Crisis Response: “A Higher Loyalty”


David E. Johnson: Lessons Learned: Let's Rock Public Relations in 2018!David Johnson, Founder & CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group

Former FBI Director James Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty” comes out on April 17th. Comey is planning a massive media blitz and multi-city book tour to promote the book.

ABC is airing a primetime interview with Comey and George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, April 16th. Tickets to Comey’s book events are reportedly sold out. “A Higher Loyalty” is already sold out on Amazon with many expecting the book to offer bombshells about President Trump.

Comey is known to raise the President’s ire and has hinted the book will prove the President a liar. All of this comes at a time when the President’s poll numbers are actually on the rise. So far, the White House has been quiet about the book and says it is planning no response to it and what is expected to be non-stop coverage of Comey. But in this twenty-four/seven social media driven world can the White House totally ignore Comey and his book? And if not, what should their crisis communications response be?

Quite simply, the White House must respond to Comey and the accusations he makes in his book. Failure to do so would be totally out of character for this Administration and be seen by many as an admission of guilt by the President. The media would play up the accusations in the book and the silence from the White House in the worst possible way for the President. Beyond that, silence from the President and his surrogates would go against the Trump brand. Love it or hate it, the Trump brand stands for feisty defensive attacks against any who attack it.

So how should the White House respond to “A Higher Loyalty”?

  • Go through the book and point out any discrepancies and mistakes in the book from what is the official record.
  • Point out places in the book where Comey’s version of events is contradicted by other participants especially Democrats, such as former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
  • Highlight previous Democratic attacks on Comey’s credibility, including Hillary Clinton who can’t stop blaming Comey along with Trump voters for why she lost the election.
  • Have surrogates like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and others who are not considered diehard Trump backers out defending the President rather than his usual surrogates. This will give more media credibility to the White House response.
  • Let Trump be Trump including on Twitter. People expect Trump to hit back and failing to do so gives Comey and the book additional credibility. Additionally, Trump’s tweets and statements have a way of becoming the story and pushing the accusations to the background.

“A Higher Loyalty” is expected to cause political fireworks, as is everything associated with President Trump. While some might advise ignoring Comey and his media blitz would be the smartest strategy, it is one that would go against the Trump brand and actually lead many to believe whatever Comey says in the book. In this case, the best crisis response for the White House is a strong offense.

1 Comment

  1. Ronald N. Levy on at 1:24 PM

    In addition to this excellent defense plan outlined by David Johnson, it could pay for Trump’s side to not only defend Trump but to attack Comey the accuser. Defending leaves the public to wonder whether the accused is guilty or not, but also attacking gets the public to consider whether the other side–the accuser–is guilty and why.

    Although many people argue whether Trump should or shouldn’t fire the Mueller team, there’s way to effectively end the Mueller investigation WITHOUT firing Mueller. Trump could announce:

    .1. Over a year after the election there’s still argument about whether Clinton’s campaign people were guilty of destroying 30,000 emails and whether Trump’s campaign people were guilty of talking to the Russians.

    .2. The whole long argument doesn’t promise much benefit for America and is distracting America from the important need to improve healthcare quality and cost, and improve our economy by getting America a more fair trade deal from China and other trading partners.

    .3. Therefore to END the almost endless arguments over the Clinton and Trump campaign committees, Trump is pardoning all people connected with each controversy and is urging congress to assign the Mueller people to investigate (a) who has been responsible for the opioid addiction crisis, and (b) what can be done about it.

    “America needs much more to end the opioid crisis,” Trump can say, “than to keep arguing over who said what to whom during the election campaign.” Mueller will not keep investigating people who have been pardoned, and everyone can move on to what may be more important.