“I stared at the soft white pouches under his expressionless blue eyes. I remember thinking in that moment that the president doesn’t understand the FBI’s role in American life.”
Comey writes that Obama sat alone with him in the Oval Office in late November and told him, “I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing — nothing — has happened in the last year to change my view.”
On the verge of tears, Comey told Obama, “Boy, were those words I needed to hear. . . . I’m just trying to do the right thing.”
“I know,” Obama said. “I know.”
“His face appeared slightly orange … with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his. … As he extended his hand,” Comey adds, “I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
Comey stayed behind with Trump to discuss the salacious dossier. The day before, as Clapper and Comey briefed Obama about Russian interference, the president asked who planned to tell Trump about the Moscow prostitute allegations. Clapper replied that Comey would.
Obama “turned his head to his left and looked directly at me,” Comey recalls. “He raised and lowered both of his eyebrows with emphasis, and then looked away. . . . To my mind his Groucho Marx eyebrow raise was both subtle humor and an expression of concern. It was almost as if he were saying, ‘Good luck with that.’ ” — Excerpts from “A Higher Loyalty,” according to The Post
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, and then, on Dec. 14, 1960, I, James Comey, was born. The initials, as Reinhold Niebuhr would tell us, are no coincidence.
I have been called a human humblebrag. I certainly couldn’t speak to the truth of that statement, except to say that where I come from, we don’t like bullies and their mean words. Bullies are mean and small, not like myself (I stand 6-foot-8, with a head of lush dark hair and eyes that pierce into the souls of everyone I encounter, like the eyes of a hawk who has read Reinhold Niebuhr (I wrote my thesis on Reinhold Niebuhr.)).
I would venture to say that I am the protagonist of my own life and perhaps the lives of many others. Certainly, no one else has as yet stood up to take on this grave responsibility, and it was my honor to rise to this challenge. It is a little embarrassing to describe myself: I stand, as mentioned, about 6-foot-8, like an oak with a firm sense of right and wrong and large, capacious hands. When I first seized Donald Trump’s, I took a mental note (and later, a physical note; I maintain scrupulous contemporaneous notes) that they had vanished into mine, like a dormouse curled up inside an oven mitt. But most hands do that when confronted with mine, except President Barack Obama’s, and — I hope — Reinhold Niebuhr’s, if we ever meet, in this life or the next.
Not to draw any parallels to my time as a prosecutor against the Mob, but when I met Donald Trump, one couldn’t help but note certain similarities. Donald Trump would frequently ask me if I would like to be “made,” but I made a point to fob him off with a joke, saying, “I think I’ve been made already, Donald Trump, by a far higher power, as Reinhold Niebuhr would suggest.” Donald Trump did not laugh at these jokes. He never once laughed in my presence. I think it is a grave danger to democracy for a man never to laugh.
After we met, I glanced over at Jeff Sessions to see what he thought of it all, and although he spoke not a word his pursed, pink lips seemed to say that he was a weak, small man with no gumption. He was pleading with me with his downcast eyes to do the right thing. With my eyes I said right back, I will. I always have. I never swerve from what I believe, and you can bet a shiny nickel that I never will, sir.
Thank you, Jeff Sessions’s eyes whispered. They glistened like marbles that were wet from being held in a dog’s mouth. As I stared at them I wondered: Has this man read the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr? I have read the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.
I kept trying to read the Constitution to Donald Trump, but he did not take to it. I gave out mints to all my staff with their copy of “Lean In,” and with those mints, I included a line from the Constitution. But when I tried to impart a lesson, he ate the wrapper and spat it out in my face.
One rough patch in my life was when I kept making announcements about Hillary Clinton. In my defense, her facial expression had given me no clear command. She was a woman with a circular, smooth face and hair the color of Old Testament wheat. I am sad to hear that she has still not forgiven me. All that I can offer to her is the fact that Reinhold Niebuhr says that forgiveness is the final form of love. If that is not enough to persuade her, I do not know what to say.
I truly believed she would win, and I have never been wrong before. Nor have I ever done nothing wrong, ever, in my life. I once saw George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. He had a ruddy, weathered face and small moons beneath his eyes, I assumed from making use of a surveyor’s tools. “What are you doing there, George?” I said, according to my contemporaneous notes.
George Washington looked at me like a little boy caught with his hand in the candy jar. “Jim,” he said, “are you going to tell?”
“I’m going to count on you to do the right thing, George,” I said. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, one that I treasure almost as much as my integrity. I treasure integrity above all things.
I therefore wished to make certain that no fleck of uncertainty besmirched the white sepulcher of her legitimacy. I can understand why she would be hurt, however.
President Obama and I shared a relationship of mutual respect and many handshakes. We often had entire conversations with only our eyebrows. I consider him a worthy colleague, and I will miss those eyebrow chats.
After the election he told me that “I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability, and I want you to know that nothing — NOTHING — that has happened in the past year has changed my view.” Tears filled my eyes. We embraced. I stared at the pleasing smoothness of the skin beneath his eyes and thought, “This man understands the role of the FBI in American society.”
Every other Democrat that I have ever met, with the exception of Hillary Clinton, also came up to me at some point or other and told me that I acted with perfect integrity and was in an impossible position. I treasured each of these remarks in my heart, as Mary did.
“And a sword shall pierce your side.”
After the election, I had to share with the president some news about a very salacious tape.
The president was gravely upset because of reports that he had participated in two activities, one that no one in the Comey household participates in at all, and the other an activity that we are careful to restrict to the porcelain bowl where it belongs. In my house, we hold hygiene above everything — except, of course, integrity.
President Trump told me that, as a germaphobe, he would never have partaken in the activity described, and that as a man, he would never have employed the personnel described, but I knew from the size and shape of the suite that as much as several liters could have been expended with no danger to his person. I wonder, too, if his remark about the personnel was one made with perfect self-knowledge. I debated internally whether to volunteer any of this information, and managed a small, rueful smile.
The president kept bothering me about the so-called urinary record. I did not know what to tell him. He seemed very eager to have the “shadow” or “cloud” of this golden shower cleared away — for the sake, he said, of his wife. I have never sought any sort of shower of gold, either fiscally (as a member of the FBI, I do not accept gifts, as that would create the appearance of impropriety), or in the unhygienic manner described. The only shower I want is the shower of blessings that comes when we are lifted up into judgment by our creator.
So this placed me in something of a pickle. (Dill, I believe, although I cannot vouch with absolute certainty.)
“Jiminy!” I said to my faithful cricket, who accompanies me everywhere, maintaining contemporaneous notes for me to compare later with my own. “What should I do?”
“What you have always done, Jim,” Jiminy said. “The right thing.”
I gazed into his compound eyes. This was an insect who understood the role of the FBI in American politics, and he was one bug I welcomed at FBI headquarters.
“You’re right,” I told him. “I have.”
I have been told that I am obnoxious. That my self-righteousness runneth, as the psalmist wrote, over.
My initials are J.C. I believe that’s no coincidence. Like another gentleman of the same acronym, I am known for behaving with an excruciating correctness that annoys everyone around me. You will have to choose whether you’d like to be saved by someone like me, and I would certainly forgive you if you chose not to be. Reinhold Niebuhr says that forgiveness is the greatest love of all.
I find that this nation has an unfortunate tendency to reward style over substance. People who do the right thing and maintain principles, but also possess personalities that the average American (Is there such a thing? No American is average!) finds to be grating or self-righteous, can fail to get the credit they so amply deserve. Simply because we are annoyed at how a man or woman presents himself, we will elect into office an orange, pouch-eyed gnome with less integrity than you could fit into the navel of a cricket. I know. I have measured my cricket’s navel, and I can vouch that he is a cricket of sterling integrity.
I hope that because my manner is grating and off-putting and my prose somewhat lush (although every person I have ever met who was not venal, vile or a member of the Mob has told me, in private, that I am exactly the man they would trust with their lives and the country’s honor) that nobody does anything rash. I do not like to toot my own horn (As a human being, I have no horn. I have only once seen a human being with horns, and I cannot comment further on the matter due to a pending investigation.), but I believe that I was the right man in the right place at the right time, and just because every account I have ever given of myself has grated in the ear does not mean that any of my conduct stinks in the nostrils. Lordy!
I don’t think that I am a pivotal figure in history. I’ve been called that many times, though, by people whose judgment I implicitly trust. And I have never done anything wrong, ever, in my life. And I will say so to anyone who will listen. And I would forgive you if you could not stand me after reading this book. After all, forgiveness is the greatest love of all. But I hope you won’t question my integrity or the impropriety of firing me just because you find my personality off-putting.
I, James Comey, would never do such a thing. I hope we can all hold ourselves to that standard.