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Mick Mulvaney is a liar. Why did CBS hire him?
Plus: Trump asks Putin to interfere in American elections on his behalf. Again.
The goal of journalism is to inform people. CBS missed the mark when it hired Mick Mulvaney.
The network announced on Tuesday it has brought on Mulvaney, one of the Trump administration’s most shameless and notorious liars, as a contributor. His first assignment was very on brand — he carried water for the ultra-wealthy in a segment criticizing President Biden’s proposed wealth tax on Americans with $100 million or more in assets.
“So happy to have you here. Thank you so much. You’re the guy to ask about this,” gushed anchor Anne-Marie Green as she introduced him.
Mulvaney is “the guy to ask” only if you’re a Trump-loving authoritarian ideologue. To everyone else who was paying attention, he spent four years thoroughly demolishing his credibility. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
When he was the acting White House chief of staff, Mulvaney was the guy who went to CPAC in late February 2020 for a panel discussion in which he infamously downplayed Covid-19 as "not a death sentence" and something the media was just hyping “to bring down the president.” Not only was it apparent at the time that the pandemic would cause a major public health crisis, but it later emerged Mulvaney had already been tested for Covid at the time he made those remarks, long before most people were able to get tests for the disease (he contracted it the following month).
You might also recall that, at that time, the Trump administration was being widely criticized for failing to oversee the production and distribution of reliable Covid tests. Instead of addressing the issue, the administration simply refused to admit Covid ought to concern it at all. Mulvaney, in other words, toed the party line in a way that was shocking at the time and looks even worse in hindsight. It wasn’t the first time, either. Or the tenth.
One October 2019 news conference, in which Mulvaney implicated his boss in multiple impeachable offenses, stands out. He began by defending Trump’s ill-fated attempt to host a G7 conference at the Trump Doral club he owns and profits from, lying about how Trump “doesn’t profit from being here” (Trump properties raked in more than $1 million from the Secret Service during his term, not to mention the $150 million in revenue generated by the hotel he owns just blocks from the White House). He then used taxpayer resources to advertise Trump’s resort standing in front of the seal of the White House.
As blatantly corrupt as all that was, it’s been somewhat forgotten, because later in that same news conference Mulvaney just admitted that Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine in order to obtain political favors. Trump would be impeached for this a few months later.
Trump was unhappy with Mulvaney’s showing at that press conference (for obvious reasons), and his days in the White House were numbered. In March 2020, a month after Trump was acquitted, Mulvaney was exiled to Northern Ireland, where he served as US envoy. He finally left the Trump administration on January 7, 2021, telling CNBC “we didn’t sign up for what you saw last night” and “I can’t stay.”
That was basically the first and only time Mulvaney broke with Trump. He defended his racist dogwhistles and unethical conduct and lied about everything from Trump’s tax returns to the Mueller report to Trump’s health care positions. He was also straightforwardly wrong about many, many things even when he didn’t even appear to be lying. In November 7, 2020, for instance, he wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal with the headline, “If He Loses, Trump Will Concede Gracefully.” (Trump had already lost at the time and of course did not concede at all.)
Once merely a congressional back-bench Tea Partier from South Carolina, Mulvaney quickly rose through the ranks of the Trump administration precisely because he was willing to defend the indefensible. He (farcically) led the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau simultaneously — in the latter role actively working against the interests of consumers — before becoming acting White House chief of staff in December 2018. And, as Matt Gertz of Media Matters notes, his very first hit for CBS ensnared him in a conflict of interest: He now runs a hedge fund and lobbying firm.
“At least he doesn’t have any obvious conflicts of interest in commenting on tax policies that impact the wealthiest Americans,” Gertz quipped.
There’s nothing wrong with an outlet like CBS trying to balance its stable of commentators. It’s rare that a single perspective gives the right answer on every question of tax policy, budget priorities, or foreign policy, and often those questions are of fundamental belief, rather than the simple fact of the matter. Conservative voices can represent a valid perspective in those conversations. But lying and bad faith isn’t a side — it’s toxic to the constructive exchanges of ideas and information you’d hope major media outlets would try to encourage.
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In that sense, CBS’s move to hire Mulvaney is a bit of an own-goal. But it’s not an unprecedented one. Late last year, CNN hired Alyssa Farah, who presided over the Trump White House communications operation when it was spreading deadly misinformation about Covid. ABC employs Sarah Isgur, who worked as the Trump DOJ’s top spokesperson after she reportedly “kowtowed to Trump” by pledging loyalty to his agenda, and in her DOJ role defended his Muslim ban. Fox, of course, has become something of a jobs program for former Trump officials and family members, but that’s par for the course for a network that spent the Trump years serving as the closest thing America has seen to a state propaganda outlet.
CBS is supposed to be better. Mulvaney’s hiring suggests it’s falling short. It’d be one thing if Mulvaney atoned for his work in service of incompetent authoritarianism, but he hasn’t. To cite a telling example, just three days after he left the Trump administration, saying “I can’t stay” following the insurrection, Mulvaney went on Fox News and gushed over Trump’s purported reputation for his ability to “pivot” and “do the right thing,” as though he hadn’t spent most of 2020 telegraphing he wouldn’t accept an election loss.
As Trump’s term in office and all of the insane dysfunction it represented recede further into history, it’s important we as a society resist normalizing it. Mulvaney — and others who unapologetically devoted years of their lives to enabling an aspiring autocrat who is still trying to bring down our democracy — should be shunned from polite society, not paid to continue to do Trump’s bidding by kneecapping Democrats for profit. It’s disturbing how bizarrely eager our news networks are to whitewash these officials’ pasts and rehabilitate their images.
Trump asks Putin for a political favor
Perhaps a reasonable person would expect Trump to be careful what he says about Vladimir Putin, given the latter’s status as an international pariah waging unprovoked war on a neighboring democracy. But Trump just can’t help asking him to interfere in American elections on his behalf (again).
During a new interview with Real America’s Voice, Trump called for Putin to release dirt on Hunter Biden, noting that “as long as Putin is not exactly a fan of our country” he “should release” records of whatever business dealings the Biden family has done in Russia.”
“I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer,” said Trump, in comments very reminiscent of his 2016 call for Russian hackers to go after Hillary Clinton (“Russia, if you’re listening”) and that also bring to mind his effort to use military aid to extort Ukrainian President Zelensky for political favors (“I would like you to do us a favor, though”).
Again, perhaps a former American president who aspires to return to the office would be concerned about how weird it would be for Putin to do political favors for him right now. Trump, after all, was impeached for trying to withhold military aid to the country Russia is decimating and is on tape asking Putin to find dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump, however, can’t see past his perceived self-interest.
Meanwhile, in light of President Biden’s inartful comment in Warsaw about how Putin “cannot remain in power,” Russian state TV is now calling for regime change in the US — specifically, for “our partner Trump” returning to the presidency before Biden’s term ends.
As Julia Davis noted on Twitter, the host who made this comment — Evgeny Popov — isn’t just some rando. He’s a member of the Russian State Duma. And here is referring to Trump as “our partner” and calling for his return to office on the same day Trump is pleading with Putin to do him political favors.
Trump may be out of the White House, but the collusion is still happening in plain sight.
Lordy, there’s a gap in the phone logs
The Washington Post broke news on Tuesday that phone logs turned over to the January 6 Committee detailing Trump’s communications on the day of the insurrection contain a seven and a half hour gap, raising questions the committee is investigating about whether Trump used burner phones or other methods to cover up who he was communicating with as the Capitol was ransacked.
As Kyle Cheney of Politico pointed out, previous reporting has already revealed Trump made a number of important calls on January 6 that aren’t included in the logs that were turned over.
Trump responded to the news by sending the Post a memorable statement that says, “I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.” That’s odd, because Trump accused his niece Mary Trump of using a burner in a lawsuit filed against Mary and the New York Times last year.
The revelation about the gap in Trump’s phone logs isn’t the first time his conduct has been reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s. Nixon, you might recall, ended up resigning from the presidency after it was discovered there was a suspicious 18.5-minute gap in an audio tape of a recorded conversation Nixon had with his chief of staff just days after the Watergate break in — a gap that indicated a coverup had taken place.
And, in one of those bizarre poetries of history, Bob Woodward was involved in the Washington Post’s reporting of both the tapes story nearly 50 years ago and the Trump phone logs story. That’s some impressive longevity.
That’s it for today!
I’ll be back with one more newsletter to round out the week on Friday.