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290 pages, Hardcover
First published April 17, 2018
All bullies are largely the same. They threaten the weak to feed some insecurity that rages inside them. I know. I’ve seen it up close.James Comey is a lawyer, and in A Higher Loyalty he has presented a case to the jury of American public opinion. He lays out the steps of his interactions with Swamp Thing, from introduction to long-distance buh-bye. This is what happened, here, here, and there, on this, this, and that dates. This is what was said. This is what I understood those words to mean. And really, who are you going to believe, a public servant with a decades-long reputation for, among other things, honesty, or a feckless serial and possibly pathological liar?
Being an outsider, being picked on, was very painful, but in hindsight it made me a better judge of people. In my life, I would spend a lot of time assessing threats, judging tone of voice, and figuring out the shifting dynamic in a hallway or locker room crowd. Surviving a bully requires constant learning and adaptation. Which is why bullies are so powerful, because it’s so much easier to be a follower, to go with the crowd, to just blend in.He walks us through some of his career steps and big moments. These include the successful prosecution of a large chunk of the New York area mafia, prosecuting Martha Stewart, prosecuting Scooter Libby, and the event that made his reputation. He was the acting Attorney General at a time when the Stellar Wind program, an illegal domestic spying undertaking, according to DoJ analysis, was up for renewal. The administration needed a sign-off by the AG, and acting AG Comey refused. Getting wind that Presidential counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andy Card were on their way to the hospital to wrest a signature from the barely conscious John Ashcroft, being treated for a life-threatening condition, he dashed to the hospital himself, sirens howling and lights flashing, calling Robert Mueller, then the head of the FBI, to join him in preventing this blatant malfeasance. It is the stuff of legend. And secured him a place in the pantheon of political heroes for his courage under such withering political fire. The passage could have been written by any of today’s best-selling writers of political thrillers, leaving one breathless, even though we know the outcome. Though the broad strokes are at least somewhat familiar to folks who pay attention to the news, there are details I bet you do not know and will be very surprised to learn. The book is worth it just for that section alone.
Though Giuliani’s confidence was exciting, it fed an imperial style that severely narrowed the circle of people with whom he interacted, something I didn’t realize was dangerous until much later: a leader needs the truth, but an emperor does not consistently hear it from his underlings. Rudy’s demeanor left a trail of resentment among the dozens of federal judges in Manhattan, many of whom had worked in that U.S. Attorney’s office. They thought he made the office about one person, himself, and used publicity about his cases as a way to foster his political ambitions rather than doing justice. It was a resentment that was still palpable when I became the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan—and sat in Giuliani’s chair—a dozen years later.Hizzoner’s fondness for the limelight has not faded a single watt. Comey also talks about his dealing with former AGs and others in government. His meetings with President Obama make for fascinating and surprising reading.
I wanted to find a way to help Bush. This man, whom I liked and wanted to see succeed, appeared not to realize the storm that was coming. The entire Justice Department leadership was going to quit, and just as he was running for reelection.A politically disinterested official would have given such a concern zero consideration.
We all bear responsibility for the deeply flawed choices put before voters during the 2016 election…Rather a false equivalence, no? It is pretty obvious how flawed the Republican candidate was, but the Democratic nominee was one of the most qualified presidential candidates in modern history. The deep flaws some insist on seeing were primarily made up of lies that had been broadcast about her for decades by a well-financed and relentless political attack machine. Like one of those augmented reality games that let you superimpose imaginary characters onto a real-world scene. (Pokémon GOP?) So BS on that, too. Opting to go public with a re-opening of the investigation of Hillary so late in the election season, against protocol, and without the prior knowledge of his AG, knowing it would likely impact the election, while simultaneously keeping under wraps the ongoing investigation of Trump for collusion with Russia was really the kicker. I believe this revealed his partisan stripes, however well he may have tried to disguise them in the tall grass of self-justification. Many will find his explanation persuasive. I am not among them. Bias revealed.
He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”The preponderance of news coverage, confirmed by Comey’s reporting here, makes it abundantly clear that Swamp Thing did indeed ask for special treatment for his guy, a glaringly illegal no-no. Comey was right to continue with business as usual after getting this appalling directive, which is exactly what it was.
At the time, I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.
Even Comey’s close friends acknowledge that his great strength is also his great weakness: a belief in his own integrity. “He believes this in a way that creates big blind spots, because he substitutes his judgment for the rules,” says Matt Miller, a former director of public affairs for the D.O.J. - from the Vanity Fair ArticleSee more on this below.
I had been assigned to an investigation that touched a prominent New York figure who dressed in shiny tracksuits and sported a Nobel-sized medallion around his neck. The state of New York was investigating Al Sharpton for alleged embezzlement from his charity, and I was assigned to see if there was a federal angle to the case…. My heart thumped with excitement as [Guliani] gave me a pep talk standing in the doorway. He was counting on me. He turned to leave, then stopped. “Oh, and I want the fucking medal.”2. 1995. Jim’s wife Patrice copes with the death of her infant son—from streptococcus infection transmitted through the mother—by lobbying for a change in the law.
Patrice wrote publicly about our son and traveled the country supporting efforts to change the standard of care. She poured effort into speaking to the Virginia legislature, and succeeded in getting statutory language passed enbracing universal testing and treatment for Group B strep. She didn’t do anything alone, but her voice, along with the voices of many other good people, changed our country. All mothers are tested now, and their babies live. Something good followed the unimaginable bad. Other mothers will never know what might have been, which is as it should be.3. 2004. Comey, as acting attorney general, has offered his opinion that “Stellar Wind”—a government program of warrantless wiretapping—is illegal, but Vice President Dick Cheney won’t be deterred by claims of illegality:
After the analysts rolled up their charts and left the room, the vice president took over…. [He] looked at me gravely and said that, as I could plainly see, the program was very important. In fact, he said, “Thousands of people are going to die because of what you are doing.”….The purpose of the meeting was to squeeze me, although nobody said that. To have the vice president of the United States accuse me of recklessly producing another 9/11—even seeming to suggest that I was doing it intentionally—was stunning.4. 2017. Donald Trump, during his tete-a-tete dinner with Comey, speaks of the White House menu cards:
On my plate, I had found a large cream-colored card describing the entire four course menu in cursive script. Salad, shirmp scampi, chicken parmesan with pasta, and vanilla ice cream. The president began by admiring his own menu card, which he held up.There are plenty more stories where these four came from: some are amusing, some inspiring, some infuriating, but they all tell us something about leadership. And the last hundred pages give an absorbing account—inevitably biased, but not intentionally so—of some of the crucial decisions surrounding the last election.
“They write these things out one at a time, by hand,” he marveled, referring to the White House staff.
“A calligrapher," I replied, nodding.
He looked quizzical. “They write them by hand,” he repeated.
Cosa nostra - mafia
Amicus noster - friend of ours
Amicus noster non es - you are not our friend
Dishonest leaders have the same ability to shape a culture, by showing their people dishonesty, corruption, and deception. A commitment to integrity and a higher loyalty to truth are what separate the ethical leader from those who just happen to occupy leadership roles. We cannot ignore the difference.What disturbed me is the reactions to this book. Either people have not read it but jump on the partisan bandwagon of their choice in condemning and criticizing it just to be confirmed as a loyal member of a group, or read it but judge it from a partisan viewpoint anyway. I cannot find any sober, objective interview or review of this book anywhere.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the title of this book. In one sense, it came out of a bizarre dinner meeting at the White House, where a new president of the United States demanded my loyalty—to him, personally—over my duties as FBI director to the American people. But in another, deeper sense, the title is the culmination of four decades in law, as a federal prosecutor, business lawyer, and working closely with three U.S. presidents. In all those jobs, I learned from those around me and tried to pass on to those I worked with that there is a higher loyalty in all of our lives—not to a person, not to a party, not to a group. The higher loyalty is to lasting values, most important the truth. I hope this book is useful in stimulating all of us to think about the values that sustain us, and to search for leadership that embodies those values.
Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. —REINHOLD NIEBUHR...Comey talks about his childhood in The Bronx, his education, his family, the bullies he encountered in life and his eventual decision to become a prosecutor who could defend the defenseless against the bullies of life.
Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. —AL PACINO (AS MICHAEL CORLEONE), THE GODFATHER, PART II...
Ralph Waldo Emerson: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
I don’t think Dick Cates taught me a single explicit lesson in the year we worked together. At least I don’t remember any. But for a year, as a brand-new lawyer and soon-to-be husband, I sat at his side and watched him. I watched him laugh at pretension and at pressure. I watched him make commonsense decisions when big-city lawyers were tied up in knots of overthinking and arrogance. I watched him light up at the mere mention of his wife and children and grandchildren. I watched him move heaven and earth to be at their events, their dinners, their projects. I watched him not care that he earned a fraction of what the New York and Los Angeles lawyers on the case were paid. He was a happy man. This is the person I want to be, I thought. My effort at life-plagiarism has been imperfect, but the lessons were priceless.His recall of the mafia cases, the Martha Stewart case, his participation in the Clinton investigation - the Whitewater affair, the Foster saga, the emails, etc. delivers a fascinating insight into the work of the FBI and the role it plays in defending democracy as well as the rule of law, and the people of America. The FBI is defined. For the first time someone is explaining what the functions of this organization is and the insight is inspiring. Well, the good part of it. The noble part. He relates his encounters with the shark tank of Congress.
To prove Salerno was a danger to the community and bail should be withheld, the federal prosecutors offered tapes of conversations made by an FBI bug planted under a table at Fat Tony’s social club, the Palma Boys, located in an Italian enclave in East Harlem. Salerno could be heard talking about ordering beatings and killings, and being quite clear about his role: “Who am I? I’m the fucking boss.”While reading this I thought it could have served as a metaphor for the Clinton reign, more so at this point than Donald Trump's. But that's just my opinion.
The case showed that in a Mafia family the boss was not to be questioned. His words about life and death meant someone was going to die. And the worst sin was betraying the family, becoming a “rat.” The Mafia was all about loyalty, and you left it when you left this earth, whether by natural causes or otherwise. Only rats left the Mafia alive.
All people have flaws and I have many. Some of mine, as you’ll discover in this book, are that I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident, and driven by ego. I’ve struggled with those my whole life.What I wish would happen is that people will read the book for what it is, namely a means to stimulate debate about democracy, safety, security and the pressure from all politicians to sidestep the law for their own purposes. It questions the American voter expectation of government institutions in preventing the abuse of power. Comey focuses on these very important issues, for the past few decades, endangering America as the leader of the free world. Basically, people should decide if they want politicians to wipe law and order from the table so that they can loot, plunder and reign unhindered, or support the government institutions who must prevent it. Right now the politicians have become demigods who should be protected from the law.
Republicans wanted to be assured that the Russians hadn’t elected Donald Trump. Democrats, still reeling from the election results weeks before, wanted the opposite. There was little common ground. It was like having Thanksgiving dinner with a family eating together by court order.Any person with any claim to individual opinion who followed the elections closely, would know and admit, that James Comey was not the cause of Hilary's election defeat. The outcome of the election was already decided many months before, fed by the shady events filling up her bag of problems, like Bill Clinton's conduct, the women who were intimidated and threatened by her, the Benghazi tragedy, the notorious deals of the Clinton Foundation, the hordes of lawsuits the Clintons had to defend, the Bernie Sanders issue, the implosion of the middle-class, and the BIG ONE: "the basket of deplorables" who finally turned the tide against her.
The FBI, with me as its director, was caught in the middle of the partisan bile.