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A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership


A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

The fur still flies as I write. Rudy Giuliani has just tossed his jaw-dropping bombshell on America’s doorstep during a national cable talk show. Yet another “breaking news” screen crawler becomes a part of the nightly news. Unless you are Rip Van Winkle or have tuned out in exhaustion, you’re well acquainted with former FBI director James Comey’s name and face. Comey, a quiet, dedicated law enforcement officer, has been all over the airwaves following the release of his sellout book that hit the market less than one year after the incident that first set this tumultuous year’s events in motion. He had learned of his firing by the President from one of those screen crawlers as he spoke to a class of FBI recruits in Los Angeles in May 2017.

However, the dizzying after-effects are not the major message of A HIGHER LOYALTY. In fact, they do not show up until more than halfway through this moving memoir that looks back on a career that spans more than three decades of service through some of the major national and world events. Comey writes of the family, teachers, co-workers and supervisors who guided him as a boy and prepared him for adulthood. Their examples helped shape his views on ethical leadership and justice. He writes of Patrice, a 19-year-old fellow Peace Corps volunteer, who saved his life in Sierra Leone and would become his wife and the mother of their five children. She is the unfaltering support who continues to remind him of his duty to what is right in this world that often seems so wrong in the face of disaster.

"A HIGHER LOYALTY deserves to be on the syllabus of every high school civics class and required reading in ethics courses for pre-law students."

The young James Comey was appointed Assistant District Attorney by (ironically) Rudy Giuliani, then-US Attorney General of the Southern District of New York. Early in his career, he investigated the Gambino Mafia family, and quickly learned how to “read” liars and bullies. He went on to investigate and prosecute such landmark cases as Martha Stewart’s illegal stock dumping, which I personally felt was unjust. Comey, we learn, is a bit of a Boy Scout when it comes to law and order, and he quite convinced me, decades later, that simply because you do something you don’t know is illegal doesn’t make you innocent.

Comey explores other famous headlining cases over the years that would eventually lead to accepting an appointment by President George W. Bush as Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft. This high honor allowed him to move with Patrice and their growing family to Washington, DC. He admits to being slightly dazzled by the opportunity to work in the nation’s capital with ready access to power, often to the West Wing. This was shortly after 9/11 and would lead to the historic events surrounding Ashcroft. Comey famously raced to his hospital bedside to prevent a sinister move to allow the signing of an order that would legalize torture methods by the CIA and NSA used at the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war. He also writes about the exposure of a covert CIA agent in the Yellow Cake incident that triggered the launch of that same war. The names Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage and Vice President Dick Cheney leap from the pages of history.

These and many other incidents in which Comey was involved throughout his colorful career speak powerfully to national security, the First Amendment and the search for truth. His dry sense of humor gets him through challenges that most of us would never survive. He writes, with irony, that these experiences would become preparation “for a future he could not yet see.”

A HIGHER LOYALTY deserves to be on the syllabus of every high school civics class and required reading in ethics courses for pre-law students. Comey’s eloquent thesis (page 131) on the qualities of leadership and ethics, which he instilled in every incoming special agent under his direction at the FBI, is a guidepost to be followed for future leaders.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on May 4, 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
by James Comey

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250192471
  • ISBN-13: 9781250192479