James Comey

The 2016 Presidential election had four main actors: Trump, Clinton, Putin and Comey. By now, we know the particulars, but we are trying to learn the extent of the Putin involvement, and wonder how to keep foreign interests out of the next election.

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James Comey spent most of the career in the employment of the federal government, with the Department of Justice and the FBI. For a man who did not like the spotlight, he often found himself in it. In his best selling book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, he tells his story, which concludes with this testimony to Congress after being fired by Trump.

Comey is one of the most divisive people in America, branded as either helping Trump or protecting Clinton in the run-up to the election. His investigation of Clinton’s emails was one of the major influences on the election no matter what you believe. Comey did two things. On July 5, 2016 he announced that the FBI had no reason to find any illegal actions by Clinton, although her handling of the emails was “extremely careless.”  While this was good news for the Clinton campaign, the investigation was seen as unnecessary and criticized by Clinton.

New evidence led the FBI re-opening the investigation and Comey said so in a letter to Congress on October 28, 2016. After an expedited review of discovered emails on an aide’s laptop computer, Comey, on November 6, sent another letter to Congress indicating the FBI’s original decision not to pursue legal action was still correct. Despite this clearance, the damage was done. This probably did influence voters and strengthened the “lock her up” crowd. I have read several books on Clinton’s campaign, including her own book, and it was obvious that Clinton’s campaign has it’s own serious problems.

The book details the agony Comey felt in how to handle releasing information about the email investigation. Could he replay that period and would he do anything differently? He would not substantially do anything different. He believe he acted in the best interest of justice and his FBI mission. Does he seem to struggle with how this release of information may have impacted the election: yes. He did throw Clinton under the bus. Could the investigation have been done without notifying Congress? Yes, and if a crime was found to be committed, the government have moved forward against Clinton.  That’s my belief.  Comey says in the book that the FBI did not comment on open investigations, even to say they there was an active investigation. So why announce it to Congress, and have it immediately leaked to the world?  Comey felt a duty to do so.  Again, the FBI is not in the business of highlighting active investigations.

Comey was a man who was often at odds with his own government. As an attorney in the Justice Department and the FBI, his duty was to the law, not to individuals or political agendas. He stood up to Vice President Dick Cheney and his gang over the legality of torture, and prosecuted Scooter Libby over outing CIA agent Valerie Flame.  Comey seemed to have few friends in the Bush Administration when he served as Deputy Attorney General, except for John Ashcroft, who he paints as a man of honor and deep religious conviction, and on his sickbed stands up to the White House.

Even though A Higher Loyalty has “leadership” in its title, I was surprised with the emphasis on Comey’s leadership philosophy.  Comey spends many pages on what he learned about leaders and developing a culture where employees thrive and do their best work. Comey dissects the leaders he worked for and what made them effective or poor leaders. Those that he focuses on are Rudy Giuliani, John Ashcroft, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. His description of the leadership traits of Obama and Trump are quite interesting.

His own mission was to turn the FBI into the premier leadership factory in government. “I was going to drive leadership into every corner and every conversation in the FBI, until we were consistently excellent, across all roles and at all levels.”

“We would teach that great leaders are: 1) people of integrity and decency; 2) confident enough to be humble; 3) both kind and tough; 4) transparent; 5) aware that we seek meaning in work; 6) what they say is important, but what they do is far more important, because their people are always watching them.” He also says that the ability to laugh says a lot about our ability to connect with others, your vulnerability, and your appreciation of others. Laughter displays a good balance of confidence and humility.

Former FBI Director Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington

The selling point of the book is the dirt dished on Trump, and that is not disappointing. Comey comes off as something close to a Boy Scout, although he claims to have his share of faults. I believe him to be a man of values and principles who did not bend to political pressure, ego or bureaucratic malaise. He did not flinch at raging egos, stood up to bullies, and kept his perspective in difficult times.  He just made some very questionable decisions in the months leading up to the election.

Like him or hate him, the book is a good read on his life and high-profile political events, especially the 2016 and the early days of the Trump presidency.


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