James Comey Jr. is a troubled man. His carefully nurtured career as a law enforcer reached a pinnacle in September 2013 when he became the J. Edgar Hoover of his generation, the Director of the FBI. Far beyond America’s shores, the FBI has become the world’s most famous and effective law enforcement agency. It found work for oddballs like Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, and Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy in The Following. If you love your lists, there’s a long one here. James Comey was troubled long before all this. He became troubled the night the Ramsey Rapist ransacked his family home at gunpoint while he watched, petrified, with his brother Pete. That night changed James Comey in ways that he is still dealing with today.
Such appalling events leave ripples. Perhaps every event leaves its ripple, but the most frightening and alienating events that happen to children are often felt into adulthood, and are sometimes never forgotten. What the ripples have in common is that they do not lead directly to logical consequences. Someone witnessing an armed robbery could possibly become an armed robber, or join the police. Or they might find God. Or something else. But deep down, in the background, working in ways that the victim might not understand, the trauma mutates. It nudges, it influences, it changes its host. In Comey, it helped him to value his own life and that of others. It led him, many years later, to God. And eventually it led him to the top of the FBI, at just the wrong moment.
This is our hot take, on the day of publication, of A Higher Loyalty, James Comey’s account of his own life in law. The reason everyone is so interested in it, even here in the UK, is that he had several famous run-ins with POTUS last year that led to his sacking by Trump. We’ll be featuring a more extensive review soon, but we have specifically chosen someone beyond the shores of the USA to do the review. We cannot provide distance in time, but we can provide distance in space.
What many in the US might not understand is that we instinctively like and trust Comey, just as we instinctively trusted the Clintons. We are always going to trust the word of Comey over the tabloid journalist Michael Wolff, for example. In the final analysis, Comey gave decades of his life to public service, whereas Wolff just sat on the right couch long enough to hear something salacious. The American Way, the American Dream, is not the British way. We prefer the long view, the considered contemplation. We do not, and never will, like Trump. We couldn’t even stomach Dubya, and he was a model statesman by comparison.
Comey begins his memoir with anecdotes from his time catching members of the American Mafia, then turns to the trauma of his childhood, and is gently winding up towards a discussion of the attitude that cost him his most recent job. The attitude that the FBI and country come before self, and certainly before any personal notion of loyalty. What we know, here at least, is that the good guy always wins in the end. Comey’s sacking led irrevocably to an even more focused enemy in Mueller. As rumours of plans to unseat or at least derail Mueller grow louder, we wonder just who can be wheeled out next. Clark Kent? John “Hannibal” Smith?
Comey’s troubles began long before Trump, during his handling of the Clinton email saga. What we’re seeing a lot of in press reports about this book is that Comey made the very logical mistake of acting on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be President by now. It seems obvious to us that she is not. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to remember just how little attention we paid to White House shenanigans prior to Trump. Not since Dick Cheney and funny old Donny Rumsfeld have British media been this interested in the White House. And before that you need to reach back to Lewinsky. And before that, Nixon. It’s not often one of these stories really takes hold in London. And reassuringly for us, the logic Comey used is that logic we saw with Brexit. Absolutely nobody with any credibility thought the Brexiteers would win and that includes the arch Brexiteer, Nigel Farage himself. Even FLOTUS didn’t think Trump could win. Just one more reason that Trump and Brexit are never far apart in the British press.
What we can say, which has been lost in the frothy media coverage this weekend, is that this book is a lot cooler and more considered than you might expect. It starts at the beginning, in the early 1990s, and it is as much about Comey’s character and worldview as it is about Trump. Sure, this book deal was made possible by Comey’s firing, and sure, he must feel rum about it still. But the book has already done well, it will make a lot of money, and Trump’s boosting of it on Twitter will help Comey out. What is always difficult, more especially when you’re a lead player in the drama, is commenting on a story that has not yet run its course.
Comey himself does not call for Trump’s impeachment, significantly. He knows that such things run on for years. Everyone remembers the circus around Bill Clinton. Unless Trump resigns, Comey is asking the US electorate to chuck Trump out. By the time the results from November’s mid-terms are in, Trump will be half-way through his time as POTUS. And still no sign of Mueller stopping his investigations. Just imagine how long it will take to process the aftermath, knowing throughout that Mueller cannot indict Trump. Everyone but Trump yes, but not Trump. And the latest Washington Post’s poll reports that Trump’s approval rating is just beginning to drift upwards.
These are very strange times. Thank goodness we have someone with the heft of James Comey, who was once the teenager from Allendale, NJ, who once nearly caught the Ramsey Rapist, to bear witness.