Columns, Opinion

Max vs. Media: The ethics of James Comey

Last week, former FBI Director James Comey decided to be interviewed on seemingly every possible political media platform. I read the transcripts of his interviews with George Stephanopoulos, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow and Michael Barbaro. And from what I gathered, Comey seems obsessed with justice.

His entire life has been centered around ethics in law. Two years after he graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney under Rudy Giuliani, who is now a member of the Trump legal defense team. He worked in the private sector briefly but returned to the public sector and was eventually promoted to deputy attorney general in 2003. After preventing the Bush administration from obtaining legal clearance for an intrusive domestic spying program, he returned to the private sector serving as general counsel for hedge fund companies Lockheed Martin and Bridgewater Associates. He then was appointed FBI director by former President Obama in 2013.

The point of this background information is to show that while Comey has served his country, he has not been averse to earning money. The book he is promoting, “A Higher Loyalty,” was part of a multimillion-dollar deal, and he claims he wrote it for a noble cause. When asked by Stephanopoulos why he wrote the book, Comey said:

“I was never going to write a book. But I decided I had to write this one to try and be useful. That was my goal after I was fired, to be useful. And it occurred to me maybe I can be useful by offering a view to people, especially to young people, of what leadership should look like and how it should be centered on values …”

Full disclosure: I have not read the book, and nor do I plan to. But I know this answer is at least partially ridiculous. Young people aren’t going to read a book by one of the most controversial political figures — one disliked by both sides of the aisle — and take insights about leadership. Whether or not Comey realizes this is impossible to know, you would think someone as smart as him would.

Another element of Comey week was his reasoning behind the press conference a week before the 2016 election, when he revealed the investigation into Clinton’s emails was reopened. In the unedited, 32-minute interview with Stephen Colbert, Comey argues that he had to make a choice about concealing the thousands of recently discovered emails or announcing it to the public. But, just like Colbert argued, concealing an investigation is what the FBI consistently does.

The FBI should not announce ongoing investigations as it hurts the credibility of innocent victims, and it almost consistently doesn’t. But due to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey believed he had the moral authority to deliver the infamous press conference. This stems back to the original press conference in the summer of 2018, when Comey ridiculed Clinton for being “extremely careless.” But the FBI director should not have said anything regarding the investigation. It was unethical to characterize the actions of a nominee for president when she had done nothing illegal with malintent. What if the FBI investigated Trump’s business dealings, came up with no illegal activity but referred to them as “corrupt and shady?”

Comey does not believe he is ego-driven. But he acted in a manner in which he believes he was the guard of the FBI. The reasoning behind the press conference before the elections was convoluted. Comey argues that the FBI’s reputation would be harmed, if it came out the organization did not announce the reopening of the email investigation or if the evidence from the emails enabled the indictment of Clinton. That’s a whole lot of “ifs.”

But the premise is already incorrect. The FBI’s reputation is not the concern of the FBI. Ethical behavior is not shaped by what people think of you — it’s shaped by how you treat people. Comey’s “higher loyalty” should be to the treatment of people.

All this being said, Comey is an honest man. While I disagree with his ethics, he does have a set of morals at the very least. He is not “shady” as Trump says. He is simply a flawed individual, not open to realizing mistakes — and that makes him human.

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