Lanny Davis’s advice to Sen. Menendez: Tell everything you know about ongoing scandal

Rick Klein, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Top Line

Crisis management expert Lanny Davis, famous for advising former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has some advice for public figures who find themselves wrapped up in a scandal: "Tell it all, tell it yourself, tell it quickly."

Davis, whose new book "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crisis in Business, Politics, and Life" hits bookshelves today, says one of the biggest mistakes that people and corporations make in dealing with public relations crises is to try and hide ugly truths.

"While the instinct is hide the bad facts, what I'm advising is, the worse the facts are, the earlier you should put them out yourself, get them out, and then address them yourself," says Davis, who points to the ongoing scandal facing Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as a present case study for the need to come out with the whole truth early.

"He needs to tell everything that he knows now," says Davis. "I think waiting for the dribble, dribble, dribble to occur, which is inevitable, is a mistake."

Davis qualifies that Menendez should use a degree of added caution, because he is the subject of an ongoing investigation in the Senate Ethics Committee.

"He ought to say some caveat, you know, 'I'm not sure I remember everything, but here's what I can remember that's true, and if there's something that's bad, I want to say it now' and acknowledge it and move on."

Davis says the biggest mistake public figures and corporations make in handling public relations crises is to allow lawyers to drive the approach.

"Lawyers instinct is to say 'no comment,' the crisis manager's correct instinct is to get the facts out as soon as possible," says Davis.

When it comes to the ongoing gridlock in Washington, Davis says President Obama could take a tip from Clinton, pointing to the budget deal Clinton struck with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1997.

"As much as they disliked each other, and they were out there throwing food at each other, Bill Clinton sat down with Newt Gingrich, and made a deal. That deal resulted in a $1 trillion surplus on the day that Clinton left office," Davis recalls.

To hear more crisis management advice from Lanny Davis, including how he thinks Obama could improve his approach in dealing with Congress, check out this episode of Top Line.

ABC's Eric Wray and Alexandra Dukakis contributed to this episode.