Former FBI Director James Comey attempted to make sense of how Donald Trump’s influence corrupts others and criticized those tasked with holding the president accountable in a Wednesday op-ed.
The commentary, published in The New York Times, ran on the same day that Attorney General William Barr faced senators’ questions about his role in spinning special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In his op-ed, Comey asked how Barr, “a bright and accomplished lawyer,” found himself helping the president spin Mueller’s damning report. And how could Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, announcing his resignation, still thank the president who openly attacked him? Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis managed to resign over principle, Comey wrote, but for others, Trump’s amoral leadership “eats your soul in small bites.”
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.
Comey, who has been critical of Trump for months, was fired by the president in 2017 while the then-FBI director was leading what would ultimately become Mueller’s investigation.