Washington (United States) (AFP) – James Comey, the FBI director fired by President Donald Trump last year over the Russia meddling investigation, has always worn his professionalism and principles on his sleeve.
But with his new book, which describes the US president as a mercurial, congenital liar, Comey has plunged headfirst into Washington’s noxious political pit and risked losing the moral authority that has long protected him.
Other Federal Bureau of Investigation chiefs have published memoirs. “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” goes where no other has: an open assault on the authority of the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.
That is the game of Washington politicians and pundits, a world Comey disdains as a member of the elite guild of lawyer-bureaucrats from the Justice Department.
“As I was quickly learning,” he writes of one of his first times in the White House, in the early 2000s, “Washington was a city where everyone seemed to question other people’s loyalties and motivations, most often when they weren’t in the room.”
– Plunge into politics –
Now the 57-year-old veteran federal investigator has readily joined that world. In doing so he has provided Republicans fodder to defend Trump.
“I can’t think of anyone who’s done a better job of politicizing the FBI than he has in the last 36 to 48 hours,” said Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy.
“The writing of the book in general and then some of the things that he’s talking about are just frankly beneath the dignity of some really important offices he once held,” he said on Fox news.
Washington national security lawyer Bradley Moss said Comey’s claim to the moral high ground has always been week.
“Comey is not a saint. Never has been and I don’t think anyone should have expected him to be,” Moss wrote online.
“He’s made a name for himself in taking moral stands at critical political moments.”
While Comey supporters mostly held back from comment till they read the full book, which has not been officially released, some defended is credibility.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN had “every confidence” in the accuracy of Comey’s book.
“I think it above all is a truthful portrayal of Jim’s observations, his feelings and what occurred,” Clapper said.
And Moss added to his comments: “Comey is still infinitely more credible than the president.”
– Settling the score –
“A Higher Loyalty” is an intimate view of FBI investigations and prosecutions over Comey’s career.
But, in writing about the sitting president, he is settling accounts after 18 months of being thrashed publicly by Trump as a liar.
He compares Trump to a mafia don, demanding loyalty oaths, immoral and “untethered to truth.” The Trump presidency is a “forest fire,” he says.
He casts himself as an oracle and a savior, his clarion warning for America to get back on the path to truth and justice. Donald Trump “threatens much of what is good in this nation,” he says.
Comey’s idol is theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who injected liberal Protestant ethics into Washington politics in the middle of the 20th century, shaping a generation of policy makers with somewhat firmer moral backbones.
But Comey’s critics see him as now just another player of the political ring.
The Republicans launched a website to counter the book, dubbing him “Lyin’ Comey.”
Trump on Friday called for him to be prosecuted.
“He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI,” Trump tweeted.
– ‘Deep State’ attacks –
Comey might be better seen in the light of Washington Under Trump, where other top officials expected to fade into the background have instead become powerfully vocal anti-Trump forces: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (a Comey pal) and former CIA directors Michael Hayden and John Brennan.
They too have stunned Washington with their warnings of the dangers the president poses to the United States.
That in turn stokes Trump’s counter, which resonates through his conservative base, that he is being undermined by the unelected “Deep State.”
That is what Washington has become since Trump’s shock election victory.
As Comey wrote, “What is happening now is not normal. It is not fake news, it is not okay.”