James Comey: There’s a Two-layer System of Government in Trump’s America

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Jun 25, 2019
by Louise Hallman
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James Comey: There’s a Two-layer System of Government in Trump’s America

Former Director of the FBI calls the practice of ignoring the US President dysfunctional but comforting

James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, dismissed conspiracy theories that there was an anti-Trump cabal at the FBI but told journalists in Austria that there is currently a “two-layer” system currently in operation in the US.

Speaking to Bloomberg TV, live from the Max Reinhardt Office of Schloss Leopoldskron, Comey said: “The notion that we were part of some anti-Trump cabal is a lie and it’s sort of a dumb lie… We were investigating people associated with the Trump campaign before the election and we didn’t tell anybody.”

Later, when addressing journalists from Der Standard, the Salzburger Nachrichten, the Wiener Zeitung and the Suddeutsche Zeitung while at Salzburg Global Seminar’s annual June Board Weekend, the former head of the FBI added:

“There’s a strange situation in American government right now. There’s two layers. There’s the president at the top saying all kinds of things. And then there’s a lot of people at the next level who are ignoring him and are prepared to protect the American people. That’s dysfunctional – but it’s comforting.”

The former FBI head said the current two-layer system is “not healthy” or “sustainable” but urged those concerned with the erratic behavior of Donald Trump, such as European bureaucrats, diplomats and security agents, to continue working with their American counterparts despite the “noise” coming from the president’s Twitter account. 

“I don’t believe in keeping secrets from the commander in chief… If leaders are picking and choosing what they share with the president because of their concerns about what he’ll do with the information that’s not healthy…

“They all have to decide for themselves. But they should decide [to] interact with the United States knowing what the country is like… Understanding that the relationships at a level below [the president] – between ambassadors, between defense officials, uniformed military – those are lasting and stable and should be a source of comfort. And so don’t let the noise distract too much… 

“But console yourself knowing that in the long run, you know America. You know what we’re like. And that should give you comfort.”

After his dismissal from the FBI – where he expected to be for “six more years” – Comey has spent his time writing and lecturing about ethical leadership. He published his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership in 2018 and spoke at Salzburg Global Seminar on “Risks, Rules and Leadership” at the annual June Board of Directors Weekend. He will be taking up teaching posts in the fall. 

In his Salzburg Global Lecture, he said leaders need to “get help, lift your eyes, and remember your grandchildren” when taking tough decisions. The 58-year-old recently became a grandfather for the first time earlier this year. 

“I want to be able to tell [my grandchildren] that when we were led by an unethical President I lent my voice.”