Much has been debated about former FBI Director James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, regrettably most of it focused on Comey’s interactions with Donald Trump, which amounts to 64 pages out of 277, only 23 percent.
At the Trump Tower meeting, Comey, along with the other heads of the intelligence community, meet the president-elect to brief him on security issues as well as the “Steele dossier.” Describing his first meeting with Trump, Comey makes this telling observation:
“I had been in many intelligence briefings with the two previous presidents and had never seen Presidents Bush or Obama discuss communications and political strategy in front of the intelligence community leaders. … I tried to tell myself that maybe this was because Trump and his team had little experience… but in an instant, the line between intelligence and politics began to fade.
“…the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family and that Team Trump had made it a ‘thing of ours,’ [Mafia speak] meaning an official member of the family. For my entire career,” Comey writes, “intelligence was a thing of mine and political spin a thing of yours. Team Trump wanted to change that.”
Comey was given the unenviable task of privately briefing Trump about the allegations in the Steele dossier.
“Before I finished,” Comey writes, “Trump interrupted sharply, with a dismissive tone. He was eager to protest that the allegations weren’t true.
“I explained that I wasn’t saying the FBI believed the allegations. We simply thought it important that he know they were out there and being widely circulated.”
“[Trump] then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women and seemed to have memorialized their allegations.”
This would be a subject that Trump would purposely come back to with the FBI director multiple times.
“Having delivered his defense on a subject I didn’t care about, for the second time, the president-elect ended the call. I went to tell my chief of staff, Jim Rybicki, to tell him the world had gone crazy and I was caught in the middle of it.”
What followed was meeting after meeting with Trump who calls him over to the White House – something not done by previous presidents – for a photo op with law enforcement officials. In full view of the media, Trump pulls Comey toward him and again tells him what a great job he’s doing and that “I look forward to working with you.”
– Then there’s the private White House dinner in which Comey discovers that he’s the only guest of the president’s, and the topic of discussion: Loyalty.
– There’s the time in the Oval Office, where other officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are asked to leave the room so that Trump can petition Comey privately to drop the Flynn investigation.
– On his way to an opioid summit, Comey stops to take a call from Trump, “just to see how you’re doing.”
“The awkward conversation,” Comey writes, “which lasted less than a minute, struck me as yet another effort to bring me close, to ensure I was an amica nostra, a friend of ours.”
– “March 30, Trump called me at the FBI to describe the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. … For about the fourth time, he argued that the ‘golden showers thing’ wasn’t true…’ ”
– “April 11,” Comey continues, “the president called to ask what I had done about his request that I ‘get out’ that he is not personally under investigation. … He seemed irritated with me. I replied that I had passed his request to the acting deputy attorney general, but I had not heard back. He replied that ‘the cloud’ was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.”
Trump then adds, “ ‘I have been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.’ Comey describes. “I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ ”
It doesn’t take a trained FBI agent to see where Trump is going with all of this: the private meetings; the requests, both direct and indirect for loyalty; requests to stop “the cloud”; requests to drop the Flynn investigation, all of course, through private meetings or phone conversations ostensibly to provide Trump a layer of deniability that any of the conversations ever took place.
Under increasing pressure from Trump, Comey writes, “…it all ended in a blizzard of awful behavior” leading to the breaking news that Comey had been fired.
The final insult coming on “…May 12, President Trump tweeted a warning to me and his thirty-nine million followers: ‘Jams Comey better hope there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.’ ”
How any well-reasoned individual could conclude that Trump was not trying to influence and direct Comey on a variety of issues directly related to the president’s conduct is laughable.
The last month has only proved the validity of that statement with Trump’s angry tweets against his own attorney general for recusing himself from the Russian investigation, as well as the president’s personal attacks against his own hand-picked deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
After months of awkward and appalling encounters with Trump, Comey doesn’t hold back his final observations:
“…this president is unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty. We are fortunate,” Comey concludes, “some ethical leaders have chosen to serve and to stay at senior levels of government, but they cannot prevent all of the damage from the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.”
However, the former director does offer some hope and caution.
“The good news is that integrity and truth-telling can be modeled in powerful ways, shaping cultures of honesty, openness and transparency. Ethical leaders can mold a culture by their words and, more important, by their actions, because they are always being watched. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. Dishonest leaders have the same ability to shape a culture, by showing their people dishonesty, corruption and deception. A commitment to integrity and a higher loyalty to truth are what separate the ethical leader from those who just happen to occupy leadership roles. We cannot ignore the difference.”
Anyone who doubts James Comey’s honesty and integrity should read his book to see, as others have described, a consummate law enforcement professional whose loyalty is to truth and the rule of law, regardless of politics.
At the beginning of this series, I said I would end by asking readers one question to ponder, and it is simply this:
If the welfare of your family directly depended on it, whose credibility would you trust, James Comey’s or Donald Trump’s?