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GOP campaign seeks to brand Comey a liar as he touts book critical of Trump

FBI Director James B. Comey appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2017. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In advance of a publicity tour by James B. Comey to promote his new book, the Republican National Committee is preparing a widespread campaign to undercut his credibility, including a new website that dubs the former FBI director as “Lyin’ Comey.”

The website prominently features quotes from Democrats highly critical of Comey before his firing by President Trump nearly a year ago as he grew agitated by the Russia probe.

RNC officials say their effort will also include digital ads, a “war room” to monitor Comey’s television appearances, a rapid response team to rebut his claims in real time and coordination of Trump surrogates to fan out across other TV programs.

The broadside against Comey, a registered Republican for most of his adult life, comes as he is set to begin a media tour to tout his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty” — which, according to copies leaked Thursday, paints a devastating portrait of a president who built “a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us.” 

President Trump on April 9 said he did “the right thing” when he fired James B. Comey as FBI director last year. (Video: The Washington Post)

In advance of the book’s release Tuesday, Comey is scheduled to appear in an interview airing Sunday night with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. A teaser for the interview says Comey compares Trump to a “mob boss.”

Among other things, the 304-page tell-all says Trump was obsessed with lewd allegations about him contained in an infamous dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

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Comey’s memoir could damage the reputations of Trump and some of his top aides, and the president’s allies are scrambling to undercut Comey’s account.

In a statement, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said: “James Comey’s publicity tour is a self-serving attempt to make money and rehabilitate his own image. If Comey wants the spotlight back on him, we’ll make sure the American people understand why he has no one but himself to blame for his complete lack of credibility.”

The RNC effort underscores the in­cred­ibly high stakes for Trump and his party as Comey details his interactions with the president, including his claim that Trump asked for a loyalty test. Many Democrats, meanwhile, are hopeful that new revelations will further bolster a case for the president’s impeachment.

Comey’s firing set off a chain of events that have endangered Trump’s presidency. The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel to probe Russian interference in the 2016 election — and possible collusion with the Trump campaign — in the aftermath of Comey’s ouster.

With the Mueller probe escalating — including the FBI raid this week of Trump’s personal lawyer’s home and office in Manhattan — Comey’s media appearances could pose a major public relations challenge for the White House.

“I’ve been around politics a long time, and I know fear when I see it,” said Jim Manley, a lobbyist and former senior aide to former Senate minority leader Harry M. Reid. “This White House reeks of fear. . . . This shows me that they are prepared to use a scorched-earth strategy to undermine the FBI’s credibility. The party of law and order has become the party of trying to protect Trump at all costs.”

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Doug Heye, a former RNC communications director, said the Republican effort shows Comey’s publicity tour is “going to dominate news coverage. He’s going to be seemingly everywhere.”

But Heye said the RNC is doing its job. “It would be political malpractice not to do this,” he said.

Heye said the biggest challenge for Republicans could be combating claims from Comey that have not previously made headlines.

In recent weeks, Trump has continued to attack Comey on Twitter, and Comey has suggested that he will have his say through his book.

“Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not,” Comey said in a tweet last month.

Earlier this week, Comey tweeted a picture of the room in his home where he was interviewed by Stephanopoulos, which had been transformed into a small television studio.

“Not how my house normally looks,” Comey wrote. “One chair for George, one for me.”

As part of its effort, the RNC is also distributing talking points to Trump surrogates to further its case against Comey. Among them: “Comey is a consummate Washington insider who knows how to work the media to protect his flanks,” and “Americans will remember that his attempts to smear the Trump administration are nothing more than retaliation by a disgraced former official.”

Although Comey was a registered Republican for most of his adult life, he has said he no longer is. He was appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and deputy attorney general by President George W. Bush; he was appointed FBI director by President Barack Obama.

After Sunday’s interview, Comey has numerous other bookings, including news programs as well as appearances with CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert and the hosts of “The View.”

A large reception is also planned Tuesday, the day of the book’s release, at the Newseum in Washington.

Among those quoted on the RNC website is the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who argued that her campaign was seriously undercut by the FBI’s investigation, overseen by Comey, into her use of a private email server while secretary of state. “Badly overstepped his bounds,” Clinton is quoted as saying of Comey.

Other Democrats whose past quotes are included on the website include Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) (“I do not have confidence in [Comey] any longer”), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) (“The FBI director has no credibility.”) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (“It would not be a bad thing for the American people if [Comey] did step down.”).

Philip Rucker contributed to this report.