Is James Comey An “Untruthful Slimeball?”

That was the measured, dignified description of the fired FBI chief in President Trump’s latest tweet on the matter of Comey’s tell-all book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. The Ethics Alarms verdict on the allegation doesn’t require reading the book, which I wouldn’t do if Jigsaw had me trapped in a room and gave me the choice of writing a book report on it or chewing off my own foot. (Okay, maybe I’d read it then, but I’d still have to think about it.)

We know Comey is untruthful already—he lied to Congress—and the fact that his book exists proves that he’s a slimeball.

I know I repeat myself a lot, for ethics issues are on a merry-go-round that never stops. However, I think I’ve written more than enough about the unethical practice of government officials who have left an administration cashing in with tell-all books before the administration has ended. The practice  is a crass  betrayal, venal, disloyal, damaging to the nation and its institutions, and I don’t care who the slimeball author is, or which President he slimes. They are all slimeballs, by definition. One of the first was President Reagan’s arrogant Budget Director, Stockman, early in that administration. Prior to Stockman, the predominant attitude and ethics was the one embodied by General George Marshall (no relation, alas), World War One and Two military leader, former Secretary of State, and architect of the Marshall plan, when he was offered a million dollars to write his memoirs in the 1950s, after he had retired from public life.  Marshall turned down the cash, explaining that he couldn’t write a truthful memoir without undermining people still at working for the United States in the government and military.

How quaint! What a sap!

Or so James Comey probably thinks.

Comey’s book will eventually have a place next to Omarosa’s pulp White House memoir, and Steve Bannon’s as well, which should help put it into proper perspective, except for virulent Trump-haters, who have no proper perspective. You can just take out the original names in these posts and substitute Comey’s: here was what I wrote in part about Robert Gates’ literacy hit on President Obama after he left the Defense Department…

“Bottom line: these people betray their colleagues for money, and often, as is Robert Gates’s case, out of spite. Former Defense Secretary Gates, like the others, was given an opportunity to serve his country in a high executive branch position. He was privy to policy discussions and the inner workings of the administration. He was trusted. To reveal details of his tenure while the administration he worked for is still in office, done in a way designed to provoke criticism and embarrass his former associates and boss, is the height of disloyalty, and a breach of implicit confidentiality.

The honorable and ethical way to write such a book would be to wait until it could not actively interfere with the work of the Executive Branch. The people may have a right to know, but they do not have a right to know everything immediately. People in high policy-making positions must be able to be themselves, express opinions, and have productive meetings with the confidence that those they work with are not collecting notes for a future Book-of-the-Month sellout. Books like Gates’s undermine that trust, make it more difficult to get candid and controversial opinions and ideas into the decision-making process, and ultimately hurt all of us. The former  Secretary and those who appreciate the additional ammunition for administration-bashing can assemble a lot of rationalizations for the  book, but they all boil down to “Everybody Does It,” the most threadbare and cowardly rationalization of all.”

I should note that this paragraph was composed by substituting Gate’s name for that of Paul O’Neill in a still earlier post, President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, who authored his tell-all to get even with Bush, and cash in, of course.

Not that it matters, but Comey’s book has made his intent unusually clear, even for the genre. He describes Trump as shorter than he expected with a “too long” tie and “bright white half-moons” under his eyes that he suggests came from tanning goggles.Comey says he made a conscious effort to check the president’s hand size, saying it was “smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.” Then there is the much quoted section in which Comey compares the President’s demeanor to that of a mob boss. This is petty, ad hominem stuff, and, as several commentators have accurately noted, undermines any false claim by Comey that his objective is anything but maximizing sales to  his target audience, “the resistance.” He was fired: if Comey wants to avoid the easy dismissal of his book as the revenge of “disgruntled employee,” then he needed to ensure that the book wasn’t written in the voice of a disgruntled employee.

Comey’s book will be far more damaging to the Justice Department, the FBI and the reputation of career law enforcement officials than it will be to President Trump.

A final observation: I defended Comey against the accusations of conservatives when he delivered his controversial conclusion that Hillary Clinton’s willful use of a private server that she knew would be carrying classified communications was short of criminal conduct. I also defended Comey against the howls of Democrats for his decision to send a letter to the House committee investigating the issue when Clinton emails were discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, on the grounds that that he had promised to alert the committee if there were any new developments. Then today I read this excerpt, where Comey reflects on the latter action:

“It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next President, my concern about making her an illegitimate President by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or Donald Trump were ahead in the polls.”

Testifying before Congress, Comey emphasized—under oath— that political considerations played no part in his decision-making, nor that of his agency.


22 thoughts on “Is James Comey An “Untruthful Slimeball?”

        • If you worked for me and I told you to conveniently mislead a branch, or two, of government to serve my political bias regarding evidence and you did so at my behest, am I a liar? This is what Comey did more than once.

          That’s dishonest testimony, aka lying.

          The Annenberg Foundation, funding source for, is massively biased (Ayers, Obama).

      • I asked for proof of your claim the other day, and you gave me none. The only evidence you have presented so far for your claim that Comey lied to Congress was an article from the Hill that you misread. When I pointed out that you misread it, instead of admitting error, you doubled down. Now you are simply repeating yourself while giving no evidence. You could at the very least tell me which fact-checker to use.

        You’re better than this.

    • What are you specifically referring to? The link you posted has to do with if Comey lied under oath regarding leaking. This above references Comey lying about if he was politically motivated.

      • Neither were lies. Jack’s claim the other day was that Comey lied by telling Congress he didn’t leak classified material; the Politifact and WaPo links I provided successfully rebutted that claim. Jack didn’t rebut the rebuttals, he just attacked Politifact while saying nothing of WaPo.

        I rebutted the claim that he lied about not being politically motivated below.

        • I have checked with multiple government officials. All so far agree that the notes Comey sent to his professor friend were almost certainly classified material, and that this was a leak. Ergo, he lied. That the Post and other antiTrump organs …and you…keep spinning otherwise just exemplifies the larger ethical issue of how the truth is being distorted to undermine the President and protect his foes. The piece does not say that Comey’s leaked memo wasn’t classified. Comey and his spinners are relying on the same dodge Hillary did: it wasn’t “marked” classified. But government officials are bound to assume certain documents are classified whether they have been formally marked or not, and notes about a private conversation with POTUS are PRESUMPTIVELY classified. Comey has neither the power nor authority to say otherwise. So FactCheck, being careful, is just saying that since we haven’t seen the memo, we can’t say definitively that it was classified. That’s nit-picking. It was a classified material, and Comey lied when he said it wasn’t. Here is how FactCheck ends its article:

          The Hill noted that when the memos — which Comey said he had turned over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller — were recently shown to Congress “the FBI claimed all were, in fact, deemed to be government documents.”

          The Hill article said congressional investigators may now turn their attention to whether Comey may have mishandled any classified information in his personal memos, and whether the sharing of any of those memos may have violated FBI rules. But “key questions” still remain before investigators can make an assessment, the article stated.

          The Hill, July 9: “In order to make an assessment, congressional investigators will have to tackle key questions, such as where and how the memos were created, including whether they were written on an insecure computer or notepad; where and how the memos were stored, such as inside Comey’s home, in a briefcase or on an insecure laptop; whether any memos were shown to private individuals without a security clearance and whether those memos contained any classified information; and when was it determined by the government that the memos contained classified information, before Comey took them and shared one or after.”

          That’s hardly “proving” that the memo he gave to his friend wasn’t classified, as you keep (dishonestly) saying. And FactCheck’s headline is itself a lie: Trump’s accusation is hardly “unfounded.” It is based on the fact that 99% of the time, substantive notes on discussions with the President of the united States will be found to be classified, if they are reviewed…which Comey did not permit…all the better to lie about later.

          • That’s hardly “proving” that the memo he gave to his friend wasn’t classified, as you keep (dishonestly) saying.

            I never ONCE said that. You are misrepresenting me again. Please go back and read my comments on this issue. My argument has consistently been that it is not a factual statement that Comey lied. You have shown that some government officials think Comey’s memos were classified, and some do not. Perhaps Comey truly believed these did not count as classified material, in which case his statements would not rise to your definition of a lie. It’s also possible that he does believe they were classified and thus lied, but that is your opinion, not a “fact” as you called it the other day.

          • I thought Hillary Clinton’s use of the excuse that documents weren’t MARKED classified was especially egregious because she or her staff intentionally REMOVED the classification markings on many of said documents. Sort of like murdering your parents and they begging for leniency because you are an orphan.

  1. Certainly a person cannot be judged on one simple word but Comey’s use of “golly” struck me as very odd and out of place under the circumstances. I couldn’t help but think…virtue signaling?

    • Why?

      The running joke among many of Trump’s critics has been that Trump has unusually small hands. (To be fair, the joke only works because it’s something Trump himself has been defensive about before; the story of him taking a picture of his hands and sending it to the writer who called him a “short-fingered vulgarian” was peak Trump.) To say they weren’t unusually small actually corrects that narrative in a way that is favorable to Trump. I’ll admit “smaller than mine” was unnecessary.

      The rest of the critiques Jack highlights are factually true. Trump does wear his ties wrong. He does always look like he has a fake tan. And he certainly does talk like a mob boss. This isn’t impeachable stuff, but Comey doesn’t seem to indicate it is. Jack has written before—and as recently as yesterday—why it’s necessary for professionals, especially leaders, to maintain a professional appearance, and how leaders who don’t do that or purposefully craft an absurdist image of themselves undermine their own authority. These critiques can’t be called simple ad hominem, and I’m sure I’ve heard Jack make them before about Trump.

      The difference is that Jack never worked for Trump. I disagree with his larger point that government employees should never write tell-alls about sitting presidents, but that point would be stronger if it didn’t point to critiques that are essentially unarguable.

  2. I also just realized that your Comey quote is selectively edited to omit crucial context showing that Comey said he did not consciously let poll numbers affect his judgement. I have no doubt that you did not see the full quote and that you did not intentionally take Comey out of context in order to smear him. I also have no doubt that whatever source you read this excerpt from did exactly that.

    The full quote, with the crucial context bolded:

    “I had assumed from media polling that Hillary Clinton was going to win. I have asked myself many times since if I was influenced by that assumption. I don’t know. Certainly not consciously but I would be a fool to say it couldn’t have had an impact on me.

    It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in the polls. But I don’t know.

    An admission of the potential of unconscious bias does not invalidate his earlier claim to Congress that he did not let political considerations play into his decision-making.

  3. The excerpts from the book that have been disclosed so far have contained almost no new facts at all, just Comey’s anti-Trump spin on things that everybody already knew. Cast your eyes upon this CNN article about “the 11 most eye-opening lines” in Comey’s book:

    Two of them are, even in CNN’s opinion, damning of Comey and not of Trump. (#10 and #11)

    Three of them reveal that Trump was greatly bothered by the idea that people might think he liked to watch women pee on each other. (#5, #7 and #8) Note carefully: Out of CNN’s 11 “eye-opening lines,” this is the only new FACT revealed in Comey’s book. The rest is just Comey’s opinion about facts already known to everybody in the world. CNN views this as exciting news, revealing something depraved about Trump. But who couldn’t have guessed that Trump was disturbed by highly publicized accusations of perversion? Few men would not be disturbed by such accusations. If the president involved had been Obama instead of Trump, Comey would have characterized this as a vulnerable, human moment revealing the depths of Obama’s pain at the unfair attacks being made against him and the impact that they might have on his family.

    Trump didn’t condemn Russia as much as Comey thought he should. (#9) No new facts here, just Comey repeating a Democratic talking point that we’ve been hearing for two years now.

    The President “brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check” (#6). Again, no new facts, just repeating an old, old anti-Trump talking point. The news here, if any, is that Comey believes the FBI is supposed to act as an independent power within the government spying on and thwarting public officials whom the FBI’s top bureaucrats don’t like.

    Trump invited Comey to dinner at the White House and Comey is convinced that “this was an effort to establish a patronage relationship.” (#4) Old news. Comey already told us about this dinner last year in his Congressional testimony and his characterization of it as an attempt to establish a “patronage relationship” rather than “an effective working relationship between the President and one of his important subordinates” is just spin, with a tinge of paranoia.

    Comey claims that Chief of Staff Kelly told him that he wanted to resign in protest over his firing. (#3) OK, I wasn’t quite accurate above. If the story is true, then it is a previously unknown fact, news of a very minor kind. It is also a gross betrayal by Comey of the remark made to him in confidence by a person friendly to him. But I have my doubts about the truth of this self-serving story, which seems entirely inconsistent with what we know about Kelly. There have been much more serious disagreements between Kelly and Trump than this one, and Kelly hasn’t resigned yet. Also, if Kelly did say anything like this to Comey, he apparently said nothing like it to anybody else, because nobody has ever leaked it to the press.

    Comey compares Trump to a mob boss. (#2) Once more, no new facts, just a tired talking point. “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview.” Just like every other administration. The President is in charge. People disloyal to him are fired. Insiders quite rightly believe that they must work hard to overcome the opposition of the many people outside the administration who wish them ill.

    Comey says, “This President is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.” Ho-hum. If you watch TV news, you will hear talking heads saying the same thing dozens of times a day. CNN claims, “These two sentences are the most damaging thing to Trump so far in the Comey excerpts.” That’s probably true: They are as harmless to Trump as the rest of the book. Those who hate Trump already can buy this book and enjoy being part of a community of believers. Nobody else will be persuaded.

    • It’s…bizarre to me…to see you dismiss as “anti-Trump talking points” things that we should all recognize as true.

      “Trump didn’t condemn Russia as much as Comey thought he should.” There is no valid argument that Trump has not been overly praising of Russia and Putin throughout most of his presidency. While there have been condemnations more recently, at the time Comey was around Trump’s stance toward Russia was incredibly positive.

      Trump behaves “like a mob boss.” Again, True. Do you really disagree with this? You really think he doesn’t do this more than previous presidents? Your opinion of previous presidents must be very low. I’m pretty sure even Jack has made the mob boss comparison.

      “This President is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.” This is indisputable, and in fact very close to what Jack has said about Trump even after the election.

      Facts aren’t talking points.

      The news here, if any, is that Comey believes the FBI is supposed to act as an independent power within the government spying on and thwarting public officials whom the FBI’s top bureaucrats don’t like.

      This is a dishonest portrayal of Comey’s statements, and ironically much closer to Trump’s view of government.

      • I know you think so. We already knew that Comey thought so, too. Did his book tell you anything that you didn’t know or believe? We were promised bombshell revelations, but the book doesn’t contain even a firecracker. A few weeks ago, Comey tweeted that after the American people read his book we would be able to judge for ourselves who is honorable and who is not. The book demonstrates that Comey is not honorable and it adds nothing to our understanding of anybody else’s honor or lack thereof. Frankly, I’d rather read your opinions than Comey’s, because yours are more entertainingly written and, unlike him, you don’t seem to be a deceitful, narcissistic prig.

        One point from your post that I think is worth remarking on:

        I said, “Comey believes the FBI is supposed to act as an independent power within the government spying on and thwarting public officials whom the FBI’s top bureaucrats don’t like.” You say, “This is a dishonest portrayal of Comey’s statements and much closer to Trump’s view of government.”

        Remind me which government agencies Trump has been using to spy on and thwart his enemies. I can’t think of any.

        Comey refers to the FBI one of the “law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check.” Wrong. The FBI was established to catch bank robbers, kidnappers and other criminals who crossed state borders to evade local and state police. It was to be under the control of the Attorney General, who was in turn subordinate to the President. Nobody dreamed that it should act independently of the President “to keep him in check.” Even J. Edgar Hoover at his most megalomaniacal did not think so. Comey does. If he doesn’t mean that the FBI is supposed to keep the President under surveillance and prevent him from acting in ways that the Bureau considers inappropriate, what does he mean?

        • He means that no one is above the law. There is nothing about “surveillance” in there at all—we don’t even know that the president has been surveilled.

          Trump believes that the government exists to protect him from scandal and go after his enemies, which is why he is constantly livid over the investigation and tweeting about why they aren’t reopening the Clinton investigation. That he can’t actually do anything about this doesn’t mean this isn’t his view. He has publicly threatened Sessions’ job for refusing himself. He admitted on camera to firing Comey at least partially because of his anger over the investigation. There can be little doubt that if Trump had his way he’d be a much more authoritarian President than he has been. We can thank those in government who are acting as a check on his behavior for that.

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