With the expectation that James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” will focus on the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the 2016 United States presidential elections – in particular, on the investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email controversy as well as of Russian interference in the elections and potential collusion of the campaign of then presidential candidate Donald Trump – the book details many of his other years in public service, exploring his initial stint as an attorney in New York, his subsequent work as the deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, and his eventual appointment by President Barack Obama as director of the FBI. Critical to these narratives is the extent to which Comey kept his personal biography succinct, including only the most relevant exchanges, and only articulating the most important people and events involved.
As with most autobiographical expositions, scepticism is likely to stem from his recollections of the conversations and the chains of events related to more controversial developments throughout his time in government. Notwithstanding the tribal policies and the hyper-partisan political climate which have engulfed contemporary United States, this evaluation is made even more challenging by the fact that the book – right from the get-go – is couched in themes of justice and ethical leadership, with the likely implication of portraying Comey as demonstrating these traits. In addition to the aforementioned investigations related to the 2016 presidential elections, his references to the warrantless surveillance programme Stellar Wind (on his refusal to reauthorise the email programme in 2004) and the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse (which earned the United States government deserved criticisms) come to mind.
In the preface, however, he does justify that his book could come across as being presumptuous or sanctimonious. He added: “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalised, and unethical behaviour is ignored, excused, or rewarded”. His disdain for Mr. Trump is clear.
But readers of “A Higher Loyalty”, especially in the context of Comey’s dismissal and of the many controversies surrounding Mr. Trump’s administration, are likely to zoom in on his version of events relating to the email controversy and his interactions with the president. In this vein, they are even more likely to take delight in the not-so-subtle comparisons of the predispositions and actions between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, told through meaningful anecdotes: The humour of the former (and the lack of laughter from the latter), the “supple mind” of the former, and the conversational ability and institutional awareness of the former. Yet perhaps it is his central message – “the importance of institutional loyalty over expediency and politics” and public trust in public institutions – which should not go unnoticed. Whether countries around the world take heed, nonetheless, is another question altogether.