Last week, an investigation by Gizmodo revealed that FBI Director James Comey likely created a secret Twitter account under the handle of @projectexile7.
What’s even more intriguing, writes the New Yorker’s Paul Elie, is the name that Comey attached to the account: “Reinhold Niebuhr.”
As Elie writes, Niebuhr was a highly influential intellectual among public officials, and his work has been cited by figures ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
Ironically, Niebuhr also had a lengthy file with the FBI, which monitored him due to his associations with left-wing organizations.
So what can we learn from Niebuhr as it relates to Comey? Elie explains that while Niebuhr typically resisted simplistic good-versus-evil narratives, he does believe that “certain conflicts really do involve questions of good and evil” and require “taking moral action involves committing acts that would be distasteful in other situations.”
“To see Niebuhr’s story with Comey in mind is to gain a deeper appreciation of the hard choices Comey has faced — and the perils of going it alone, as he has seemed to do at several points,” he writes, before recapping the two situations in which Comey first agreed to not go public with information regarding the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, and then second his last minute decision to make a public declaration about new information about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
At the same time, Elie concedes that there might not be any “great significance” in Comey’s decision to use Niebuhr for his secret Twitter account, although he believes that someone like Comey might find it attractive to follow “the inspiration of people like Niebuhr, who made the hard truths of public life and the hard choices faced by people entrusted with positions of responsibility seem like life itself.”