Former FBI director James Comey prepared extensively for his discussions with President Donald Trump, out of concern that the president was unlikely to respect the legal and ethical boundaries governing their roles, the Washington Post reports, citing associates of the now-fired FBI chief.
The associates recounted how worried Comey was about meeting with Trump and recalled conversations in which they brainstormed how to handle moments when the president asked for details of an investigation.
According to the Post, one associate referred to Comey's preparation as a kind of "murder board" — a phrase used to describe a committee of questioners that hurl tough questions at someone as practice for a difficult oral examination.
The Post quoted one associate as saying Comey was insistent that he would have to find a way to politically not answer Trump's questions without inflaming the president.
Trump abruptly fired Comey last week, raising questions about whether he was attempting to interfere in the ongoing FBI probe into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian operatives seeking to meddle in last year's presidential election.
Comey was very apprehensive heading into a dinner with the president in late January, because of his previous encounters with Trump during the transition and immediately after the inauguration, the Post reported that one associate said. Comey felt like Trump either didn't understand or didn't like the FBI director's independence, and was trying to get Comey to bend the rules for him, the Post said the associate told it.
White House officials have disputed the accuracy of a memo Comey wrote describing what was said at the January dinner. In it, associates said, Comey recorded an effort by the president to get him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In his preparation for meeting Trump, Comey made clear to associates that he wanted to be responsive to the president's questions while declining to discuss sensitive subjects, said an associate, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, the Post reported.
The FBI declined to comment and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before going to the dinner, Comey practiced Trump's likely questions and his answers with a small group of his most trusted confidantes, the associates said, in part to ensure he didn't give Trump any ammunition to use against him later.
The director did not take notes during the dinner with the president, but there were times, one associate recalled, when after meeting with Trump, Comey started writing notes as soon as he got into a car to make sure he could accurately record what was said, according to the Post report.
The newspaper also reported that another associate said the notes of the January dinner conversation contained very nuanced quotes from the president, and a high level of detail.