Former FBI Director James Comey will testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and given the seriousness of the Russia scandal -- and what the former FBI director may say about Donald Trump's legally dubious behavior -- the hearing is drawing more attention than any Capitol Hill hearing in years.
The Washington Post described Comey's testimony as "a political Super Bowl -- with television networks interrupting regular programming to air it, and some Washington offices and bars making plans for special viewings."
And just as the Super Bowl has extensive pre-game programming, we're apparently now dealing with the show before the show. The Associated Press reports today that for the White House and its allies, it's an opportunity to attack the former FBI director before he's even sworn in.
Trump's White House and its allies are crafting a strategy aimed at undermining Comey's credibility. Both White House officials and an outside group that backs Trump plan to hammer Comey in the coming days for misstatements he made about Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails during his last appearance on Capitol Hill.An ad created by the pro-Trump Great America Alliance — a nonprofit "issues" group that isn't required to disclose its donors — casts Comey as a "showboat" who was "consumed with election meddling" instead of focusing on combating terrorism. The 30-second spot is slated to run digitally on Wednesday and appear the next day on CNN and Fox News.
I honestly can't remember the last time any political entity launched a televised attack ad in preparation for a congressional hearing. If you're questioning the seriousness of the Russia scandal, take note: the president's allies are well aware of the existential threat this controversy poses. If this was trivial, they wouldn't bother.
Whether the attack ad will have the intended effect, however, is another matter. The commercial tells the public that Comey is "just another D.C. insider only in it for himself" -- a line one might expect to hear about an incumbent congressional candidate, not the former director of the FBI.
It's possible, meanwhile, that Trump's allies feel as if they don't have much of a choice but to launch a mini-campaign against Comey: a Washington Post/ABC News poll, released this morning, found that when it comes to the Russia scandal, the public is more inclined to trust the former FBI director than the president (though neither fare especially well),
All of this unfolding, not just outside the White House, but within the West Wing, too. The Washington Post's report noted, "Trump is keen to be a participant rather than just another viewer, two senior White House officials said, including the possibility of taking to Twitter to offer acerbic commentary during the hearing.... [P]rivately, Trump's advisers said they are bracing for a worst-case scenario: that he ignores their advice and tweets his mind."
The same piece added that the Republican National Committee has "lined up a roster of surrogates to appear on conservative news stations nationwide" tomorrow to defend Trump in response to Comey's testimony. The Post's article noted, "[A] list the RNC distributed on Tuesday could hardly be described as star-studded: The names include Bob Paduchik, an RNC co-chair who worked on Trump's Ohio campaign; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R); and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R)."