Former FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday published a brutal op-ed in the New York Times dissecting how people such as current Attorney General Bill Barr and former deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have found themselves corrupted by President Donald Trump.
In his op-ed, Comey explains that being in constant contact with an “amoral leader” such as Trump inevitably tests officials’ ethics — even when those officials see themselves as guardrails against Trump’s worst behavior.
In the cases of both Rosenstein and Barr, he argues, the two men have shown that they lack the needed “inner strength” to defy the president, which has led to the destruction of their reputations as law enforcement officials.
“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,” he writes. “It takes character like [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”
Comey then says that Trump’s power of corruption starts with his incessant, nonstop lying that mentally bludgeons officials into at least keeping silent and not correcting his falsehoods — even when they are directly contradicted by the public record.
From there, officials feel pressured into publicly praising the president, even though they may privately see him as dishonest and lacking in ethics.
“From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings,” he writes. “While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.”
Comey is sympathetic toward leaders who stay aboard based on the rationale that their country needs them to act as a check on the president, but he says doing this will require you to lie to yourself and others about the man you’re really serving.
“Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises,” he write. “You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values. And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.”