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Know What You Stand For

Former FBI director James Comey urges law students to be guided by their north stars.


Former FBI Director James Comey has a message to the Boston College Law School community: A legal education makes you uniquely equipped to make a difference in this country. Using those skills to guide the nation forward is a noble endeavor.

In a conversation on March 3 with Law School Dean Vincent Rougeau hosted by the Criminal Law Society, Comey discussed his new book, Saving Justice, his career, government service, and national security. His conversation was centered around making decisions guided by principles of justice and the rule of law.

Comey described the institutions of justice in our nation using the metaphor of a “reservoir” of trust and credibility. Reservoirs, Comey said, take a lot of work to build and fill but can be destroyed by a single person putting a hole in the dam. Our system is built on truths told, promises kept, and mistakes admitted. It can be drained by the deceit and dishonesty of a single person.

“Make sure you know what you stand for and what the core values of the institution that you represent, or lead, or participate in, what those are. And constantly measure what you’re being asked to do against those north stars,” Comey said.

Comey was at the helm of the FBI during some of the most tumultuous times in Washington in recent years. Infamously, in 2016, less than two weeks before the presidential election, he announced that the FBI would investigate emails potentially related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server. Then, during the initial months of the Trump presidency, Comey was leading the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia when he was fired by the Commander-in-Chief.

At BC Law, Comey addressed the need for honest leadership in order to help some Americans guide themselves out of the recent “fog” of deceit.

“When the president tells the country something, people tend to believe those things. In normal times, that’s good, but not when the President is a lying sociopath,” Comey said “You do not help people emerge from a fog of fraud, or lies, by shouting at them. … People only emerge from a fog by emerging themselves.”

Comey said that while he was at the FBI during the Trump years, his conversations with the President were grounded in what he felt was best for the preservation of the FBI. His view was that he should be willing to bend a little bit so that he didn’t bend in a way that compromised both him and his institution.

“I think I got that right. What I couldn’t see clearly at that point was that even during my little bends, I was done. It was never going to work between the two of us. We were just too different.”

Comey reiterated several times throughout the conversation that law school trains effective leaders and talented thinkers.

“You’re constantly being asked to lift your eyes above the current controversy and current case, and asked, so what are the principles here? What are the things that we draw from this situation that are lasting? What are the things that should guide us?”

“And I hope, and I know given where you are in law school, that you’re also internalizing our Constitution, a commitment to the rule of law, to justice being blindfolded,” he said.

Photo: FBI