James Comey and his cronies have damaged the FBI — how can we fix it?

James Comey and his cronies have damaged the FBI — how can we fix it?
© Greg Nash

Yesterday, James ComeyJames Brien ComeyState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Graham on Syria: Trump appears 'hell-bent' on repeating Obama's mistakes in Iraq MORE joined CNN’s Anderson Cooper on stage at Comey’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va, to answer questions from the audience of mostly students in a cozy town hall setting.

Little over a week has passed since the much ballyhooed rollout of Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.” The frenetic pace of the publicity tour has left America fairly exhausted. And for those of us who were career agents — meaning the FBI was a profession that we retired from, not served briefly in and then moved on to another career — we’re fairly satiated of the “James Comey is a victim” tour.

Time to move on.


James Comey and his cronies have damaged the FBI, whether purposeful as some have charged, or simply ham-handedly. Recall that Comey, self-described as an “honest idiot", enjoys playing the victim-card, but his lack of courage in failing to push back on the nakedly politicized efforts of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaClinton suggests Russia grooming Gabbard to run as third-party 2020 candidate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings Obama: Cummings showed us 'the importance of checks and balances' MORE, Loretta Lynch and Donald Trump have had a deleterious effect on the FBI – morale-wise and in effectiveness and recovery from it will take years, if not decades.

So, what needs to be done to right the FBI ship that currently lists dangerously to its port side?

Well, most importantly, a return to the core values that made the FBI the premier law enforcement agency in the world.

It has been almost 110 years since Attorney General Joseph Bonaparte issued an edict establishing an investigative agency within the Department of Justice — a precursor to the modern FBI. Congress officially established the FBI in 1935 and the expressed mission became:

“[T]o protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal and international agencies and partners; and to perform these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and is faithful to the Constitution of the United States.”

In no part of that mission statement does political calculus play a part. Yet, Comey, during numerous insufferable book tour interviews, can seemingly recall minute details of interactions with a president he clearly loathes, but just can’t seem to recall whether or not political polls played any role in his decisions related to the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE email investigation … er … “matter.”


Comey’s feckless leadership ensured no grand jury was empaneled in a case that demanded it.

As I have often stated, Comey is an affable and amiable gentleman and one must trust — I guess — that his heart is pure and his haphazard efforts as FBI director were earnest and sincere.

And many Americans seem to believe him over a president who struggles with the truth in matters seemingly large and small. Inauguration crowd size anyone?

But one of the most telling moments of Comey’s tête-à-tête with Cooper was this:

He acknowledged his suspect selection of FBI personnel to surround himself with at FBI headquarters, as well as some other questionable decisions as director, asserting they may be fairly criticized.

Um, you think?

His choice for Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeBrendan Gleeson lands Trump role in CBS miniseries based on Comey memoir Judge tells DOJ to charge McCabe or drop investigation McCabe says he would 'absolutely not' cut a deal with prosecutors MORE, was fired by the attorney general for lying – four times and under oath – following a fair, impartial, unbiased and nonpartisan review by an Inspector General Michael Horowitz — selected by President Obama in 2012.

And Comey’s leak of FBI documents — which he gamely tried to defend to Cooper — is the subject of yet another IG review.

The dubious selection of Peter Strzok, deputy assistant director in the counterintelligence division and the direction to Strzok to draft the letter to Congress reopening the Clinton email investigation 11 days before the election are yet more questionable Comey decisions.

Strzok, you’ll recall, is the man who infamously toned down FBI investigators’ assessment of Hillary Clinton’s actions as “gross negligence” — an infraction that the Department of Justice typically prosecutes — to “extreme carelessness,” thus saving Clinton from potential jail time and earning her a mere public scolding from the pious Comey.

Comey continues to describe Strzok as an “excellent agent.” And McCabe, you’ll recall, used Strzok’s paramour, FBI attorney Lisa Page, to leak to the Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett some self-serving information that he then reportedly lied to investigators about.

So what must the FBI do to move on from the sordid era of Comey-McCabe-Strzok-Page?

It’s fairly simple. Return the FBI to its core values and realign the organization with what its motto signifies.

Inspector W. H. Drane Lester, editor of the employee magazine, “The Investigator,” perfectly summed up the FBI’s values in September 1935:

“[W]e might well choose our motto, for those initials also represent the three things for which the Bureau and its representatives always stand: “Fidelity - Bravery - Integrity.”

Of recent, it may be fairly argued, the bureau under its seventh director, James Comey lost its way. It’s time to return to its core values. The organization must resist the pull of “evolution” that has corrupted it. As author Chris Cancialosi, a recognized expert in leadership and organizational development, succinctly puts it:  An agency’s values must serve as a compass or manifesto. They simply can’t be “meaningless words on a wall or lobby in your building.”

Fidelity: Comey pledged fealty to the cult-of-personality that is James Comey. Somewhere along the way he forgot that his allegiance was to the Constitution. Fidelity to self is not an attribute.

Bravery: The same Comey abdicated his duty to stand up to and push back on President Obama, Attorney General Lynch and President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE. His actions brought discredit on the FBI and despite his after-the-fact attempts to reconcile this via his vainglorious book tour, the damage he caused to the institution is incalculable.

Integrity: Andrew McCabe — a Comey pick — according to the inspector general, exhibited a lack of candor in repeated interviews about his conduct. Integrity is a bedrock principle of the FBI. Without it, we are nothing more than rabble.

How to fix the FBI? It’s fairly simple actually. FBI leadership needs to return to the 1935 ethos of our sacrosanct motto.

Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.