[Marxism] James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 13 09:55:13 MDT 2018


(I don't have much use for either Comey or Kakutani but this is an 
interesting review.)

NY Times, April 13, 2018
James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive.
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI

A HIGHER LOYALTY
Truth, Lies, and Leadership
By James Comey
290 pages. Flatiron Books. $29.99.

In his absorbing new book, “A Higher Loyalty,” the former F.B.I. 
director James B. Comey calls the Trump presidency a “forest fire” that 
is doing serious damage to the country’s norms and traditions.

“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional 
values,” Comey writes. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven and 
about personal loyalty.”

Decades before he led the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether members of 
Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, 
Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime 
family; and he doesn’t hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy 
between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the 
current occupant of the Oval Office.

A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of 
staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal 
prosecutor facing off against the Mob: “The silent circle of assent. The 
boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them 
worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to 
some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above 
the truth.” An earlier visit to Trump Tower in January made Comey think 
about the New York Mafia social clubs he knew as a Manhattan prosecutor 
in the 1980s and 1990s — “The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. Café Giardino.”

The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned 
book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of 
choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. 
Dishonesty, he writes, was central “to the entire enterprise of 
organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic,” and so, too, were 
bullying, peer pressure and groupthink — repellent traits shared by 
Trump and company, he suggests, and now infecting our culture.

“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, 
“with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, 
fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical 
behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”

“A Higher Loyalty” is the first big memoir by a key player in the 
alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was 
abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three 
administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential 
norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic 
duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and 
balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential 
independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes 
out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 
June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its 
author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days 
as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The volume offers little in the way of hard news revelations about 
investigations by the F.B.I. or the special counsel Robert S. Mueller 
III (not unexpectedly, given that such investigations are ongoing and 
involve classified material), and it lacks the rigorous legal analysis 
that made Jack Goldsmith’s 2007 book “The Terror Presidency” so incisive 
about larger dynamics within the Bush administration.

What “A Higher Loyalty” does give readers are some near-cinematic 
accounts of what Comey was thinking when, as he’s previously said, Trump 
demanded loyalty from him during a one-on-one dinner at the White House; 
when Trump pressured him to let go of the investigation into his former 
national security adviser Michael T. Flynn; and when the president asked 
what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

There are some methodical explanations in these pages of the reasoning 
behind the momentous decisions Comey made regarding Hillary Clinton’s 
emails during the 2016 campaign — explanations that attest to his 
nonpartisan and well-intentioned efforts to protect the independence of 
the F.B.I., but that will leave at least some readers still questioning 
the judgment calls he made, including the different approaches he took 
in handling the bureau’s investigation into Clinton (which was made 
public) and its investigation into the Trump campaign (which was handled 
with traditional F.B.I. secrecy).

“A Higher Loyalty” also provides sharp sketches of key players in three 
presidential administrations. Comey draws a scathing portrait of Vice 
President Dick Cheney’s legal adviser David S. Addington, who 
spearheaded the arguments of many hard-liners in the George W. Bush 
White House; Comey describes their point of view: “The war on terrorism 
justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.” He depicts Bush 
national security adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice 
as uninterested in having a detailed policy discussion of interrogation 
policy and the question of torture. He takes Barack Obama’s attorney 
general Loretta Lynch to task for asking him to refer to the Clinton 
email case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” (Comey tartly notes 
that “the F.B.I. didn’t do ‘matters.’”) And he compares Trump’s attorney 
general, Jeff Sessions, to Alberto R. Gonzales, who served in the same 
position under Bush, writing that both were “overwhelmed and overmatched 
by the job,” but “Sessions lacked the kindness Gonzales radiated.”

Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, 
for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless 
blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than 
his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never 
saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his 
inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor 
of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a 
little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite 
(“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining 
why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with 
Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking 
gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, 
however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing 
Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra 
induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking 
me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served 
as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the 
F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone 
independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the 
president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and 
national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s 
ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his 
recent book “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably 
thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that 
“he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for 
him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet 
another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step 
beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to 
hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials 
during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — 
whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A 
week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special 
counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump 
campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often 
contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director 
gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we 
believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying 
to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I 
like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You 
got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective 
books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites 
than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, 
sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian 
De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank 
Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred 
Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of 
the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions 
that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the 
rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was 
indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the 
hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent 
Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to 
reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice 
Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a 
relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive 
appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, 
companies, religions, countries, continents.

Mr. Comey, a former federal prosecutor, writes that he laments the ways 
dishonesty is “infecting our culture.” Credit Stephen Voss/Redux
The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to 
what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a 
person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, 
then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little 
martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his 
brother-in-law.

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in 
office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false 
or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic 
view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In 
another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing 
Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political 
realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong 
from consuming the weak.”

Until his cover was blown, Comey shared nature photographs on Twitter 
using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and both his 1982 thesis and this 
memoir highlight how much Niebuhr’s work resonated with him. They also 
attest to how a harrowing experience he had as a high school senior — 
when he and his brother were held captive, in their parents’ New Jersey 
home, by an armed gunman — must have left him with a lasting awareness 
of justice and mortality.

Long passages in Comey’s thesis are also devoted to explicating the 
various sorts of pride that Niebuhr argued could afflict human beings — 
most notably, moral pride and spiritual pride, which can lead to the sin 
of self-righteousness. And in “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey provides an 
inventory of his own flaws, writing that he can be “stubborn, prideful, 
overconfident and driven by ego.”

Those characteristics can sometimes be seen in Comey’s account of his 
handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, wherein he seems to 
have felt a moral imperative to address, in a July 2016 press 
conference, what he described as her “extremely careless” handling of 
“very sensitive, highly classified information,” even though he went on 
to conclude that the bureau recommend no charges be filed against her. 
His announcement marked a departure from precedent in that it was done 
without coordination with Department of Justice leadership and offered 
more detail about the bureau’s evaluation of the case than usual.

As for his controversial disclosure on Oct. 28, 2016, 11 days before the 
election, that the F.B.I. was reviewing more Clinton emails that might 
be pertinent to its earlier investigation, Comey notes here that he had 
assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has 
repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that 
assumption: “It is entirely possible that, because I was making 
decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the 
next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by 
concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would 
have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in 
all polls. But I don’t know.”

He adds that he hopes “very much that what we did — what I did — wasn’t 
a deciding factor in the election.” In testimony before the Senate 
Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Comey stated that the very idea that 
his decisions might have had an impact on the outcome of the 
presidential race left him feeling “mildly nauseous” — or, as one of his 
grammatically minded daughters corrected him, “nauseated.”

Trump was reportedly infuriated by Comey’s “nauseous” remark; less than 
a week later he fired the F.B.I. director — an act regarded by some 
legal scholars as possible evidence of obstruction of justice, and that 
quickly led to the appointment of the special counsel Robert Mueller and 
an even bigger cloud over the White House.

It’s ironic that Comey, who wanted to shield the F.B.I. from politics, 
should have ended up putting the bureau in the midst of the 2016 
election firestorm; just as it’s ironic (and oddly fitting) that a civil 
servant who has prided himself on being apolitical and independent 
should find himself reviled by both Trump and Clinton, and thrust into 
the center of another tipping point in history.

They are ironies that would have been appreciated by Comey’s hero 
Niebuhr, who wrote as much about the limits, contingencies and 
unforeseen consequences of human decision-making as he did about the 
dangers of moral complacency and about the necessity of entering the 
political arena to try to make a difference.

Michiko Kakutani, former chief book critic for The New York Times, is 
the author of the forthcoming book “The Death of Truth: Notes on 
Falsehood in the Age of Trump.” Follow her on Twitter: @michikokakutani



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