Having used both his book, A Higher Loyalty, and his interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos to portray himself as the defender of truth, the paragon of integrity, the embodiment of ethical values and principles and as someone guided by a steady moral compass, former FBI Director James Comey has drenched the public discourse with the stink of sanctimony. Not to mention his heavy yammering about leadership, the likely topic he’ll be lecturing on at $60,000 a speech on the stem winding circuit for the next couple of years.
As a former U.S. attorney, deputy attorney general, corporate attorney, hedge-funder and FBI director, you’d imagine that Comey had viewed himself through life’s mirror often enough to realize that overdressing himself in the vestments of truth and honor might backfire. But there he goes in the book and interview, posturing like the deacon of justice he obviously thinks he is.
In the Stephanopoulos interview, he drops the word “truth” at least 40 times. “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded,” he writes early in his book. “Values—like truth, integrity and respect for others, to name just a few—serve as external reference points for ethical leaders to make decisions.” In describing his own conduct, he can see only a humble Reinhold Niebuhr-quoting man following the path of honor. People who oppose him, such as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, are guilty of acting “dishonorably.” In the book, he even gives himself moral credit for not cutting in line at the FBI cafeteria! If there’s a Nobel Prize for restaurant manners, he should claim it.
We should be willing to spot Comey a few points on the integrity front because his nemesis, President Donald Trump, runs such a deep deficit. As Comey friend and champion Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare told MSNBC on Monday, “The interview and the book more generally gives the country a chance to think hard about which of these two men, you know, tells the truth, and which of these two men they believe.” And it’s not as though Comey is void of self-reflection. He writes, “I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident and driven by ego.”