This op-ed was written by Tony Panaccio and is published here with his express permission. Panaccio is a 30-year media veteran and senior partner in Bold Blue Campaigns, a resource center for local and state political campaigns. Panaccio is a past winner of the Florida Press Club Award, and has written for newspapers like The Clearwater Sun, The Tampa Tribune and the Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine, as well as numerous Websites and syndicators. He is also co-producing a documentary, Justice By Accident, about the case of Jean Claude Meus, wrongly accused of vehicular homicide and his five-year fight to be released from prison.
Don’t look now, but the 2020 presidential race just began, just not the way we thought it would.
Former FBI Director James Comey just announced he’s signed a book deal for his memoirs, but if you read between the lines, what he really said is “I’m running for president” — setting up the first challenge of a sitting president for his party’s nomination since Gerald Ford. Back in 1975, then Senator Robert Dole challenged an embattled Ford — vastly unpopular because of his pardon of disgraced President Richard Nixon — for the GOP nomination. Ford edged him out at the convention, but it set a modern precedent for precisely what Comey is trying to do.
This should not be surprising to the beltway crowd, because practically everything Comey has done since 2016 has screamed his Oval Office intentions. It is possible, however, that many have simply been too distracted by the Trump Family and Bannon and Conway Circus to hear the clarion call.
Let’s keep in mind that one does not rise to the post of FBI director without having a strategic mind and the Machiavellian skill to navigate the internal politics of the bureau. That strategy becomes much clearer when you put his past actions into the context of political ambition.
Let’s go back to Comey’s ill-timed non-revelation about candidate Hillary Clinton’s email investigation that served to smother the former Secretary of State’s momentum in the 2016 contest. A Republican who served under President Obama, Comey presented the email report much to the dismay of Democrats, fighting the perception that he was a lapdog to President Obama, whom confidants have said he admired. That was step one.
Step two was to immediately understand that Trump’s presidency was going to be compromised at some point because of the Russian equation. As FBI director, he was privy to far more information about the case than he ever disclosed publicly. In fact, he counted on FBI policy to not discuss active investigations when he carefully negotiated with former colleague — and now special counsel Robert Mueller — to publicly testify before the Senate.
This is from CNN’s reporting the Comey’s deal to testify in public:
“Comey has spoken privately with Special Counsel Robert Mueller III to work out the parameters for his testimony to ensure there are no legal entanglements as a result of his public account, a source said. Comey will likely sit down with Mueller, a longtime colleague at the Justice Department, for a formal interview only after his public testimony.”
Why go to all that trouble to testify if he wouldn’t be able to reveal much, unless his goal was a little political theater to make himself look defiant to a vastly unpopular president?
Next came his firing, which he predicted because of the copious memos he wrote and sent to colleagues after every meeting with Trump, ensuring his integrity would shine in the face of the Trump’s attempts at character assassination. Of course, it was all leading to Tuesday’s announcement of Comey’s book deal.
Read carefully CNN’s reporting on the deal:
“The book, which does not yet have a title, is set to come out next spring. Flatiron (Books) says Comey will write about ‘what good, ethical leadership looks like and how it drives sound decisions.'”
It will make use of examples from the “highest-stakes situations” in the past two decades of American government, Flatiron said. Hmm. A book about ethical leadership in the context of Comey’s career in law enforcement — sounds like the basis for a presidential stump speech.
Moreover, Comey’s machinations catch the GOP with its britches around its sock garters. Republican leadership has flip-flopped its way into a Trump presidency — opposing him during the primaries, supporting him in the general, then scrambling around like Chicken Little trying to figure out whether his base of support will get them re-elected once Trump became president.
No one in the GOP hierarchy is free from the stain of the Trump presidency, which makes it very difficult for any of them to be terribly convincing as primary challengers. The reality is that Comey is pretty much the only Republican in Washington to emerge from the Trump era with the public image of his integrity intact.
And now, he’s doing the first thing all presidential candidates — including Trump — do before announcing candidacy. He’s writing a book. Go figure. (Tony Panaccio is a 30-year media veteran and senior partner in Bold Blue Campaigns, a political campaign services and resource center for Democratic local and state campaigns).
Featured image from YouTube video.