Comey’s book tour is a colossal mistake
Announcements of scheduled appearances for the widely anticipated $850-to-attend book tour by fired FBI Director James Comey foreshadow a much-ballyhooed return to the public square. Media outlets eagerly booked the former director, and his opus, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” briefly jumped to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list.
But should Comey — a central witness in special counsel Robert Mueller probe — be making public his version of events which will certainly differ significantly with what President Trump, the central target in the special prosecutor’s probe, has repeatedly stated?
Comey was humiliatingly removed by the president last May and enjoyed a brief period of bipartisan sympathy for the disgraceful manner in which he was dispatched. The FBI’s seventh director learned of his termination via televised news reports while appearing before an FBI audience in Los Angeles. This is not the manner with which career public servants should ever be separated from service. Yet, with the current president, it has become de rigueur.
Initially taking the high road, remaining silent, professional and above the fray, Comey has now resorted to directly confronting the president at his own game. He shed his original anonymous Twitter nom de plume, “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and directly waded in to criticize and taunt his tormentor. In the immediate wake of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s firing and Trump’s Twitter gloating, Comey ominously warned, “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”
And, just like that, Comey conceded the tiny sliver of moral high ground he precariously clung to and reduced his position as an advocate of the pursuit of facts into a narcissistic quest to sell books. He unwittingly joined Trump in the pig-wallow that currently serves as civil discourse.
He continues to diminish himself and the cherished office he once held.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Comey was appointed to be FBI director by former President Obama in September 2013. He was quite unlike his predecessors; he enjoyed a cult of personality that resulted in numerous FBI professional support employees — even some agents — donning “Comey is my Homie” T-shirts after his humiliating firing by Trump last May. The tears shed following his public scourging were real. I was one of the forlorn, feeling in the immediate aftermath that a good man had been done wrong.
Yet, recent revelations of his questionable decisionmaking and lack of courage in failing to stand up to Loretta Lynch, Obama’s politicized attorney general, and the current president, have changed the views of many of us who carry (or once carried) the shield and credentials of FBI special agents.
We base this assessment on a number of impossible-to-defend actions and inactions by Comey.
Former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova, laid out a strong case that Comey contributed to the disgraceful politicization of the FBI — which, in part, led to his dismissal — via stupefying decisions in the Clinton emails and Trump-Russia collusion cases. The former chief prosecutor’s adapted remarks, delivered in a speech in January at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, can be found in the February 28 edition of Imprimis in a piece titled, “The Politicization of the FBI.”
Comey is certainly viewed as a polarizing figure by many Americans. Part of what makes him such an enigma to those of us who served under him was that he could appear so courageous and, yet, so self-admittedly cowardly.
His speech at Georgetown University in February 2015, “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race,” was an unprecedented acknowledgement by an FBI director that, at times, people of color don’t receive equal treatment under the law. It was a seminal moment in the lagging effort to achieve a police partnership with inner-city communities by honestly engaging and speaking truth to power. It was a brave speech — in my estimation, the high-water mark of his directorship.
But the sober, courageous director who gave those remarks exited the stage long ago, replaced by a character on Twitter. Emboldened by the left’s new adoption of him as a victim/messiah, he has shed any pretense of professional stoicism and seemingly cares little that self-indulgently discussing his interactions with the president now, before the probe concludes, may deleteriously alter the outcome.
Then again, recall his less-than-honorable leaking of his memos, through a surrogate, to The New York Times. His explanation, that he hoped it would trigger the appointment of a special prosecutor, was a clear abdication of responsibility. His nine encounters with the president left him admittedly “uneasy.” And, as he shamefully recounted to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) during a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing last June, “maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that — that was — that’s how I conducted myself.”
In failing to challenge the president, one only needs to recall Comey’s failure to also push back on the aforementioned Lynch, in order to establish a sad pattern of behavior. Lynch added to the undeniable politicization of the Department of Justice by outrageously suggesting that the FBI refer to the Clinton investigation as a “matter.” This was language repeatedly utilized by the Clinton campaign to dismiss a federal investigation as “much ado about nothing.” Comey testified that Lynch’s directive left him feeling “queasy.” But, instead of appropriately pushing back on the attorney general, he somehow felt the issue wasn’t “a hill worth dying on.”
Many inside and outside of the FBI disagree.
While these revelations are supremely disappointing, it is his current vainglorious effort to “set the record straight” amid the hugely consequential Russia probe that seems so reckless, foolhardy and self-serving. It appears to add credence to the president’s charge that Comey is, first and foremost, a grandstander.
Comey’s book tour may indeed settle an old score. But it will undoubtedly diminish what’s left of his once-bulletproof reputation and expose to further, irreparable harm the agency he once professed to so deeply love.
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.
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