SocraticGadfly: 'A Higher Loyalty' — to his own self-image?

May 09, 2018

'A Higher Loyalty' — to his own self-image?

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and LeadershipA Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Four stars for the center Clinton-Trump material; loses a star for other items.

A few introductory notes.

First, at the presidential level, I did my "duopoly exit" at the start of this century. Related to that, I dislike a lot of the structure of the national-level American polis, above all, the whole strong-presidential system that is wrapped up with the modern electoral college having pushed America to a two-party system. (The civil liberties of our constitutional amendments are great, except that we need a few more like an explicit right to privacy; the body of the constitution is largely anachronistic dreck.)

Second, re the candidates of said duopoly? Beyond having little regard for their parties, I have even less regard for the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that were foist on us. Trump is a boor who has a history of racism that provoked a suit by HUD over racism in housing. He also has a history of mafia ties, which also include the further hypocrisy of him hiring illegal immigrants, as many believe he still does today.. Clinton has a sense of entitlement and a willingness to manipulate Democratic Party leadership and actions to that end. Both have long histories of corruption. Trump in his housing and other properties, his 4x bankruptcy, and his willingness to play footsie with foreign leaders, or yet more shady characters — that link above talks about his connection to Russian as well as American mobsters. Clinton has a history that goes back to her and WJ Clinton's Whitewater; you have to really be a died-in-the-wool "Hillbot" to believe it was just luck that led her to a $100K killing in cattle futures. The pair's corruption has continued through some of the less ethical activities of the Clinton Foundation.

Third, while I do believe in some sort of "deep state," I don't believe it is some sort of massive, unified apparatus out to "get Trump." Even worse are wingnut Members of Congress like Nunes et al playing with this. (And, about as bad are the likes of Ray McGovern, trading on his CIA knowledge to tout Nunes as a truthseeker rather than denounce him as a political hack, even as McGovern plays two-siderism on this issue. Worse yet, McGovern voted for Stein, and knows what two-siderism is.)

Fourth, I do not believe Vladimir Putin caused Trump to win. He may have orchestrated some meddling, but even there, the first round of DNC emails was likely stolen by Seth Rich or somebody else inside the DNC, not hacked. Even if most alleged Russian-related meddling was actually caused by Russia, its effects were minuscule. The Facebook groups' spending was a drop in the bucket. Also related? I highly resent "Hillbot" insinuations that third party candidates were tools of Vladimir Putin. And also related? Whatever meddling Putin did officially or semi-officially do is less than the US did in two 1990s elections in Russia, let alone elsewhere in the world.

I felt all of this introduction was necessary to background my review of what is certainly a contentious book. I see a lot of "two-siderism" in a lot of reviews, and I'm telling you there's more than two sides in American politics and thus in reaction to the book.

OK, the book!

First, James Comey himself. He comes off as a generally straight shooter. But not always and not totally; more on that below. Sometimes, it seems like the letter of honesty but not the spirit. However, he also comes off as sometimes sanctimonious, perhaps strongly so at times. I think this backfired on him after AG Loretta Lynch met Bill Clinton on the Phoenix tarmac. The title of this book attests to that. More on that below. Another s-word, besides sanctimonious, also comes to mind. Comey can be smarmy at times. And, often, these two s-words intersect with a "by the books" version of honesty and nobody is served well.

I think this is a largely accurate view of what happened in the 2016 election vis-a-vis James Comey's part in it, from the Clinton emails and server issues, through post-election Trump trying to get mafioso-type loyalty from Comey. (See what I said above about Trump's long history of mob ties, some of which Comey surely knows about, beyond Comey's own investigation of non-Trump mob cases.) George Will, recalling a sick suck-up event last June, supports this. I think Comey's personal assessment, and his assessment of DOJ assessment, of just how penalizable Clinton was, is also correct. That said, I do agree with Comey, despite the fact that the FBI can nail anybody for lying to it, that Petraeus should have been specifically charged with this, and should have done jail time.

At the same time, Comey is not totally write about Trump's personality. Per Quora, I am reminded that, if the roasting Obama gave Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner pissed Trump off, he still laughed about it in public. More here.

Comey is right that Hillary Clinton's issues were largely her fault. As for the "Colin Powell used private email," Comey responds — maybe the first time I've directly read this – that Powell and others who did this never sent classified material over a personal email account, but Hillary Clinton did. And, that's not to mention the private server, which Hillbots generally avoid like the plague.

I think the investigation was generally decently handled, per two paragraphs above, until the Phoenix tarmac. Lynch had already started showing her cards before that with the insistence on the word "matter." Comey did the best he could with that — or at least presents himself that way, but he should have kept that in mind post-Phoenix and acted differently. If he felt this was like Lynch dumping something in his lap, he should have told her so, and then asked that she have Deputy AG Sally Yates take over as the DOJ public face. He should then have talked to Yates directly. Or he should have asked for a special prosecutor. He should NOT have assumed this was "his baby." That's the sanctimoniousness. If the apparent lack of communication between Lynch and Yates became bigger, that too should have been kept as purely their baby, not his.

Yates, not him, then would have (presumably) spoken to Congress. Ditto on Yates deciding what public communication was needed when new Clinton e-mails popped up in the Weiner-Humedin chain.

If Yates refuses? And Lynch won't "person up"? You either resign on principle or leak about this on principle right then.

Trump probably still would have fired Comey soon enough. But, Comey's hands would have been even cleaner than they actually are.

Speaking of things Trump, the New York Times gets Bureau and DOJ staff on background saying Comey mishandled the early Russia and Trump campaign ties investigation that started in 2016. They say he should have used different agents from the Clinton investigation, and shouldn't have consolidated them in general and let alone at headquarters. What led to that?

And, was Comey's refusal to announce the investigation a form of bet-hedging? What would have happened had he not announced the late re-opening of the Clinton investigation? Even more, what if he had, as noted above, punted back to Lynch in summer 2016?

Comey also carefully phrased that what he did that he details in the book after the firing wasn't a leak. More recent discussion, and not just by Trump Trainers, says maybe so, maybe not. The fact that Comey insists on this comes off as sanctimonious, doubly so since he claims his memoranda about each Trump meeting is personal, not government, property, but doesn't include them in the book. Some other of his Trump-scenes paintings look smarmy.

Other matters? Comey is too nice to Lynch on the Phoenix tarmac issue. She should have known the optics were horrible, especially when the meeting stretched to 30 minutes. So, too, should have the Slickster. Did Lynch have an ulterior motive? Who knows. Bill surely did, even if it was not the one of creating a conflict of interest; it may have been one of strong hubby Bill fighting to protect Hillary.

In any case, Comey drops a smug, smarmy hint that Lynch might have problems in general on the investigatin, then says, "It's classified," on his source for that.

The book, outside of Trump-Clinton, is weak in other ways. In talking about a new post-Ferguson wave of minority distrust of cops, and the FBI's difficulty in recruiting minorities, Comey never mentioned COINTELPRO. Nor did he mention that FBI several arrests of alleged terrorists, in the minds of many, were entrapments. Nor – beyond the fact that many people will pay for it — does he make any real effort to understand the side of Apple et al on smartphone encryption strength. No discussion of the possible wrongs of the Patriot Act and related law.

The sanctimoniousness on the leak-or-not is more than just that, though, and ties with this. It's a bit of "the ends justify the means" stance. Comey makes that clear with phone encryption; on the things not mentioned, he probably believes alleged terrorists were never "really" entrapped; the FBI just did what it needed to. Ditto on COINTELPRO.

Above all, so is Comey's Al Haig-like "I'm in charge now" on the last months of the Clinton investigation. How much of that was in Comey's older cultural DNA and how much is him as FBI director, I am not sure.

Update, June 8: Related to all of this, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz has reportedly found that Comey disobeyed lines of authority at times; the word "insubordinate" is allegedly used in a draft report. Horowitz's report also allegedly rebukes Lynch.

And, the story of White Boy Rick points out the real FBI, not Comey's PR bullshit.

June 14: More information and details from the Horowitz report.

First, rank elitism, not Deep State conspiracy theory blather, is a good explainer about many FBI agents, if Peter Strzok is representative of others in saying Bernie Sanders "is an idiot like Trump." (Related: As that link reminds us, per the FBI that Comey wants to turd-polish, Strzok and Lisa Page were having an extramarital affair. That's not only unethical, but in any investigative agency, leaves one open to blackmail.

The report also reveals that Comey made his public announcement about the October re-opening of the Clinton case not out of selflessness, but out of job security CYA, per Atlantic. And, per my SOP comments above about talking to Yates, apparently he, or someone in his circles, DID tell Yates this. And, the NYT also jumps on his smugness.

And Comey himself still doesn't get it, or doesn't want to, as far as Horowitz's calling him insubordinate, as his June 14 NYT column indicates.

That said, for both the Trumpers and Clintonistas who have worshiped the ground he has walked on at various times, the idea that he's ultimately a typical FBI director never comes to mind, apparently. That said, now that Trump is proving to be more a warmonger than in the election, and Clinton was always that way, and both have sometimes more similar than dissimilar stances on parts of their domestic background that is related (the Patriot Act came from materials already under discussion in Bill's presidency), this is probably something that both say is a credit rather than a demerit. But, that's yet another reason I did my "duopoly exit."

Peter Van Buren adds that it would have been nice to hear more about the Bush-Ashcroft-Gonzales-Addington stuff. I agree; other earlier stuff might also have been nice, including more on Giuliani.

Even more than that, without him claiming "it's classified," beyond the bare bones of the Steele dossier, I would have liked to hear more of Comey's take on "Putin did it." To the degree that Vladimir Putin actually did interfere with the 2016 presidential elections, it was surely less than we interfered with 1990s elections in Russia. However, neither Hillbots nor MAGA-heads want an honest discussion of this issue, and I suspect that establishmentarian Comey wouldn't give us much of one.

As for the personal anecdotes about Trump's perma-tan, and not having THAT small of hands? Maybe Comey was trying to personalize the meeting. Maybe he was trying to look neutral by the variety of descriptors. To me, it wasn't a big deal, unlike some reviewers. I did find it mildly interesting, no more.

In any case, because the book gives us, unintentionally, a decent look at Comey the man as well as the Trump and Clinton incidents, it's still worth a solid three stars. Comey the person, at least on the issues in this book, may only be worth two, though.

Many of the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon give good examples of the two-siderism that has been the bane of America for two full years.

View all my reviews

Update, May 14: Former Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein has turned both barrels on Comey, calling him a "partisan pundit" who trampled "bright lines that should never be crossed."

The specific target of his ire is how Comey handled reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails adn server after then-AG Loretta Lynch had had her conflict-of-interest inducing meeting with Bill Clinton on the Phoenix tarmac.

Rosenstein is totally right. It was grandstanding, as I said at the time, and not SOP, either. Then-Assistant AG Sally Yates should have been contacted by Comey and she should have been asked to get Lynch to officially recuse herself, then take over.

Rosenstein said he would have handled Comey's firing differently had it been just him, not Trump, but that Comey deserved to be fired.

He did.

Period and end of story, Donut Twitter and Resistance.

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