Niebuhr, outfacing Hitler, understood both the necessity and peril of political engagement. Comey, resisting Trump’s efforts to suborn him, more naively believed that the law could be enforced without partisan bias. But how do you hold to account a man incapable of feeling either guilt or shame, who boasted in 2016 that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing votes? Comey had to operate in a society where “divine deterrence” no longer has power; even the fear of a jail term can be dispelled by a pardon, as Trump signalled a week ago by exonerating Scooter Libby, who had been prosecuted by Comey for lying to investigators.
A Higher Loyalty is peppered with bitchy asides about Comey’s former boss, whom he paints as an insecure ignoramus baffled by words like “calligrapher” and who conducts important White House receptions like an episode of The Price Is Right...A lot depends, on reading the book, whether Comey’s versions of various events ring true. Mostly they do, and Comey emerges as a decent, well-meaning and thoughtful public servant willing to reflect on his mistakes. The attributes for ethical leadership he advocates – humility, confidence, a willingness to listen and more – are undeniable.
“A Higher Loyalty” is the first big memoir by a key player in the alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.