WASHINGTON — I bought fired FBI director James Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” so you don’t have to buy it.
I read it so you don’t have to read it.
It’s not a bad read, especially if you like to know details of what goes on behind the headlines and are interested in how a bullied 12-year-old went on to run the world’s most important law enforcement machine.
But I wish Comey had not written it, not yet.
The book makes special counsel Robert Mueller’s job investigating Russian interference in our politics more difficult. Comey, after all, will be a witness in any legal proceeding against Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
It will give Donald Trump more ammunition for his false claims that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt.”
It puts Comey down in the dirt in hand-to-hand combat with Trump.
It’s easy to see why Comey yearned to write his account of his awkward encounters with Trump, who demanded personal loyalty from someone with a job that must be independent.
Trump went from promising Comey that after four years in the job, he (Comey) would keep his 10-year post to firing him without notice and, most recently, calling Comey a “slime ball.” Yeah. So dignified.
But Comey admittedly suffers from an annoying penchant for self-righteousness. (“I know I can be wrong even when I am certain I am right.”) Yes, he won’t admit he acted politically in announcing an investigation of Hillary Clinton just before the 2016 election.
In Comey’s words, “I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident and driven by ego,” which, in a strange juxtaposition, is remarkably like the current president.
Comey, however, is not a liar. Trump is. Comey is overwhelmed with respect and love for the FBI and its traditions. Trump is not. Comey believes in public service. Trump believes in Trump.
In this book, Comey decided to play by Trump’s rules and ends up looking slightly pathetic. He refers to the size of Trump’s hands, Trump’s overlong tie, his orange complexion, the white half-moons under the eyes, inability to laugh and bright hair, pondering how long it must take each morning to maneuver into a remarkable helmet.
He refers to the dossier prepared by an ex-British spy, which alleges Trump cavorted with prostitutes in a Russian hotel room in an effort to defile a bed where former President Barack Obama once slept. Comey says he does not know whether the incident is true or not.
Noting he’s been the subject of 50 Trump tweets, Comey told “The Today Show,” “I’m like a breakup (Trump) can’t get over.”
One wishes Comey would follow Michelle Obama’s mantra, “When they go low, we go high.”
Comey wrote the book to try to get even; he compares Trump to a mob boss. But Comey also wanted to proclaim: “As a leadership principle, if leaders don’t tell the truth or won’t hear the truth from others, they cannot make good decisions, they cannot improve themselves and they cannot inspire trust among those who follow them.”
“Who am I to tell you about ethical leadership?” Comey asks rhetorically. After this book, well, yes.
Comey’s stores of working for Rudy Giuliani, prosecuting Martha Stewart for insider trading and failing to prevent illegal surveillance and torture of terrorism suspects are interesting if self-serving. He talks about not growing tall (6-foot-8) until after high school and being bullied as a child and about a known gun-wielding rapist ransacking his house when he and his brothers were young.
But given this time and this atmosphere, it is Comey’s duels with Trump that are supposed to rivet our attention. And it is the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” childish nature of the give-and-take when the issues are serious that is disturbing.
We are perplexed by Comey’s visible effort to be bipartisan and take the high road while writing: “Evil has an ordinary face. It laughs, it cries, it deflects, it rationalizes, it makes great pasta.”
Comey concludes that the Trump era, with his disdain for civility, truth, tradition, dignity and honor, will be followed by a new appeal to “traditional American values,” similar to new growth after a forest fire.
Comey has made himself an indisputable part of the Trump story. Somehow this book diminishes us.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at [email protected].