Comey’s Book and Pakistani Leadership

James Brien Comey Jr served as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for four years till fired by President Donald Trump on May 9, 2017. Trump initially claimed this was because of Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into the private email of Hillary Clinton. The overriding perception prevailing is that the real reason was Special Counsel (and former FBI Chief) Robert Muller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” reached bestseller status even prior to its publication on April 17. In retaliation, the US President let loose scathing tweets about “lying James Comey” and “sanctimonious James Comey”. While repeatedly calling Comey “a slimeball” hardly becomes the august office of the US President, on his part Comey’s calling Trump “morally unfit to be President” compromises not only the privileged access he had as FBI Chief to the President and his association with an ongoing FBI investigation but the sanctity of confidentiality and neutrality inherent to his office. CNN’s senior media correspondent, commented that, “Trump’s anti-Comey tweets gave a huge boost to Comey’s book”. Sacked as FBI Chief Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the President had demanded his “loyalty”, pressed him to drop an enquiry into ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and repeatedly pressured him to publicly declare that he was not under investigation.

A career prosecutor, Comey helped dismantle the Gambino crime family before heading the FBI – his Book draws a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses and President Trump. Comey could well be writing about Pakistani politicians, particularly PML (N) and PPP running the govt for the past decade. In June last year the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan had compared the PML(N)-led federal govt to the “Sicilian Mafia” after a party leader had openly hurled vile threats to the judges, their children and members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the Sharif family’s business dealings abroad. Consider the recent firing incidents in Lahore at the house of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the Judge monitoring the PanamaGate trial? Comey writes, “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us versus them worldview. In service to some code of loyalty that puts the organisation above morality and above the truth”.

Comey charges “this President is unethical, and untethered to the truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego-driven and about personal loyalty”. Eerie how these words and “Trump’s rule is a “forest fire” which is doing great damage to America” also hold good in Pakistan. Threatening, intimidating and obstructing the rule of law while occupying the seat of power, Nawaz and his party stalwarts have excelled in telling lies and half-truths, not disclosing complete facts, submitting forged documents, engaging others to give false testimony and prompting people to falsify documents. Using extremely objectionable language against the superior judiciary and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on numerous occasions, their targeting of the Army has been by inference only and not directly, discretion being the better part of valour,.

Bizarre as it may be, Comey’s description, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalised and unethical behaviour is ignored, excused or rewarded,” appears Pakistan-specific. Nawaz Sharif also believes Trump-like he has the mandate of everyone in Pakistan, surrounding himself by ‘Yes Men’ ever ready to endorse or support their chief’s every opinion or proposal without criticism. Many making up his inner circle act like darbaris (courtiers) carrying out their master’s bidding without question, excelling in filling his ears in instigating him past the political fail-safe line.

DNI Director James Clapper was present during Comey’s first meeting with the President soon after his election when Trump launched into a strategy session about how to “spin for the public what we’d just told them” about Russia’s election interference. Compare the Trump and Putin relationship with Nawaz and Modi, Maryam’s uncle Modi openly pursues a hard-line policy towards Pakistan, using both state and non-state actors to harm Pakistan. Keeping alive their “friendship” with Modi, Nawaz Sharif and his family have no qualms about keeping mum over the killings of innocent civilians and other atrocities committed in Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK). While recently ordering dozens of Russian diplomats out of the US because of the Skripal poisoning and ordering an air offensive against Russian-supported Syria because of alleged chemical attacks against civilians, while Trump’s personal friendship with Putin reportedly persists, national interest prevails over personal and/or commercial interests.

Comey explores the toxic consequences of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. With dishonesty, bullying, peer pressure and groupthink central “to the entire enterprise of organized crime,” he says these repellent traits were shared by Trump and company. Loyalty to an individual being more important than the truth and the State is also pervasive in our political culture. Party faithful fall over each other in decrying the SC and NAB almost on a daily basis, flouting the rule of law, spouting venom against anyone and everyone deemed anti-Sharif, twisting facts and giving spin to facts in order to appear truthful. The lies and fabrication that Nawaz, his sons, daughter and cronies disseminate are endless, these can be heard almost every day on television talk shows, they seem to really believe whatever they say.

Five judges of the SC unanimously ruled on April 13 that former PM Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in July 2017 under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution was for life. With judgment of PanamaGate case to be announced and with many cases being opened by accountability courts against the former PM, Capt Safdar, Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, the worst is yet to come Trump’s recent pardoning of Scooter Libby, former VP Cheney’s aide envisages a parallel to Mamnoom Hussain’s possibly granting a Presidential pardon to Nawaz and family once they are convicted. This is dangling a possible Presidential pardon for other aides because they could well otherwise serve time in prison. With a Caretaker govt due soon, Mamnoon can possibly run out of time? Consider a telling quote from Comey’s book,

“it is wrong to stay idly by, or worse stay silent when you know better, while a President brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement agencies that were established to keep our leaders in check.”


Can we keep the excesses of our leaders in check, let alone hold them accountable?

Ikram Sehgal is a former Pakistan Army officer and a defense and security analyst
@IkramSehgal     Facebook