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Former FBI director James Comey sits for an interview with USA TODAY reporters Susan Page and Kevin Johnson ahead of the release of his book, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership."
Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

McLEAN, Va. — James Comey blinked back tears.

During an hour-long interview, the former FBI director generally displayed the just-the-facts-ma'am demeanor of the G-men he once led. Then the conversation turned to the loss more than two decades ago of his infant son, Collin Edward Comey, to a treatable infection that a doctor and a hospital failed to diagnose.

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It is a personal story he hadn't told before. It was the passage he struggled most to read when he recorded the audio edition of his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, which will be published Tuesday by Flatiron.   

Why tell it now? 

"I included the part about the death of our son because it had such a huge impact on how I think of the obligations of a leader," Comey said in an exclusive interview Friday with USA TODAY. "I found that devastating. My wife found that devastating. And then I watched her try to channel it into accomplishing something good. I learned from watching her. I couldn't believe what she did to try and spare other mothers that pain, and it shaped me as a leader."

Patrice Comey launched a campaign to require doctors and hospitals to test for Group B streptococcus, a bacterial infection that can be treated with penicillin during delivery if detected toward the end of a pregnancy.

The lesson, James Comey said, was to "make something good from evil, from pain, from loss."

Listen to the extended interview with James Comey in the player below:

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