I read some weeks ago that “White House sources” described the need for “a Lanny Davis” or to follow the “Lanny Davis model” to do crisis management for Donald Trump.
It was nice to be a noun (better than a verb or adjective), but that isn’t quite accurate: I was the voice of a group of people in the Clinton White House who developed a strategy to get all the facts out, good and bad, quickly and proactively to reporters about nasty campaign finance stories coming out of shoddy vetting practices by the fundraisers at the Democratic National Committee.
The author of our strategy now referred to as a noun in the Trump White House was then White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry. But that strategy could never have been executed successfully without the backing of President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Is Wall Street serving its own interests by supporting China's? MORE and First Lady Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump defends indicted GOP congressman GOP lawmaker says he expects to be indicted over FBI investigation Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on MORE. They backed me when critics inside and outside the White House would sometimes ask me, after I had helped a reporter get all the facts, to write a nasty story: “Whose side are you on?”
My answer: “The side of getting this story over with.”
So, Mr. Cobb, your greatest challenge isn’t understanding how to do effective crisis management. Your big problem, as I understand it, is to convince your client, the president of the United States, to set the example and commit to a policy of complete transparency about everything Russian in the earliest days of his presidential campaign — starting with himself. And that may mean putting himself at risk. So be it. It’s coming out anyway, to repeat my mantra, which became the sub-title of my White House memoir regarding the truth: “Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself."
Will that mean President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE has to reverse himself, start holding press conferences and admitting he never should have been so indifferent to Russian meddling into the U.S. presidential election on his behalf and to hurt Hillary Clinton — and that was wrong, a danger to our republic? Yes.
Will he have to demand that everyone who ever met with any Russian at any time for any reason supply you with a list, date, time, attendees, purposes, what was discussed, and especially, whether the name Hillary Clinton ever came up and if so in what context and what was said and left behind? Yes.
And authorize you to call in all reporters, with all the relevant documents, dump them in the middle of a conference room, and tell them: Read them, ask me all your questions, and go write? Yes.
And your client, the president, must agree to support you and empower you and order everyone to cooperate with you. And he may have to own up to his own responsibility, even if it puts his presidency at risk. So be it. It’s coming out anyway — better earlier than later and through himself, not through others.
Let me share with you some advice I received once from my oldest son, whose wisdom I learned to follow since he had some distance from the White House but I also knew he loved President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton and loved his dad.
He saw me one night on ABC’s Nightline defending inviting wealthy donors to stay overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom to thank them and “energize” them for the future. I wouldn’t concede that the invitations had anything to do raising money.
My son said to me: “Dad, if you are going to help President Clinton, you need to be credible. And you are not being credible if you don’t answer, tell the truth, and give something up. Something.”
So, Mr. Cobb, while we have never met, I hear you are a very good lawyer and know something about crisis management. And I know you will need to learn to have a thick skin in your new job — especially within the White House and among the president’s friends, not just the White House press corps. (I also know your relative was one of the great baseball players of all time, but not known for being beloved by other baseball players, especially when he slid into second base with his spikes held high.)
My advice: if your client, President Trump, isn’t ready to back you with the only strategy that can possibly work – the subtitle of my White House memoir about the truth: “Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It yourself” — then your job will be difficult, emotionally draining, and I am quite certain, unsuccessful.
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to President Clinton in 1996-98 and co-founded the law firm, Davis Goldberg Galper, and the affiliated strategic communications and public affairs firm, Trident DMG, which specializes in crisis management and reputation enhancement. His Clinton White House Memoir published in 1999 was titled: “Truth to Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes from My White House Education.”
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