What we're losing in James Comey

First, Mr. Comey is without subtext. He’s the only truly subtextless man I’ve met working in senior levels of government in Washington. If you want to know why he’s doing something, you just ask him — in an open congressional hearing, in a news conference, in the Q. and A. at a speech at a college. If it’s appropriate to talk about it, he’ll tell you. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t answer cagily. And, remarkably for a Washington figure, he explains his thinking. He answers questions about it. He releases documents…

Second, Mr. Comey has an unfailing instinct to fall on every grenade. This is a highly unusual trait in Washington, a town where lots of people dodge responsibility for everything. Bill Clinton has a private meeting on a plane with the attorney general? Mr. Comey will step up to conclude and disclose the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails. New information comes to light right before an election? Mr. Comey will take the heat for informing Congress.

Some people may frame this instinct negatively, as showboating or preening or overstepping. Others may frame it positively, as taking responsibility. But it’s clearly a rare instinct in Washington. When one person has an instinct to fall on grenades and everyone else has an instinct to flee from them, it’s not surprising when that one person ends up dealing with all the explosives.