“Have you ever met Donald Trump? Jim, please be careful. Be very careful. This may not go well.”
For those not practising being hermits, the phrase ‘A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!!’ has been ingrained on the corneas of people across the world.
It was these very words that met FBI director James Comey as left his first meeting with Donald Trump to board a blacked-out SUV, complete with security detail, as he opened Twitter in mid-2016.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) exists under the authority of the US Department of Justice, making it inherently separate from political control and influence. As a career lawmaker and in the interests of transparency and justice, Former FBI head Comey deemed it prudent, upon the election of Mr Trump, to begin to document each meeting he would have with the President, for sanity and, rightly so, he sensed no good would come of this presidency.
His adoration of moral practice and documentation would be his downfall.
The taking of those memos, some classified and some not, landed him as the subject of an FBI hearing after his dismissal as head of the bureau. It makes total sense when Comey writes that Trump told him ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty’.
Comey spends much of the book outlining his legal and ethical credentials. It’s common in revelatory biographies for the author to hammer home their integrity and their personality so no one can be in any doubt that the actions they took were what they deemed to be right.
Comey rose to stardom upon his investigation into famous businesswoman Martha Stewart for fraud and obstruction of justice. Comey felt public opinion and fame were no reason to ignore minor misdemeanours. Avoiding $45,000 by insider trading is a lot for you and I, to Stewart however, it was a drop in the ocean.
The book weaves a gripping narrative of a rise to power and respect, littered with challenges overcome again and again. No one can deny that one thing Mr Comey has in spades is leadership qualities; he is humble, ethical, hard, and universally admired by the Democrats and the GOP alike. All the way down to his six foot six frame which often leads him into awkward conversations about basketball. He writes that Obama, upon his first and only private meeting with Comey before he was sworn in as head of the FBI, asked him one thing. Please, could he use the basketball court at FBI HQ in Washington? He accepted, though the offer of playing together, Comey politely declined, having never played in his life and it being unethical for the FBI head to meet socially with government officials.
Clear as day, his rise through the Department of Justice to Attorney General is marked with plaudits, he is fervently admired in the US legal system. The frantic story of his rush to hospital to protect infirm Attorney General John Ashcroft from the strong arm of the CIA is worth the book fee alone.
He writes authoritatively and in depth about how leadership works, and those styles that don’t. More poignantly, he concisely reminisces about a store manager from his first job, it didn’t matter that it was bagging items and stocking shelves, his boss made him want to work hard not just for him, but for himself as well.
The book is the literary rendition of Trump’s tweets, full of bizarre conversations where it is unclear whether Mr Trump knows what’s going on, whether he cares, and whether anyone in the room will be permitted back there again. What Comey feels the world should be made aware of, is that the President fundamentally sought to centralise US intelligence to the Oval Office. Amid allegations of Moscow sex parties, with alleged ‘golden showers’, Trump faced more serious claims of Russian interference in the US election. While Comey could ignore the private life Trump may or may not have had, he could not ignore the rot at the centre of the 2016 election.
Reading like a novel in parts, and an A-level textbook in others, Comey’s A Higher Loyalty has usurped Michael Wolf’s Fire and Fury as the authoritative account of what Donald Trump does behind closed doors.
‘A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership’ by James Comey (Macmillan; £20)