June 27, 2018

Thoughts on A Highter Loyalty

Although I ordered a copy of James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty before its publication, I didn’t begin reading it until Monday last, when I had jury duty. I was allowed to bring a physical book but not an electronic one. I read through six chapters or so in the courthouse and finished the book three days ago. What follows is neither a book review nor a book report. Instead, it is a somewhat random collection of thoughts I had while reading A Higher Loyalty.

Let me say at the outset that I recommend A Higher Loyalty. It is at times interesting, thought-provoking, instructive, and frustrating. Comey obviously wants to offer a public defense of his actions as FBI director, but the “good stuff” for which many will pick up the book begins far into the volume. The work is thoroughly autobiographical, and, if it is about anything but the obvious, namely James Comey, it is about leadership. As regards government service, at least in an organization such as the FBI, it is about non-partisan loyalty to the mission of the organization. Leaders in any situation can benefit from what the author has to say, however.

Democrats may be wondering if Comey is a self-righteous prick. I don’t think he is. Autobiography tends to be self-serving, of course, but the former FBI director comes across as genuine, honest, caring, competent, and committed to his work. But his unshakable commitment to protecting the reputation of the FBI led him to sabotage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton just before the 2016 election. He clearly recognized that a Trump victory would be a disaster, but he assumed, as did almost everyone, that Trump would lose. He gambled—though he never admits this—that he could save the FBI from criticism by announcing the re-opening of the investigation into Clinton without endangering the Republic. He lost. And the country lost.

Comey clearly believes that a President Hillary Clinton would have been a very different chief executive than the one we have now. About Trump, he writes, “Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in the nation.” Most of it, probably.

As if Comey’s actions were not infuriating enough, his commitment to being non-partisan led him to not vote in the 2016 election, even though his family very much wanted to see a woman become president. I cannot understand this, just as I cannot understand journalist Katy Tur’s not voting, even after covering the Trump campaign and surely recognizing him for what he is. Citizens, particularly those who see a clear and president danger, have an obligation to not stand on the sidelines!

Besides being ignorant and self-absorbed, Donald Trump is nasty and vindictive. I was astonished by what this passage near the end of the book says about our president:
President Trump, who apparently watches quite a bit of TV at the White House, saw those images of me thanking the cops and flying away [from Los Angeles, where Comey learned that he had been fired]. They infuriated him. Early the next morning, he called [by then, acting FBI director Andrew] McCabe and told him he wanted an investigation into how I had been allowed to use the FBI plane to return from California.

McCabe replied that he could look into how I had been allowed to fly back to Washington, but that he didn’t need to. He had authorized it, McCabe told the president. The plane had to come back, the security detail had to come back, and the FBI was obligated to return me safely.

The president exploded. He ordered that I was not to be allowed back on FBI property again, ever. My former staff boxed up my belongings as if I had died and delivered them to my home. The order kept me from seeing and offering some measure of closure to the people of the FBI, with whom I had become very close.

Trump had done a lot of yelling during the campaign about McCabe and his former candidate wife. He had been fixated on it ever since.

Still in a fury at McCabe, Trump then asked him, “Your wife lost her election in Virginia, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did,” Andy replied.

The president of the United States then said to the acting director of the FBI, “Ask her how it feels to be a loser” and hung up the phone.
It is worth noting that, although Comey is reluctant to accuse Trump of obstruction of justice, he makes it clear that he thinks that the president may be guilty of obstruction. Surely he is.

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