More on James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr


FBI Director James Comey wrote his senior thesis at the College of William and Mary on Reinhold Niebuhr.  It is also likely that he is tweeting under Niebuhr’s name.  It is also interesting, as we learn from Martin Doblmeier in Episode 19 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, that the FBI had a very large file on Niebuhr.

Over at The New Yorker, Georgetown University scholar Paul Elie offers a few reasons for why Comey’s twitter name is “Reinhold Niebuhr.”

Here is a taste:

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. In the final months of the 2016 Presidential campaign, Comey faced two moral dilemmas of profound import. In the first, as Newsweek has reported, by last July the agency held evidence that Russia sought to interfere in the election—and presumably to swing the result in favor of Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton. Comey, seeing clear wrongdoing, was eager to take action. During a meeting in the White House Situation Room with top Administration officials, Comey proposed to set out the intelligence in an opinion piece for, say, the Times. “He had a draft of it or an outline. He held up a piece of paper . . .” a source told Newsweek, “and said, ‘I want to go forward. What do people think of this?’ ” The Administration rejected the idea, on the grounds that there should be a “coordinated message,” not a piece of journalism by a single official, and also possibly out of a disinclination to be seen as interfering in the campaign.

The second time, Comey took matters into his own hands. In late October, the disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer—containing a large number of e-mail exchanges between Hillary Clinton and his wife, the Clinton aide Huma Abedin—was seized in an investigation into Weiner’s sexting involvement with a teen-age girl. Comey announced in a letter to Congress that an F.B.I. investigation into Clinton’s e-mails (one he had declared closed in July) was open again. For this, Comey himself was seen as interfering in the campaign. The two incidents together form an object lesson in the unanticipated consequences of human action. One set of intelligence was held back out of high-minded principle; the other set was put forward by questionable means—and Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, was elected President.

It may be of no great significance that a Twitter account likely associated with James Comey has Reinhold Niebuhr’s name affixed to it. And yet the Niebuhr connection serves as a reminder of the roots of public service—the compote of ideas, personality, influence, and moral virtue that prompts Comey and people like him to go into government work in the first place. Washington is a swamp: so say its critics, including the one in the White House. And yet thousands of talented people decide to pursue careers in government service, year after year, generation after generation. Sure, they do so for power and influence, the access and the spoils, and yet they do so, too, following 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.

Read the entire piece here.