A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by James Comey

Nine stars

I assert my right to call this a #realreview

With three interrelated books about the current POTUS sitting on my TBR shelf, I chose to read and review them back to back, looking for insight into the man and some of his more recent activities. Admittedly, they do not constitute a formal biographical image of Donald Trump, but do they ever paint an interesting picture to allow me to create my own biographical narrative! Calling these non-fiction pieces the ‘Trump Trifecta’, they have served me well in my non-fiction binge. Some may dispute the ‘non-fiction’ nature of these books, but that is for the reviewer (myself included) to decide in analysis while weighing the information presented. After reading about some of the controversial means by which the 2016 Presidential Election may have been influenced by outside sources and the wonky goings-on during the first year in the Trump White House in the first two books of the trifecta (check reviews should you want to know more), this final piece seeks to take a step back from (and a giant one into) some of the events that may have led to a less than level playing field when it came to the 2016 Presidential Election. James Comey has written this quasi-memoir not only to set the record straight from the perspective of the FBI, but also to explore his own life through a lens that he describes in the opening pages of his book. Comey explores how he has sought to live his life in such a way that truth and justice prevail, free from political and personal bias, which he comes to call a ‘higher loyalty’. Comey asserts that he has been required to make life choices that may, on the surface, baffle many, but which are grounded in this loyalty principle, thereby exemplifying the purest form of decision making. Comey expounds on an early life in Yonkers, New York, where he was raised to respect those around him, an essential part of his Irish heritage. A move midway through his adolescence pushed him into a life of being bullied, though Comey tried always to turn away from the scandal, even when it appeared easier to raise a fist and solve his problems. A passion for what was right saw him earn a legal degree and see his career catapult into a successful firm before being chosen to work in the US Attorney’s Office in New York, under the auspices of a man whose political career in the Republican Party would soon push him to a degree of notoriety. Comey worked hard and used his principles to defend the law, but always asked himself and those around him if the laws were just for all involved. Hand-picked by George W. Bush’s Justice Department to be the Deputy Attorney General, Comey received his first significant dose of partisan politics, something that he tried to negate in his work. A few key stories come to light, particularly surrounding some anti-terror laws arising out of September 11, 2001. These laws contained areas that Comey could not stomach and, while serving as Acting Attorney-General, faced off against the heavy hitters in Bush’s Cabinet. Comey explores his greatest surprise when President Obama sought him out to serve as Director of the FBI, a position that was both an honour and would prove to be an anchor around his neck. However, Comey was happy to take on the challenge, armed with his loyalty mantra. Comey delves into the professional, yet highly respect-driven relationship he had with Obama, which would be tested when the FBI was tasked to investigate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server case. Comey tells the reader that he knew there was pressure for the investigation to end with a specific narrative (albeit vague and coming from the current AG’s office, not the Oval Office), but that would not sit right with the Director. Comey demanded neutrality, even when his decisions would seem to tip the scales in one way or the other. The reader will be interested to see some of the narrative depicting the email case during the 2016 campaign and how Comey handled the situation with apparent aplomb. He addresses the extreme vilification he received (even from inside his own household) and how some feel his decisions derailed the last-minute surge that Clinton needed to defeat Trump. From there, with the most unlikely president-elect before him, Comey sought to continue as FBI Director, but was faced with a man (and a team) that wanted to remove the arm’s length relationship, pulling Comey ‘inside the family’, something that could not be accepted. It was this desire to remain impartial, justice-driven, and transparent that began the soured relationship between President Trump and his FBI Director, especially when the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election arose and furthered when questions around Trump involvement became a strong possibility. The poisonous exchanges around the role and limits the FBI should have within an Administration soon led to the ire-driven (guilt-laden?) decision to fire Comey, hoping that would silence him once and for all. It is here that things take a more personal note, though Comey tries to stay above the fray, providing foundational arguments to back his opinions. While surely not the last word on the topic, as it continues to make headlines (and Twitter fodder), Comey does his best to set the record straight without debasing himself to the level of inferior intellect that can be presumed with the epithets flying around from atop the ivory tower on Pennsylvania Avenue in DC. Interesting reading for any reader looking for some context and understanding of the situations that may have swayed the 2016 campaign, but also to better know the man who ended up in the middle of the firing line, despised by both GOP and Democratic supporters for making decisions they could not handle. It certainly has added much to the discussion, even if some prefer to paint Comey as something other than a complete professional.

I entered into reading this book with an inherent dislike of the POTUS, for reasons that were only further supported by some of the content of this book. However, while I have tried to assert the foundation of my issues with the man, this book took less of a smear approach than I might have thought. I knew very little of Comey the man or even his story, which was presented in a succinct manner here and helped me to better comprehend his thinking. This book is not written to be a tell-all or to create a safe ground on which James Comey can launch verbal bombs to destroy those who have attacked him. Instead, Comey chose to present his side of the story (life, rather than just recent events) and to support that he has always tried to take a neutral and principled perspective. This is the man who signed-off on taking Martha Stewart to trial and to face-down the likes of Dick Cheney during what was supposed to be an easy renewal of torture tactics. Comey seeks less to pat himself on the back than to show that his standing up to authority and steering clear of the partisan rhetoric is lifelong and not one to push him into the spotlight during the most contentious presidential election in recent memory. While the fallout continues on the Russia Probe and Twitter is full of hateful comments from a number of people, Comey could not let that flavour his decisions, and he still stands behind the decisions that were made. This exemplifies a man whose determination to find the truth is stronger even than mine, though I have come to see that justice should supersede the easy solution. I’ll not deny that I have my own hopes for what happens in Congress as it relates to the Oval Office, but I can see Comey’s desire to let things run their course and not to tinker with the machinery. For, as he hopes throughout, justice will have the final word and maybe even bring about a solution that is best for all. James Comey is no saint, but his approach and calm demeanour surely has done much to help me better understand some of the decisions he made in life, permitting him to hold his head high and know he did what was best for the country, through the eyes of Lady Justice.

Kudos, Mr Comey, for such an insightful piece that is free of finger-pointing and scandalous name-calling. It is refreshing to get your perspective and see that you had your eye on the ultimate prize for all, a just society that could stand tall and without blemish. Let’s hope others can take a page out of your book.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons