James Comey doesn't know if he swayed the election. A Pence rally for Trump in Bucks County shows he did | Maria Panaritis

Ex-FBI director James Comey won’t say that his October 2016 announcement of a short-lived probe into Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails might have handed the election to Donald Trump. But the breaking Comey news spread like wildfire as Mike Pence arrived for a rally at T.P. Millwork in Bensalem, Pa., on October 28, 2016.

Former FBI Director James Comey has no doubt about some things: Donald Trump is a liar; Trump is “morally unfit” to be president; Trump is presiding over a troubling presidency during which the rule of law and truth is under attack.

Fair enough. The deposed FBI chief-turned-bestselling-memoirist gets kudos for saying with conviction what too few others in Washington have dared utter about a leader whose administration is deluged by scandal and criminal investigations.

Camera icon RALPH ALSWANG/ABC via AP)
Former FBI Director James Comey appears at an interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired on Sunday on ABC. His book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” was released on Tuesday.

 

But he is curiously less sure of things when it comes to assessing some of his own less-than-flattering actions. And so I thought now, as he heads out on a mega-book-tour, Comey should take a trip down memory lane into Bucks County on Oct. 28, 2016. What happened that day inside a Bensalem Township manufacturing facility is information Comey needs to have.

It was there, before the start of a Trump campaign rally to be headlined by Mike Pence, that I was with hundreds of Pennsylvania Republicans as they caught word of Comey’s now-infamous Hillary-Clinton-emails letter to Congress. The news supercharged the crowd at T.C. Millwork Inc. There’s no question that it put a spike into Clinton’s otherwise unremarkable campaign then and there.

Since we all know how much Comey loves to take notes on such important matters as meetings with a president who reminds him of a mob boss, I went searching for my own notebook from that day — and found it.

It was the least I could do after watching the longtime law enforcement man talk to George Stephanopoulos about all things Trump on Sunday night. He whacked at the president, yes. But he was reluctant to accept that he’d very likely helped put this very man in office with a toxic letter about Hillary Clinton that broke with FBI precedent. It was not a good look.

Maybe if I take Comey to the ground that day in October in one of the battleground states that helped elect Trump, the FBI man who misused his power may see the facts for what they really are.

The election was just days away. Pence was swinging through suburban Philly because Pennsylvania leaned heavily Democratic — and Trump would need it to take the Oval Office.

The place was packed with Republicans. An ex-lifelong Democrat from Northeast Philly told me it made no sense that Clinton was pulling away in the polls because she “doesn’t tell the truth.” A guy from Langhorne told me Trump seemed unstable and that he was thinking of throwing his vote to Mitt Romney as a write-in.

Camera icon MARGO REED / For The Inquirer
Edward X. Young, of Brick, N.J., sings the national anthem before the Pence rally in Bensalem on Oct. 28, 2016.

 

As we waited for Pence to arrive, the news broke that Comey had notified Congress that day that his FBI was suddenly reexamining a matter related to Hillary Clinton’s email. It was a titanic development given that Comey had just months earlier closed the Clinton probe. My iPhone lit up with the shocking news alert. Word spread quickly through the crowd.

Pence looked like the cat that had eaten the canary when he appeared before us all. He had a massive, devilish grin.

“The big breaking news today — you may not have heard about it standing in line, folks,” Pence teased as the crowd roared, “FBI! FBI!”

 

 

Camera icon MARGO REED / For The Inquirer
Mike Pence, then vice presidential runningmate to Donald Trump, was all smiles at a Bucks County rally the day that FBI director James Comey’s letter to Congress about Hillary Clinton’s emails came out in October 2016, just days before the election.

 

Pence commended the FBI “for having the courage to reopen this case,” and he reminded everyone that “no one is above the law.”

 

 

 

Camera icon MARGO REED / For The Inquirer
Mike Pence was days away from being elected vice president alongside Donald Trump when he swung through Bucks County — and lavished the crowd with zingers off the just-breaking news that James Comey’s FBI had renewed a look at Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails.

 

“With just 11 days left before a national election, an election of enormous consequence in the life of this nation,” the man soon to become Trump’s vice president said, “we call on the FBI to immediately release all the emails pertinent to their reopened investigation. The American people have a right to know and they have a right to know before Election Day.”

Things only got weirder. The FBI closed the probe just days later — two days before Election Day, to be exact. But the damage had been done to Clinton.

The Mitt Romney guy and I talked again this week for the first time. He remembers it the same way.

Justin Johnson, 33, didn’t think before the Comey letter that he should give Trump his vote; he had said too many “stupid” things during the campaign. But Comey’s letter inflamed his hatred of the “corruption” of Clinton, so Johnson decided a vote for Romney would be an unacceptable vote for Clinton.

No Comey letter? No vote for Trump.

“A lot of other people felt the same way,” Johnson said. “That was the No. 1 thing that swung the election.”

No wonder Stephanopoulos pressed Comey on the magnitude of this extraordinary maneuver that broke with years of FBI protocol. But Comey, for all his righteous conviction about the president, seemed unable or unwilling to wear the jacket for its consequences.

 

Camera icon RALPH ALSWANG/ABC via AP)
ABC News correspondent George Stephanopoulos (left) appears with former FBI Director James Comey for an interview that aired Sunday, two days before Comey’s book was released.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hillary Clinton’s convinced that that letter defeated her. What do you say to her?

COMEY: I hope not. I — I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

Comey said that “it sucked” to be him during the last 10 days of the campaign, that he felt sick and all alone.

If only his actions that day in October hadn’t left millions of us feeling the same way — still.