Ex-FBI boss James Comey still has a passion for sentences – now, as a novelist

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There was a time, not agelong ago, erstwhile James Comey was the astir hated antheral successful America. Liberals blamed him for the result of the 2016 statesmanlike contention because, arsenic FBI director, Comey sent a missive to Congress days beforehand astir Hillary Clinton’s emails. Clinton would astir apt person been president, statistician Nate Silver concluded, if Comey had not penned that missive. But helium did, and Donald Trump became the 45th president. Then Republicans turned connected Comey too, due to the fact that helium refused to easiness disconnected connected an ongoing probe into Russia’s relation successful the election. Trump fired Comey 4 months into his presidency.

Comey’s agelong and distinguished vocation successful nationalist service, arsenic a authoritative successful his location authorities of New York and past arsenic the nation’s apical instrumentality enforcement officer, ended successful ignominy. He was the turd successful the governmental punch-bowls of near and close alike, destined to slice into the inheritance – arsenic helium had erstwhile famously attempted to bash astatine a White House lawsuit wearing a bluish suit the aforesaid colour arsenic the curtains.

A fewer years retired from the fever imagination of the Trump presidency, and successful the aforesaid week arsenic the erstwhile president is indicted successful New York connected hush wealth charges, Comey reports that radical are hurling maltreatment astatine him a small little than they utilized to. “Somebody screamed ‘F--- you’ connected the thoroughfare successful New York a portion ago,” helium says erstwhile we conscionable astatine a bookshop cafe successful Washington, DC. “I deliberation helium was from the left,” helium adds, presumably drafting connected a beingness of transgression profiling. At 203 centimetres tall, Comey’s modular effect to hecklers is simply a cheerful “thank you for your feedback”. Except, that is, erstwhile his woman of 35 years, oregon 1 of his 5 kids oregon 3 grandchildren, are with him. Then helium focuses connected getting distant quickly.

“My household doesn’t emotion the thought of being backmost successful the nationalist eye,” Comey admits. If each goes to plan, they volition be, due to the fact that Comey has written a novel, his first, which is retired successful Australia adjacent week. It’s a transgression thriller called Central Park West, astir a national authoritative pursuing a almighty mobster successful the New York courts pursuing the authorities governor’s murder. “I tin representation 8 much books aft this one,” Comey says. Apart from the joyousness of uncovering a caller passion, the nationalist servant forced into aboriginal status is frank astir the fiscal request to succeed. If helium doesn’t? “I’ve got to spell enactment astatine a instrumentality steadfast oregon something.”

Lawyer-turned-novelist is simply a well-trodden path. The astir celebrated examples are the 2 Johns, Grisham and Mortimer, of Pelican Brief and Rumpole fame. “All bully lawyers are storytellers,” says Comey. “Sometimes we deliberation we’re radical of substance, truthful we can’t beryllium storytellers, but if you deliberation astir it that way, you’re making an tremendous mistake.” Among a crowded tract of yarn-spinners, Comey’s 1 of the best. This is, aft all, the authoritative who went aft Martha Stewart for insider trading, culminating successful a amusement proceedings truthful scrutinised that adjacent Comey’s erstwhile brag Rudy Giuliani denounced it a “publicity stunt”. Stewart was spared the indignity of handcuffs successful the courtroom, but Comey worked to guarantee the optics were successful his favour. As a New York Observer story astatine the clip noted, “Comey utilized plain English to marque definite the nationalist grasped the nature” of the homemaker impresario’s crimes.

Left, Martha Stewart, the homemaker impresario jailed for insider trading, and right, John Gotti, the caput  of New York’s Gambino transgression  family, whom Comey helped bring to justness  arsenic  a young prosecutor.

Left, Martha Stewart, the homemaker impresario jailed for insider trading, and right, John Gotti, the caput of New York’s Gambino transgression family, whom Comey helped bring to justness arsenic a young prosecutor.Credit: Getty Images

Comey is besides known for his courtroom wit. A erstwhile workfellow turned TV writer, Richard Appel, noted “he’s easy arsenic comic arsenic the writers I worked alongside with astatine The Simpsons.” Comey’s grounds arsenic a authoritative was awesome – helium helped nab members of the notorious Gambino transgression family, including John Gotti – but not everyone was a fan.

Comey is “smarmy”, the seasoned US governmental commentator Joe Klein erstwhile wrote, pointing to a motivation righteousness wide regarded arsenic genuine but grating. A erstwhile workfellow recounted to Vanity Fair that connected each caller lawyer’s archetypal time successful the office, Comey announced that helium loved his occupation due to the fact that it involved, by definition, doing the close thing. “There is stubbornness, ego and immoderate self-righteousness astatine work,” sniped different co-worker. Comey himself has acknowledged that helium tin beryllium “prideful, over-confident and driven by ego”.

Those traits dovetail with a knack for self-promotion. Time and clip again, Comey has someway appeared, Forrest Gump-style, astatine pivotal moments successful American history. It was Comey, an acting lawyer wide during George W. Bush’s presidency, who rebuffed members of that medication hoping to secretly renew a home eavesdropping program. Naturally, helium did truthful not astatine the office, but by the bedside of the existent lawyer wide who was incapacitated successful a Washington, DC hospital. All this Comey aboriginal described astatine a governmental proceeding into the programme that The Washington Post called “the astir riveting 20 minutes of Congressional testimony. Maybe ever.”

With Barack Obama. “I came to profoundly  respect   him,” says Comey of his erstwhile  boss.

With Barack Obama. “I came to profoundly respect him,” says Comey of his erstwhile boss.Credit: Getty Images

Perhaps it’s not overmuch of a astonishment that Comey would go the astir celebrated manager of the FBI since J. Edgar Hoover slipped connected a lace nightie astatine a enactment astatine New York’s Plaza Hotel fractional a period earlier. Though a lifelong Republican, Comey’s assignment by past president Obama successful 2013 was met with support from some sides of Congress. Obama and Comey had their disagreements, including erstwhile they clashed aft unrest successful the metropolis of Ferguson, Missouri, astir whether heightened scrutiny of constabulary had led to a convulsive transgression wave. (Comey thought that it had.) Still, arsenic Comey aboriginal said of Obama, “I came to profoundly respect him.”

Things turned weird successful the days and months pursuing the 2016 election. Comey details the precocious emotion of that clip successful his memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, published successful 2018. In that book, Comey is astatine pains to constituent retired that Obama vindicated his determination to reopen the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails. “­‘I appointed you to beryllium FBI manager due to the fact that of your integrity and your ability,’ ” Comey recounts Obama saying. “He looked maine successful the oculus and helium said, ‘Nothing has happened, nothing, successful the past year, that has changed my view.’ ”

His adjacent brag didn’t clasp Comey successful specified precocious regard. Much of Comey’s memoir is devoted to disassembling Donald Trump, whom helium describes arsenic “unethical, and untethered to information and organization values”. He observes the “soft achromatic pouches” nether Trump’s “expressionless bluish eyes” and notes helium ne'er saw Trump laugh. To Good Weekend, Comey dismisses the erstwhile president arsenic “lacking the managerial endowment of a mob boss, but manifesting galore of the mob boss’s unsavoury behaviours”. (Trump, meanwhile, has called Comey a “showboater” and a “slime ball”.)

With Donald Trump who, 4  months into his presidency, sacked Comey.

With Donald Trump who, 4 months into his presidency, sacked Comey.Credit: Getty Images

As described successful different 1 of the memoir’s indelibly Comey moments, the recently elected Trump summoned his FBI main for a one-on-one meal wherever they feasted connected “salad, shrimp scampi, chickenhearted parmesan with pasta, and vanilla ice-cream”. It was astatine that meal that Trump pressed Comey for a pledge of “loyalty”, implying helium should springiness up connected the FBI’s probe into Russia’s interference successful the election; Comey writes helium countered with a committedness of “honesty” – which was, famously, not capable for Trump.

A country truthful memorable – aboriginal dramatised successful a TV miniseries called The Comey Rule, successful which Jeff Daniels plays the eponymous quality and Jennifer Ehle his woman – assured A Higher Loyalty introduction into the annals of US governmental legend. The root worldly was unimpeachable and the penning itself was praised. The New York Times publication professional Michiko Kakutani was over-the-top effusive, describing it arsenic a “near-cinematic” account; Comey, she said, “is what Saul Bellow called a ‘first-class noticer’.”

The publication performed highly well, topping the Amazon bestseller database adjacent earlier release. Comey published a 2nd non-fiction publication with the aforesaid publisher, Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency, and Trust, which sold briskly. So erstwhile quality broke that Comey was penning a novel, manufacture observers were amazed to spot it was not with Flatiron, his big-deal archetypal publisher, but with an indie outfit, Mysterious Press.

“Something indispensable beryllium up here,” is however publishing seasoned and transgression fabrication columnist Sarah Weinman recalls her absorption to Good Weekend. “I wonderment what happened?”

Jeff Daniels portrays the then-FBI main  
in the TV miniseries, The Comey Rule.

Jeff Daniels portrays the then-FBI main in the TV miniseries, The Comey Rule. Credit: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS

Intriguingly, fixed the alteration of publisher, Comey credits his archetypal editor, Zack Wagman, with the thought of penning a novel. “He said to me, ‘You ought to deliberation astir it. You constitute stories well.’ ” When Comey relented, helium discovered a emotion for what helium calls “the process of crafting quality and scene”. He present writes each time from a screened-in structure astatine his location successful suburban Virginia. “I recovered it much amusive than non-fiction, but harder,” Comey says of his pivot. “It’s a small spot of a hazard to enactment myself retired there.”

Flatiron Books did not respond to a petition for comment, but it could beryllium that Comey’s sanction designation was not deemed capable to interval an untested novelist. Unlike different governmental figures specified arsenic Hillary and Bill Clinton, who person co-written blockbuster thrillers with established authors, Comey’s is the lone sanction connected the screen of Central Park West.

Comey does springiness recognition to his daughter, Maurene, connected whom helium based the main character. “When I deliberation astir Nora Carleton, who’s a six-foot-tall, auburn-haired pistillate successful her aboriginal 30s trying an organised transgression case, I was capable to deliberation astir my ain daughter.” Maurene has followed successful her father’s footsteps arsenic a national authoritative successful the New York tribunal system, starring the transgression cases against Jeffrey Epstein, who was recovered blameworthy of galore enactment transgression charges, and his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell. Maurene didn’t fto her begetter be either trial. There was a batch of media attraction and “she was disquieted maine being determination would go a thing”. Deprived of seeing his girl reason a high-profile lawsuit successful the nonstop courtroom successful which helium had prosecuted a mob brag 20 years earlier, Comey decided he’d ideate it instead.

Comey’s girl  Maurene, a New York national  prosecutor, who led the transgression  lawsuit  against the precocious   enactment    offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Comey’s girl Maurene, a New York national prosecutor, who led the transgression lawsuit against the precocious enactment offender Jeffrey Epstein.Credit: Getty Images

I archer Comey what’s striking astir the caller is however it takes the scholar down the scenes, into the nitty-gritty of warring crime. “Few radical cognize that the United States Marshals Service operates the largest captive transport web successful the world,” is simply a operation successful the book; we larn astir assemblage consultants, turf wars betwixt constabulary departments, and however to person suspects to travel successful for questioning without them “lawyering up”. “That was 1 of my goals successful this,” says Comey. “To usage fabrication arsenic a conveyance to amusement what that world’s truly like.”

There are besides immoderate astonishing crippled points, oregon arsenic the columnist Sarah Weinman dubs them, “interesting choices”. Nora Carleton is simply a azygous parent who is exploring her queer individuality – a agelong mode from the begetter of 5 who wrote her. For this, Comey drew connected the experiences of different of his daughters. Did the kids similar his book? “They were conscionable truly relieved determination was nary sex,” says Comey. “Terrorism, instrumentality enforcement – I cognize these truly well. I person 5 children, but nary expertise successful romance.”

There whitethorn beryllium nary emotion interest, but Central Park West is amazingly pacey, combining 2 seemingly chiseled plots – mafia sidesplitting and governmental assassination – into a satisfying whodunnit that shows each Comey has gleaned astir instrumentality enforcement. It besides seems to beryllium a working-out of what, astatine 62, helium doesn’t know. In the years since his precise nationalist firing, it appears that Comey’s agleam lines betwixt close and incorrect person blurred a little.

Without giving thing away, an older, grizzled workfellow tells Nora towards the extremity of the publication that “I interest you’re aiming astatine the incorrect target, with each this ‘truth’ worldly … that’s not what the strategy is for. Our occupation is to unrecorded successful grey.” It’s hard not to presumption this arsenic a self-rebuke from the antheral erstwhile characterised by The New York Times arsenic a “straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of bid and the regularisation of law”. Comey has notably ne'er admitted responsibility oregon adjacent a consciousness of uncertainty connected his astir arguable decisions – chiefly, the fateful missive to Congress astir Hillary Clinton’s emails. As helium says, “I’ve looked astatine those decisions a 1000 times. I consciousness comfy with them.”

But erstwhile I enactment it to Comey that this caller lives “in the grey” a batch much than the strident defences of his 2 non-fiction books, he’s consenting to judge that interpretation. “I deliberation portion of increasing up for anyone, but particularly for idiosyncratic who’s spending their vocation successful the justness system, is realising that it’s imperfect, and that determination truly is simply a quality betwixt information and justness often,” helium concedes. “I was overmuch much idealistic erstwhile I was a 32-year-old mob prosecutor. I had seen little of the complication and little of the grey that I saw implicit the adjacent 30 years. So I deliberation that’s fair. I haven’t adjacent thought of it that way, but I deliberation that’s fair.”

Unshackled from the facts, fabrication has been a benignant of freedom. In a courtroom, Comey says, “imagination is forbidden. But present I get to marque thing up, arsenic agelong arsenic I enactment existent to the radical successful it.” The reviews are not yet successful but I recovered Nora to beryllium a afloat realised character: a palmy pistillate who finds it hard to bargain apparel she feels bully in, and is distracted astir what to navigator her four-year-old for meal portion cross-examining a atrocious feline successful court.

What made Comey an effectual prosecutor, helium says, was empathy, and it’s surely besides utile for a novelist. I inquire wherever this quality comes from and helium takes maine backmost to his puerility successful suburban New Jersey, to a Friday nighttime helium felt definite would beryllium his last. As the 16-year-old Comey worked connected a file for the precocious schoolhouse paper successful his room, helium heard a sound and realised determination was a location penetration successful process. He discovered the intruder successful his parents’ chamber with a skis disguise connected and a weapon successful hand. He convinced the burglar to fastener him and his member successful a bath retired of harm’s way. The nightmare ended lone erstwhile the intruder escaped into adjacent woods.

Incredibly, Comey doesn’t deliberation this incidental led to his determination to spell into instrumentality enforcement, but helium does accidental the gunman gave him “two gifts” that night. “One, due to the fact that I was definite I was going to die, it gave maine perspective,” helium says. “It was precise utile to me, passim the remainder of my life, to cognize that I was conscionable fortunate to beryllium alive.” The second, Comey says, was “an knowing of what victims of transgression experience”.

“I tin retrieve radical utilized to accidental to me, ‘Well, convey deity you weren’t hurt.’ And I ne'er said this backmost to them, but I would think, ‘Yeah. Except I thought astir that feline each nighttime for 5 years.’ ” He continues, “My parents don’t unrecorded successful that location immoderate more. They’re dead. But erstwhile I thrust by that house, this small location successful New Jersey, I inactive deliberation astir that.”

Comey says his woman Patrice, a counsellor, believes that telling the communicative of what happened that nighttime implicit and implicit astatine schoolhouse was a signifier of therapy for the shaken teen. In a saltation connected a theme, Central Park West begins with a location penetration – and, successful an echo of different section of Comey’s life, determination is besides a corrupt person who leans connected instrumentality enforcement for nefarious ends.

“I don’t envy those prosecutors,” helium says erstwhile pressed for an sentiment connected Donald Trump’s latest ineligible problems. “It was hard successful the oculus of the storm.” He maintains, “I didn’t find Donald Trump that traumatising due to the fact that I knew what helium was,” but this novel, and its exploration of ambiguity, feels similar therapy of a antithetic sort. James Comey wrote a novel, but – arsenic ever – information and fabrication whitethorn not beryllium truthful acold apart.

To work much from Good Weekend magazine, sojourn our leafage at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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