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tv   James Comey on his New Book  CSPAN  May 12, 2018 5:16am-6:45am EDT

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"afterwards," on c-span book tv. insday morning, we are pierre, south dakota. south dakota governor will be our guest starting at 9:00 a.m. eastern. former fbi director james coming sat down for an interview at the brookings institution. he talks about being fired as heavy fbi last year, and his new book. this is one hour and a half. the audience.
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>> im benjamin wittes, senior fellow here. because this is a live podcast taping, i will not do the usual giving an introduction. i will do something almost never do which is to read a script associated with the opening of the podcast. the today, we are going to talk until about 3:30 pm then i will wrap up the podcast. then we will take questions until 4 pm from the audience. when we call on you for a question, please wait for the microphone to come. please ask a question in the form of a question. [laughter] my instinct to tolerate lengthy speeches is limited.
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and please say who you are and remember that we will append the question and answers to the podcast so this isn't a private setting, by any means. so with that, i am benjamin wittes before a packed audience at brookings falk auditorium. this is podcast may 11, 2018. one year ago this week james comey was fired is fbi director. in the air followed the president of united states has been attacking federal law enforcement, the congress of the united states has been outing law enforcement and intelligence sources. a sharp partisan divide has opened up attitudes toward law enforcement. investigation -- sorry, attitude toward law enforcement and for the fbi in particular. and even as a counterintelligence and criminal investigation
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continues involving the president, the president threatens to remove senior law enforcement officials and special counsel. we'll talk about it all. we'll talk about the culture of the bureau and politically extreme moments people talk about files. we'll talk about what happens when the political system goes to war against the bureau and will talk about -- it is podcast episode 310. james comey, on "a higher loyalty". welcome back. >> quick to be here. thank you for having me. >> last time you hear is a little bit different context. >> yes, it was acquired days of encryption. >> right. we have a blue background. i was expecting to make a joke about it if you were wearing a blue jacket. [laughter] >> i am in earth tones author now. [laughter]
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>> i would like to start talking about the culture of the bureau. specifically a question of who speaks for the bureau and moments when the bureau is under political attack. you are writing a book about the need to keep the bureau apolitical. and it is hard to be apolitical when you are the subject of attacks that are in their nature, political. and i wonder what the right way for the bureau to handle sustained political attack, either from the legislative or from the executive branch looks like. >> i don't know what the right answer is because i don't think the bureau has ever encountered a situation like this. it has been criticized aggressively from other branches of government. especially the legislative branch. it has never been simultaneously criticized by the leader of the executive
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branch and by counselors including the legislative branch. just when the legislators is coming after the bureau you can expect the leadership chain up to the president of the united states to speak up and speak out about that institution. so i don't think we've ever faced a situation like this where the fire is coming from all sides. i don't think there is an easy answer. and i don't envy christopher wray and his challenge now. he's a person of integrity and principal. i can not understand that struggles he might be facing. it is a long way of saying i don't know, i know what i would like to see. i will act as the attorney general speak for the fbi. i like to see the director be free because he has the support of the attorney general and the president to speak for the fbi. but i can imagine it being very complicated right now for the director. >> it is complicated also for you, i assume, right? you are the former director. to the extent that somebody is out there speaking for the fbi, it is you.
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and as i'm sure i am not telling you anything you don't know, there are a lot of people who think you're being too forward. and so, on the one hand you have christopher wray who a lot of people in the bureau feeling kind of abandoned by the absence of leadership speaking out. on the other hand, you have you speaking quite actively and aggressively and that makes people uncomfortable also serious slacks i get that question were helpful to ask that would take a longer, wider view and realize actually have an obligation to speak for justice because it is what we have in common. they are what is the foundation for our country. for the rule of law, the pursuit of truth and so everybody should care deeply about it and speak about it. if people are refusing to do so, for reasons that i'm sure we can talk about, so what? those who are capable of speaking should speak.
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and i do not think i'm the only person speaking for the bureau. but i know the bureau well. i am a private citizen, i wish i weren't, but i am a private citizen. and so, shame on me if i didn't speak. one of the institutions that i thought both parties in this country understood was critical to our democracy is under attack. and if the people, especially republican party, not go just before eight, all of us who know well enough to make informed comments about it ought to be speaking about it. and so i don't think i have any choice but to speak for the bureau. >> what about the bureau itself institutionally? i mean, i can see a couple of arguments. one is, look, when you have done both the white house and the chairman of the house intelligence committee, you know, engage in local tax on the bureau, you have to defend it institutionally. and therefore, that may mean you have to you know, say things that will appear to
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politicize or put the bureau in apolitical context. i can also see the argument that the right with the handles is simply put your head down, do your work and not defend yourself. i find that thoroughly objectionable. in i can't quite put my finger on why. i'm interested, do you think that the bureau should be institutionally defending itself? >> yes, but again, it is hard for me to judge the choices the director is making from the outside because i can imagine him concluding that it is more important for the bureau of stable leadership right now then that he get fired for speaking out on behalf of the institution. and so, believe me, having been just lost their speedily fixed and the decisions i was making, i wouldn't do it to the current director because i cannot see
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how he is thinking about it.i think they should try to find every way possible to explain itself and defend itself. because that is a question of effectiveness. where the bureau works is when agents knock on the door, and tell someone who has been the victim of a vicious sexual assault by a gang, we will protect you, you can trust us. or stand in a courtroom and say we found this in the left-hand door of the cfo and hear my initials when i seized it. you should believe me, people of the jury, if they are not believed that the doorstep in that courtroom, they are ineffective and they cannot do the good that i hope will understand that they do for this country. this is a group of human beings, of course they are flawed. but overwhelmingly they are doing things that we need done. we tend to take a view and focus on a lot of the conflict narrative on pennsylvania avenue. but the real danger is that his credibility and effectiveness at those doors and in those programs is being diminished. we will all be deeply sorry as
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that happens. >> there was this one moment, and it has got lost after the firing. where you really faced a question about how actively in public to talk about what the bureau did and didn't do in the current political environment. it was when the president tweeted that his predecessor has had his wires tapped and you are them asked in an open congressional hearing, whether there was any evidence -- you know, what the truth of that was. i am interested, your retroactive on that, that is a moment when the beer was being accused of frank impropriety or illegality and you are the head of the bureau. is that -- you know, for those who do not remember, what you
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said is i recall is, we have no evidence to support the presidents tweets. are you satisfied in retrospect that that was the appropriate way for the sitting fbi directed to defend the institution? because i don't know. i think there's a good argument to be made. i should have been more aggressive earlier. had i known i was going to be fired it would have been much more aggressive earlier. [laughter] but the challenge i face is, i am trying to, i intended to serve for another six years. i do not want to be at war with the president in the white house. i'm trying to build a relationship with a new leadership team at the department of justice. and so, i'm trying to calibrate. i woke up that morning, that was back when i followed the president on twitter. and i saw that and my reaction was that is simply outrageous! the president of the united states without any factual basis, has just accused the department of justice and the fbi of serious federal felonies. that is outrageous!
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and maybe in retrospect i should have spoken out that day. i thought the department of justice leadership should have spoken out right away and i push them very hard because i knew that testimony was coming up. to authorize me to say that at the hearing and they grant me that permission. but in retrospect, it is hard because now i know i got fired a year ago. but maybe i should have spoken out more aggressively. maybe there is an argument to be made that it would have, by this argument, that is why i am positive, it would have showed the presence attacks on institution of justice. i am say maybe but i don't know. >> there are three models i want to talk about a reaction to political attacks on the bureau. one is the justice department leadership which has done one thing. one is, chuck rosenberg, the head of the dea, did another thing. and the other is devin nunes, who responded to the event that we just discussed by launching a series of investigations
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designed to prove that the presidents tweet was true. let's start with the justice department leadership. rod rosenstein said the other day that the justice department will not be extorted. if you could write the script for rod rosenstein and jeff sessions, to talk about the current situation, bearing in mind that they would prefer not to be fired and that in the case of rod rosenstein, has an obligation to protect the special counsel investigation. how should they be talking? >> that is a hard one. i would hope everybody would approach it, not afraid to lose their job. that part of, i think what allows people to commit themselves they ought to make his compromises that allow the present to undermine, and congress to undermine the rule of law is the notion that i need to be here. and so, i need to be
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calibrated. i think members of congress who know better, we know these attacks on institution of justice are wrong, tell them selves i do not want to upset the base because i might lose my renomination and i need to be in congress to serve the greater good. everybody needs to realize that you're kidding yourself and telling yourself those stories. and so, you need to realize what is at stake a little more keenly and take more risks with your job, first. second, rod rosenstein is in a uniquely difficult position. i think he has conducted himself honorably since my firing. and i don't know whether it is an atonement or what it is. but whatever the reason is, he has worked very hard to protect the prerogatives on the special counsel and the department more broadly.i think he is speaking in a good way now. it would be better if the attorney general were giving him institutional, thoughtful top cover by giving speeches about the importance of the rule of law in about evenhanded law enforcement and about the
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department of justice being in the executive branch. never being entirely above the executive branch. and all of those principles that republicans, i think, and democrats agree with for generations. i think the integrity attorney general is doing fine. i like to see them get more cover from the attorney general. >> chuck rosenberg, strikes me as the unique exception at the senior levels of the justice department. after your firing, and when the president said in a public speech that people should be a little bit less careful, cops should belittle us careful when they put them into cars. he wrote a letter to the dea staff saying that it did not reflect our values. as law enforcement officers. i assume, when he did that he must have expected that it would not go over well. he was not fired.
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and left shortly thereafter. is that the sort of thing that you are talking about? was that the sort of thing that you know you look at and you say, that is great for someone who kind of needs to leave anyway. but, you know, would essentially be sort of a self-imposed 70 night massacre if everybody behaved that way. >> i think it is a model because we are all destined to leave these jobs and this earth anyway. and so convincing yourself, tell yourself a story about my value and how i have to stay is a fools bargain, in my view. chuck was someone who is prepared because he wanted to speak about principal to be fired. what i keep asking and urging especially republicans that ask themselves, it is the grandchildren question. what are you going to tell you grandchildren? you did what today? and why back and what will the story be that you tell your
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grandchildren? well, that were important text is on the table, important policy issues and so i did the following. i know they can explain that trade to your grandchildren. even if it means the loss of your job. i think the honorable thing to do is remember what the institution stands for and stand for that! if you get fired because of that, think of the story you will be able to tell you grandchildren and discard them someday. if you shame yourself by making trades, telling yourself some story about your value to the nation and making trades on those principles, i don't know what you would so you grandchildren. >> what is devin nunes going to be able to tell his grandchildren? [laughter] i mean, it's a serious question. because he has actually, he's not really making trades, right? he is affirmatively acting in a fashion that some of us judged you know, edward snowden, very harshly for behaving in a fashion that puts at risk, intelligence sources and methods when being told by
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source individually when being told so by the senior levels of the justice department. and for the house intelligence committee chairman to be doing this, strikes me as a bit of a different thing than the kind of routine trades that you are describing because you think your role is important. so, how do you assess -- what you think is going on there and what, how should we understand it? >> i can't understand. i'm sure there's a story he tells himself that makes sense of it all but i cannot explain it. he will tell his grandchildren have to jump into this uber and meet somebody. [laughter] but i don't know what the story would be. and this is my hope for the republicans as a whole. that they realize only a fool would trade institutions and the values actually unite us for the policy gains they think they're getting from a president who is eroding and
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attacking those values that unite us. i just do not know what they are telling themselves. >> okay, so on the specific issue that nunes has precipitated that has become public this week.i'm interested in what -- so, there are two elements. one is a safety of the particular source in question. but the second is, what the message that it sends to people who would cooperate with us intelligence or law enforcement in general. when the house intelligence committee is behaving in a fashion that says the intelligence community cannot protect you because we will force identifying information out. i am interested in your thoughts on how extreme a deviance that is.
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in the history of intelligence oversight that you have been a part of that you have interacted with these committees, have you ever seen anything like that? >> no. and the reason is because i thought everyone understood that the absolute core of the intelligence community, including the fbi, is its human sources. that's really all the fbi is. that's really all the cia is. people who tell us things that we can use to protect the country and protect innocent people in exchange for a promise that we will make sure you are protected. that is the golden court of the organizations and i thought everybody understood that. and to play with that, to jeopardize that, you might tell yourself a story. it is one case. risks the death of the thing is at the core of our ability to protect the country. i am not given to overstatement. you cannot overstate the danger in that kind of behavior to the security of the united states. >> i want to talk about the
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culture of the bureau. one of the really interesting features of the book that i think has actually gotten very good discussion in everybody's interest and hillary clinton emails and interactions with donald trump, your descriptions of the culture of the fbi but also, your descriptions of your efforts to change that culture in some respects. and so, i like your thoughts first of all about what about the fbi culture when you came in as director, you looked at and said, this is the timeless aspect that we need to preserve and build on. and what are the aspects that you looked at and said, this is nuts and it is destructive and we should try to move in a different direction? >> that is a great question. the part that impressed me and should give all of us comfort in these difficult times, which is ic is the balance of the country. it is the intelligence community.
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that is this, i was going to say fanatical, but i don't mean that. a passionate commitment to the rule of law and distaste for everything political. and that is a great feature of the fbi. and a great feature i believe of the military services and the intelligence community and it should give us all comfort. it is hard to screw that up. the challenge of being a leader and trying to change culture is really hard to change human culture. and no president serves long enough to screw up that essential element of the bureaus culture and the rest of those agencies i mentioned. so that is great news. the challenge of the bureau is many, it reflects the 50 years of j edgar hoover. the interesting academic research of whether it is even possible to fundamentally change culture after an organization has lived through the life of its founder. which is what the fbi did for its first 50 years or so. and so, there are positive aspects of that which i just
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talked about. rule of law and distaste for all things political. but on the other side is very hierarchical. director centric and it is what management consulting with paul fear-based. there is a tremendous concern about losing face in front of others, being embarrassed in front of others, is a recipe when you are the director for terrifying state of affairs. at the top of this steep pyramid and it is very steep by virtue of their culture and everyone is afraid down that steep slope of being embarrassed. so how do you get the truth of the hill to yourself? that is a big challenge. >> early in your directorship, you and i had lunch in the fbi cafeteria. he insisted that we go to the fbi cafeteria. and it was a very big deal when you walked into the room. >> because i was with you. [laughter] >> it's benjamin wittes!
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one of the great things about you putting up the book as a finally get to reclaim your independent identity. [laughter] >> a friend of ben. >> it was, you know, a very big deal that the director had just walked into the cafeteria. andy stood in back of a -- the one present day entire place you hadn't noticed that you walked in. there was some kind of young counterterrorism analyst. in the slanderous line, she was real flustered when she turned around. [laughter] and the last time we had lunch in the bureau cafeteria, march 27 of last year, it was not a big deal when you walked into the cafeteria. i mean it was a little bit like john allen walking into the cafeteria at brookings. people noticed, they stopped to say hi but it was not like everything stopped and every head turns. i was interested that he wrote
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about this in the book. it was part of an active sort of campaign to humanize the directorship and breakdown hierarchies. what, what the elements of this to what extent was it successful? >> you can't change human culture with a training. culture in my experience is best defined as the way things are really done around here, no matter what the titan training. [laughter] it is an unspoken set of assumptions. unspoken set of understandings about relationships and hierarchy. you can only change it by modeling it. and you can reinforce that by talking about it but this is part of a lot of things i did to try and model that i need pyramid. and the slope to become more gradual so i can hear the truth about myself but also about other important things. and so i did that in lots of
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ways. i am sincerely. going to the cafeteria every day, was really important to me. the first time i did it, my assistant then was not the woman there now. it was a long serving assistant that had been there through multiple directors. ... >> i think we're out of time. but i went and i always want
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even if i was doing beat down i tried to stand up straight, walk with a smile on my face, greet everyone without regard to rank and then stand in line and never the line and i would interview people in the line though it was about symbolism that i also learned a lot from those conversations in the line and i account in the book my favorite and no spoiler here but i want to tell you i went one day when ben wasn't there and the guy behind me, they turned and said as they typically did where do you work? i work on it, servers and he started asking follow-ups and he works fixing our infrastructure and he loves it because he gets more experience than he could have in the private sector. he's been there three years and there's an awkward pause and he says how about yourself? [laughter] true story. so i said i've been there over a year at this point. i said i'm the director. and he says director of?
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and i say dude, i'm the director of the fbi. you work for me. he says oh my god, you look so different online. i told my wife that story and she said that should happen every day it was an important , symbolic thing and also learned and i think that the temperature of the fbi and it was an opportunity to communicate. the fbi plays a lot of games on national television and gets criticized so literally the carriage of my shoulders could communicate hundreds of people we are going to be okay. it's a nightmare but we are going to be okay. just by the way i carried myself so every day i was in washington even if i didn't have the time i went up there to get the sandwich and wait in the line . but it always paid. one day i walked in and the cashier said to the next person i can't believe he pays. i said what do you think i get that for free? i did lots of other things to try to demonstrate.
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i told senior fbi executives do not come dressed up to meet with me. don't wear undergarments when you come to me because if you dress like you are in church, you will like you are in church. i asked them to tell me their favorite halloween candy when they are a kid. in one of my first meetings i went around the room and i said i want everyone of you , senior people in the fbi, every one of you say something about yourself that would surprise the rest of the people in this room and please not let it not affect your security clearance. [laughter] they started to loosen up and they learned one very senior started person is addicted to disney and goes to disney world multiple times a day and someone else in his private life drives of volkswagen beetle. it was shocking. what i was trying to do was flatten it so people would talk to me. so a lot of those stories
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convey to an audience of normal people that this is, you know, what the hell were your predecessors doing? if this was the culture that these were radical steps. you know, you had some pretty distinguished predecessors including mueller. how did this culture manage to persist over this length of time? >> because culture is so hard to change. hoover set the fbi'sculture and directors sense have been trying to change aspects of
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it. bob mueller transformed the fbi that i'm so in all and i don't think i could have done and focused on what he had to focus on. in doing that he wore a white shirt every day . he wore two ties, a blue one and thered one. it was part of his effort and i asked him one time, i sent you have other close? and he said i did it on purpose . as a bridge to the hoover agents. he said i was trying to drive so much change into this organization, to literally change that affected culture and i couldn't afford at the margins to alienate them with the smaller things. the bill he gave me was a gift because i've been transformed and all those ways i can focus on things that he didn't have the time or in his view which makes sense to me the opportunity given where he was so i can focus on diversity and the leadership and communication and all the things the private sectors were focusing on for a generation and more and trying to bring it to the bureau because of what hegave me . >> what do you doyou take a culture that is buttoned up , in which the steps that you are describing are kind of radical and it follows a
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little bit dramatic. >> and then you have a president tweeting about individuals in that culture. what does that do to just this sort of day-to-day morale and atmosphere of being in an agency like that? >> it hurts and it demoralizes. in the short term. part of it is the turbulence, despite what you've been told i had a close relationship with the workforce so you lose a leader that you feel connected to and then you are leaders that you've heard great things about, they may not know jim baker the way they heard me but they know the kind of person he is by reputation and they see the president hitting someone like that or hitting other executives, it's demoralizing. i think it worries the most margins that i talked about. the standing of the jury. that is all about the effectiveness of the
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organization. in the long run, don't recover from it. but where i worry about every day and i think all of us with regard to political party should worry about is the damage being done to the country and our communities by the pain, and distrust is being built at the margins. >> what pages do you have of current more out? i'm going to ask you about the forthcoming climate survey in a moment but you're still in touch with people. you still hear from people. what do you hear about what the atmosphere there is right now? >> i don't know that i have a reliable read which is why i'm not going to fool you. i know you will. >> that's a really important tool and i drove it into every conversation in the fbi about leadership and development. because it's an anonymous survey. we're around 80 percent of the bureaus employees participate and it takes them a long time to fill out
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because it gathers data from a rich set of vectors. my sense isn't it could be a selection bias is that they feel under siege . that they believe they will be okay in the long run but they are worried and their most hurt by neighbors and friends and relatives are asking them what's going on? just asking them questions embedded in which is the assumption that the bureau is politicized and that drives them around the bend because the bureau is not politicized. that's a lie. it's being politically, that's for sure. the culture of that place is the way it been for decades. we hate politicians and we will investigate them thoroughly i should add . but it hates political weasels. it hates political, anything political. an epithet in the fbi. these political or she's political is the worst thing you can say about somebody. a take in the long run but they are feeling pain right
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now's when you see the climate survey, when we finally get it, what are you expect it to reflect? what are the metrics that you're going to look at as the vocative of the current atmosphere. >> there is a measure about pride in the organization. >> and its mission. there's a measure about confidence in senior leadership . more broadly than just the director. there is measures about the regard with which we believe we are held. and the people we interact with in the course of our job, those sorts of things would be the most important to me i just get not just the readout that i would get a book everything said about me or to me. in the comments and it was hundreds of pages long and i read that 20 pages at a time. even though you're doing largely well, there's articles and everybody that have strong feelings but i
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would want to look at the data and then i would want to, you won't get this i think in the comments, if i were the director i would want to spend, it would take weeks living in those comments, reading them and getting a feel for how people are doing. >> i want to talk about forest fires. use the metaphor of forest fire inthe book . to describe the current president. so forest fire explaining how you use that metaphor and i'm going to ask you to reflect upon some of the implications of the metaphor.>> i choose that metaphor to reflect two different reactions i had to this president. one, the strong sense that he's going to doand is doing great damage to the norms that unite us . and to the rule of law, equal protection of the law, readable expression. most ofall, central american values . and the forest fire does
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create damage. i chose forest fire because i believe in the wake of a forest fire, incredible things grow. we didn't have the space for the water or the life to grow before. and it's an opportunity, and i think watergate was a forest fire for this country and some incredible things grew including a rebounding of power among the branch of government after watergate so because i'm an optimistic person, i do believe this on america . i think the forest fire captures the danger and the opportunity and optimism that i feel. >> i want to explore it. >> the meteor hitting your? >> there is no basis for optimism about the giant meteor . >> the forest fire has, presents two opportunities. one is that it destroys canopies so that all kinds of things grow.
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second is that it fertilizes . the carbon. and so i'm interested in your sense of what you're looking to be allowed to grow, that we should be optimistic about . what are the things that you look at as this seedlings of new growth or are they not yet visible because we are still in the middle of a forest fire? >> i see some growth already and the growth that i see is energy in the media. i'm going to say the other branches of this the government, i distinguish them, i see tremendous energy in the judiciary. i was worried about a freak out . i see that maybe i'm getting myself , the issue coming up in congress, at least some part of it regaining its role in our constitutional system.
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isee tremendous energy and a young people . and i don't have the data on this but i have a strong sense other art of civil society are feeling compulsion to talk about respect and prejudice and truth telling. i would include parents and teachers in the. that was not happening three years ago or two years ago so i see all those as kinds of the growth that will come. to me, the most important is i think there's a sleeping giant in this country which is our common commitment to values. talk about how hard culture is to change, things have been the same or a long time. the oakville said we really are that way. we are that way and what unites us is a comments commitment to those things i talk about. and one of my safe favorite pieces of literature is martin luther king's letter from birmingham jail where he's writing to thatsleeping giant. a moderate sitting on the sidelines and he saying you can't sit onthe sidelines.
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we can't wait . i feel the same way about today . and i could be convincing myself of this but i feel the giant story. and it's not the crazies at the wings of our political spectrum all the people are so busy raising families and working but when bonnie was values and care deeply about them . i have a sense that giants is starting to awaken and one of the things i'm trying to do is participate in a conversation with the giant . >> i'm going to ask you about your specific seedlings that you mentioned but i want to ask you, there has been a lot of speculation about what you're trying to do are you trying to make a lot of money with a book, are you trying to talk about the president's appearance and are you trying to you know, exculpate yourself for every decision that anyone made that you disagree with? >> once the strategic objective?>> you've gone from being violent to being
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omnipresent. >> what are you trying to get? >> -goaway soon. >> what i'm trying to do is none of those first three things. if you read the book you will see that one of the many lessons i've learned from my wife , in the wake of something bad happening we have an obligation to try and do something good to follow it. that's what it means to go on living and to find meaning in your life and we talked about this a lot. the reason i'm talking about is i think the good -foster in a small way is raising the conversation about the things we fight with each other about and to quickly each other about. done, taxes, immigration, to that which we have in common which is that core set of values. without this, we are nothing. we are just a set of values and always getting the heart
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of that sleeping giant is a danger to those values right now and as part of that feeling, republicans by asking them to think about the grandchildren conversation and to reframe. >> we need a moment of inflection. we need clarity about what we stand for and i can't do that but i can be a small part of the voices that are trying to raise the conversation to this and i think, i was misunderstood because i spoke a little bit when i told george stephanopoulos, i hope the president was not impeached and convicted in what i meant by that was not the process shouldn't be followed if appropriate. what i meant was in a way that would letus all off the hook . in the course of that, drive a dysfunction deep into the fabric of the country that would be hard to unstick. what i mean by off the hook is we have an obligation as americans to stand up and say you know what? i may disagree about this or that but we have this thing in common and if we lose that, we've lost essentially what is this country and i
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would expect the next presidential election to bean inflection point and then we will get back to the vicious fight about all the things that the lower level but we have to focus on the higher level and a big part of that is waiting the giant . >> you mentioned a few specific seedlings institutions that you are, whose performance you evaluatedifferently. i want to talk about a few. the first is the press , where you are on the one hand, you have never been a friend to leaks of classified material to the press. and you've been pretty fierce on the subject. on another hand, you just said look, you are kind of impressed with the way the press hasconducted itself over the last year and a half . and so i'm interested in what aspect of what the press is doing has done, do you look
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at and say hey, this is actually the way the democratic process is supposed to work. this is the function that one would pay for in a press in a time of stress. >> they're resisting the numbness that is a danger to all of us. and i said this. >> i wake up some mornings and the president has tweeted that i should be in jail. my reaction is there he goes. because i know there'snothing to that. he's just making stuff up . but then i touch myself and say what are you becoming two? the president of the united states just said a private citizen should be in jail. close your eyes as a republican and imagine barack obama doing that for the next democratic president doing
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that. after disturbing threat to a norm at this level is at the heart of this country. there's a danger that you will all become 28. the truth is the central touchstone of the united states of america, we've always measured our politicians by their tether to the truth and they all lie and they all weasel we hold them accountable. we measure them and we try to explain how what they said wasn't alive. there's a danger now the touchstone is going to melt like a sand castle at the beach is there so much lying. there he goes, he just lied again. what the press has done is not allowed ourselves to become not. there's been some trouble free got on that side but they are continuing to allow all of us to not be known. constantly fact checking and calling it out. so i think that's great and i don't think you need to be disclosing classified information to do that. the free got going on at the beginning of this administration , i'm not going to confirm the leaks but there was leaking of
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material that was deeply concerning and that affects other important norms. that's not what i'm talking about. i'm talking about is exercising imperfectly and messily, to remind all of us of the touchstones, especially of that truth and i'm very impressed with it. >> what about congress? >> not so much. >> i want to talk about congress. in a little bit of a more granular way. on the one hand, what the house intelligencecommittee has done . you have what the fact that the speaker of the house back the house intelligence committee on repeated occasions. you have document requests including from the senate that are pretty outrageous. from the judiciary committee. on the other hand, the congress imposed sanctions on russia over the president's objections. the senate intelligence
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committee seems to be conducting a fairly serious and bipartisan investigation into russia. >> and if the president has not yet fired robert mueller, one reason does seem to be that certain republican senators have signaled that would not be when you look in the aggregate congressional performance, do you see fundamentally the application or do you see chutes that are potentially things to build on after the forest fire? how do you evaluate? >> shoots of growth. and i think you summarize them. i see an aggregation and affirmative any moment of the attack on the rule of law coming from some quarters but i do see in fits and starts, democrats and republicans
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starting to realize that they are third branch of the government. acting that waythat's why early signs , they usually lose but early signs there's going to be a growth again to rebalancing after the forest fire so i see that. i agree with what you said about centers warmer and there committee. think they've done an incredible investigation but i don't see it as the response of encouraging the growth as high as in the media . >> you have expressed anger in the last year very rarely. there is one time however that i thought was very striking. and i want to ask you about it. in your cia testimony, this
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june of last year, you said with a lot of emotion that you were sorry that you had not had achance to say goodbye . and it comes up again in the book. and there's a quite horrible set of stories in the book about the day the firing happened andthe impact on individuals . who are you thinking about? like, what's the group of people that you were thinking about that you did not have a chance to say goodbye to and that under other circumstances your departure would have wanted to say things to? >> the people you've never
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heard of. the so-called ordinary people of the bureau. the best thing about the fbi is the people. they're committed to commission. they believe in the moral content of the work. they're funny and irreverent and kind and i really became close to them. i was offended that they were being lied about. their reputation in tatters and all this nonsense and i really was deemed that i was banned from the property. it was like i had died and it was brought to my house by a group of custodial employees, all of whom i knew they stayed in my driveway. we took pictures but that i had to do that in the driveway was really offensive to me and i think of people like on the seventh floor of the fbi, the fbi, if you've been inside the building it's a vertigo inducing and incredibly depressing building but i used to go around and find doors that
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i've never been in before. and knock on the door and go in. there was one room i walked past a few times to go get lunch and i think it just said special file room and i said i wonder what the special files are? i not one day and it turns out it's like the wizard of oz. you knock and you look through the door and there's a window. the cardboard goes up and i see a set of eyes and they open the door. these four ladies about my age, late 50s, i think they were all african-american. and they, their job was to keep certain sensitive file that the leadership needed to see for they were sent back to storage and no one had ever him to visit them and i walked in and there all have pictures of me all over the place and i said you knew i was coming. they said i had no idea you were coming. i would visit them, walk past and not say i'm just checking
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on a special file and that story is long but there were dozens of those. and that's what makes life and work fun. at least it brings me joy and not to have a chance to walk around and shake their hand, 200 and that kind of stuff was brutal. and i'm sure the president didn't get it thought it was maybe doesn't get those kind of people thought but to me it was pain and it's funny you said that. that was the only part of my testimony that i struggled over. and i actually had trouble getting through it because of those kind of people. that is my mind, forget about the finding out i'm on television and all that business. the cruelty of not allowing the director of the fbi, not being able to come back and get his family pictures, all those things and to say goodbye to all those people was uncalled for. >> we will take your questions. >> if you are, if you are. please wait for the microphone you these please
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form your questions in the form of a question and please keep them brief. >>. >> in the back. >> hi, i'm just and i have case called american legal moves and we try to tell the untoldstories . in 2014, i like to know what your involvement was on the virginia public corruption thing that was put together with special agents gallagher. i asked it because in october 2014 i wasillegally jailed and tortured in the city of alexandria . i've written you letters personally. i told them solitary confinement for 14 days. fbi agent wilson, he told me
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that rank-and-file in virginia is not allowed to investigate judicial, government. >> i've got to say i don't know anything about it . >> you know nothing about the public corruption website or public corruption special email and phone number for the state of virginia? >> i don't. >> thank you. director, you retired out of division five, 2005. after 9/11, we all had cd division and then everybody and six, divisions.5 started to reconstitute. >> was the counterintelligence community that you have to turn to both with the clinton investigation and the
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intelligence investigation, was the counterintelligence community you have to turn to up to the task after 17 years, 15 years, 16 years after 9/11 or at cd, in the wake of cd overwhelmed counterintelligence capability that you were perhaps lacking? >> are definitely right, there was a way and a huge sucking sound of everybody me being a cd. by the time i became director there had been a significant rebalancing and to do those two, you drew on both headquarters and wf oh people. now, at least mine. we had all started so i never had any indication of that. >>. >> one of the initiatives you talk about trying to strengthen as director of the fbi was the diversification of the workforce which strikes me as both very important and commendable.
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i'm curious what you think the current political environment, the impact that will have on that particular efforts. >> i'm worried. i have some anecdotal reason for optimism. because we had turned the corner. we had a major agent class. our mission was, the whole fbi's mission, you we gave these missions all of the officers. people who don't think about working here whatan amazing place this is the work . it's tremendous stress and work for the fbi but i'll tell you, if people want a different so talented lawyers, engineers, mbas of color and women are turning to us. we had a classic logical before i left that was 38 percent nonwhite, incredible talent was coming in the library was especially given some of the signals at the top level of our government, with that change?
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i stopped into an intramural basketball game held at the verizon center. i went because i knew some of the people playing and after the game i talked to them and one was an african-american agent who had come in he said because of me and he said i want you to know something. it's continuing. he said enough talented people came in those four years and we are tracking people. >> i hope so. i hope so but it's worth worrying about. i was going to focus on it for 10 years and my worry was , we have plenty of talented white people. but we were attracting enough great people of similar caliber from all different groups. through 10 years of attention we will create a momentum that irreversible and everybody will want to work there. i guess i can't be too confident for four years but some reason for optimism that have we reached enough of that question. >> i am a 13 year wf oh white
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wife of an agent. i'll never forget when you came on as director because all of a sudden he started sending out emails of the messages that you would send out so you made a huge effect on him. >> those were all unclassified, by the way. >>. >> what is the message i can take back to him because he was very hurt that you were fired. was it something that i can take back to my husband and his colleagues from you? >> that we are going to be okay. that the values of that organization are too deep, too wide. for any leader or even group of leaders to screw up in the time that they have. >> took 25 years to damage that culture in an irreversible way so we're going to be okay.
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focus on the work and remember you are doing work with moral content and that's a special opportunity. i'm going to teach next because that's close and just take nourishment from that and know we are going to be okay.i'm sorry. >> i want first simply to thank both you and then interesting conversation. my question goes to your description of the fbi as though a political organization. that you took pride in when you spoke of it. >> so i want to go back to 2016 area and cite two things. one, your own growth in 2016 which was described by many as highly political in its impact and the second, be part of the fbi in new york that was described very extensively as being highly political to the point where you your self were described as being concerned about
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that. that was not adequately apolitical. what's your comments? >> the first is, i'm not going to take you through unless you want me to but i'm not going to take all the time to go through the decision-making in the 2016 election. if you get a chance, the book is about this but i layout my thinking and try to cross down on myself in the book. i hope you will walk away understanding those decisions were all made to avoid political judgment. were made to protect justice and you have to choose between a choice that so and the choice that really sucked and every turn we chose the least bad option. and we hate it when and when i said i was mildly nauseous with as it is and nauseated, about the notion that the fbi impact on the election, the reason that makes me sick is we desperately, desperately didn't want to have an effect .
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i didn't want to be involved at all and if you read the book i think you will walk away and if you disagree, people certainly should you can fairly say we were acting in a political way. . there's no doubt i believe very firmly what i said about the culture of the fbi. it's a group of 37 or 38,000, you're going to have people may depart from those norms and values and my concern about new york was leaks are people taking information that protected information from the bureau and taking it outside the bureau for whatever motivation including political motivations and i wanted to find out what that was so that we could enforce the norms by holding people accountable. so those exceptions to my mind are concerning in fact, at least in my thinking proved the rule that if someone did that, or someone rooted for a particular candidate, the roots of that
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candidate, that's a violation of the core value of the fbi and people would be held severely accountable for that. >> i'm james lowell. my original plan was to gather a couple of questions from family members because you mentioned that with every attack on the institution it's taking these fringe groups in our societies and making them think the fbi is politicized. unfortunately my parents argued from supporters and they would say that. but having to deal with a similar thing where every time i go home with what's going on, why did you do this, why did you do that? why how do you think we as average citizens that are aware can do to perhaps convince these individuals that no, they are not avoiding the law to get trumped, they are doing their job. >> the first is not to become known or exhausted.
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i had this happen. i was at a cocktail party last week and the guy comes up to me, corporate executive and started wailing on me. wailing on me with talking points from fox news and i had this moment like i don't really feel like engaging this dude. and then i thought you know what? he's smart, he's the ceo of the company. maybe if i engage him it will echo through whatever chamber chamber he's in. i said your wrong and your facts are wrong, let me take you through it. that's wrong, that's wrong. we went through hillary clinton and the nature of the interview. we went through all these talking points and i said , i hope now you and i have talked about it and her the actual facts, surely you don't make decisions in your business relying upon someone who you just found out gave you bad information over and over again. so to my mind it was alesson to me. we can't get exhausted . and 2, tried to reframe the
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conversation at the higher level. there's a lot of pain in this country and i get the pain of the opioid crisis andglobal globalization and all these things. but i constantly say let's what we have in common . you come from a military family, a lot of people support from and it comes with great military stories so i say what did they fight and die for? did they fight and die for immigration? regulatory rollbacks? you know they didn't. they fought and died for the rule of law, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. they fought and died for their values which is all we are. i say you can, we'll get back to fighting about this. rise above that and realize we can't lose it.the question i put to them is tell me what your reaction would be to the next president is a democrat and does this, this and this area and then the conversation
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gets awkward at that point. but i really think it's important that we not eight and we tried to reframe the conversation at a higher level where we have things coming and that those of us who love this country so much don't get exhausted and don't get two. >> what was theceo's reaction? when you walk them through that. >> i couldn't really tell. he was grumpy. he kept shifting other things . and then we sat down for a dinner. he was more civil, i think. i don't know whether that was the line. i don't want tosay i threw the guy around you . >> grumpy and then a little bit more civil. >>. question, historical. a person that also found himself in a difficult position of the fbi and i just like to know what your thoughts are on his actions . >> just and the microphone to the gentleman next you will go next. >> i don't think i know the
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facts well enough. to offer as thoughtful a view on mister phelps. you notice i hesitated because i don't know to what extent whether there was a mix ofmotivations . i'd like to believe it was all about the country but i've read enough and seen enough in popular film to think there might be other motivations, personal resentment. and i don't have an informed enough you to make stuff up. so i won't. >> thank you very much. first of all i'd like to thank you for your service and your willingness to power, thank you very much for that. >> i read a story in the post just yesterday that disparaged me greatly. and it had to do with a sign that was posted in southern maryland and i'm kind of paraphrasing what it said but it said something to the effect that liberals, if you drive to or want to impeach
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mister trump,you'd better get your guns . it really struck me to the core because i'm asking you and your perch , are we that broken a nation that somebody would feel the right to put up a sign like that. number one but number two, probably more important, is the fbi on to thisstuff? are they tracking this kind of stuff? i'm fearful of the civil war in this country, i'm really fearful . >> i'm not, but you have reason to be concerned about individual actors. what happened to ournational belter , the big belter and wing nuts at the end, the curve is flattened in a way. and the nuts are further apart and now you're than before and that's strikes the entire curve a little bit. i'm not worried about civil war in this country because it's a sleeping giant. the sleeping giant is that. all the people who are just not reading the post who are raising kids, who are the
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ballast of this country. it's been that way since the country was founded and occasionally it has to be wakened to realize what they care about. i'm not worried about civil war. i am worried about the wings, they are winningus . and the fbi is very, very focused on not political speech but people who would act on the political violence or expectation of violence. half the fbi is international terrorism and the other half is domestic terrorism and it's also the criminal division focused on civil rights crimes. the assured there's a lot of work thatgoes on focused on. not speech , because we don't want anything to do with trying to chill speech but when speech crosses the line into people taking action, violent action to follow up on their beliefs , you that's where the fbi getsinvolved . >> my name is adrian.
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you mentioned you have a favorite to which runs something to the effect of that comey is such a partisan period. trail directed from both eyes. do you view the source of that vitriol as equally legitimate for each party and equally rooted in reality? >> that's a good question. i would say the criticism, i've actually never thought this out. i probably shouldn't do it on the fly but i will. i'd say there's more factual problems with the vitriol coming from fox news will then whatever you want to call it, the huffington post bubble or msnbc was depressing about it is one bubble enzyme in the pocket of the other bubble and the small things i'm in the
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pocket of that bowl. they can't both be right and the truth is we're not on anybody's side. but i'd say there's more factual problems that keep coming out of fox news commentators about how we did the hillary clinton investigation. what about is dead wrong and they're making stuff up so i'd say they're probably worse actually. the challenge on the left in criticism of the clinton investigation, whether we should have spoken about the russian investigation, all of that is to my mind on not having a full understanding of the facts . it's not the case of having false information. one of the challenges of the clinton investigation was no chance to explain look, your why we are doing what we're doing and i get why people withthen be confused . >> good afternoon, my name is evan. i have a question about the norm of the new ministration looking forward and not backwards and has a leave of value of keeping that norm, obama and ministration said
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largely this ministration despite all the rhetoric and they tried to undo the obama administration and how you feel about that versus the next president has to restore some norms and how you weigh those things. >> that's not easy, because if there's criminal misconduct and agency of the government, that you shouldn't automatically then close it off. it simply because the new administration, that's a hard call the highest policy level for the president to make as president obama did. whether you disagree or agree he made a thoughtful decision about not pursuing criminal investigations and although they reverse that. the open criminal investigations of people involved, i don't think there's an easy way. i couldn't give you a rule in the abstract but i certainly wouldn't want a clear line that says it happened in a prior administration, we don't pursue it.
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because back robberies in one administration or embezzlement or bribery at a lower level administration , i wouldn't ever want to rule it out. i want to make a thoughtful decision about. >>. >> so let's say it's early 2021 and in the next administration comes to you and says how can we rebuild trust in the fbi? what advice would you give them to help the rank-and-file of not just the fbi but across believe that once again the white house and house intelligence had her back. >> quality leadership and a lean forward on transparency. that is, from the president down talking the talk and walking the walk of showing peoplehow we do what we do and why . and the it has gotten better
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atthis, the bureau has gotten better at this . and in the obama administration about offering transparency so that's what i would do. any leadership, get there and show the work as often as possible. that's how you slowly rebuild trust. >>. >> i'm lauren. last week i was at an event about hate speech in lexington and nigeria of all places and one of the people in the audience mentioned that any civil society has to have ethical leadership in responding and as i was walking back to work i realized that no one in the audience really touched on how as an individual we can declare ethical leadership. i was wondering if you could go into an individual bubble how we can take steps to display personal integrity and also encourage people around us, whether it be our
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management or family . >> most important way to become a model of the elements of ethical behavior, whether you're leaving somebody or not and it doesn't matter what you say but how you act. and so there's lots of different ways to model it, what you would hope for your children. and then as a leader, it's to model it and also try to offer transparency or that modeling to those who lead about how you make decisions. to my mind, ethical leadership, ethical decision-making isn't about the result, it'sabout the process. one of the reference points you look for in making a decision . my mind, ethical leaders to things like law, tradition, philosophy, sometimes religious precepts. there are external reference points that help them make decisions. one of my real concerns about our president is he doesn't
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have any external reference points. concerning to me. the only referencepoint is internal but ethical leader has external reference point and shows the work around them . so that they see that how it's done. one, too. an ethical leader creates an environment where the truth is at the center, especially the truth about themselves from their creating an environment where people are encouraged, protected, almost to tell the truth knowing that they won't be hurt for telling the truth is at the core of being agood leader and that's what i call ethical leadership, to have value at the center . >> thank you. i'm curious. you talk about the diversity initiatives and the cultural changes and your tenure position for the institution and so i'm curious what else was in that 10 year vision either structurally, in terms of building agencies capacity
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or substantive focused, what else you wanted to do with your remaining six years. >> i'm sorry to be rude i couldn't see -- a few things. top of mind, approach diverse city, closely related, approach to leadership. my goal was to turn the fbi into the us government leadership and i said you know what? the private sector in america often looks to the military services for leaders. that ought to be us and we ought to be a leadership factory in the fbi. there's a lot about that transformation but one of the legacies of the hoover era was leadership was something you avoided and sometimes you got volunteered into leadership and that's a recipe for wildly inconsistent quality of leadership and that was our situation. continue to drive the
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intelligence transformation. you talk about how hard it is to be changing culture, bob mueller pushed on that for seven years. it needed my full seven years to drive between operations and intelligence. there are lots of things we did survive that. one of the most important was how agents sit together, drive cars together, go out to lunch together causes hard to know each other so that was a big part of it and then i'll save the rest but sieber was a big part. we tried to reorganize the fbi and reorganized focus on cyber. there's a few others but i will stop there. >> my name is danny schmidt thanks so much director. a question about the midterms .mike pence said the other day sign to wrap up the seems a bit premature. however, what do you do to avoid the same thing in november as in november 2016
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to be called out and made responsible for any kind of this way or that way? >> isee all the time having done a lot of investigation , just a feature of every investigators life in a prominent case that people have who have no idea what's going on have strong feelings. how it should be going. so you just can't pay attention, the comments from people who aren't in the investigation and the great thing about director mueller's investigation is there not getting comments out to anyone so nobody knows except you have high-quality people who are doing. bob mueller is a guy, a preacher of the culture of the department of justice. despite what you read there are any rules about how you should conduct yourself in the run-up to an election. there's a 2012 eric older memo about how to conduct investigations of election prime and i keep seeing reporters relate to that paying comey violated rules. please read the memo but there are no rules.
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there are important norms you can avoid it. take no action in the run-up to the election that could have any impact . thanks to the wieners computer, i couldn't find the take no action option but i would expect that director mueller is a creature of that culture would be to that norman that tradition. i don't know which way that cuts and i'm confident he would think about it in whatever decisions he makes. >> i you spoken numerous times this afternoon to this sweeping, sleeping giant analogy and you've also praised the press for maintaining their rigor and their investigative journalism to highlight and not stay number while trusting institutions continues to erode. i think some would say that it's possibly in the nature of the press in general to
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basically chase what is sensational and we do have a president now that intentional or not is providing fodder for that. those who i guess qualify for this sleeping giant, my question to you is what is this tipping point or the outside of these middle america, the tipping point either have their opinions changed were to become active because to me, they are fatigued in this bombardment. we are a year and a half into the presidency so if not now, when? >> i don't know what the tipping point is and some might say the giants will stay sleeping and the anesthetic is being sprayed over the top of the giant is nothing. but i think important parts of the tipping points are reflected in the polls about how americans feel. you hear from a local base. the 60 some percent of americans have areas
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concerned about the president's trustworthiness. i think that charlottesville, although we have not gotten in a lot of ways means very important in this culture. because we've got a lot of jonathan hates work, he's a social psychologist who talks about the power of taboo in all cultures, especially our culture. the president touched a taboo there and that's not going away yet. i could see. he talks about all the ways someone has to atone when they touch of taboo and reclaim all equivalents across charlottesville. that's something that has not been atoned in this culture so i would expect things like that and when the busy american people start tofocus on election again , i'm not sure if the tipping point but i would say the giantsbeing roused . i'm more optimistic about the giants being roused closer we
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get not the 2018 election but the closer you get to a 20/20 election when they realize attacks on the rule of law and norms we care about that even if youhave passion about the policy , this is not who we are. we need a different leader. and i would hope, this is what i worry aboutwhen i talked about those tales . we forget about independence in these countries although a lot of us are independent. the democratic party, as someone who reflects the values of this country in a way that is comforting that sleeping giant and instead we don't run to a place where we have the two most least unpopular people in the history of polling running against each other. the waking becomes much more likely the closer we get to that event . >> that's not a great but it's my last best answer. >> we've done a lot of interviews about the book. you've been asked about alot of aspects of the book .
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what's the aspect of the book you expected to be askedabout that everyone has ignored ? what's the question that you have been waiting for somebody to ask you and haven't gotten? >> criminal interviews. what were you afraid i was going to ask you? >> i'll focus first on the stuff that people have to read the book to ask about. it's really not a trump book. he's a important featureabout it because i can't tell stories about leadership without offering the counterpoint . and i don't mean that in a sarcastic waythat's just what i believe. i was not asked about , there's really interesting stuff in there about torture and the struggle over stellar winds and bob mueller's role in the. i recounted in the book one
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of the moments i will never forget. bob mueller leaning down over the unconscious attorney general after we after we fended off the two people trying to sign in his hospital room, bob mueller said there comes a time in every man's life where the good lord test him, you passed your test tonight area i heard his words and almost started crying in that room and to me that's aremarkable moment of insight about the character and quality of the person who is now the special prosecutor. no one has asked me about that and it tells me they didn't read the book . right? because the reporter read the book and they say it has this great story about bob mueller and john ashcroft. you gave it away. that's off the record. >> please join me in thanking jim for being here. [applause] for the podcast listening audience, two things i got to say which is that the podcast, you will never get a better example of
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it than this today, is produced in cooperation with the brookings institute and i want to back this week everybody who bookings who did a lot of work to make this event happen and happen in a safe and effective way. if you've never listened to the law fair podcast before and i know that's not anybody in this room but it's maybe lots of people are listening to it for the first time since jim comey is on it. not the first time jim has been on the podcast, by the way. you might want to subscribe to it. that way you will listen to it again. is often very good. our music is performed by law fair's official pianist. and even if you don't subscribe to the law fair podcast you will certainly want to to about it, share it on facebook and leave us a rating on apple podcast or whatever other podcast distribution service you may use area and as always,
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