“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
James Comey, recently-fired FBI Director, gained his reputation for integrity when he was Assistant Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration.
On March 10, 2004, Comey’s boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, lay gravely ill in intensive care in the hospital. Comey got an urgent call telling him that Bush’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Card Jr., and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize a domestic surveillance program which the Justice Department had already decided was illegal.
Comey notified FBI Director Bob Mueller and then rushed to the hospital with lights blaring and siren whining to get there before Gonzales and Card.
He got there minutes before the two came in. They wanted the heavily-drugged Ashcroft to sign off on the reauthorization. They ignored Comey, who was standing by. To Comey’s surprise, Ashcroft rose to his elbows and refused to authorize the surveillance program. Ashcroft pointed at Comey and told the two that he, Comey, was the attorney general. Without a word to Comey, they turned and left.
Comey was angry over the impropriety of the Card and Gonzales actions and he, Director Mueller and his aides all wrote letters of resignation. Eventually, President Bush broke the impasse and ruled in favor of Comey. President Bush later made Gonzales Attorney General.
Eventually, during the Obama administration, Comey was appointed as FBI director. He retained that job until just recently when he was summarily fired by President Donald Trump for not backing off on investigating the Russian links to the Trump presidential campaign.
Of course, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Comey got deeply involved on two occasions. The first incident was in July when he spoke out about the Hillary Clinton server. He stated that Clinton, although acting extremely carelessly, had done nothing intentionally illegal.
The second time, he spoke out about Clinton emails on her aide’s computer, just 11 days before the general election vote. Clinton believes Comey’s statement stopped her winning momentum and lost her the election.
Why Comey decided to speak out when he did still remains a mystery. His recent comment about it during Congressional testimony was that the thought that he might have tipped the election left him “slightly nauseated.”
How are we to judge James Comey? Recent requests by President Trump to stop the Michael Flynn probe and then the Russia-Trump campaign investigation were ignored by Comey. His refusals got him fired, according to the president’s own statement. Were Comey’s words and actions during the 2016 election the five minutes that the Warren Buffet quote referred to that ruined 20 years of building a reputation of integrity? We may never know.
The current issue is not over Comey’s integrity and actions. It is with Trump’s reputation. No matter what the motivation and thinking of Comey during the election, he appears to have acted with integrity during his last few months in office by refusing to bend to Trump’s requests to stop the investigations.
Trump got elected because he created the persona of an iconoclast – a rule breaker. He has played that role to the fullest. He is just as unpredictable as he has ever been, to the horror of the leaders of his own party, as well as to his Democratic opponents, who see him as an immature and undisciplined narcissist.
Trump is not going to think about his actions or change them. It’s not who he is.
To his supporters, Trump can virtually walk on water. To the religious right that he recently spoke to at Liberty University and to the police at the recent commemoration to fallen officers, he is the personification of all that is right and good.
Reputation matters, but Warren Buffet’s standards mentioned at the beginning of this column do not seem to fit Trump’s line of thinking. Time will tell if our president’s actions and words will bring him, and possibly the nation, to shame and grief, or whether his supporters’ views will prevail.
Bring a motion sickness bag with you as we all are carried along with him, willingly or unwillingly.