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James Comey speaks of worry for the country at sold-out Boston appearance

Former FBI Director James Comey in 2017.
Former FBI Director James Comey in 2017.AP/File

Former FBI director James Comey gave an inside look into how he reacts to President Trump's tweets and attacks against him and how President Obama treated the investigation into Russian election interference, as he addressed a packed auditorium in Boston Sunday.

Comey, who was fired by Trump last May, spoke to about 1,000 attendees at the Back Bay Events Center as part of the tour for his new book, "A Higher Loyalty." Weaving humorous personal anecdotes into political accounts, Comey acknowledged making mistakes during the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails and bemoaned Trump as a "stain" on those around him.

"My great worry today is that under our current leadership. . . our values, which is all we are as a country, are being eroded," Comey said.

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Standing onstage away from the podium, the 6-foot-8 Comey said many people, himself included, have become numb to Trump's words and actions. He recalled often waking up and checking online, only to see that "the president of the United States has tweeted that I should be in jail."

Often, Comey said, his reaction is simply to think, "Eh, there he goes again."

"I just reflected a numbness to something that is not OK, that is not normal," he said.

Trump and Comey have publicly sparred for months. As recent as Saturday night, Trump said at a rally in Michigan that Comey often lies, and that he "did you a great favor when I fired this guy."

Marcia Spraker-Cavallo, 72, of Woburn said after Comey's Boston talk that she is "fed up with the Trump administration," and the former FBI director offered a fresh outlook.

"He's not boisterous about showing resentment to Trump. I think he's very honest about that," Spraker-Cavallo said, adding that she admired what she called Comey's honesty and his ability to maintain a neutral base.

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Comey described what it was like to be in the Oval Office when Obama was briefed on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Comey and other intelligence officials told Obama that Russia intervened to hurt Clinton, help Trump, and "dirty up this democracy," the former FBI director said. Obama then said Comey should be the one to go to New York and brief Trump on the report.

"President Obama looks over at me and raises and lowers both eyebrows," Comey said. "And I read in that moment all kinds of stuff. I read, 'You poor bastard.' I read, 'OK, be careful.' "

Earlier on Sunday, Comey called the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian meddling a ''wreck."

In an interview on NBC's ''Meet the Press," he said the committee's report — which was released Friday and stated it found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign — was a politicized, partisan document.

''The most important piece of work is the one the special counsel is doing now,'' Comey said on "Meet the Press," referring to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Many audience questions at the conclusion of Comey's talk centered on the presidential election and Comey's decision to announce in October 2016 that the FBI was reopening the Clinton investigation as a result of previously uncovered e-mails found on former US representative Anthony Weiner's phone.

Referring to the investigation of Clinton's e-mails and Weiner's involvement as a "nightmare," Comey said he does not regret making the announcement, though he recognized mistakes in the way he presented it.

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He also joked that he wishes "Anthony Weiner would never have been born, frankly."

The former FBI director complimented Obama's leadership style, which he described as confident but humble. Those qualities are lacking in Trump, he said.

One sign of this, Comey said, is that Trump is rarely seen laughing.

"To laugh and to be funny is a risk for a leader," Comey said.

Comey said he has even looked online for videos of Trump laughing. The only example he found was when a dog barked at a Trump rally in New Hampshire during the campaign, and someone in the crowd joked that it was Clinton.

"Trump laughed kind of a mean laugh," Comey said.

Attendees said after the event that they appreciated Comey's central message that Americans should rise above party lines for the sake of the country's future.

"It is about truth and it is about raising up," said Larry Rosen, 57, of Natick. "Forget about Trump. It's not relevant. What's important is. . . energizing people and getting them to get engaged."

Comey's appearance was a big draw to people like Mikki Ansin, who sees Comey as a critical, potentially historic political figure.

"The guy shaped our future and our present," said Ansin, a Cambridge resident. "I respect him, and I've read the book.

Ansin, a Democrat who used to work for and photograph the Kennedy family, said Comey is "enormously important" to the country.

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"Everyone I know hopes he's going to defy Donald Trump," she said, "and make change."

Drew Tamoney, 63, of Weston had come to the Back Bay Events Center trying to score a ticket. Tamoney said he is a Republican, but 2016 was the first time he did not vote for the Republican nominee for president. He said he doesn't know whether he is a fan of Comey, but is fascinated by him.

"I think it's interesting," he said while standing outside before the event. "I wish I had known that it was coming; I would have bought a ticket."

The event quickly sold out after tickets went on sale in March.


Material from the Washington Post was used in this report. J.D. Capelouto can be reached at jd.capelouto@globe.com.