James Comey * Flatiron Books * April 17, 2018 * 277 Pages
James Comey hardly needs an introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. Not so long ago, Comey was the Director of the FBI. Before that, he was the US Deputy Attorney General, and before that he was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And then Trump became president and asked Comey for his “honest loyalty,” at which point Comey gave him a little bit of lip, and now Comey is writing books about ethics and the general disintegration of America’s moral character. So yeah, some stuff has happened in the past couple years…
This book is a little depressing, but, good grief, I loved it. I didn’t like Comey at first, honestly, since he comes across as a bit of a boy scout—always so eager to do the “right thing,” especially if he gets to be judgmental of others. But after finishing his memoir, I really think, sure, he’s kind of an uptight guy, but he clearly really wants to do the best thing for the country and he genuinely tries (or tried) to be as objective and nonpartisan as possible. Reading this book reminded me of reading excerpts of Mother Teresa’s diary—so much torment over following the rules and living up to a god’s standards. (For Mother Teresa, those standards come from the Bible. For Comey, from the Constitution.) I don’t necessarily agree with all his choices, but I still respect his process.
I even could (finally) understand why he decided to release that public statement about Hillary Clinton’s emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop less than a week before Election Day. Comey doesn’t say this directly, but it’s clear to me that he expected Clinton to win the presidential election. (We all did…) And I think he wanted to protect the FBI from looking biased when she won, so he decided to say beforehand that they had reopened the investigation (into her use of a personal email account to talk about classified information with her staff). He made the decision he did because he thought (like the rest of us) that Trump didn’t have a chance. I have to believe that if he thought Clinton and Trump were more evenly matched, he would have at least waited until the investigation of the emails was completed before making an announcement—especially given the fact that those emails contained no incriminating information and the FBI would go on to conclude that Clinton never acted with criminal intent.
It’s still difficult to read about Comey’s interactions with Trump, mostly because Trump is such an idiot. I mean, seriously, just a colossal moron. But I grew to like Comey. His emphasis on being a good leader through humor, efficiency, praise, and high standards resonated with me. He sounds like a good boss, and it makes me sad that he was fired, especially in such a demeaning way. But I respect how he’s handled himself since, and it comforts me to know someone like him exists in this world and in our country.
Some of my favorite quotes:
There is meaning and purpose in not surrendering in the face of loss, but instead working to bind up wounds, ease pain, and spare others what you have seen.
* * *
The more stressful the job, the more intentional I’ve always been about helping my team members find joy in our work. Laughter is the outward manifestation of joy, so I believe if I’m doing it right, and helping people connect to the meaning and joy in their work, there will be laughter in the workplace. Laughter is also a good indication that people aren’t taking themselves too seriously.
* * *
I laid out my five expectations that first day [as FBI Director] and many times thereafter:
- I expected [FBI employees] would find joy in their work. They were part of an organization devoted to doing good, protecting the weak, rescuing the taken, and catching criminals. That was work with moral content. Doing it should be a source of great joy.
- I expected they would treat all people with respect and dignity, without regard to position or station in life.
- I expected they would protect the institution’s reservoir of trust and credibility that makes possible all their work.
- I expected they would work hard, because they owe that to the taxpayer.
- I expected they would fight for balance in their lives.
I emphasized that last one because I worried many people in the FBI worked too hard, driven by the mission, and absorbed too much stress from what they saw. I talked about what I had learned from a year of watching [a previous mentor]. I expected them to fight to keep a life, to fight for the balance of other interests, other activities, other people, outside of work. I explained that judgment was essential to the sound exercise of power. Because they would have great power to do good or, if they abused that power, to do harm, I needed sound judgment, which is the ability to orbit a problem and see it well, including through the eyes of people very different from you. I told them that although I wasn’t sure where it came from, I knew the ability to exercise judgment was protected by getting away from the work and refreshing yourself. That physical distance made perspective possible when they returned to work.
And then I got personal. “There are people in your lives called ‘loved ones’ because you are supposed to love them.” In our work, I warned, there is a disease called “get-back-itis.” That is, you may tell yourself, “I am trying to protect a country, so I will get back to” my spouse, my kids, my parents, my siblings, my friends. “There is no getting back,” I said. “In this line of work, you will learn that bad things happen to good people. You will turn to get back and they will be gone. I order you to love somebody. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also good for you.”