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What James Comey was thinking during his first awkward embrace with Trump

Donald Trump and James Comey
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Pool/Andrew Harrer via Getty Images

  • Former FBI Director James Comey described how uncomfortable he was in his first public encounter with President Donald Trump.
  • Comey said he actively tried to blend in to the curtains in the White House’s Blue Room in a futile attempt to not be singled out for a photo with the new president.
  • Comey’s wife described the look as he walked to meet Trump as “Jim’s ‘oh s–t face.'”
  • To avoid a hug with the president in front of the media, Comey said he tensed his abs and core, but the cameras managed to photograph what looked to be a kiss from Trump.
  • Comey said he believes Trump used the moment to try to establish his dominance.

James Comey revealed new details about an early public encounter between himself and President Donald Trump that illustrates how the former FBI director felt ill-at-ease about his interactions with the president.

In an interview with ABC’s “20/20” that aired on Sunday evening, Comey explained how he didn’t want to attend and actively tried to avoid Trump during a reception for law-enforcement leaders the day after the president’s inauguration.

Comey, who was nervous about appearing as though he supported Trump, tried to stand as far away as possible from the newly installed president, and tensed his abs to avoid being pulled into a hug from Trump in the White House.

“I quickly looked around, trying to figure out which way the president would enter … and so I went to the far opposite end, right at the window, where you can look out and see the Washington Monument. So I was now as far away as physically possible, without going out the window, from the president. And I resolved to stay there,” he said.

Comey watched on as other officials were called forward to publicly embrace the president and, at one point, realized his blue suit had even given him a little camouflage in the Blue Room.

James Comey.

Screenshot/ABC News

“I start moving over and I pressed myself against the blue curtain, true story,” Comey recalled. But at 6 foot 8 inches, the self-described “giraffe” couldn’t manage to hide forever.

Trump finally saw Comey and called him forward, a walk which Comey described as feeling “like a thousand yards.”

“My family’s had a lot of fun watching my face as I walk across, because they know that’s my “oh no” face,” said Comey, adding that his wife, Patricia, has watched the video and said, “That’s Jim’s ‘oh s–t’ face.”

During the walk Comey told himself he couldn’t be on the receiving end of a hug from Trump.

“I’m walking forward thinking, ‘How could he think this is a good idea?’ That he’s going to try to hug me, the guy that a whole lot of people think, although that’s not true, but think I tried to get him elected president and did. Isn’t he master of television, this is disastrous,” said Comey.

“And I’m thinking all this as I’m walking and I have this awkward look on my face. But I was determined there’s not going to be a hug, because I’m not a master of television but I knew that would be a real problem.”

Last year, a friend of Comey’s told The New York Times that the FBI director tried to use his long arms to initiate a hand shake, rather than a hug, as he finished crossing the room.

But on Sunday, Comey described how he also used his core to steady himself against any attempts from Trump to pull him closer.

“I’m not an unusually strong person but I work out and so I tighten my abs and my core and I’m thinking, ‘Unless he’s a lot stronger than he looks, he’s not getting a hug.’ And so he pulls and he doesn’t get the hug,” Comey said.

Comey described both their arms as “tense” during the encounter and also described how Trump leaned forward to Comey’s right ear to say he was looking forward to working together. But Comey was disappointed the media’s cameras were on his left side.

“And so the whole world saw him kiss me. And he didn’t kiss me, but the whole world, including my beloved family, saw the president of the United States kiss the man who helped get him elected,” he said.

Comey, who believes Trump was trying to establish his dominance, then tried to back away saying in his head, “I’m not suicidal.”

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