A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

I had genuine excitement when purchasing this book.  James Comey is free to speak his mind on anything not classified or related to a current investigation.  To me, a very interesting and important figure.  Not only for what happened to him last year, but for his lengthy career serving under several Presidents of different parties, and what he witnessed and did in 2016.  After everything the public knows he is still a very confusing player to me.  Is he the person of unquestionable integrity and loyalty to the constitution as he sees himself?  Or is he someone that chose to get directly involved when it wasn’t his place to do so.  He saw so much action yet so much silence.  I bought the book to learn and to understand better everything that went down.  To get closure on the mysterious lawman.  To me, huge pieces of the story are missing and, naïve as it may sound, the book might fill that vacuum.

Executive Branch Mafia

Throughout the book I hear serious concern about the Executive Branch.  Not the specific occupier but the unchecked power that is snowballing.  He spent a career trying to do his job while getting opposition from both the Department of Justice and The President.  It didn’t matter if it was Bush, Trump, or even Obama whom he refers to fondly in most of the book.  They all presented situations where Comey and his colleagues had to pivot quickly and figure out how to uphold the law and not be a participant in partisan politics.  He was very troubled by the interrogation and encryption topics while working during the Bush years.  Bush’s staff muscling John Ashcroft while he had pancreatitis, trying to side-step the fact that many in the government knew it was illegal and a ticking clock.  Cheney bullying everyone.  The Bush team were experts at doing whatever they wanted and getting around process.  Concerns when the Obama administration became involved telling him to call the Clinton investigation a matter.  He did what he was told.  It was obvious to him that Clinton was muscling him through Lynch and Yates.  He speaks about mysterious classified information that will be released decades from now, that might have been in the laptop emails, but they were not.

‘This made very real the prospect that the classified material relating Loretta Lynch might drop at any moment, not decades from now.  As noted earlier, the release of that material, the truth of which we had not verified, would allow partisans to argue, powerfully, that the Clinton campaign, through Lynch, had been controlling the FBI’s investigation.”  Obama made statements he didn’t like about the certain things that set the work back.  Obviously, we know what regard Trump has for the FBI.  The people at Comey’s level are an important check on The President.  But the system makes it almost impossible for them to be impartial and do the work.  He eludes to this a lot.  To me it seems the overarching point of the book.

An Important Reminder

A Higher Loyalty did remind me of something I has started to forget.  That the George W. Bush administration had done so much damage that I vowed never to consider a Republican again.  In the book, Comey has a lot of details about the torture topic.  How he and other attorneys knew the techniques were unlawful and couldn’t last.  That they only existed in short spurts of time because Bush and his team knew they were only getting away with it because it was war-time post 9/11.  Comey rushed to the bedside of John Ashcroft when he had pancreatitis, as did others, when Alberto Gonzales wanted an extension.  They literally raced to the hospital to get there before Bush’s guys.  He talks at length about what he calls, “the harderst problem I encountered in government – encryption.”  Comey is for access to data on mobile devices to be clear.  His fight is that the law will need access to that data just like any other kind of personal record.  But this chapter made me remember that George W. Bush is the figure at the end of privacy, and the beginning of ubiquitous data collection.  These blunders combined with the housing and financial crisis, and the Iraq war, was the end of Republicans for me.  Obama was a good President and now we have The Donald.  I almost forgot about George Dubya!  Comey’s book does a great job detailing the way that administration got things done.  Which has very little do to do with the people.  A great reminder.

That Icky Clinton Feeling

Reading about the Clinton’s, and Comey’s involvement with them, brought back that icky feeling.  He was involved in the Vince Foster suicide and what happened to documents after.  Comey never met Hillary Clinton even though he tried to arrange it.  She just wouldn’t meet with him.  Comey never found the missing emails and never had anything to prosecute.  Everyone knew they were somewhere at some point but now just gone.  He also eludes to classified information that will be released decades from now.  He talks about the meeting of Lynch and Bill on the tarmac.  Just that icky Clinton feeling.  Reading those pieces made me smile.  Reminding me that the Clintons are gone.

A Higher Loyalty

Comey wanted to tell his story and make a point about ethical leadership.  It is a good book in that sense.  Great examples of where choices had to be made.  Are you loyal to people, tribes, groupthink, or are you loyal to America and the Constitution?  But there are direct quotes from the book where he thinks first about doing what he is told and plays out how things would look.  On the eve of the October 28, 2016 announcement about emails, he got word through staff that both Lynch and Yates thought it was bad a idea but his call.  “They didn’t order me not to do it, an order I would have followed.”  So, which is it?  A higher loyalty or do what your boss tells you?  The head of the FBI admitted he would have stood down if told to by the Obama staff.  Several situations like this are discussed in the book.  The decision to “Speak or Conceal” as he puts it was constantly there.  With it were scenarios played out about how it would look, both for him, the FBI, and the country.  My naïve view hopes that the rule is Always Speak and Never Conceal.  Drop the hammer first and clean up the political mess later.

The Real Worry

No matter what the FBI is doing or has for evidence, their legs can be chopped out from under them by the Attorney General or POTUS at any time.  Comey was the top guy, respected by everyone, and still he writes about feeling helpless at times of great consequence.  That it is all politics now.  He was fired while speaking to agents in L.A.  There is wording and tone that suggest that the FBI is screwed no matter what.  That is worrisome for all of us.

La Cosa Nostra

Comey worked a lot of mafia cases in the Giuliani office in NYC as attorney there.  Great little jabs at Rudy and his ego and how nobody could breath oxygen or take credit for anything except Rudy or else it was your ass.  But the mafia chapters had a larger point.  This is what the Executive Branch is becoming.  Their own little mafia.  He directly compared Trump and his crew as having, “this thing of ours.”  But the Bush crew and the Yates/Lynch crew don’t escape that comparison for me.  Although he never mentions them that way.  Again, the Executive Branch as a mafia loyal only to their little group.  Nothing else matters.  The new group isn’t any better just different.  With Trump being the worst yet and most unapologetic about operating that way.

Congress Asleep

On the second to last page Comey says the following about Congress.  Anybody who knows that Congress is useless is alright in my eyes!  “I know there are men and women of good conscience in the United States Congress on both sides of the aisle who understand this.  But not enough of them are speaking out.  They must ask themselves to what, or whom, they hold a higher loyalty: to partisan interests or to the pillars of democracy?  Their silence is complicity – it is a choice – and somewhere deep down they must know that.”

The book didn’t have the new information I wanted.  But it did confirm for me that James Comey is not a partisan villain or out for personal glory.  There is a line in the book that describes what a teary-eyed Chuck Schumer told him after one of his releases to Congress in 2016.  It sums up Comey’s last year well.   “I know you.  I know you.  You were in an impossible position.”  Comey, the Director of the FBI with a 10-year term, was fired by the Executive Branch for politics.  That is the point of the book and the point for all of us.  All other parts of government are being swallowed up by the Executive Branch.  As citizens there isn’t much we can do to support the FBI as a check on government.  All we can do is raise hell if Donald Trump fires Bob Mueller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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