“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership”
By James Comey
(Flatiron Books, 290 pp, $29.99)
What’s been lost in the brouhaha over James Comey’s book is the most basic element: This is a good read.
Rarely do books publish to this kind of fanfare. Comey’s book goes on sale Tuesday.
Sure, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” did, but don’t mistake the two. That was a heavily reported book, revealing inner machinations of the White House.
This is not.
Comey’s text is a personal, though not particularly intimate, account of a man examining the tenets he holds dear: loyalty and leadership. Comey saw prime examples in a corporate lawyer and a grocery store manager. He served in high-level positions for three administrations and respected two of those presidents — you may be able to guess which he wasn’t so fond of.
When discussing his taking of leave of President Barack Obama, Comey acknowledges that although he had not voted for him, “I had developed a great respect for him as a leader and a person, and it was only at that moment that I felt the full weight of his imminent departure and what it would mean.
“Unable to help myself, I added, ‘I dread the next four years, but in some ways I feel more pressure to stay now.”
Comey comes across as a pretty straight arrow and you can almost feel his embarrassment as he discusses the more lurid details.
Are there tapes of President Donald J. Trump in the presence of prostitutes urinating on each other in the bed where the Obamas had slept in a Moscow hotel? It’s not broached until page 214, and Comey says he doesn’t know. Trump mentions it when they talk privately.
Comey would have preferred no private conversations with the president. He wanted the FBI to remain independent and apolitical. He understood the director serves at the president’s pleasure. Still, because it’s a 10-year term, it’s supposed to be insulated by the vagaries of politics.
Clearly, the two are at war. Trump calls him a “slimeball” and Comey writes how his “presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation.”
Of course, Comey details his public firing. He was in the L.A. FBI offices, excited to tell lawyers, engineers and business school graduates of color to “why they should take cuts in pay and become FBI special agents.”
Before that recruitment pitch began, while meeting support staff, including janitors, TVs in the background flashed that he had been fired. Comey initially thought it was a joke. Then other screens showed three different networks reporting the same.
James Comey is far more circumspect in this book that one would expect given that the president has been calling him a “slime ball.” He does, though, say that President Donald J. Trump is doing grave damage but that ultimately it will be repaired as the republic is stronger than one person.
He continued to work the room, thanking FBI workers. He was their leader and this sort of loyalty matters to him. Much has been made of how Comey likens Trump’s sense of loyalty to that of mob bosses he prosecuted early in his career.
What’s striking for Jersey readers goes back even earlier. His family moved to Allendale when he was in fifth grade.
Growing up in Yonkers, he was a popular kid, surrounded by family and neighbors. He had less-than-cool clothes, a home-done haircut, a big mouth and a New York accent. Averse to fighting, he was bullied.
Comey’s life took a terrifying turn Oct. 28, 1977, when he and a younger brother were home when “the Ramsey rapist” — a serial criminal in Bergen County around this time — broke in, held them at gunpoint, burgled their home, locked them in the basement bathroom, then returned.
“The Ramsey Rapist taught me at an early age that many of the things we think are valuable have no value. Whenever I speak to young people, I suggest they do something that might seem a little odd: Close your eyes, I say: Sit there, and imagine you are at the end of your life. From that vantage point, the smoke of striving for recognition and wealth is cleared. Houses, cars, awards on the walls? Who cares? … Standing for something. Making a difference. That is true wealth.”
Married since 1987, he and Patrice have five children – they had a son who died as an infant, detailed in the most personal chapter of the book. About as catty as he gets is saying how Patrice would never believe that he was cavorting with hookers in Moscow or anywhere. Theirs is a solid union; loyalty matters to him.
He cites Harry Howell, manager of a grocery store where Comey worked during high school. Howell inspired his staff by example and ensured they had fun while working hard. Comey drew on lessons learned while stocking paper goods and even from a disastrous turn overloading a hand truck with gallons of milk.
To his credit, Comey is neither preachy nor self-righteous. He’s probably enraged, but in print it’s reasonably self-contained.
Even if Comey were not the flashpoint in the news cycle now, I would recommend reading this. It’s a refreshing reminder that some people retain their sense of ethics after they’ve been battered. Most important, it’s a good read.
Yes, this is Comey’s story, but nowhere does he come off as political. Rather, he does not even come off as particularly shrewd and that’s why this is so likeable.