Former FBI Director Comey gives Sinai audience a glimpse of what it was like on the inside

James Comey onstage at Blue Chip.

WNLP story and photos by Mike Kellems

For more than six decades, the Sinai Forum has brought many notable speakers to Michigan City: politicians, actors and activists, sports figures, and the elite of the news media. To open their 65th season, to borrow a sports metaphor, they knocked it out of the ballpark. James Comey, the embattled former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), opened this year’s series Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9, 2018, with a talk that left an impression on the audience of 1,200.

Those present at the Blue Chip Event Center left with at least these two impressions: James Comey is very tall. And he is very passionate about leadership.

Comey greets a guest as he signs copies of his book.

Comey, who was appointed FBI director in 2013 by President Barack Obama, spoke primarily about leadership — the basis for a book he penned shorty after being dismissed as the 7th director of the FBI by President Donald Trump in 2017. Comey said he was inspired to write the book as a way of sharing life lessons learned while in both the public and private sectors.

Comey, 58, was born in New York and raised in New Jersey. He spoke of the lesson he learned early in life while working as a stock boy in a local grocery store, and those that he learned as he started his career working in the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Virginia. In both jobs, he said he learned strong lessons in leadership and developed the ideals of being kind and tough, while balancing being confident and humble.

Visiting with attendees.

One of his examples of humility was his daily practice, once he had been appointed FBI director, of walking to the lunchroom on the 8th floor of the FBI building, standing in line to place his order and sitting down to lunch just like everyone else. This gave Comey the opportunity to meet many bureau employees and ask them to share their stories about what led them to the FBI.

Comey, who mixed a lot of humor into his delivery, told of meeting an employee in the lunch line one day and asking, “What’s your story?” Once the employee finished with his response, he asked Comey: “So, how did you get into the FBI?” Comey looked incredulously at the employee and said, “Well, I’m the director.” The employee replied, “The director of what?” Shocked by Comey’s status, the worker said, “you look different on the Internet”. Comey said he shared that story with his wife of 31 years later that night; she laughed out loud and told him that she hoped that would happen to him every day.

During his 45 minutes on stage, Comey spoke passionately about wanting America to produce leaders who are morally centered, not overly focused on political parties — and most importantly, willing to be good listeners. He spoke very highly of President Obama, who left an impression on the director because of his willingness to listen. Comey commented many times that the most effective leaders listen to their people. He explained that the hard work and efforts of an employee or colleague can be crushed by a leader who isn’t attentive or is dismissive while listening.

During his relatively short speech Comey touched on many of the hot-button topics of the recent past, including Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, President Trump’s attack on the department of justice, the probe into Russia’s alleged interference with the 2016 election, and of course, being fired by Trump. As is the custom at Sinai Forum events, Comey took questions from the audience. The first question was regarding the recent op-ed piece in the New York Times from an anonymous source making claims about failures inside the White House. Comey drew a lot of laughter when he quickly replied, “I didn’t write it.” Students in the audience were also given an opportunity to join in the Q&A.

Following the presentation, Comey took time greet audience members and autograph copies of his book.

The capacity crowd at the Blue Chip.

4 Responses to “Former FBI Director Comey gives Sinai audience a glimpse of what it was like on the inside”

  1. Anon

    Sep 10. 2018

    Sad.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Iwasthere

    Sep 10. 2018

    Excellent program. Comey is a good speaker. Insightful on what a leader is- which he clearly is.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Scott

    Sep 11. 2018

    Sad.

    Reply to this comment
  4. May

    Sep 12. 2018

    Would of loved to have heard him, sorry I missed it!

    Reply to this comment

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