Former FBI Director James Comey’s book will soon hit shelves, and by all accounts, it will have less-than-flattering things to say about Donald Trump – the president who fired Comey last year in the hopes of derailing the investigation into the Russia scandal. What exactly does the White House intend to do about Comey’s return to the national spotlight?
According to a Politico report published earlier this week, not much. “There is no blitz attack planned by the White House,” the article said. Instead, the “nitty-gritty of preparing talking points and rapid response is being outsourced to the Republican National Committee.”
And what, pray tell, does the Republican National Committee have in mind? TPM reported this morning on the party’s unveiling of a new website and partisan talking points.
The website, lyincomey.com, is strewn with quotes from prominent Democrats bashing Comey after his July 5, 2016 statement on the FBI’s investigation into then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, punctuated by black and white photos of the former FBI director looking shifty.
“Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN.
A Washington Post report added, “RNC officials say their effort will also include digital ads, a ‘war room’ to monitor Comey’s television appearances, a rapid response team to rebut his claims in real time and coordination of Trump surrogates to fan out across other TV programs.”
Look, I can appreciate why the president’s allies are feeling a little anxious about Comey’s book, but the RNC’s offensive is a little tough to take seriously.
First, I can think of legitimate criticisms of Comey’s tenure at the FBI, but labeling him “a liar and a leaker” simply isn’t supported by the facts.
Second, if the RNC is trying to set up a credibility contest between Comey and Donald Trump, the party should probably reconsider. As we discussed last summer, Comey’s version of events isn’t just in his book, it’s also been presented as sworn testimony; it’s supported by detailed memos, written contemporaneously; and as you’ve probably seen Rachel explain on the show; it’s a narrative the former FBI director shared with other top officials in federal law enforcement.
On the other hand, there’s the president, who, if we’re being very charitable, can be described as having earned a reputation for fighting a losing battle against the truth. If we’re less charitable, we might note that Trump is one of the most shamelessly dishonest people in American public life. If the RNC’s idea is to encourage the public to believe the president instead of the former FBI director, that’s probably not going to go well.
Third, I’ve seen the talking points the RNC has pulled together, and they make multiple references to Comey having been unfair toward Hillary Clinton. It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around such a strange argument: Americans shouldn’t trust Comey’s criticisms of Trump because Comey mistreated Trump’s former opponent?
But even if we put all of that aside, we’re left with the inconvenient fact that James Comey was a registered Republican for most of his adult life. The RNC is assembling a “war room” in order to attack the reputation of a former Republican voter who, among things, served as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general.
I’m probably not the target audience for the RNC’s anti-Comey pitch, but I’m nevertheless curious: is this really the best the party could do?