James Comey, the former FBI director fired by President Donald Trump, has, as everyone knows who has not just arrived here from another planet, written a book. It is a much hyped book, and undoubtedly will sell well and make Mr. Comey a handsome dollar.
What is the book about?
That is hard to say.
Its title is A Higher Loyalty, and it purports to juxtapose Mr. Comey’s higher purposes with the president’s. In some sense that is what the book is about: An attempt to show that the president is “unworthy” of high office and Mr. Comey is worthy.
Mr. Comey wants to be Mr. Trump’s nemesis, and this he has accomplished.
But Mr. Comey makes his case, not with argument but with the “tell all” approach of a supermarket tabloid.
Hence we have learned what Mr. Comey thought of the size of the president’s hands, and that he told the president he did not take the infamous and revolting Steele dossier seriously (but that he does not now totally dismiss it), and even what Mr. Comey thinks of the president’s language, mannerisms, and marriage.
This is higher loyalty and purpose?
More important, we have learned that Mr. Comey is willing to go on TV and talk about legal matters still in play — like the Mueller Russia probe. This is utterly unprofessional for an ex-FBI official, and it violates FBI ethics, in spirit if not also in letter.
Tellingly, we have learned that he knew the Steele dossier was politically financed and generated when he told the president about it, but he chose not to tell the president that.
This is worthiness?
Mr. Comey’s tell-all tells all about him. He reveals himself to be partisan, petty, and disappointingly, breathtakingly, small minded. There seems to be no thought behind this book — only gossip and rather pitiable attempts at self-aggrandizement.
When the president fired Mr. Comey, almost everyone in America who writes about politics and government thought it was a terrible mistake. And it was, politically. It resulted in the special counsel, and the investigation of the president’s lawyer and possibly his sex life. (Didn’t we do this once and learn it was pernicious folly?)
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But the person Mr. Comey has revealed himself to be over the last few days is completely at odds with what an FBI director should be. The director should not be a vindictive infighter, building his fiefdom like J. Edgar Hoover, but a top cop and lawyer, a straight arrow, a pro — like Bill Bratton or Robert Morganthau.
Mr. Comey has long presented himself as such a man. Alas, he is anything but. He is, by his own evidence, a score-settling bureaucratic conniver whose vanity has triumphed over his sense of duty, and whose personal agendas obliterated the thing he most wanted to be — a good public servant.
None of this negates the president’s legal or political troubles. None of it legitimizes impulsive behavior or government by tweet. It doesn’t work that way. But Mr. Comey contributes nothing to our understanding of this moment in our history and only adds to the coarsening of our politics.
Meanwhile, the FBI desperately needs to be cleaned up, depoliticized, and re-professionalized. Mr. Comey has hurt the FBI terribly. The only thing he has damaged more is his own reputation.
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