Hillary Clinton and FBI Director James Comey are two peas in the same personality pod. Both are Enneagram Type Ones who likely fall into the Social Subtype.
Personality drives politics. The latest drama over the FBI investigation into Clinton’s personal email server proves once again just how much this is true.
Comey’s poor judgment handling of the investigation mirrors Clinton’s poor judgment at issue under investigation. Both lapses stem from, and are exacerbated by, a tendency to hold fast to a self-image of being an exemplar of perfection, rising above the rules in a do-gooder quest to enforce public morality.
Two Type Ones
Social Ones tend to be scrupulously honest and highly dedicated to the task of making the world a better place. Social Ones guard their high integrity, but can present to others as overly confident, cold, remote, and, at times, outright disdainful.
Hillary Clinton’s Type One style is clear, as I conclude in another blog post. PolitiFact rated Clinton the most honest of all the 2016 candidates after fact-checking hundreds of truth claims. (Full disclosure: I support Clinton for president.)
James Comey’s Type One style is equally evident. Comey rose to prominence after his legendary stand off with Bush Administration officials in the hospital room of dying Attorney General John Ashcroft. At issue was extending Bush’s dubious surveillance program. Comey’s principled stand against it made him a man for all seasons.
A 2013 Newsweek profile of Comey details his “black-and-white approach to morality” and his “my-way-or-the-highway” stridency –textbook Social One characteristics. During his 2003 confirmation hearing, Comey stated, “I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about expediency. I don’t care about friendship. I care about doing the right thing.” Even Comey’s undergraduate thesis concerned theologian Reinhold Niebhur, a Type One who reflected extensively on the question of moral action and hypocrisy.
Comey Above the Rules
The issue exploding the 2016 presidential race is Comey’s October 28 letter sent to Congress. In the letter, Comey disclosed the FBI was taking “appropriate investigative steps” to determine whether emails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer are somehow pertinent to the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.
Comey violated long-standing policies and practices with respect to the FBI commenting on investigations generally, and with respect to investigations that could affect an election particularly. Some experts suggest Comey’s letter skirted up against – or outright violated – the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from using their positions to influence elections.
Why did Comey issue the October letter? Insight is found in Comey’s Social One patterns. Some background is required.
The FBI conducted an extensive investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, including an FBI interview of Clinton in early July 2016. The case was a political lightening rod. Rather than follow standard procedure and simply issue a statement recommending no charges be brought, Comey took the unusual – and unprecedented – step of holding an extended press conference on July 5, 2016 in which he both exonerated and excoriated the subject of an FBI investigation, in this case, Clinton.
Social Ones habitually take on the role of moral arbiter and teacher. Claudio Naranjo observes Ones tend to “sermonize, preach and teach without regard for the appropriateness of such a role.”
Comey’s inappropriate moralizing was on full display in his July 5th press conference, during which Comey stated “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton.
Before banks of television cameras, [Comey] delivered a show-stopping performance that at once legally exonerated and publicly excoriated the Democratic nominee for president. What Comey should have done, by many accounts, was handle the Clinton probe like any other routine inquiry: provide confidential recommendations to prosecutors, release a strictly factual statement noting that the investigation would be closed, and resist external pressures to inappropriately air the FBI’s findings outside a court of law.
Comey seemed eager to reprimand Clinton for being “extremely careless” in the handling of classified information and “negligent.” He apparently wanted to initiate some kind of “consequence” for Clinton’s “careless” rule bending. In fact, it may have proven irresistible for Comey, as a Social One, to avoid scolding Clinton for her error – Ones habitually view mistakes as moral failings – even as he recommended against prosecuting.
Comey’s July press conference was also in keeping with a Social One’s wielding of moral superiority to control others. Moral superiority is the Social One’s wellspring of power. Making others “wrong” gives Social Ones power over others. (Similarly, some Fours implicitly assert superiority in their extraordinary depth and sensibility, hence getting others to walk on emotional egg shells; and some Sevens implicitly assert superiority in their life choices and positive framing, hence recruiting others into hedonism or persuading others to permit the Sevens freedom from accountability.)
By morally woodshedding Clinton, and presenting a public accounting of his analysis, Comey was asserting his moral superiority and gathering power to himself. People tend to be moved into action by a demonstrably fair and impartial judge. Comey was doubling down on the lore born from the Ashcroft incident of his moral fortitude, clarity, and objectivity in the heat of political crisis.
Type Patterns Backfire
Comey’s effort to extend his moral superiority and image of objectivity ran headlong into the powerful Type Eight energy of Donald Trump. After the July press conference, Trump immediately Tweeted: “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow! #RiggedSystem.” Trump subsequently made Comey’s press conference a cornerstone of his “rigged system” argument throughout the summer.
Comey’s mistaken quest for transparency and moral superiority, which involved him putting himself above the usual FBI protocols in order to enforce public morality, completely backfired.
Comey went further by testifying extensively before Congress, and by releasing evidence and summaries of the FBI interviews. This fed efforts by Trump and other Republicans to discredit the investigation by claiming the failure to recommend prosecution in light of numerous inconsistencies was politically motivated.
Where was Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch? Sidelined. What at first was wise and appropriate distance become de facto disqualification of Lynch to involve herself in any way due to her fateful interaction with Bill Clinton on the tarmac of a Phoenix airport just before the FBI concluded its investigation. Clinton boarded Lynch’s plane and the two conversed… about grandchildren.
Suspicions of insider political gamesmanship loomed large, despite there being no evidence of foul play. (Personally, I trust Lynch was not influenced, notwithstanding Bill Clinton’s poor optics, if not substance, in approaching her.)
No doubt this meeting emboldened Comey in his decision to hold his July press conference in order demonstrate the investigation was above political gaming by presenting all sides of the issues “transparently.”
Fast forward to October 2016. The FBI discovers emails possibly related to the Clinton investigation on the computer of Anthony Weiner. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is a long time Clinton aid and confidant. She used Weiner’s computer to print Clinton emails, but apparently did not mention this computer when she told the FBI about all of the electronic devices she used. (This seems like a fair oversight to me.)
The FBI decided it had a duty to investigate whether any the Abedin emails on Weiner’s computer contained classified information or otherwise bore relevance to the Clinton email server investigation.
Without any evidence – and before even obtaining a search warrant to look at the emails – Comey decided he needed to issue his October letter informing Congress of the update. Apparently, Comey thought Republican critics would be more upset, and would have more fodder to claim the system was “rigged,” if it came out after the election that the FBI was probing further.
Had Comey not opened Pandora’s Box with his above-the-rules “transparency” and moralizing in the July 2016, he would not have been in a bind. There would have been no need for Comey to protect his objectivity and his moral superiority had he followed FBI protocol throughout by not commenting, and taking whatever criticism came his way in stride.
The October 2016 letter was a severe lapse of judgment, even as it was Comey’s attempt to preserve the sanctity of his judgment. All Enneagram type patterns run to excess eventually yield the exact opposite of the unconscious intention behind running them. (Example: the excess doubting of Type Six to “secure” reality and ensure a safe future ends with increased insecurity and instability.) Comey attempted to guard the image and influence of his "perfection" only to end in disgrace.
Ends Justify the Means
Adherence to high standards and a “pure intention” to reform can make Ones feel entitled to exercise power using an ends justify the means analysis. They reason their incorruptibility and impartiality render them the best judges of right and wrong, even if that requires bizarre interpretations of applicable rules to permit them a free hand to ensure the “correct” outcome. In short, such Ones set themselves above the law in an effort to enforce the law “impartially.”
Former Justice Department public affairs director, Matthew Miller, nailed it with this analysis:
This case in particular has exposed how Comey’s self-regard can veer into self-righteousness, a belief that only he can fairly adjudicate the appropriateness of others’ conduct, and that the rules that apply to every other Justice Department employee are too quaint to restrict a man of his unquestionable ethics.
Clinton has had her own struggles with self-righteousness. Early in her tenure, Clinton instructed State Department staff not to use personal email for business purposes because it was not “secure.” The Washington Post’s extensive recounting of the controversy highlights how Clinton’s use of private server – an not simply the use of personal email on a third party server – effectively allowed her to skirt the Freedom of Information Act. Whether this was her intention is unclear; Clinton claims the private server was used for "convenience." Perhaps, not unlike Comey, Clinton on some level felt justified in bending the protocols and rules because of her do-gooder intention to bring about a better world.
The conclusion of critics is that Clinton “placed herself above the law in her quest for control of her records,” and then confused matters “with contradictory and evolving statements that minimized the consequences of her actions.” While there is not enough evidence any law was actually broken, Clinton’s judgment does seem shaky, if not flawed. Perhaps this, in part, is what compelled Comey to moralize in the July press conference. (Note: comparing Clinton’s email “scandal” to Trump’s long list of fraud and abuse is like comparing cheating on a quiz to blowing up a school building.)
Ones, generally, are highly sensitive to criticism, and all the more so for Social Ones. It is virtually unbearable to admit mistake, let alone apologize. To do so not only undercuts their power source, it calls into question their clear seeing; indeed, their existential reason for being.
The WikiLeaks release of John Podesta’s emails showed Clinton staff at wits end with respect to her inability to admit mistakes, calling the tendency Clinton’s “Achilles' heel.” Clinton has apologized for not using two email accounts, though she does not go so far as to say the use of a private server was a mistake.
For Social Ones, the moral high ground must be defended at all costs. So, also, must this One’s passionate view of their One Right Way of acting to manifest the perfection ideal. For this reason, Oscar Ichazo referred to Social Ones as “Non-Adaptability” and Claudio Naranjo labeled the subtype “Rigidity.”
Comey issued the October letter because, according to one report, “Not telling Congress . . . would have opened up the F.B.I. to criticism and created a cloud that would have hung over the bureau for years.” This reasoning reveals just how sensitive to criticism Comey is. And it shows how effective Trump has been at out maneuvering Comey by hammering on the “rigged system” claim – an outrageous claim that threatens to undermine our very democracy. (Proving Trump’s willingness to blow up the system in order to win.)
Ironically, Comey’s attempt to present himself as an ideal of perfection – the perfectly objective and morally superior investigator – has resulted in the exact opposite. He has been manipulated by Trump and derided by all sides. As the New York Times editorialized:
Mr. Comey, like many others — media organizations, would-be nonpartisan advocacy groups, and more — let himself be bullied by the usual suspects. Working the refs — screaming about bias and unfair treatment, no matter how favorable the treatment actually is — has been a consistent, long-term political strategy on the right. And the reason it keeps happening is because it so often works. …
Comey was subjected to a constant barrage of demands that he prosecute [Clinton] for … something. He should simply have said no. Instead, even while announcing back in July that no charges would be filed, he editorialized about her conduct — a wholly inappropriate thing to do, but probably an attempt to appease the right.
It didn’t work, of course. They just demanded more. And it looks as if he tried to buy them off by throwing them a bone just a few days before the election. Whether it will matter politically remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: he destroyed his own reputation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Comey of attempting to influence the election and derided Comey’s integrity. In a blistering letter, Reid conluded: “I led the fight to get you confirmed because I believed you to be a principled public servant. With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong.”
Obama’s White House has been more even-handed: not “defending or criticizing” Comey’s moves. (Not surprisingly, Obama shows his Type Nine patterns of rising above conflict and mediating between the sides.) As the Washington Post reported: “White House press secretary Josh Earnest praised Comey on Monday as “a man of principle . . . integrity and talent” and said that Obama, who nominated Comey three years ago to serve a 10-year term, does not believe that he is trying to influence the presidential election.”
It is likely true that Comey was not trying to influence an election; he was trying to preserve his moral superiority.
On the campaign trail, Obama himself has gone on to say: “I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don't operate on innuendo and we don't operate on incomplete information and we don't operate on leaks. . . .We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”
Aside from the politics, Comey’s story is a fascinating account of the Social One dynamic. Perhaps when he gets the distance to reflect back on 2016, Comey will revisit the advice he gave to William & Mary students in this video. At 1:30 Comey says,
It helps me to understand that people are great at convincing themselves of the righteousness of their own position. … I don’t think I’ve met any evil people in government. You meet people with appalling judgment. But you meet people . . . who are convinced they are doing the right thing, who have fallen in love with their own perspective. Knowing that, and taking that into account, is critical to being successful in any walk of life.