A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
Categories: Biography, Americas
Author: James Comey
Genre: History
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Published: 4/17/2018
Former FBI Director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.

A Higher Loyalty By James Comey

We have probably all seen a mafia movie, or maybe even have played a mafia-style video game. We have probably also all noticed how they bully people to get them to do their bidding, regardless of its legality. According to James Comey, that is the position that James Comey found himself while working for the FBI under Donald Trump. Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty serves two primary purposes. First, it is a memoir of his tenure as FBI director. This role is among the most important in our nation. Second, Comey also wants to warn his readers about the dangers of an unethical president, namely, Donald Trump.

Comey used to be the director of the FBI. He began his career as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York under Rudy Giuliani. He then became the deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush. Comey became the director of the FBI under President Barack Obama. Comey was surprised that Obama appointed Comey because he had opposed his presidency, as a Republican. But Comey came to respect Obama as a leader for several reasons, not the least of which is that Obama understood the importance of the place of the FBI in relation to the government.

Initially, when Trump took office, he said that he had the same stance on the independence that the FBI should have from the government. But when Comey began to investigate the allegations of Russia’s interference in his campaign in the 2016 presidential election, Trump took a different tune altogether.

Key Points

  • The FBI must be independent of the government, despite the current president’s perspective.

The purpose of the FBI is to stand for truth and for the rule of law. The problem that arises if the FBI is tied too closely with certain political leaders or political parties is that their vision can become tainted due to the influence of Mafia-like leaders. According to Comey, Trump does not support the independence of the FBI.

  • The truth must be made known, regardless of its effects. Good leaders know and want this compared to bad leaders who do not.

Mafia leaders, political or not, demand allegiance—at all costs. According to Comey, they want a sense of honor that comes unconditionally and without question. This is a misuse of “honor.” Anyone who places themselves above the law is not worthy of such honor. And anyone who is afraid of the truth coming out demonstrates that they are bad leaders.

  • Bullies still exist, and they act how they always have: striking fear in less powerful people because of their own insecurities.

Just the mention of the word “bullies” probably conjures up images of actual bullies we have known in our childhood. Bullies still exist, even in the adult world. According to Comey, Trump is a good example of such a bully. He was an unusual presidential candidate because he came from the corporate world with no prior political experience. One of the larger concerns for people coming from the corporate world that Comey ties to Trump are that he has a higher chance of having psychopathy and antisocial behaviors associated with bullies. This concern is based on studies that examined people from both the general community and the corporate world; the study found that people from the general community are less likely to exhibit these behaviors than people from the corporate world.

  • When leaders begin to tell small lies, it becomes easier to tell bigger lies with major consequences.

Good liars can become leaders, and they surround themselves with good liars who can help their political campaign. History has shown that this happens. For example, the Soviet Union forced millions of people out of their homes, calling it “transfer of population.” This is extreme behavior. Why do people do these sorts of things? The Soviet Union wanted absolute control, just like bullies today.

George Orwell, the author of 1984, described the issue in an essay entitled “Politics and the English Language.” He noted how dishonesty pervaded political discourse, especially with examples like that of the Soviet Union’s “transfer” language.

  • Leaders must be humble, not self-obsessed and hostile to different opinions.

Good leadership is hard to come by because it is very difficult. At times, any choice that is made will have negative consequences. The best leaders are humble people who are faced with such daunting decisions. As President George W. Bush stated, “It’s really important to know what you don’t know and listen to people who do know what you don’t know.”

Arrogance will not be useful in such a context. Although Comey does not list his name in this chapter, it is clear by quotes like “who are real arrogant in office” that there are referential overtones to President Donald Trump.

  • Although Comey admits that reopening the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server just weeks before the election in October 2016 was not the best move, he claims that saying nothing at all would have been worse.

Comey believed that the previous evidence examination of Hillary Clinton’s email server had been biased. The previous analysis was from Loretta Lynch. Comey did not have much of a relationship with Lynch, either before or after him revealing the reopening of the investigation.

He also thought Hillary would win the election regardless of his announcement. But, again, if leaders are truly concerned about truth, then there is nothing to worry about.

Remember, truth matters. People need to know it, and the FBI’s job is to find it. Comey did want to make it seem like the FBI was concealing the truth, regardless of the consequences.

  • Donald Trump does not approve of the independence of the FBI.

According to Comey, when he met with Trump to brief him as president-elect on Russian efforts to undermine democracy in America, Trump asked Comey how they could spin the news to make it look like they were in any way beneficiaries of Russian interference in the election of 2016. Comey had expected Trump to ask what the government could do to protect America’s institutions from future attacks. According to Comey, the job of the FBI is not to spin the news; they are to present the facts, not politicize them.

According to Comey, Donald Trump does not approve of the independence of any intelligence agency. Instead of encouraging appropriate investigations, he has told Comey to “drop” things that Trump did not want to be investigated. That is the kind of behavior that Comey thinks disqualifies Trump from his presidency.

  • Donald Trump is far too self-obsessed and hostile to the opinions of others to be a good leader.

According to Comey, Trump values personal loyalty over truth. Comey is not the only person who has serious concerns about Trump. In fact, psychologist Craig Malkin has argued in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump that Trump may have “pathological narcissism,” a disorder characterized by the need to elevate one’s own ego. What ends up happening is that such an individual feels the need to feel “special,” even in the face of any and all messages to the contrary.

  • Prior to Comey’s firing, Donald Trump was obsessed with allegations concerning his sexual behavior.

According to Comey, Trump was obsessed with allegations relating to his sexual behavior. There is a claim that Trump had an interaction with prostitutes in which they urinated on a bed that President Obama had slept in. Although there is no known proof to support this allegation, Trump has had a history of mixing business and sex shows. One book that documents this is David Corn’s Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.

  • Good leaders have common attributes.

According to Comey, good leaders have common attributes: they take criticism constructively, admit when they’re wrong, keep the long term in mind, have a higher loyalty to principles, and understand that everyone seeks meaning in life. According to Comey, Donald Trump does not have these characteristics in comparison to other politicians with whom Comey has worked.

The Big Take-Away

‘The Higher Loyalty of the FBI ought to be to the truth, despite bullies who try to control them. The truth matters, regardless of its consequences. According to Comey, good leaders understand and appreciate this point, and they demonstrate humility as leaders compared to those who do not.


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