Because law school forces me to read dozens of cases each week, I don’t have much time for leisure reading during the school year. Therefore, I pick out a few books to save for the summer. One of those was “A Higher Loyalty” by former FBI Director James Comey. All things considered, it’s a pretty fascinating read.
This book was always going to be divisive for so many people. On the left, people hated James Comey when he re-opened the Hillary Clinton email investigation, then loved him when he had run-ins with President Donald Trump. On the right, people hated him for initially closing the email investigation, then loved him when he re-opened it days before the 2016 presidential election, only to hate him again when he confronted Trump.
I read this book for two primary reasons: I wanted to know, at least from Comey’s perspective, (1) what the hell happened between he and Trump in the early days of the administration and (2) what was going through Comey’s mind with the whole email investigation thing that somehow managed to piss off people on both ends of the political spectrum?
Fortunately, the book does address these two issues. Not before the reader indulges Comey in a detailed telling of his life story leading up to those events. It’s pretty obvious Comey is a writer and wanted to share many of the stories that he’s lived. Granted, it makes it a little bit harder to read through the early bits in the book when you know you came for one thing specifically.
Still, I powered through. It was interesting to think about his ties to Rudy Giuliani during the early part of Comey’s career, given where the two men ended up circa 2018.
The heart of the (non-Trump and non-email) story is Comey’s retelling of his time fighting officials within the George W. Bush administration on the issue of torture. I can admit that perhaps I had a bit more interest in the topic because Alberto Gonzales, then the White House Counsel, is the dean at the law school I attend.
Of course, Comey comes across as noble and heroic in his stances on the legality of the administration’s torture policies. There are moments when he admits to taking the wrong stance, but for the most part, he definitely paints himself as the good guy. And perhaps that’s because he really is. But the other parties involved surely have a slightly different way of painting the picture.
With the email investigation debacle, Comey chalks it up to him just wanting to be nonpartisan and thorough. In the Trump portion of the book, Comey gets a bit more combative in his characterization of the president. I won’t go any further in depth than that because, if you really want to know, it was covered in the news ad naseum at the time of the book’s release, and otherwise it’s the whole point for picking up the book, so why would I spoil it?
Comey also touches on his interactions with President Barack Obama, and those are interesting as well. He notes that it was unusual for Obama to appoint a career Republican who had previously served in the Bush administration. But, Comey says, Obama appointed Comey as head of the FBI because Obama was confident Comey would do the job the right way and not worry about the political ramifications of any decisions. Given what transpired in the 2016 presidential election and the Clinton email investigation, I cannot help but wonder if Obama regretted that decision.
In the end, I recommend reading this book if you’re at least vaguely curious about the goings-on during the torture policies of the Bush administration, the Clinton email investigation, or the early days of the Trump administration (as I was). It might be best to skip the first few chapters though (Comey does try to tie things together near the end of the book by referencing an anecdote from an early chapter, but it isn’t all that impactful anyway).
If you have a strong opinion of Comey one way or the other, this book isn’t likely to change that. But it is interesting to get his account of some significant events within the White House in the past dozen or so years.