A A century-old rule has been broken. The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will not mark the peaceful transition of power. On Wednesday, American butcher shop arrived. Five people including a police officer are dead.
Yet even as the halls of Congress shook, the will of the people prevailed. Institutions celebrated. How long the question remains unanswered.
Against this wooded landscape, James Comey retells the destructiveness of Donald Trump. Like A Higher Loyalty, Comey’s first book, Saving Justice offers a defense of the FBI and the Department of Justice as it traces the author’s own career and attacks the 45th president.
For the FBI director Trump fired, the president’s gaze was similar to the Eye of Sauron in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Fiery, malevolent, unblinking and consumed with himself.
Saving justice may already be yesterday’s news. Two Trump cabinet officials have resigned, including Sen. Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao from transportation. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, has called for Trump’s impeachment. Bill Barr, Trump’s second attorney general, has accused his former chief of betraying his office. The transition has become a national nightmare.
Comey’s book is a hymn to America’s institutions at a time when they need reinforcement. But whether Comey is the ideal messenger is another story. Since George W Bush’s presidency, he has repeatedly found himself in the limelight, his trial under attack.
As recounted by Fight House, a chronicle of internal White House skirmishes written by Tevi Troy, who served under the second President Bush, Comey sought to justify himself in a showdown with Vice President Dick Cheney over government surveillance, saying “the moment of being an idiot he was now “- not the most skillful choice of words. Likewise, his handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of email remains an open wound.
Still, Comey is worth listening to. Saving Justice sincerely upholds loyalty to the rule of law and the constitution. Such lessons demand repetition.
Comey recounts how, when he was a young prosecutor, his supervisor instructed him to report potentially exculpatory information to a court. The case had already gone to the jury. That Comey considered that the minor facts in question were not determinative. The appearance of justice mattered.
As Comey saw it, “One of the things that has been good with American justice is the reality and the reputation built up” by the Department of Justice. It takes particular pride in its role in civil rights enforcement.
Comey’s thoughts on Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s consigliere, are noteworthy. Comey worked for Giuliani at the United States Attorney’s office in Manhattan. Decades later, he would possess front row seats to Barr’s demotion and abuse of power. Comey knows who and what he’s talking about.
Saving Justice recounts the first interactions with the future mayor of New York in a case involving the disappearance of drug tests. When Giuliani asked what happened to the smuggling, Comey answered truthfully. He did not know. Writing about how she was ordered to write an affidavit attesting to that fact, she recalls her fear: “I could type but no longer swallowed.”
Saving Justice provides a key confession. It took Comey “years to realize that an all-boss-centric leadership culture was unhealthy” and this is “something the whole country would learn when Rudy’s friend Donald Trump took office.” Giuliani is now reportedly seeking a presidential pardon.
As for Barr, Comey points to his distortion of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference and Trump-Moscow ties; his intervention in the prosecutions of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone; and his submission to the president, which lasted until the end of Trump’s term. Comey believes that Barr betrayed what the DoJ was and should be again.
Comey recalls how Barr earned the ire of the federal judiciary. Last year, George W. Bush-appointed Judge Reggie Walton “seriously” questioned the attorney general’s credibility and integrity. In evaluating Barr’s handling of the Mueller report, Walton used words like “distorted” and “misleading.”
It did not end there. John Gleeson, a former federal judge appointed to review the decision to drop the Flynn case, filed similar charges. Gleeson repeatedly used the word “corrupt” and accused the government of “flagrant abuse of fiscal power.” Trump’s pardon of Flynn followed.
Barr has now abandoned Trump. In the run-up to the Capitol invasion, Trump lamented that he still “liked” Barr, but lamented that Jeff Sessions’ replacement “changed because he didn’t want to be considered my personal attorney.” These days, only conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell seems eager to do so.
Hoping to turn the page, Comey opposes Trump’s federal prosecution. But he leaves the door open for state and local authorities who come after him after he leaves the presidency. As for attorney general Joe Biden, he recommends someone “above the partisan scrum.”
From the looks of things, Judge Merrick Garland fits that bill. His selection has already won the approval of Lindsey Graham, outgoing chair of the Senate judicial committee.
“He is a man of great character, integrity and tremendous competence in the law,” said Graham.
A reminder: Senate Republicans under McConnell, including Graham, blocked Garland’s consideration as a supreme court judge.
Saving Justice’s impact is likely to be limited. Events have overtaken their message. When Trump has lost Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, the end is near.
But only in part. Trump has reformulated his party in his own image. More than two thirds of Republicans did not view storming the Capitol as a threat to democracy. In fact, a plurality supported the coup. Abraham Lincoln’s warning against a divided house comes to mind.
Elite opinion has limited influence. Americans continue to retreat to their bubbles. As much as Comey wishes, large-scale institutional trust will not be restored anytime soon. As for normalcy returning to Main Justice? We can have hope.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism