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The Briefing: A 'higher loyalty' to the almighty dollar

WASHINGTON — There are millions of reasons to question why a former FBI director formerly known for probity might write a tell-all book on President Trump and then go on a headline-grabbing media tour to promote it.

James Comey has a multimillion dollar book deal, you see. And the more books he sells, the more money he makes.

Pardon the cynicism, but we've heard this broken record before. A big name gets booted out of public life and retreats to his or her study to write his or her next chapter, which might as well be called "Life as a Millionaire Author."

Comey is enduring some backlash for his effort, but he – and every other tell-all author – could win a lot more respect with two simple moves.

Don't write a word until investigators and prosecutors are done with their work.

And say at the outset that every dime you make on your book will go to charity.

Don't count on it happening, though, for one reason: There's so much gravy on the tell-all gravy train that it's spilling all over the tracks.

To be sure, what Comey said in his book "A Higher Loyalty" is important. It is significant that the nation's former top G-man views President Trump as morally unfit and thinks it's possible that Russia is holding compromising information over the president's head.

But by saying these things now, Comey runs the risk of undermining special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, as well as his own reputation.

Remember that Trump fired Comey last May, and that Mueller is investigating whether the president obstructed justice in doing so.

That being the case, "James Comey should have delayed release of his book until after the Mueller investigation is concluded and after he had fulfilled his duty to justice as a crucial witness and central player in the sordid events that Mueller is investigating," Brent Budowsky, a former Democratic congressional aide, said in a scathing piece in the Hill earlier this week.

John Dean, the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, said he thinks Comey should have waited, too. In fact, that's just what Dean did when he became a key witness against Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

"As soon as I broke rank with the White House and left, there were offers," Dean told NPR this week. "But I had long conversations with my criminal defense lawyer. And he said 'John ... inevitably, if you do a book, they're going to cross-examine you on everything in the book.' ... So he said, 'I'm just telling you you'd be smart not to do it.' I thought that was good advice, and so I followed it. I didn't do a book. I didn't do interviews. I didn't do anything."

Asked if he saw any upsides to Comey's book and media blitz, Dean replied: "Other than the fact his family will get some money for the book – it's the only upside I can see."

But what an upside it is. Comey's publisher said the book's first printing, of 850,000 copies, was the publishing house's largest first run of the year so far. Authors typically receive royalties of 15 percent of the list price of print copies of their books. Given that the list price of Comey's "A Higher Loyalty" is $29.95, he could make upwards of $3.8 million on the book's first run alone if it sells out, not counting e-books and later printings.

With the stakes so high, might an author be tempted to tell all – and then some – to boost book sales?

It seems to be the Washington way.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile did it last year and sold out on Amazon. (No pun intended.)

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and right-wing agitator David Bossie did it in "Let Trump be Trump," which incongruously portrays the president as a hot-tempered, Big-Mac-scarfing winner.

And even former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci is turning his 10 days of fame into a book.

It seems like everyone with a political past is writing a book these days, and it takes nothing more than a calculator to figure out why. Political books sell. In fact, every number one nonfiction best-seller this year has been about Trump.

So don't feel too sorry for the next person, or persons, or dozens of persons, to get dumped from the Trump team.

A bigger payday possibly awaits them.

And if they are guided by the ways of Washington, they probably won't even bother to check out the Consumer Reports list of most reputable charities, which is full of organizations that could find a better use for million-dollar advances and royalty payments than James Comey and other tell-all authors ever could.

Happening today:

President Trump is scheduled to sign legislation aimed at cracking down on sex trafficking ... The Senate takes up a Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would weaken protections against invasive species entering the Great Lakes ... The House holds a memorial service for the late Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport ... The Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases: one in which it will interpret the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act and another involving Native American fishing treaties in Washington State ... A Senate subcommittee holds a hearing about abuse allegations by Olympic athletes and the U.S. Olympic Committee's response.

Good reads:

The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan – former editor of The Buffalo News – offers her take on, and takedown of, Sean Hannity ... Meantime, The Atlantic notes that Hannity's legal ties to Trump run deeper than you might think ... The New Republic counters a controversial New Yorker piece and argues we are probably not near the end stage of the Trump presidency ... The Wall Street Journal reports that last year's tax overhaul has been a billion-dollar boon for banks ... And the New York Times explains why the next San Francisco earthquake could be especially devastating.

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