James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, will be released on Tuesday. Republicans are so worried about the potential fallout that they have developed an entire campaign to discredit the former FBI director. The plan revolves around three core arguments:
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.”
In addition to talking points and digital media ads, the RNC has set up a website called “Lyin’ Comey.”
When it comes to the “just ask Democrats” part of this campaign, the quotes all stem from Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. Here’s Greg Sargent’s take on that.
Republicans will muddy the waters further around this by pointing out that Democrats criticized that Comey conduct then, and by arguing that they are merely making the same argument now that Democrats did…
Republicans are not simply offering an argument that is the partisan inverse of the Democratic argument. If they were doing that, they’d say something like, “Comey was right when he criticized Clinton, but he’s wrong about Trump.” But they are saying something different, something like this: “Even though we cited Comey’s criticism of Clinton at the time, we’re now saying he was wrong to offer it, which proves his criticism of Trump is not to be believed.”
This is just the old Republican fog machine at work.
Beyond muddying the waters, Republicans are also not above stretching the truth to the point of oblivion. For example, on the Lyin’ Comey website, there is a section called “check the facts.” One of the items involves a statement Comey made “under oath that he never posed as an anonymous source to leak information to the press.” That is true, Comey said it as part of his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017. When asked by Sen. Grassley if he had ever been an anonymous source in news reports in matters related to the Trump investigation, Comey’s response was, “Never.”
The supposed fact check says, “Comey later testified that he ‘asked a friend of [his] to share the content of the memo with a reporter’ in order to put political pressure on President Trump.” Notice the “later” in that sentence. Here’s the timeline of how things went down:
May 3, 2017 Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee
May 9, 2017 Trump fires Comey
May 16, 2017 NYT reports that, according to Comey associates, the former FBI director had a written memo about a meeting with the president in which he was asked to drop the Michael Flynn investigation
As the quote from the fact check indicates, Comey was very forthcoming about the fact that he asked his associates to share the information in the NYT report—after he was fired. In no way does that discredit what he said on May 3rd.
Of course, as Sargent said, none of this is actually about getting the facts straight. It is, as he wrote, “the old Republican fog machine” at work attempting to muddy the waters. Anything that will confuse the public and/or diminish the impact of what Comey has written will suffice.
What we can learn from all of this is that the Republican Party, with blessing from the White House, has crafted an entire strategy to discount the contents of a book by the former FBI director a week before its even been published. Do you suppose they are more than just a little bit worried about what James Comey has to say?