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23 Oct 2020 7:29
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  •   Home > News > Technology

    The Comey Rule puts Trump, Russia and Clinton's emails on the small screen — just before the US election

    The Comey Rule, a new two-part series about the former FBI director's run-ins with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, recreates tense moments from US political life.

    You've heard of the October surprise. This is more of a September reminder.

    The Comey Rule, a new two-part series about the former FBI director's high-profile run-ins with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, has landed just weeks out from the US election.

    The pacey historical thriller — available in Australia on Stan — is designed to reopen conversations about some of the most controversial moments of the Trump presidency.

    What is The Comey Rule?

    It's a two-part, four-hour series based largely on Comey's 2018 memoir, A Higher Loyalty.

    Episode one mostly covers Secretary Clinton's emails.

    The FBI opened an investigation in 2015 into the former Secretary of State's use of private email servers to do official government business.

    From that point, Comey became a player in a toxic presidential election campaign, a reality summed up in one scene by his deputy director, Mark Giuliano:

    "You know you are totally screwed, right?"

    The episode lays out what happened next, including the closing — and then the reopening and closing again — of one of the most politically sensitive investigations in US history.

    Episode two introduces President Trump.

    We see the preparations for the Trump transition team's first intelligence briefing.

    Comey draws the short straw and is given the task of telling Trump about the "golden showers" dossier.

    One of the key scenes is the famous "loyalty dinner", when President Trump, according to Comey, asked the head of the FBI, a historically independent law enforcement agency, to show fealty to the US leader. (Trump disputes Comey's account of this meeting.)

    That key moment colours the rest of Comey's time in the agency — and leads ultimately to his unexpected firing, in 2017, and the subsequent appointing of the special counsel Robert Mueller.

    Who plays James Comey?

    That would be Jeff Daniels.

    Director Billy Ray picked Daniels specifically, and it's easy to see why — he screams "trust" and "integrity" after having played roles like Will McAvoy in The Newsroom.

    Irish actor Brendan Gleeson plays President Trump.

    He was Alastor Moody in the Harry Potter films and was also in In Bruges.

    Barack Obama is played by British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir (The OA, Peaky Blinders).

    You'll also probably recognise Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) as Comey's wife Patrice, Michael Kelly (House of Cards) as Comey's deputy Andrew McCabe and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) as director of national intelligence James Clapper.

    FWIW, the guy who plays Alexander Downer — the former Australian foreign minister who got swept up in the FBI's Russian interference investigation — did not nail the Australian accent.

    How closely does it stick to the facts?

    Pretty closely.

    There is some creative licence around some minor characters, and the scene where Comey visits the Pulse nightclub in Florida following the mass shooting is not entirely accurate (he visited days later, not when the bodies were still on the ground).

    In one scene, Patrice breaks down and begs her husband not to announce the reopening of the Clinton email investigation, sure it will tip the poll in Trump's favour.

    It's not clear if that ever happened — it's not in the book — though we know Patrice and her daughters supported Clinton and attended the Women's March on inauguration day in 2017.

    All in all, it is faithful to the book — some of the dialogue is lifted verbatim from it — and is similarly sympathetic to the central character.

    Importantly, it does square with what we know about the FBI's investigations into Clinton's emails and the Trump campaign from other sources, including the Mueller report and a Department of Justice inspector-general investigation.

    It doesn't shy away from some criticism of Comey.

    While he is depicted as an essentially honest public servant trying to maintain the FBI's "reservoir of trust and credibility", his ego and naiveite get an airing.

    One of his underlings tells a colleague:

    "As smart as he is, his political instincts are not good."

    What have Comey and Trump said about the show?

    Comey found it painful.

    He watched it with his wife and two of his daughters and they all cried.

    He told The New York Times:

    "[M]aybe what made it most emotional for me was watching their reaction. Because they felt so much pain at the time.

    "And I didn't fully appreciate that."

    Trump hasn't responded yet.

    But Ray, the director, did say before the show aired that he wouldn't be surprised if Gleeson copped some of Trump's Twitter rage.

    Ray told The Irish Sun:

    "I wouldn't want to expose any actor to the flack that I imagine Brendan is about to get from our current President.

    "Ireland may not be far enough away."

    According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gleeson initially turned down the role, but agreed on the condition he would not need to do media interviews.

    Is this designed to land right before the election?


    It had initially been slated to appear in November, after the election, a decision Ray believes was made "at the very highest levels of Viacom", which owns the US network Showtime.

    Ray and other members of the production were unhappy about that — Ray, who makes no secret of his dislike for the President, saw it as a crucial story to put before the American people ahead of the vote.

    After a letter he wrote to the cast and crew about the situation leaked, the network backtracked and moved the air date forward.

    Daniels believes that outside of the hardcore factions on the left and right, it could change minds, particularly in places like Michigan, where he lives.

    "There are people out here, sometimes they vote Democrat, sometimes they vote Republican, often Republican out of habit," he told The Times.

    "And those are the people that need to look seriously at this."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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