Republicans are planning on pushing back hard against James Comey as he begins his publicity tour next week, hoping to undermine the former FBI director as he embarks on a national book tour.
A battle plan to push back, first reported by CNN, includes several actions including paying for digital advertising, sending out talking points to Republicans across the country, and rebranding Mr Comey as “Lyin’ Comey” — an obvious reference to President Donald Trump’s taste for giving snappy nicknames to his rivals.
The website set up by Republicans features bipartisan criticism of Mr Comey in the past, including quotes from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in which the three members of Congress suggested Mr Comey was no longer fit to be the head of the FBI.
Mr Sanders is registered as an independent Senator, but caucuses with Democrats, and ran for president as a Democrat in 2016.
“Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing,” Republican chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN. “If Comey wants the spotlight back on him, we’ll make sure the American people understand why he has no one but himself to blame for his complete lack of credibility.”
The plan includes a “three Cs” approach, in which Republicans plan on attacking Mr Comey’s credibility, revisiting his conduct, and pointing out alleged contradictions. In doing so, they hope to remind Democrats — who were furious about Mr Comey’s conduct during the 2016 election — that they, too, did not care much for the former FBI director at certain times.
Central to the plan is an attempt to push a narrative that Mr Comey’s tenure as the head of the FBI was rife with political contributions. Democrats, they plan on noting, were generally uneasy with Mr Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State.
Mr Comey “repeatedly usurped” then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch during that investigation, the Republicans plan on saying, and violated protocol by “publicly acknowledging the existence of ongoing FBI investigations”.
The former FBI director was put into Democratic cross-hairs in 2016 for acknowledging the FBI was investigating the emails, but later said that the bureau had found no indicator of any criminal wrongdoing. Mr Comey later sent a letter to Congress indicating that they were analysing more emails — just days before Election Day.
Ms Clinton has suggested that she believes Mr Comey’s decision to publicly acknowledge that the FBI was analysing a fresh batch of emails cost her the election.
Mr Trump fired Mr Comey several months into his presidency, and said at the time that Mr Comey’s bureau’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a part of that decision making process. That firing led to the creation of a special counsel to pick up on that investigation, headed by Robert Mueller.
Mr Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty”, is set to be released Tuesday. Mr Comey is starting his publicity tour Sunday night, with an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Mr Comey — who kept contemporaneous notes of his dealings with Mr Trump — has reportedly compared Mr Trump to a “mob boss”.
The Republican plan to aggressively attempt to undermine Mr Comey shows how concerned Mr Trump’s allies are that the former FBI director could further damage the president’s public image, but also illustrates the high stakes Mr Comey faces with the new book.
Mr Comey has appeared in front of Congress since his firing, but has otherwise remained mostly silent. The book tour is a chance for him to amplify his side of the story, and inform the American public about his dealings with Mr Trump.