“A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey is a memoir spanning from Comey’s childhood to his days post-FBI. Detractors believe it to be a book based on bashing Donald Trump, because of his abrupt firing of Comey in May last year. But it is more about leadership, more specifically how to be an ethical leader, and how not to be.
With Comey spending much of his professional life in the White House, he is accustomed to being around leaders. He served the George W. Bush, Obama and finally the Trump administrations and spends much of the book comparing and contrasting the differences between each. “A Higher Loyalty” is an inside look at how certain factions within the U.S. government function and how they have evolved throughout the three administrations.
What really gives this book life is the high regard Comey places on the truth, a trait expected of an FBI Director. What Comey actually delivers is a surprise: he remembers and is haunted by the lies that he told, no matter how small. Comey, who stands at a towering at 6’8”, often told people he played basketball to avoid explaining a prohibitive knee injury. The book’s prose when describing this white lie is shameful; the former FBI director eventually emailed the truth to everyone he told.
This is just one example of Comey’s ethics. It’s easy to see in the way that he handles situations that he would rather come under fire. He would rather risk losing his job than do something he believes is unethical.
Nearly everyone remembers the Hillary Clinton email fiasco. The FBI investigative case was opened, closed, reopened and re-closed within an election year. Comey knew that he would come under fire from both political parties for re-opening and re-closing the case. But because he and high ranking members of the FBI deemed that it was the right thing to do ethically, he took the bullet — twice. He did it to protect the “reservoir of trust” that the FBI has earned from the American people.
Under the three administrations that Comey served, he trusted one leader over the rest: President Obama. They had a short meeting after Obama announced his nomination for FBI Director. Comey went into the meeting with preconceived notions based on past presidents.
Comey claims that many presidents do not understand the importance of keeping the FBI separate from the White House. Because the FBI is often tasked to investigate the administration, in order to better ensure objectivity in these investigations, the FBI remains disconnected and independent from the White House. Obama, however, understood this, so he hired someone politically different from him. Comey is not a Democrat, and also previously served under former president George W. Bush.
“I don’t want help from the FBI on policy,” Obama said in the book. “I need competence and independence. I need to sleep at night knowing the place is well run and the American people protected.”
In contrast, Comey compares Trump’s leadership to that of a mob boss.
“The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview,” Comey writes. “The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
After buttering Comey up over a few phone calls and meetings Trump invited him over for dinner — just the two of them — and asked Comey for loyalty. It seemed that Trump wanted the FBI close, and proved so by asking for personal favors later on. Comey wasn’t going to compromise and upon the second request for loyalty Comey replied:
“You will always get honesty from me,” he writes.