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Thursday, May 11, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Trump and his team need to exercise some message control.

Mr. Trump’s sudden firing of former FBIJames Comey created a news vacuum where his team scrambled to respond and provided incomplete information. This in turn gave the Democrats an opening to shape the narrative, step up demands for a special prosecutor and speed the drumbeat of charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Some Democrats even raised the prospect of impeachment, despite the fact that there was no suggestion a crime had been committed.


It’s unreal.

This is not the first time we have seen a botched policy or personnel rollout by the Trump administration, allowing the opposition to seize control of the news cycle. Following the temporary travel ban announcement, the White House should have learned the valuable lesson that process matters and getting the facts right and organizing a communications strategy before a major announcement is critical.

The shock-and-awe approach comes with real negative side effects. The White House communications team is critical here — they understand what the reaction will be from the left and the mainstream media, and could help the president avoid unforced errors.

The president’s firing of Mr. Comey was long overdue given the long list of the FBI director’s high-profile mistakes. The latest misstep was Mr. Comey’s testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he exaggerated the number of emails sent by former Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin to her scandal-ridden husband, Anthony Weiner.

Both Democrats and Republicans had lost faith and confidence in the FBI director. However, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe broke with the script.

The acting director told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday that “I have the highest respect for [Mr. Comey‘s] considerable abilities and it has been the greatest privilege and honor in my professional life to work with him.”

But let’s not forget that high-ranking Democrats like Mrs. Clinton, her campaign chairman, John Podesta, and even now-Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer have been all highly critical of Mr. Comey in the past. Mr. Schumer even said last November, “I do not have confidence in [Mr. Comey] any longer.”

For consistency’s sake, at least all three should fundamentally disagree with Mr. McCabe on Mr. Comey’s abilities. Instead, they have turned their fire this week on Mr. Trump for firing the same guy who they have blamed for Mrs. Clinton’s defeat.

Mr. McCabe made it very clear that the Russia investigation, which the Democrats say they care so much about, will “not be impeded” despite Mr. Comey’s departure. Yet even that pledge is not enough for the Democrats — Mr. Schumer is now demanding a special prosecutor to take over the investigation.

Every day that the Democrats can focus the debate on Russia is one fewer day that President Trump has to focus on his legislative priorities, including taxes and health care reform. The Democrats now have another reason to stall the president’s agenda in Congress as they continue to peddle their conspiracy theories on Mr. Trump and a Kremlin connection. Liberal Democrats have viewed the president as being guilty since the first day of his presidency. Their end goal is obvious: impeachment.

But Mr. Trump doesn’t help himself by insisting he would have fired Mr. Comey regardless of the advice from the Department of Justice, while his communications team initially stressed the opposite. The communications team and the president need to get on the same page — and fast.

Adding to the chaos are the daily leaks coming out of the White House, which undermine the ability to set the record straight on Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump is justifiably infuriated with these insiders, who are more concerned about gossiping to reporters than with being loyal and serving their boss.

Mr. Trump has mastered the ability to directly reach the American people. He’s right to say Mr. Comey became a “showboat,” constantly in the public eye, unlike former FBI directors who avoided the limelight. As a master of the media, President Trump should gain control of his message and of his communications shop, if only to avoid the pitfalls that empower the Democrats who are focused on destroying his presidency.

Mercedes Schlapp is a Fox News contributor, co-founder of Cove Strategies and former White House director of specialty media under President George W. Bush.


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