The one advantage Comey has over Trump in their dispute over Michael Flynn

Former FBI director James Comey (left) and President Trump.
Alex Brandon/AP; Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Former FBI director James Comey (left) and President Trump.

Those are the two very different stories.

The quote from Comey, the former FBI director fired by Trump, was part of a dramatic account of a Feb. 14 meeting with Trump that Comey gave to Congress in June.

Comey continued by saying he had “understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.”


The quote from Trump came in a tweet posted over the weekend after Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements about conversations with the ambassador — and a storm of speculation arose about whether Trump had obstructed justice in talking with Comey.

Get Today in Politics in your inbox:
A digest of the top political stories from the Globe, sent to your inbox Monday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

So it’s just a case of “he-said, he-said,” right? Trump, after all, had asked to speak to Comey alone after an Oval Office meeting with other top officials.

Maybe. But something that Comey did right after the conversation might ultimately have an effect on the case: He quickly wrote down what happened, making what are known as “contemporaneous notes.”

“I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership,” Comey said in his account to Congress. (Comey’s detailed account of the meeting and other contacts with Trump was prepared after he reviewed his notes, Comey told a congressional commmitee.)

Comey’s actions were consistent with a culture of documenting conversations at the FBI and CIA, The New York Times has reported.


Legal experts say contemporaneous notes tend to be viewed as more credible and less susceptible to conscious misrepresentation, and can be used to bolster the credibility of the witnesses who made them.

The general idea is that “it’s hard to think of a good lie — the sort of lie that doesn’t collapse when compared with other known facts — without a bit of time and deliberation,” Stanford Law School professor George Fisher said.

“Absent any intent to deceive, a contemporaneous statement is likely to be more accurate than one’s memory of the same event months or years later. Here the law recognizes what is simple common sense,” Fisher added in an e-mail.

Nancy Gertner, a former Boston federal judge who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, said contemporaneous notes can bolster the credibility of a witness during a trial.

“A witness is supposed to testify to his memory of the conversation but is typically cross-examined to suggest that his memory is a recent contrivance and not an accurate memory,” she said.


“He then points to contemporaneous notes to bolster his testimony; if the notes that he took at the time match his testimony it makes his testimony more credible,” she said in an e-mail.

The Trump presidency has already taken some strange turns, with four of his associates either indicted or pleading guilty so far, but it seems farfetched that Comey and Trump will ever face off in court. Still, if it does happen, one thing’s for sure: Comey will bring those notes.