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3 Credibility Lessons from Comey’s Testimony

I have to admit to taking off three hours from real work today to watch former FBI Director James Comey answer questions from fifteen senators of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Putting aside the fact that he was under oath and therefore subject to severe penalties if he is later found to have lied, I found his testimony to be very credible, for three reasons.

Together, they comprise what I call 3-Ds of credibility: Directness, Detail, and Demeanor.

Directness: First off, Comey answered every question he was asked, except those he felt that he could not comment on in an open session. There was no dancing around or playing cute by giving evasive answers. He also answered each question directly, without any “context-setting” or preemptive excuses for what he was about to say. In general, every answer was a classic example of BLUF, or Bottom Line Up Front.

Detail: He supplied enough concrete details when he described incidents or conversations to give the immediate impression that he was telling the truth, even at one point trying to mimic the facial expressions he saw when he asked AG Sessions not to leave him alone with the President. People who make up stuff don’t tend to supply a lot of detail which can be verified, as for example when he described receiving one phone call at noon as he was getting ready to board a helicopter with the head of the DEA.

Demeanor: Throughout three hours of questioning Comey was calm, thoughtful, and sincere. There was no sense of evasiveness or nerves, nor did he appear to lose his composure or temper when any questioner appeared snarky or hostile. One commentator afterwards said that Comey had told one of his friends that truth makes you calm.

These three factors: directness, detail and demeanor– all contributed to a powerful sense of credibility from Comey’s testimony. Do they prove he was telling the truth? Of course not. He is an experienced lawyer and former prosecutor who knows full well that these three factors could work in his favor, so it’s possible that he faked the whole thing. It’s like the old joke that “sincerity is important, and once you can fake it you’ve got it made”. I don’t think he faked it, but if he did, that by itself does prove how important these three factors are.

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