Nonfiction: James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive.


“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”

“A Higher Loyalty” is the first big memoir by a key player in the alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The volume offers little in the way of hard news revelations about investigations by the F.B.I. or the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (not unexpectedly, given that such investigations are ongoing and involve classified material), and it lacks the rigorous legal analysis that made Jack Goldsmith’s 2007 book “The Terror Presidency” so incisive about larger dynamics within the Bush administration.

What “A Higher Loyalty” does give readers are some near-cinematic accounts of what Comey was thinking when, as he’s previously said, Trump demanded loyalty from him during a one-on-one dinner at the White House; when Trump pressured him to let go of the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn; and when the president asked what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

There are some methodical explanations in these pages of the reasoning behind the momentous decisions Comey made regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign — explanations that attest to his nonpartisan and well-intentioned efforts to protect the independence of the F.B.I., but that will leave at least some readers still questioning the judgment calls he made, including the different approaches he took in handling the bureau’s investigation into Clinton (which was made public) and its investigation into the Trump campaign (which was handled with traditional F.B.I. secrecy).

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“A Higher Loyalty” also provides sharp sketches of key players in three presidential administrations. Comey draws a scathing portrait of Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal adviser David S. Addington, who spearheaded the arguments of many hard-liners in the George W. Bush White House; Comey describes their point of view: “The war on terrorism justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.” He depicts Bush national security adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as uninterested in having a detailed policy discussion of interrogation policy and the question of torture. He takes Barack Obama’s attorney general Loretta Lynch to task for asking him to refer to the Clinton email case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” (Comey tartly notes that “the F.B.I. didn’t do ‘matters.’”) And he compares Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to Alberto R. Gonzales, who served in the same position under Bush, writing that both were “overwhelmed and overmatched by the job,” but “Sessions lacked the kindness Gonzales radiated.”

Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his recent book “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that “he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

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Children’s Book About Mike Pence’s Gay Bunny Jumps to No. 1


“Please buy it for your children, buy it for any child you know or buy it because you know it would annoy Mike Pence,” Mr. Oliver told his viewers. Parody aside, he assured them, “This is a real book for children.”

And buy it they have. By Tuesday the book, which beat Ms. Pence’s to Amazon by two days, had risen to the No. 1 spot on the website’s best-seller list, knocking pre-ordered copies of the upcoming memoir by James Comey down to No. 2.

Ms. Pence’s book on Marlon Bundo had reached No. 4 on the list by late afternoon.

Mr. Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” has been highly anticipated for potential insights it could provide into the tumultuous Trump White House and Mr. Comey’s abrupt dismissal as director of the F.B.I. last year.

Dueling tweets over the weekend between President Trump and Mr. Comey appeared to have propelled enough advance orders to lift Mr. Comey’s memoir to the top spot. The memoir, scheduled to be released on April 17, has been advertised as a frank account of Mr. Comey’s “never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career.”

Mr. Oliver’s book is very different than that.

In it, Marlon Bundo, a snappily dressed bunny with a penchant for bright bow ties, falls in love with a bespectacled boy bunny named Wesley. Things seem to be going pretty well for the two lovebirds (love bunnies?) until a powerful stinkbug who bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Pence decrees that male bunnies cannot marry each other.

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Two books about Mike Pence’s pet bunny, Marlon Bundo, were published this week. One is a picture book and the other is a gay romance.

In the grand tradition of children’s literature, the story ends on a happy note. An image released by the book’s publisher, Chronicle Books, shows Marlon Bundo and Wesley standing in a field, wearing tuxedos, as a cat in clerical garb marries them.

The tale also comes in the form of an audiobook voiced by a string of celebrities including Jim Parsons as Marlon Bundo and John Lithgow as the stinkbug, as well as Ellie Kemper, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and RuPaul. On Tuesday, it also beat Mr. Comey’s audiobook to be the No. 1 best-seller on Audible.

Mr. Oliver played clips from a cartoon version of the audiobook on his show on Sunday. In it, Marlon Bundo introduces himself to Wesley as “BOTUS.”

“It’s short for Bunny of the United States,” he says, with typical first-date awkwardness. “It’s a long story.”

Ms. Pence’s book is more sober children’s fare. It is not known if it identifies Marlon Bundo’s sexual orientation at all.

Charlotte Pence seemed to take the John Oliver parody in stride. “His book is contributing to charities that I think we can all get behind,” she said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Tuesday. “We have two books giving to charities that are about bunnies, so I’m all for it really.”

Some of the proceeds from her book will be donated to A21, an organization that fights human trafficking. Mr. Oliver said all of his book’s profits would be donated to The Trevor Project, a charity for L.G.B.T. youth, and AIDS United.

That was a pointed jab at Mr. Pence, who is a longtime opponent of L.G.B.T. rights, which he opposed as both governor of Indiana and a member of Congress.

Last year, Mr. Pence described James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, which teaches that people can vanquish same-sex attraction if they “cooperate with God in the process of becoming more like Jesus,” as “a friend and a mentor.”

Mr. Pence has also long been dogged by claims that he supports anti-gay conversion therapy due in part to language contained on the website of his 2000 campaign for Congress. A spokesman for Mr. Pence said in 2016 that he does not support the practice, which has been denounced by the medical community.

The success of Mr. Oliver’s book marks the second time in recent months that criticism of Mr. Pence’s record on L.G.B.T. rights has turned into a pop culture moment.

In January, the figure skater Adam Rippon, the first openly gay American man to qualify to compete in the Winter Games, attracted wide media attention and became an overnight gay icon when he denounced Mr. Pence’s gay rights record and refused to meet with him during the Games. The vice president’s staff said Mr. Rippon had misrepresented Mr. Pence’s views.

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