We have our first look at Jeff Daniels as James Comey and Brendan Gleeson as Donald Trump in The Comey Rule. And to be honest, it appears eerie in more than one way. The new two-part miniseries event hails from Showtime and creator Billy Ray, who among other credits wrote Captain Phillips and the adapted screenplay to the first Hunger Games movie. So the true story aspirations of the former and dystopian vision of reality television stars in the latter appear to merge in this visibly stirring image of James Comey, the all-American hero on screen.
The series will be divided between two nights, with the first about Comey and the FBI’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the second installment focused on Comey’s fateful meetings and relationships with now President Trump, which led to Comey being fired from his position of FBI Director and the President placing himself on a collision course with an investigation by an independent prosecutor. Both are based on James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty, which was published in 2018.
In this context, it’s clear why Daniels is cast as Comey. With his strong square jaw and upright zeal, he visibly plays Comey with the same moral authority and rectitude of recent cable television role Will McAvoy in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, as well as Atticus Finch, the sage voice of wisdom in To Kill a Mockingbird that Daniels also portrayed for Sorkin in a Broadway adaptation.
“Russia, we think they’re trying to sabotage Senator Clinton’s campaign,” Comey hears over his cellphone in The Comey Rule trailer. “How?” he responds. The faceless voice hisses, “Ever spend much time on Facebook?”
The series appears to be a glowing depiction of a man who was, indeed, caught at the center of the maelstrom of many of the United States’ most horrifying woes in the last few years. As the trailer helpfully reminds in breathless montage, there was the politically explosive investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of her State Department emails, actual Russian interference in the 2016 election, baseless online conspiracy theories taken as fact by some mouth-breathers like “#Pizzagate,” and of course the ethically challenged administration of President Trump.
“The president just committed a crime in your presence!” one of Comey’s subordinates accurately states in the trailer.
And yet, while I’ll reserve judgement until I see the final series, it all appears a little too worshipful of Comey. There appears to be little hint to his actual role in Trump’s ascension. While the trailer already underlines how corrosive the 45th President of the United States is to his country’s institutions and traditions (to the point of probable illegality), it makes no major comment on Comey’s own choice to break with U.S. Justice Department policy on Oct. 28, 2016 to publicly inform Congress that he was reopening investigation into Hillary Clinton due to emails discovered on the computer of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was being investigated for a separate matter.
Despite being 11 days away from an election, and disregarding the own government procedures he later would position himself as a defender of, Comey addressed Congress in a way that likely put a finger on the election in Trump’s favor. On Nov. 6, two days ahead of the election and more than a week after millions made up their minds and already began early voting, Comey belatedly reported in a second letter to Congress, “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July.”
The whole fiasco was considered reckless by more than a few in law enforcement, and not only may have aided Trump’s election but then was used as a cudgel when Trump fired him. Of course Trump confessed, rather publicly, on NBC Nightly News, “When I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”
According to the latest bipartisan U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report released last week, that turned out to be a lie, and the Trump campaign did likely correspond and coordinate with Russian intelligence, including via former Trump political adviser Roger Stone’s collaboration with WikiLeaks. Stone was later pardoned by Trump after being convicted in 2019 for witness tampering, obstructing an official investigation, and five counts of making false statements.
But at least in 2017, Trump’s seeming admission to firing Comey for his own political benefit triggered a scandal that led to former FBI Director Robert Mueller being appointed special prosecutor and further investigations into the 2016 Trump campaign. But three years ago, there appeared to at least still be some consequence for likely, and highly visible, corruption.
Perhaps for this reason the most compelling part of The Comey Rule appears to be Gleeson’s effectively greasy and chilly depiction of Trump.
The series also stars Holy Hunter as Sally Yates, Michael Kelly as Andrew McCabe, Jennifer Ehle as Patrice Comey, Scoot McNairy as Rod Rosenstein, Jonathan Banks as James Clapper, and Oona Chaplin as Lisa Page. It premieres on Sept. 27.