A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

by James Comey

Flatiron Books, 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership – every word of the book’s title and subtitle describe what every page of James Comey’s memoir is about.  Since the 2016 election, there has been much obfuscation of the distinction between truth and lies.  Worse, many Americans, even when not confused, don’t seem to care.  They’ve picked their side, truth be damned.

So let me be clear.  The following statement is a lie: “Jim Comey is a liar.”  Yes, this is a lie.  One thing Jim Comey is not is a liar.

Many Americans knew little or nothing of Jim Comey until the Hillary Clinton email investigations.  At that point he gained instant, unsought fame, and much hatred from Democrats, who blamed him for Clinton losing the election.  But it wasn’t that simple.  An argument could be made that Comey exercised some poor judgment or made a bad decision at the worst possible time in the election campaign.  But “liar” he was not, and as his story makes clear, he was in a no-win, impossible situation.  Those who read his book with an open mind will come to understand this.

Comey’s story – and his history of speaking truth to power – goes back much further than the 2016 election.  In the dozen or more books I read about the George W. Bush administration (you could argue that I’m a masochist), Comey played prominently in stopping a questionable electronic surveillance program conducted by the Bush administration in its overly-zealous war on terrorism.  He stood, nearly alone, for principle, and ultimately resigned as deputy attorney general over the surveillance program and subsequent administration policies on torture.

I have been predisposed toward Jim Comey ever since, and the events of the past two years, so vividly described in his memoir, have done nothing to dampen my regard for him.

Twelve years later, along comes Trump, a man who wouldn’t recognize truth if it hit him in the face and knocked him on his ass, a man who lies so much neither he nor the pols nor the media nor we the governed can keep it all straight.  The final chapters of A Higher Loyalty detail the series of unsought encounters with Trump that ended with Comey being fired as Director of the FBI.  Given the clash of character between these two men – almost an understatement –  the outcome was inevitable.

Not only is Comey’s whole story compelling; he writes compellingly as well, with exceptional candor, clarity, honesty, and frequent doses of dry humor.  (Comey believes, as I do, that humor is an important asset to those who occupy leadership positions.)

Comey understands and cares deeply about leadership.  Notably, he believes that an essential characteristic of effective leadership is the ability to maintain a balance between confidence and humility.  In his memoir he keeps coming back to this.  Comey, a confessed Republican (or ex-Republican?), saw this balance in Barack Obama.

In Trump?  Not so much.  Comey’s descriptions of his one-on-one dinner, meetings, and subsequent phone calls with Trump are positively chilling.

Yet another fundamental principle in Comey’s set of values was the need for the FBI to be independent, free of politics.  The 2016 election cycle and the current reign of His Royal Orange-ness has made this impossible.

Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership is a superb work, and historically important for everyone to read.  Comey tells the truth consistently throughout.  In fact, the book’s final sentence contains all seven words of the book’s title and subtitle.

James Comey is not a liar.

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