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'A Higher Loyalty' by James Comey
Flatiron

WASHINGTON – The last time an FBI director penned a memoir, the American public got a personal account of a director’s fraught relationship with a U.S. president.

In that book, Louis Freeh devoted a chapter to his icy association with Bill Clinton, titled Bill and Me.

That was 2005, when Freeh and Clinton were long gone from their respective offices.

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Thirteen years later, James Comey is set to drop a tome about his own extraordinary tenure — cut short by the commander in chief.

Comey's book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, is set to hit shelves on Tuesday but copies were obtained by several media outlets ahead of publication and published excerpts Thursday. 

Comey likens Trump to a mob boss and describes the Trump presidency as a "forest fire," according to The Washington Post.

"This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values," Comey writes, according to the New York Times. "His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty." 

Comey’s book arrives less than a year after his dismissal by President Trump. Trump said he fired Comey for his handling of the inquiry into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is poised to release an assessment of how the FBI — under Comey’s leadership — handled the politically charged investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of State.

The timing could be a marketing bonanza for booksellers, while Comey’s supporters and detractors brace for the likely firestorm to follow.

Last week, Trump taunted Comey on Twitter for closing what the president described as "a rigged investigation" into Clinton's private email use. He accused the former FBI director and other former Justice officials of abusing surveillance authority in tracking Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

"BAD!" Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon.

The critique was mild compared with Trump's prior characterizations of Comey as "a liar" and "a leaker."

Trump used the disparaging language to describe the former director's congressional testimony last summer in which he acknowledged documenting his personal encounters with the president, in part because he believed Trump could not be trusted. 

The president's comments, analysts said, may preview what is to come.

Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director who served briefly under Comey and supports him, said he doesn't expect the book to change the minds of many who witnessed the turbulent months after the director's firing.

"In this hyper-contentious environment, the book may only deepen the political divide between those who support Comey and those who believe that Trump was right to dismiss him," Hosko said.

"I enjoyed working for Jim Comey. He is personable, likable, smart and engaged. I think he was very good for the bureau. But I'm troubled by the timing of this," he said, referring to the Russia investigation and the pending inspector general inquiry. "That said, I think he's got something to say, and I'm still going to put down my 25 bucks."

Chris Swecker, a former assistant FBI director who said Comey invited criticism for his handling of the Clinton inquiry, fears that Comey's reappearance on the national stage risks drawing the bureau by extension further into Trump's crosshairs. 

"I respect him, and I think he believes what he's doing and what he has to say," Swecker said. "But he's wading right into the middle of a political firestorm. He's putting the FBI in the political arena again just as (new FBI Director) Chris Wray tries to extricate the bureau from it."

Except for occasional comments on Twitter, Comey's most recent turn on the public stage was an appearance June 8 before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He described his decision to keep records of several troubling encounters with the president, in person and on the telephone, when the president asked for a pledge of "loyalty'' and pressured him to "lift the cloud" of the Russia investigation.

The memos detailing his interactions have been turned over to Justice special counsel Robert Mueller who manages the Russia inquiry. Mueller is reviewing whether Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation in his encounters with Comey and through his ultimate decision to fire him last May.

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James Comey during his June 2017 Senate testimony.
SHAWN THEW, EPA

“It was the subject matter and the person I was interacting with," Comey told the Senate panel last year, explaining the decision to maintain the notes. “It was the nature of the person. I was honestly concerned that he would lie about the nature of our meeting. I felt I've got to write it down and I've got to write it down in a detailed way. I knew there might come a day when I would need a written record to defend me and the FBI.’’

A major focus of the hearing in June was Comey's account of a meeting at the White House on Feb. 14, 2017. The former director said Trump urged him to drop the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser.

Flynn had been fired the day before for lying to Vice President Pence about his communication with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communication with the ambassador and is cooperating with the Russia inquiry.)

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Sergey Kislyak speaks during a chess tournament at the Russian embassy in Washington, on May 13, 2017.
Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images

 “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go," Comey quoted the president as saying. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Comey told the senators he was "stunned by the conversation," which he interpreted as "a direction to drop the investigation."

"I didn’t obey that," Comey told the panel. "But that’s what I thought."

It is unclear how much of the book will be devoted to a recounting of that testimony. The book's subtitle — "Truth, Lies, and Leadership" — suggests it will not be left in the hearing room.

William Bratton, former New York police commissioner and friend of the former director, said Comey's story could bring clarity to "a very confusing time" in the country's political life.

"Quite honestly, I think he believes he has a story to tell and wants to tell it in his own words," Bratton said. "I think it could be helpful for him to explain how he approached the difficult decisions he made."

Bratton referred to Comey's hotly disputed role in the Clinton investigation, which included a decision to bypass the attorney general and publicly recommend the closure of the investigation, only to reopen it days before the election in November.

Clinton said the late action cost her the election. 

"I believe he was trying to do the right thing," Bratton said. "It's not easy to pit both sides against you in the way that it happened. Maybe he can shed new light on this that could be helpful."

Tim Weiner, an author who has written extensively about the FBI and Comey, said the former director's story may be more important now than ever.

Referring to a hospital room scene in 2004, when Comey and then-FBI director Mueller opposed President George W. Bush's administration's plan to renew a controversial warrantless surveillance while Attorney General John Ashcroft lay critically ill, Weiner said Comey established himself as an unlikely "oppositional figure" who finds himself an "important witness" against Trump.

"For such a buttoned-down guy, he's got a streak of the rebel," Weiner said. "It must be the Irish in him. I think he's going to point where the lies are. You're looking at somebody who can bear witness like nobody else can do right now. It's a great story, and he knows it."

Contributing: Christal Hayes