Former FBI director James Comey has been writing a memoir about his career in public service, and it finally has a name. Amazon announced Thursday that Comey's book is titled A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. More than a few people interpreted that name as a thinly-veiled swipe at President Trump, a Comey told the Senate in June that Trump had asked him repeatedly for "loyalty" before firing him in May.
Although FBI directors generally keep low profiles, Comey became a household name during the 2016 election. After announcing earlier in the campaign that the FBI wouldn't be charging Hillary Clinton with any crimes, Comey revealed two weeks before the election, in a letter to Congress, that the bureau was re-opening the Clinton investigation. Some observers, including FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, have blamed the so-called "Comey letter" for Trump's victory in the election.
Comey stayed in the news even after Trump was elected. In a March testimony to Congress, he revealed for the first time that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Two months later, Trump shocked Democrats and Republicans alike by firing Comey — and, just as importantly, by freely acknowledging to the press that he relieved the FBI director of duty because of "this Russia thing." A month after that, Comey claimed that Trump had asked him for loyalty repeatedly before firing him.
"I need loyalty," Trump said, according to Comey. "I expect loyalty."(Trump's lawyer categorically denies that Trump ever said this.) Comey also claimed that Trump asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and that the president implied that he'd like Comey to stop investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump strongly denied those claims during a press conference. “The entire thing has been a witch hunt,” he told reporters. "I think it divides the country."
"[Trump] described the Russia investigation as 'a cloud' that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country," Comey wrote. "He asked what we could do to 'lift the cloud.' I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well."
Comey relayed all of this in a written statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, and although that statement was merely a small part of a congressional investigation, it became an unexpected hit in literary circles. Constance Grady at Vox called Comey's remarks "astonishingly well-written, with beautifully precise sentences and a perfect five-act structure," while Slate's Katy Waldman found the "lucid directness of the former spook’s prose" to be "tautly Hemingway-esque." Comey's testimony was even chopped up and remixed by an actual poet.
All of this is a long way of saying that Comey's upcoming book has the potential to be both a significant historical document and, from a purely artistic standpoint, a literary delight. It had been highly anticipated for both of those reasons, but only on Thursday were its title and cover finally unveiled.
Is the book's title, A Higher Loyalty, a reference to Trump's reported request for loyalty from Comey? That won't be clear until the book is published, but it will almost certainly be interpreted as such. Although it would not have been illegal for Trump to request loyalty from Comey, intelligence agencies generally operate with a great degree of freedom from the White House and Congress; this is part of why FBI directors pledge their allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, not to any one president.
Axios was first to report the title and cover of Comey's book. After it did, the former FBI director himself tweeted out a link to the article.
"Lordy I hope there are pictures," Comey quipped.