand size, his physique, he makes fun of the fact that he’s smaller than he thought, showing this prejudice toward him....I can see Trump making a big deal out of it and saying this is what I've been saying. These characters have been out to get me and it's clear by language of this book that's what their motive is just to get me personally.
Later, PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor made a similar observation, seeming befuddled that Comey would put that in his book and create an image of Comey, according to a source close to Trump, as a “mean” person who “just wanted to put in there to sell your book.”
Another key observation came from Matthews, Bloomberg’s Shannon Pettypiece, and even New York Times columnist Bret Stephens that the book has thus far revealed little about Comey or the President that people haven’t already heard or come to understand about either man.
Along with Comey’s October 2016 letter about Hillary Clinton, Stephens argued that the two prongs could be used by the President to his advantage to paint Comey as “a condescending prig.”
To see the relevant transcript from MSNBC’s Hardball on April 12, click “expand.”
April 12, 2018
7:04 p.m. Eastern
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Two more questions, the small hands reference which I thought was a bit cheap but also the more serious question about Trump's admitting he likes oaths of loyalty.
PHIL RUCKER: That's right. He talks about the loyalty oath and this is something that Comey got into in his Senate testimony that we remember. There was that one-on-one dinner Comey had with president trump in the green room of the White House where the President asked for his personal loyalty. They sort of went back and forth. Comey made clear it wouldn't give his personal political loyalty, that he’d be loyal to the truth. They sort of left it at that, but after that point, Trump went through a litany of accusations against him to try to convince Comey they weren't true beginning with the sexual assault allegations brought up during the campaign. He talked about that moment at that campaign rally where he mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski who is disabled and said that was not true and went through other examples, as well.
MATTHEWS: What about the small hands reference?
RUCKER: Yeah, the small hands reference. He describes meeting Trump for the first time at that briefing in Trump Tower and noticing a few things about his physique. One that he thinks Trump was smaller in person, shorter rather in person than he appears on television. Trump is 6'3" but Comey is 6'8". Comey also describes his hands, says they're smaller than mine, being Comey's and he describes his face as being orange and that he would look at the sort of center of his eyes where he suspected there were tanning goggles. It's a real personal attack in this book leveled at the President.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, that’s it what strikes me.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of Comey putting in this cheap stuff about his hands and all? I always believed in if you write a book, your weakest, cheapest charge becomes your vulnerability, that people will focus on that and take you apart. If it looks like a vendetta — a personal vendetta, doesn't that hurt Comey’s case on the facts even if he has the facts?
ROBERT COSTA: I haven't read the book, so I don’t want to speculate too much but I will say what's more important about this book about — is what it outlines about potential conduct by the President, possible obstruction of justice, how does the Mueller probe look at the Comey book? How do people in Congress look at the Comey book? The little things do matter politically. They’re going to create headlines, but in the big picture of this presidency, his behavior, conduct, his actions, that's what matters.
MATTHEWS: Bret Stephens, your thoughts about this, big picture?
BRET STEPHENS: Well, the big picture is it doesn't sound like Comey's book reveals anything we don't already know about the President from his skin tone to the size of his hands to his behavior, but the larger picture I think here is a political one, whatever Mueller comes out with in a report about obstruction, unless there are like very clear black letter violations of the law, the question is simply going to be, how it's perceived, how it's perceived among wavering Republicans of whom there are, of course, an ever greater number, what happens in November and whether Democrats can then move forward with a case — a case for impeachment. I do think that the obstruction charge is likely to be the most damaging against the President because that's where it seems we have the greatest amount of evidence that the President tried to tamper with an investigation.
MATTHEWS: With these, I don't want to make too big a thing about it, but I’m trying to think of this from a way — Trump — he’s is cornered right now — what the president would go after. He's not going to go after the main charges. He's going to go after motive on the part of Comey. Now, he has said this whole thing is a vendetta by the deep state. There's Comey, a classic product, a figure of the deep state, but in the FBI for years, this guy writes a book in which he makes fun of had I hand size, his physique, he makes fun of the fact that he’s smaller than he thought, showing this prejudice toward him. It may not be a big thing but I can see Trump making a big deal out of it and saying this is what I've been saying. These characters have been out to get me and it's clear by language of this book that's what their motive is just to get me personally. Your thoughts? What will Trump do with that?
COSTA: He may believe that, but there's a calculation to make if he's only a subject at this moment in the probe and not a criminal target, if he still has a choice to make about whether to sit for an interview or not. He's being told by white house officials and his attorneys to stay cool, relatively cool when it cops to the real decisions he has to make with regard to the investigation. They're fine with him firing off different tweet but they'd like him to stay cool, not do the interview. NBC has sharp reporting tonight on that and hope to weather this storm, both the book and the investigation and the report.
MATTHEWS: Bret, your big bet right now, where is it heading? Right now, this year. We're talking now about a possible report from Mueller late May, next month. This is April. This thing is moving.
STEPHENS: I would be stunned if the President doesn't fire the Deputy Attorney General Mr. Rosenstein well before then and, by the way, I have to tell you, based on what I've just heard about the book, if I were the President, I would be actually relatively happy about the idea of a Comey book tour because Comey can do himself a great deal of damage. Let's not forget that the kind of damage he did himself in 2016. The President has an opportunity to paint Comey not just as a creature of the deep state but as a condescending prig and at the end — look, the important point is that beyond the legal maneuvers, this is a political question about whether the American people want to keep this President or not and the President, if he knows nothing else, he understands that.
MATTHEWS: Let me just add a little political piece here — a partisan piece from the Hillary people and I mean they’re still out there. They're very angry. Lanny Davis is not the only one who believes that ten days before the 2016 election, Comey dropped the bomb on Hillary Clinton when he came out and said she's still under investigation. So, I'm not sure he's going to have a lot of allies on the center left or the left in this coming days. Anyway, I'm talking about Comey.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE: I thought there would be more of a smoke gun in here. I think that was the expectation and I think this does say a lot of things that people know. They know that Comey does not like the president's personality. I mean, they know that the president has done and said a lot of outrageous things and I think this just sort of will reinforce the narrative that a lot of people have in their mind and not necessarily change anyone's narrative.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: But talking about his hands, talking about his color? I was just — I was just texting with someone who knows President Trump pretty well and that person said that seems like a distraction. It seems like you just wanted to put in there to sell your book and to be mean.