Former FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Bloomberg)

“Truth has to be the central value in any successful company or any successful country.” So spoke former FBI Director James Comey at BNY Pershing’s annual Insite conference in Orlando, Florida.

The truth is the “touchstone” employees and citizens measure their leaders against and if those leaders hear the truth they can make better decisions, Comey said.

That can be difficult in hierarchical organizations like the FBI and many corporate enterprises because employees aren’t comfortable telling their leaders truth.

The leader has to “flatten the hill,” eliminating the distance between him or her and everyone else, creating a safe space in order to have an honest exchange of views, according to Comey. The leader must also have the confidence to be humble and to listen to other people.

Comey said he listened to his people at the FBI after they discovered emails from Hillary Clinton — possibly the 30,000 or so missing emails — on Anthony Weiner’s computer 11 days before the 2016 presidential election. They said they could not finish reviewing the emails before the election, which created a quandary for the FBI director since he had told Congress months before that the investigation into Clinton’s emails on a private, nongovernment server was finished and didn’t warrant bringing up any charges, said Comey.

Saying nothing about the new emails would “perpetrate a lie,” said Comey, so he announced that the FBI had learned about their existence through an unrelated case and that investigators would be reviewing the emails. That was the “single hardest decision I ever made,” said Comey. “I’m not certain I was right.”

It’s a decision that many say was a key to Clinton’s defeat. In the end, the FBI was able to review the emails before the election and announced on the Sunday before the Tuesday election that there was no reason to change its earlier conclusion about Clinton’s emails.

(A draft of an Inspector General report says that Comey defied authority at times in his handling of the Clinton probe, ABC News reported Wednesday.)

Now Comey worries about President Donald Trump, who “lies so much” and who “threatens our core values … the rule of law.” In his book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,”  Comey likens the current presidency to a forest fire, which destroys but also creates the environment for new growth afterward.

“I feel it already,” he said. “Civics is coming back to the classroom.”

Citing John Meacham’s new book, “The Soul of America,” Comey said the despite the current presidency, “The ship of state will stay steady.”

He said Special Counsel Robert Mueller is “a total pro” who “has to be allowed to complete his work.” As for Comey’s future, he said, “I’m never going to run for office.”

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