Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

The Comey Files: Loyalty, Obstruction of Justice, and Impeachment

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 07 June, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read


Loyalty: Devotion and faithfulness to a cause, country, group, or person.

Much will be made of James Comey's testimony Thursday, but one word has been the focus of the former FBI director's comments: Loyalty.

Comey claims in a statement that the president prompted him to drop a federal investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Flynn was dismissed over his failure to disclose Russian communications.

Comey also claims that President Trump asked for his loyalty in one-on-one conversations. Trump not only asked for it, according to Comey, he "needed" loyalty, and expected it.

This has sent the mainstream media and several Democratic representatives into a frenzy. In fact, two Democratic congressmen said they will draft articles of impeachment after accusing President Trump of obstruction of justice, despite a large swath of bipartisan lawmakers warning against a rush to judgment.

Reps. Al Green of Texas and Brad Sherman of California announced their intention to draft articles of impeachment on the House floor.

“In the spirit of keeping the republic, I have concluded that the president has obstructed justice and in so doing, the remedy for obstruction of justice is impeachment,” said Green. “The president will not be indicted while he is in office, and while there is some merit in talking about the judicial process, the impeachment process is the one that will bring him before the bar of justice.”

Green, Sherman, and others who have thrown around the word "impeachment" claim Trump fired Comey in an attempt to stop the Flynn investigation, and they use the fact that Trump asked for his loyalty as further evidence. Yet such requests or desire for loyalty are not new in DC politics.

No executive, politician, or president would consider running a business, campaign, or moving into the White House without known and trusted advisers within their circle of influence or administration.

Barack Obama had David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Rahm Emanuel, and many others.

Ronald Reagan had William Clark, Richard Allen, George Schultz, and many others.

The trappings of power -- which is nothing new for Pennsylvania Avenue -- can come with forms of disloyalty, including leaks, disobedience, and private agendas.

There is a historical pattern to back this up too.

Presidents who fixated on personal allegiance, such as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush, tended to struggle with moving the country forward at an exceptional level. Presidents who tolerated independent, strong personalities, such as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, generally had more impactful presidencies.

George W. Bush's obsession over loyalty was legendary. His fixation was born on the experience of watching James Baker and Richard Darman put their own careers and images ahead of his father’s. The costliest examples of his loyalty came in the incompetence of Alberto Gonzalez and Michael “Heckuvajob Brownie.”

The demand for absolute loyalty is a political relic, with the fragmented messaging in a 24-hour news cycle and the majority of government employees protected by the maturation of the 1978 Civil Service Act.

It can be argued that about a decade ago, the importance of loyalty was replaced with a much more pragmatic application: Duty, the moral and legal obligation of performing one’s responsibilities.

In other words, actions speak far louder than words.

But Trump isn’t a politician, which makes his presidency more unique than a typical administration. Trump, a DC outsider, is certainly leaning on a smaller circle than most, and being an outsider, loyalty and duty lead the list of the most important qualities the president is looking for.

As with anything, though, moderation is critical.

If a president becomes fixated with loyalty, it can lead to abuse of power. An already close circle becomes ever tighter, enemies emerge, and paranoia becomes the norm.

LBJ mistrusted people connected with the Kennedys.

Nixon became obsessed with leaks and Watergate.

And now, loyalty is yet again front and center of another administration.

Importantly though, President Trump cannot command loyalty as he has to earn it. He would be wise to put his Twitter feed down, and focus on the job at hand.