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I am referring specifically to the phrase "which we weren't." I cannot tell whether or not he is saying it to the reader or if it is part of his reply. Is it ambiguous?

First example:

"I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative."

I include this second example because it appears to me that it is an explanation to the reader in this circumstance, but again I am not sure. And if the conclusion is different in both examples, I would like to know why.

Second example in which the same language is used:

"I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel."

Full Context

  • Taking both Flater’s and Xanne’s answers together, we can conclude that the phrase is indeed ambiguous. – Lawrence Nov 1 '18 at 12:17
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This is part of the text of James Comey's testimony to a Congressional committee, released on June 7, 2017, for delivery in person June 8, 2017.

Neither of these remarks is an "aside" to the reader. The entire testimony is an account to the Committee hearing the testimony.

"I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative."

In the above quotation, Comey is recounting what he told the President. "which we weren't" is something he is saying that he told the President. "We" refers to the U.S. FBI, of which Comey was the director at the time of his conversations with the President.

In the second quotation Comey is saying that he told the President that the President's request should be made through what is the traditional channel, i.e., the White House Counsel contacts the leadership of the Department of Justice. Again, he's recounting his conversation with the President, not giving additional information to his current audience (the Committee, in open hearing, and thus to anyone who cares to read or listen).

  • Can you provide an explanation for why you concluded that in terms of the language used? The word "we" is not under question. Linguistically-speaking, you have not presented rationale for why it is not addressed to the reader. – RandomPleb Jun 7 '17 at 22:31
  • The entire first sentence is a recounting of what he said to the President. The last clause (because it was very difficult to prove a negative) makes no sense outside recounting the entire conversation. It will be interesting in the actual testimony to find out if he's asked for clarification. – Xanne Jun 7 '17 at 23:01
  • The complete context is of course the entire testimony--in which Comey recounts that he reminded the President that he (Comey) had told him he was not under investigation. – Xanne Jun 7 '17 at 23:08
  • RandomPleb, Xanne is correct and the easiest way to see that is through the punctuation… … him personally, which we weren’t, and because… clearly runs on as part of a single thought. Commas do not have the power to distance … which we weren’t… from the main text anything like far enough to make it an aside to the reader. That would need dashes, at least, as in … him personally - which we weren’t - and because… By the way, what's an implied quote, please? – Robbie Goodwin Jun 9 '17 at 16:29
  • The problem with that is the matter is complicated by Comey's personal writing style. In one of several instances he says, "The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. " Did the president tell Comey that he (Comey) found it strange? Obviously not. But it's the same sentence structure. – RandomPleb Jun 10 '17 at 6:24
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I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative.

As I understand it, "we" refers to "I" and "he" (and possible colleagues of theirs).

You're right that "which we weren't" is an interjection. It's added to make sure that it is understood (by the listener) that the assumption ("him" thinking that he was being investigated) is wrong.

However, I don't think this is intended to break the fourth wall, it's still directed at whoever is being addressed.

To prove my point, let me tell you something from my past. This is me (Flater) telling you (RandomPleb) something:

I used to hang out with a good friend all the time when I was a teenager. Some people made assumptions about us being in love with each other, which we weren't, and that was really annoying to deal with.

Both the full sentence and the interjection are directed towards you (RandomPleb). The interjection was not aimed at someone else.

  • 1
    It's more likely, in the first example, that "we" refers to "the speaker and his colleagues", or "me and my colleagues" if you prefer: eg the speaker is part of an agency or organisation that might investigate people, and "he" is under investigation. So, "we" does not include "he". – Max Williams Jan 4 '18 at 13:20
  • @MaxWilliams That's not what I'm talking about. The point is that the sentence is still directed at whoever was being adressed by the main clause. Note the difference between "..., which we weren't, ..." and "... - which we weren't - ...". I agree with your comment for the latter ("we" may or may not include "he"), but not for the former (because it's still part of what was communicated to "he", it's not just an offhand comment for a future reader) – Flater Jan 4 '18 at 14:12
  • I don't understand your point, sorry. My interpretation of that sentence is "I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that myself and my colleagues were investigating him personally, which we (myself and my colleagues) weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative.". We don't know whether "he" is being spoken to: it could be some third party who is not present, but in either case "we" doesn't include "he". Ultimately, without more context we can only guess what is happening. – Max Williams Jan 4 '18 at 16:37
  • @MaxWilliams You're missing the point of OP's question. "I replied that he..." tells the reader about the time when "I" replied to "he" (thus "he" was spoken to at some point in the past). OP is asking whether "I" also communicated "which we weren't" to "he", or whether that's an addition for the sake of the reader (but not "he"). – Flater Jan 4 '18 at 19:27

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