A HIGHER LOYALTY by James Comey: a book review

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Among many other things, the book offers up interesting first-hand descriptions of the three presidents Comey worked with: Bush Jr., Obama, and Trump. Having the most favorable opinion of Obama (“I couldn’t believe a person as intelligent as Obama could be elected president.”). Describes Bush as having a sense of humor, but usually at the expense of others and as a way to assert himself on the top of the hierarchy. And he’s scathing about Trump.

 

James Comey, in this memoir, comes across as a pretty thoughtful person who spends a lot of time considering other people’s perspectives (as opposed to just projecting his own). Of course its fascinating to see how Comey got caught in the middle of the 2016 presidential election. And of his many critics, and the incredible amount of shit he took from people on BOTH sides, he wryly points out that “most of them would do what would be best for their favorite team.” As opposed to things like, oh, rules of law,  truthfulness, or a higher loyalty (hence the title).

And he said that one particular tweet captured the feelings of the times: “That Comey is such a political hack. I just can’t figure out which party.” Ha ha.

Right or wrong with some of the decisions he made, Comey comes across as a very questioning person who sincerely wanted to do the right thing, what was right for the country. While surrounded by people screaming for “their side.” Period.  I don’t question Comey’s integrity. But I’m not completely sold on his intelligence and judgment.  Admittedly Comey was in a difficult position. A “damned if you do damned if you don’t” position. The fact that, at various times, he was getting equal shit from both the Democrats AND the Republicans probably speaks volumes. Ha ha

He never seemed motivated by partisan politics. Always seemed to take great pains to be objective.
I DID question the wisdom of his decisions.  Announcing an FBI investigation into Hillary’s emails just days before the election was probably bad judgment. It tainted Hillary at a crucial juncture. And since the public wouldn’t get the full results until AFTER the election, it was like a “cloud of suspicion” that couldn’t be refuted.
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Comey is one of the many, many people Hillary Clinton blames for her loss in the 2016 presidential election.

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Comey spends a lot of time in the book debating about — and explaining — why he made that fateful decision. To announce the FBI investigation of Hillary’s emails days before the election. Basically he felt that if there WAS something seriously damaging in Hillary’s emails, it would have looked like a “cover-up” by the FBI if they didn’t publicly announce the investigation.

But heres the dumb part. Comey — like most people — assumed Hillary was gonna win by a landslide anyways. So he felt it wouldn’t make any difference anyways.

Wrong.

PS. There WAS quite a bit of damaging stuff on those emails. These were the Hillary emails that for some unknown reason had ended up on the computer of Anthony Wiener, the husband of Hillary’s closest aide. Aside from sex texts that Wiener had sent to minors — which further tainted Hillary’s campaign. There was quite a bit of classified emails that Hillary should have never let get on somebody else’s computer. There were also a large number of “work-related” emails that Hillary had never released to the FBI during a previous investigation. When she had claimed at the time that she had released all of her work-related emails.

For what its worth Comey’s wife and daughter were ardent Hillary supporters. Comey himself claims that he was so disgusted by the behavior of BOTH parties that he ended up not voting.

One oddity in the book. Comey — who is 6-foot-8 — claims he was constantly bullied when he was in high school. I went to the same high school as Comey (Northern Highlands) and I was one of the smallest kids in my class but I never got bullied. Sheesh.

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The part where Comey meets Trump for the first time right after the election is particularly fascinating. One thing about Comey, he has a well-developed ability to “read” people — a trait you’d expect from a lifelong investigator. And he notices the subtle nuances of people’s behavior that reveal their character (for example Comey noticed something about Trump that has always deeply disturbed me — in the thousands and thousands of hours that Trump has been captured on video, he couldn’t find a single example where Trump laughed). Comey is particularly scathing writing about Trump’s character. Virtually every sentence screams out the unspoken message: HE’S UNFIT TO BE PRESIDENT!!

Comey meets Trump and his team for the first time at Trump Tower. And seeing them all sitting there, Comey couldn’t shake his first impression that they reminded him of a bunch of La Cosa Nostra members hanging out at one their clubs. And, like the Mafioso, Trump constantly conveyed the message: You’re either part of our family or you’re the enemy. At one point — to Comey’s great surprise — Trump even asked the FBI director how they should spin this meeting to the press — already assuming Comey was part of his team.

At a second meeting Trump repeatedly tells Comey he expects “loyalty” from him, and implies that he’ll fire him if he isn’t sufficiently loyal. Comey responded that his only loyalty was to “honesty.” And repeatedly tried to explain to Trump that the FBI by its nature must remain independent from the White House, and couldn’t be involved in partisan politics. An explanation that went in one ear and out the other with Trump.

During a third meeting, Comey actually dared to disagree with one of Trump’s opinions. “At that remark, Trump stopped talking altogether. I could see something change in his eyes. A hardness, a darkness. He looked like someone who wasn’t used to being challenged or corrected. The meeting was done.” Later at FBI headquarters Comey told his staff, “I probably ended any personal relationship with the president with that move.”

How Trump fired Comey was absolutely outrageous and classless. He totally broad-sided Comey, with no prior warning or even an explanation. Comey was in Los Angeles speaking at an FBI convention. And Comey is at the airport and he sees on the TV screen the headline: “Comey has been fired.” That’s how he found out about it. . . Then, Trump was outraged when he learned that Comey took the FBI plane back to D.C. since Comey was no longer a member of the FBI. Like Comey is supposed to hitch-hike cross-country to get home or something. . . And then Trump barred Comey from ever entering FBI property. So Comey had to get somebody else to pack up his office.
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Comey is pretty sharp with the details. But he’s often not so good at seeing the big picture. For example, after going through all of Hillary’s emails that were on Wiener’s computer, he ended the investigation by clearing Hillary of all wrong-doing. But for some inexplicable reason,
1.) Comey never got around to asking Hillary HOW all of her emails got on Wiener’s computer in the first place.
2.) Comey never asked Hillary WHY classified information was on the computer of a private citizen.
3.) Nor did he ask Hillary why she had previously claimed that the 30,000 emails that she turned over to the FBI at the beginning of the investigation were ALL of her work-related emails, when hundreds of thousands of MORE work-related emails were found on Wiener’s computer.
4.) Nor did he question her as to why there were many gaps — often 2 or 3 month periods — from which they could find NO Hillary emails, and often during those time periods that were most pertinent to the investigation. (In fact, Comey never talked to Hillary even once.  About anything.)
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All in all, the most disturbing thing about the book is Comey’s portrait of Trump, a man who never laughs and never tolerates a dissenting opinion, surrounding himself with yes-men. And not particularly bright (at one point Trump is admiring the beautiful lettering on a hand-written menu.  “It’s caligraphy,” said Comey.  “No, it’s hand-written,” corrected Trump. Ha ha.)
Comey concludes at the end of the book: “Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation. The president is unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego-driven, and about personal loyalty.”

So there you go.

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