A Higher Loyalty (★★★★★)

A Higher Loyalty

James Comey   *   Flatiron Books   *   April 17, 2018   *   277 Pages

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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.”

9 thoughts

  1. I’ve been really unsure about if I want to read this one. And you answered one of my bigger questions too, and part of why I have reservations about him despite his seeming dedication to ethics – why did he do the unprecedented of making that investigation announcement days before the election?! Very interesting. Maybe need to give this one a try. Fantastic review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, that really confused me, too. Why make this huge announcement about reopening the investigation and looking at more emails, knowing the public would infer Clinton had done something bad? And all before knowing what the emails even said? After reading his explanation in the book, I am still irritated with him—because I think he made the wrong decision. But at least I understand now that he was so obsessively worried about tarnishing the reputation of the FBI, so worried that (when Clinton inevitably won) the public would think the FBI had “protected her” by not openly and immediately declaring that they found new emails, that he felt he had to go ABOVE AND BEYOND to make the FBI seem unbiased.

      Part of me wonders if he got played. Why were all those old Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s home computer anyway? It doesn’t make any sense. This sounds all “conspiracy theory-esque,” but the idea crossed my mind that someone purposely put those emails on that computer knowing that Boy Scout Comey would react exactly the way he did. Who knows. It’s just sad to think of what could have been….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always thought that was so strange too, about her emails being on his laptop…how and why??! And from how you explain it, it does sound like he was in a much more complicated position than what I initially perceived. I felt near furious with him for that move but yeah, you’re right…there was a lot more at play. I still feel annoyed with him too but I’m relieved to understand more about it.

        I think I’ll be picking this one up after all…thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful review!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this review. I have wondered about this book. I admit I was really angry with Comey for coming out with that statement a week before the election. I blamed him for turning voters against Clinton. Part of me was glad he got fired – sweet revenge. You have reminded me that it’s important to do more than skim a headline and then act like we know what we’re talking about. I’ll probably read it now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is definitely worth reading! I also was mad at him for making that announcement. It just seemed like it came out of nowhere, didn’t follow protocol, and didn’t need to happen at that time. Why make an announcement before you know what the emails even say?! Truthfully, I still think he made the wrong decision. But I understand his reasoning better, and there’s some peace with that. Also, despite his rigid worldview, I kinda like the guy now. It was an interesting book for sure. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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