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Sep 30, 2018 09:51PM ● By Michael Harris


Book Reviews by Michael G. Harris, OD


A Higher Loyalty


For some time now, I've wanted to read James Comey's memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. It's the story of his early life and his many years in public service as an attorney, prosecutor, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, US deputy attorney general, and the 7th director of the FBI. Sounds like it would be a wonderful story about a man dedicated to public service. My challenge was overcoming my misgivings about the man who some claim was single-handedly responsible for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential election defeat. I'd seen so much on the news and read so many articles about Comey and the email scandal that, frankly, I was worn out by all of it. Finally, after having the book on my desk for several months, I decided to read it.


Comey's early years were spent as a middle child in a large Catholic family in New Jersey. As a kid, other kids constantly bullied him. Through this experience, he became a champion of the underdog. At 16, Comey worked as a store clerk at a local grocery store where he learned many lessons that shaped his life. His boss, Harry Howell, was tough but fair. “He made us feel important.  He so obviously cared about what he was doing and about us, we desperately wanted to please him."


The most powerful lesson he learned from Howell about leadership happened when Comey lost control of a hand truck over-staked with six crates of gallon milk cartons. The cartons went flying everywhere and Comey found himself staring at "a 24-gallon lake of milk.” Howell simply asked: "Have you learned something?"  Comey's reply was "Yes. Sir." Howell’s response: "Good. Clean it all."  That response wasn’t one of anger. Rather, it was one of caring, compassion, and responsibility.


There are many fascinating stories about his work as US attorney and assistant attorney general. But Comey’s role as FBI director during and after the 2016 presidential campaign is probably the reason most people want to read his book.


I must say, I was disappointed with the book’s coverage of the Clinton email scandal. If you’ve paid attention to the news, you will learn very little new about Comey's role in the scandal or his letter to Congress and the effects of his reopening the scandal investigation just days before the election. He was just doing his duty, nothing more, nothing less.  He certainly does not take responsibility for Clinton's loss.  


His chapters about Trump show his utter contempt for this president. Trump’s demand for loyalty was "surreal." Comey felt it was like being asked to be a "made man” by a mob boss. While I enjoyed learning about Comey, I was frustrated in not learning much new about the email investigation or its effect on the 2016 presidential election.


In contrast to Comey's book is Lanny J. Davis’ The Unmaking of the President 2016. It is a detailed account of "how FBI director James Comey cost Hillary Clinton the presidency.” Prior to Comey's letter to Congress on October 28, 2016, stating that the FBI was "investigating additional emails potentially relevant to the Clinton email case," Clinton had a clear lead over Trump, even in battleground states.


Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, is no fan of Trump and even calls for his impeachment. Regardless, his state-by-state analysis of how voters switched from Clinton to Trump because of Comey's letter is compelling and in contrast to Comey’s own assessment of his letter’s impact. Was it the single thing that led to Clinton's defeat? We will never know.








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