Former FBI director destroys president in book — déjà vu?

Former FBI director destroys president in book — déjà vu?
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Even amidst the sobering news of airstrikes in Syria or the president’s personal attorney being the target of a criminal investigation by the feds in New York, the pending release of James ComeyJames Brien ComeyIntel chairman says FBI starting to answer questions on Russia probe Intel chairman says FBI starting to answer questions on Russia probe Want the truth? Put your money on Bill Barr, not Jerry Nadler MORE’s tell-all book has America breathlessly awaiting the broken silence.

“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” reportedly has an initial print run of 850,000 copies. To put that in perspective, Michael Wolff’s ubiquitous “Fire and Fury” garnered an initial publisher commitment of 150,000.


Leaked excerpts of Comey’s “opus” are hotly debated by competing camps. One side views the former FBI director, ignominiously fired by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE last May, as a courageous symbol of the #Resistance. Others view him as a vainglorious grandstander whose carefully crafted image as “the last honest man in Washington” is a sham.


Some of the book’s more salacious observations already have garnered attention. With an understandable axe to grind, Comey goes there – he describes the president’s complexion, compares hand size, and even leaves open the possibility that the so-called Steele Dossier’s most scandalous (yet, unproven) details related to Russian prostitutes relieving themselves for a fetishist future president might possibly have occurred.

Trump and the White House have begun to hit back. In a two-part tweet, Trump referred to the former FBI director as a “LEAKER & LIAR” and an “untruthful slime ball” who should be prosecuted. And with Comey’s first televised interview set to air tonight on ABC, the war of words is certain to devolve into more pernicious name-calling and inflammatory accusations.

Makes one wonder: Could this possibly be the most public and acrimonious relationship ever between a president and an FBI director?

Well, actually, no.

J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau’s Founding Father, served some 48 years and answered to eight presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Richard M. Nixon. His personal animus toward some of his bosses resulted in the shameful compilation of derogatory information on them – a means to withstand their predilections to remove him from his position.

Hoover’s tenure is a bygone era, however, one that relies on fading memories and a segment of history not documented by the internet. Today we are oversaturated with details, spurred by an insatiable appetite for information that relentlessly churns out stories for a 24/7 news cycle.

But what of the 1990s? Have we not witnessed a more recent past-is-prologue episode of “Battle of the D.C. Power Players,” one in which President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe unexpected shadow of 1994, 25 years later Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales MORE and then-FBI Director Louis Freeh squared off during two scandal-plagued terms of Clinton’s presidency?

Freeh preceded Comey by authoring his own post-FBI tell-all, released in 2005 and entitled, “My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror.”

Freeh even appeared on CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” to hawk it, famously referring to Clinton as an “immoral disgrace.”

Eminently eerie, these feelings of déjà vu.

Freeh dedicated a chapter, “Bill And Me,” to his relationship with the 42nd president, chronicling what began as a partnership of promise but quickly devolved into one fraught with distrust and wariness. From Freeh’s book:

“Someone asked me not long ago how often I met with the president early in my service as FBI director, before things turned sour between us. To the best of my recollection, the answer is one time, maybe two, maybe three times in the seven-plus years I worked under Bill Clinton. Add in phone calls, and the total might climb to half a dozen. He just wasn’t very interested in intelligence gathering or law enforcement, and that meant he wasn’t very interested in (then-CIA director) Jim Woolsey or me.”

As the innumerable Clinton scandals garnered FBI and special prosecutor interest, Freeh recounted how he angered Clinton by not accepting a gifted personal White House pass. Freeh was leery of this privilege that allowed unfettered access and required no recording of visitation dates and times in the visitor logs.

This decision-point anecdote appears in sharp contrast to Comey’s unprecedented decision to establish a record nine interactions with Trump, part of the infamous memo he leaked to the New York Times.

In detailing Clinton’s depravations and hubris, Freeh’s account strikes another, eerily reminiscent Comey chord. Comey pillories Trump for his excesses, for lacking probity and moral rectitude. Freeh matches Comey note-for-note in his assessment of Clinton, “The problem, of course, was that with Bill Clinton, the scandals and rumored scandals, the incubating ones and the dying ones, never ended. Whatever moral compass the president was consulting, it was leading him in the wrong direction, and he lacked the discipline to pull back once he found himself stepping into trouble. Worse, he had been behaving that way so long that the closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out.”

Immoralities aside, the comparisons between Trump and Clinton don’t end there. Trump’s recent decision to participate in coalition airstrikes against Syrian despot Bashar Al-Assad — a response to Assad again using chemical weapons on his own people — are being viewed in a “wag the dog”context. Clinton, you may recall, authorized strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. Freeh described the Lewinsky matter as having turned the White House into “a theater of the absurd.” And as Lewinsky was to Clinton, Stormy Daniels may ultimately be as damaging — criminally, or via an impeachment process — to Trump.

Some of that omnipresent threat may have led to Trump’s curious decision to pardon Scooter Libby. The timing of that unilateral decision has come under intense scrutiny and can be compared to what Freeh says of Clinton:

“I look back now on the 177 pardons and commutations Clinton issued as his final act of office, and I’m still stunned by the fact that neither the FBI nor the attorney general of the Department of Justice was ever consulted about a single one of them.”

And no line by Freeh about Clinton may better sum up how Trump and his allies view Comey, special prosecutor Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE and the rest of the political opposition: “The president’s frequently expressed point of view was that his troubles stemmed from political enemies who wouldn’t leave his past alone and a special prosecutor he never should have agreed to.”

We exist in interesting times.

Yet, fret not: We’ve been here before. And the Republic survived.

James A. Gagliano is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and a CNN law enforcement analyst. 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.