Former FBI Director James Comey published his keenly anticipated book "A Higher Loyalty" this week. I listened to the Audible edition read by Comey himself. This turned out to be a good method of digesting the book because Comey's earnestness comes through very clearly in his own voice.
The book is autobiographical but not a full autobiography. Those who read it just for the events surrounding Donald Trump should not ignore the larger part of the book which deals with episodes from Comey's childhood and career in the law. They are dramatic, thoughtful, and interesting. Comey uses them to develop his views on ethical leadership, self-knowledge and humility describing several people he has known whose lives and personalities have been exemplars for him through the years.
He has much to say about what makes an inspiring leader and it is clear that he wishes he will have been seen as such. Readers will naturally be on their guard for self-serving stories when he talks about the organisations he himself has led but Comey's frequent admissions of his own mistakes and weaknesses lead one to think that we are reading a broadly honest account.
To many people his investigation into Hilary Clinton's unclassified email server will be the black mark forever held against him. These investigations are described in greater detail than anything else in the book. Comey admits that another FBI Director might have handled things somewhat differently but, reading his account, it is difficult not to sympathise with the way he made some incredibly difficult decisions. If (like I had been) you are slightly unclear on what this investigation was about this part of the book is a very complete account. The bottom line is that Clinton was very careless in using an unclassified email server. That conclusion was easily reached but it took the FBI much longer to trawl through the emails before being able to declare that there was nothing further to the whole issue. Comey reported the closure of the investigation to Congress in July 2016. But two weeks before the 2016 election, the investigation had to be re-opened because further emails were found on another laptop and Comey had to decide whether to inform Congress the investigation was being re-opened. He chose to do so and it is this that Clinton and others believe cost the Democrats the election. Should he have waited until the reopened investigation was complete? That might have resulted in Clinton being elected and then the public finding out she was about to be indicted.
I feel there is an unanswered question lurking over this reopening of the investigation: Comey says he had to make this public because the ongoing examination was projected to take weeks yet, in the event, it was completed before the election; had that been known why could the announcement not have been delayed until the investigation was complete?
Donald Trump enters only in the final stages of the book but it is this part of the book that has attracted the most attention. In some ways though, one can read the previous part of the book as setting the scene for Comey's withering criticism of the US President. Comey has constructed a number of ethical principles based on leaders who have influenced his own life and we know, as the moment approaches, that Trump is going to fall very far short of those standards. And, for once, Trump does not disappoint us.
I write this as one who thinks that Donald Trump is a peculiarly awful individual and president. But, of course, some Republicans will not agree. The attacks on Comey have already begun and are being spearheaded by the web site lyincomey.com. I've just spent some time perusing this site and found that its rebuttals are weak and ludicrous. So I think A Higher Loyalty is a very credible attack on the Trump presidency and will only add to the maelstrom of difficulties now swirling around it.