Former FBI Director James Comey is about to return to the national spotlight with the release of his memoir next week — but the White House is doing little to prepare for the onslaught, according to two officials.
These officials said it’s understood within the West Wing that laying out an advance media strategy is largely a futile exercise since President Donald Trump could blow up any prepared talking points with a single tweet.
Instead, senior aides are hoping Trump’s trip to South America and subsequent summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago will provide a distraction, as well as an opportunity for the president to appear above the fray.
The nitty-gritty of preparing talking points and rapid response is being outsourced to the Republican National Committee, which also handled much of the rebuttal when Comey testified on Capitol Hill in June. There is no blitz attack planned by the White House, which would be seen as “punching down,” according to one of the White House officials.
An RNC official confirmed that the group is preparing a Comey response but declined to provide details or say how many people are involved in the effort.
Experienced Washington hands say taking a reactive position, rather than preparing to go on offense, is a risky move given the anticipation surrounding Comey’s book.
“The White House should recognize this will be a No. 1 nationwide best-seller. They cannot talk it off the best-seller list,” said former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. “Nothing they do will increase sales for it, they’ll already be sky high. That ship’s sailed. This book is selling, so there’s merit in responding and no downside in responding.”
“This is just so red hot, the White House must respond itself, along with surrogates, but they can’t just rely on surrogates,” he added.
Aside from congressional testimony and a few oblique tweets, Comey has largely remained silent about Trump’s decision to fire him in May 2017. That move triggered the appointment of special prosecutor Robert Mueller — who is exploring whether the firing itself was an attempt by Trump or others around him to obstruct justice.