On the subject of loyalty, Trump properly reminded Comey, because Trump was not being investigated, that the employee owed honest loyalty to his CEO.
I have a bias here: I think Comey is a self-serving weasel with a long history of fealty to the Clintons and the Democrat party. I also think that, if you want overall opinions about the pre-testimony statement from Comey, you should read Sean Davis or Ben Shapiro.
Here, I’m going to focus on one aspect of that testimony, which is the bit about Trump’s demand for loyalty. The following is the long version from Comey’s statement about the loyalty issue, along with my interlineations:
The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.
It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.
Comey makes it sound as there’s something nefarious about the setting. There’s not. Comey had already assured Trump on January 6 that Trump was not the subject of an FBI investigation:
In that context, prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted. During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.
There was no reason, therefore, for Trump not to have a private meeting with the FBI director, whether over a meal or in someone’s office. CEO’s — and Trump is America’s CEO — often have private meetings with department heads. In this context, Comey’s role is essential head of in-house security. Also, please note that Comey could, at any time, have walked out, either by excusing himself from the meal or excusing himself from the job entirely. He did not.
The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.
Only a government operative would find “strange” the fact that a businessman is feeling out a subordinate to ensure that he is the right person for the job. Me, personally? I happen to think it’s Comey who’s strange. You want proof? Look at this next paragraph:
My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.
Comey is pretending to be a naif. He knows — and he knows that Trump knows — that the head of security can talk to the CEO without destroying his independence. This is especially true when, only 20 days before, the head of security told the CEO that the CEO is in the clear as far as any past or ongoing investigations are concerned.
Moreover, please note that Comey admits that Trump said nothing untoward. Nevertheless, Comey has a “feeling” that he’s supposed to beg for his job. “That concerned me greatly,” he says — yet he does nothing. Either there’s a problem with what Trump did — in which case Comey should report him or quit and go public — or there’s not — in which case you do want Comey did, which is to continue playing politics with your job. Have a head of security who sees himself as a kingmaker which, in a democracy, he is not, or as some arbiter of rectitude, which his own behavior proves to be untrue, is a dangerous thing.
I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.
I would challenge with Comey’s professions of personal neutrality. More importantly in this context, though, is the fact that Comey is a big boy, with the ability to put his big boy pants on. There’s actually nothing wrong with him reminding an experienced CEO that, as head of in-house security, Comey’s first loyalty is to the shareholders (that’s you and me, the taxpayers). In fact, Trump’s first loyalty is to the shareholders as well.
For Comey to pretend, quite disingenuously, that he does not also serve at the CEO’s pleasure is ludicrous. Before I explaining how ludicrous this is, let me first quite Comey on Trump’s request for “loyalty”:
A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.
Poor Comey. Once again, a trapped rat confronted by a CEO who understands how institutions work. How scary for Comey. The reality is that, Comey’s implications aside, Trump is not Captain Queeg. He’s a businessman who understands how institutions work.
I’ve served on several boards over the years and they all follow the same format: Your first loyalty, always, is to the institution and its shareholders. If something really bad is going on within the institution, you have a duty to report it in a way that will ensure that someone takes your report seriously and, if necessary, takes action. If no one with the institution will serve that role, then you take the matter outside of the institution, to law enforcement or even the media.
However, part of loyalty to the institution means being loyal to the institutional hierarchy — to the officers, board members, employees, etc. If you have an honest disagreement in that context about an entirely legal and proper issue — say, perhaps that you don’t like a proposed policy or disagree with a hiring decision — you are free to raise your disagreement privately, within the organization.
If your argument fails, though, institutional loyalty demands that you deep six your position and embrace the official position. That is how to ensure that the institution presents a strong, healthy front to the world, something that benefits both institution and shareholders.
President Trump is America’s CEO. He was not suborning perjury, demanding fealty, or committing institutional blackmail. In Clinton- and Obama-run institutions, loyalty might be achieved the mafioso way, through a combination of corrupt enrichment and unspoken threats. In the real world, however, both business and political, the CEO is automatically entitled to institutional loyalty from his employees as to all issues that fall within legal parameters. If an employee refuses to give that type of loyalty, even if it’s just because he thinks the big boss is a stupid, but not criminal, jerk, he should quit or prepared to be fired.
Now back to Comey and his disingenuous naif character:
At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because “problems” come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.
Comey is trying to put a halo around his job. It’s still the same thing as in a corporation: The FBI is in-house security. It reports to the CEO, but if the Board (that would be Congress and the DOJ) worries that the CEO is misbehaving, security then has the right to investigate the CEO. In sum, when there’s no illegality in the corporation, the in-house security is loyal to the CEO. When there is illegality involving the CEO, the in-house security’s loyalty shifts to the institution itself. It’s that simple. Only a crawling weasel who has spent most of his life training at the Clinton’s feet would not know this.
Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.
And there you have it: Trump wants “honest loyalty,” which is what all CEO’s want from their subordinates. There was nothing untoward about the meal, nor was there anything peculiar in Trump’s making clear, after he was assured that he was not the subject of an “in-house” investigation, that he expected the head of the FBI to fall in line with all legal institutional priorities.
Comey is an embarrassment. He ought to have been fired earlier — maybe 20 years earlier. For all his self-important sense of personal rectitude, he leaves a slimy trail wherever he goes.