No doubt they’ve already got “Lyin’ Rosenstein” and “Lyin’ Mueller” websites ready to go too, just in case.
It makes me laugh to think of the RNC having any sort of “messaging strategy” when President Loosecannon could contradict them without warning on Twitter at any time. That’s why the RNC is taking the lead on this, I assume. They figure that if they’re attacking Comey 24/7 while he’s out hawking his book, Trump will be placated and won’t feel the need to attack him himself. It’s a way for the GOP leadership to exert more control over their message. But Trump can, and almost certainly will, blow that up. They could schedule half a dozen flacks to go on TV and criticize Comey along a line of carefully written talking points and Trump could scramble the effort instantly by tweeting out of the blue that he found the “secret tapes” of his conversations with Comey or whatever. As John Lennon almost said, Trump is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
A question to keep in mind: Who is this effort really aimed at?
The Republican plan against Comey is built around several aggressive arguments, according to the plan obtained by CNN, including these:
1) “Comey has a long history of misstatements and misconduct,” including damage caused to the FBI because of “bizarre decisions, contradictory statements and acting against Department of Justice and FBI protocol.”
2) “Attempts to smear the Trump administration are nothing more than retaliation by a disgraced former official.”
3) “Comey isn’t credible — just ask Democrats.” The digital ads will show several Democrats calling for Comey’s resignation after he injected himself into the 2016 presidential race, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is shown saying: “All I can tell you is the FBI Director has no credibility.”
Here’s the “Lyin’ Comey” website, which is indeed heavy on Democratic criticism of him and includes fact checks of things he’s said. One accuses him of being a leaker because he shared his own memo about a conversation with Trump with a friend to give to the media. Was the memo classified, though? That’s usually what “leak” means, that a federal employee shared info he wasn’t legally allowed to share. And Comey only shared the memo, he claimed, because Trump was already trying to impeach his credibility as to what was said between them. That’s what you’ll hear when he’s inevitably asked about “leaking.”
Another section dings him for portraying himself “as an innocent victim fired by President Trump” and counters with quotes from various Dems saying he shouldn’t be kept in the job. That’s what I mean in asking “Who is this effort really aimed at?” It’s true that Democrats seethed after the election over the Emailgate letter that Comey sent in late October, something Hillary Clinton herself blames for her loss. But they’ve been his biggest cheering section since he ran afoul of Trump. The crux of their criticism of him in sending the letter was that he was in the tank for Republicans, deliberately sabotaging Clinton’s candidacy via unorthodox moves to disclose the state of the email investigation. The takeaway from his nuclear war with Trump, though, is that he’s not in the tank for the right after all, to put it mildly. He’s a rare figure in this era who’s managed to rebut a charge of extreme partisan bias (only to now be accused of extreme partisan bias the other way, of coure). Here’s what was running on Hannity’s show last night, for instance, in an episode touted on Twitter by Trump himself:
"We'll call it the Comey crime family" pic.twitter.com/jo7Eh7bpCp
— Katie Watson (@kathrynw5) April 12, 2018
But assume it’s true that Pelosi and Schumer and Bernie Sanders, etc etc, all think Comey was a garbage FBI director who deserved to be fired for what he did to Clinton irrespective of Trump’s actual Russiagate motives in dropping the axe. Who’s going to be moved by the website? Republican voters? They don’t care what Pelosi et al. think and they don’t need to be moved in the first place. They already hate and distrust Comey. Trump’s been hammering at him for nearly a year. Right-wing media, typified by Hannity, will be in war mode for the duration of his tour. The “Lyin’ Comey” site is preaching to a very enthusiastic choir if they’re trying to galvanize Republicans against him.
Democratic voters? Please. Rank-and-file Democrats long ago made their peace with him. Comey’s about to further endear himself to them by spending the next month on TV every day bashing their least favorite person as a “mob boss.” And the RNC treating him as a hate object will only cement Democratic support for him. “By parroting Trump’s petty ‘Lyin’ Comey’ branding,” notes Ben Shapiro, “the RNC looks like a personal revenge tool for the president, and the attacks on Comey look politically motivated rather than simply truthful.” In an age where negative partisanship rules, having the trifecta of Trump, the RNC, and right-wing media launching a coordinated offensive against him will do more for his standing on the left than he ever could himself.
My best guess as to the purpose of the site is that, as with so many PR gestures by Republicans these days, it exists essentially for an audience of one. Trump wants to know that “my team” is doing something to fight back at Comey as he launches his book tour so his team is responding, replete with using a Trump-style nickname for the target, knowing full well that literally no one’s opinion of him will change. It’s just the RNC reassuring Trump that they’ve got his back, hoping against hope that he’ll let them handle the anti-Comey PR effort this month without intervening himself. They’re kidding themselves, but they have to try.
Update: And here we go.
Within minutes of his firing in May, former FBI director James Comey received a call from John Kelly, then the head of the Department of Homeland Security and now the White House chief of staff…
Kelly, Comey recalls, said he was “sick” about the situation and “intended to quit” in protest. Kelly “said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people,” referring specifically to President Donald Trump, who appeared to be upset at the FBI’s persistent investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials.
As the Daily Beast notes, that call was in fact reported last year by CNN, citing two sources. Kelly’s in no position to confirm it right now. But he might be soon!