DCPolitics

Swamp Tales: In Defense Of Mick Mulvaney

Breaking down the White House budget chief’s controversial speech to America’s banking executives …

In case you missed it, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney stepped in it this week.  Bigly.  The former South Carolina congressman appeared to admit during a speech to a group of bankers that his old Capitol Hill office was a favor factory – the very definition of the sort of pay-to-play “Washington Swampism” his boss, U.S. president Donald Trump, vowed to eliminate.

(Yeah … about that swamp draining).

“If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you,” Mulvaney said. “If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Bad?  Sure … if considered in isolation (more on that in a moment).

Reaction to Mulvaney’s comments – first reported by Glenn Thrush of The New York Times – was swift and brutal.

Meanwhile his imploring of bank leaders to stay involved in the political process was widely viewed as a solicitation of campaign donations for those supporting their agenda.

Liberal reporter Aaron Blake of The Washington Post called Mulvaney’s comments “the definition of pay for play,” adding that “it’s difficult to think of a more stereotypically swampy arrangement.”  Blake’s headline was even harsher: “Trump’s rumored next chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, admits he sold access as a congressman.”

Wow …

Blake’s fellow left winger Chris Cillizza of CNN called Mulvaney’s comments “the swampiest thing ever.”

Elliot Hannon of Slate wrote that Mulvaney’s “alarming anecdote” raised “a number of pretty clear cut ethical, much less legal issues.”

Even back in South Carolina, the ex-congressmen’s conservative colleagues were mystified by his remarks.

“What the f*ck was he thinking?” one state lawmaker who served with Mulvaney in the S.C. General Assembly asked us.

As jaws began to be scooped up off of the floor, though, the context for Mulvaney’s remarks began to come into clearer focus – as did the ax that Thrush (the Times reporter who broke the story) appears all too eager to grind against the budget czar.

First, some background …

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This news site has frequently been among Mulvaney’s fiercest critics. In fact, we called on him to face GOP opposition during the 2016 congressional election cycle.

So we’re not apologists for the guy by any stretch of the imagination …

But this story struck us as having more than a whiff of #FakeNews to it  – which was confirmed when we spoke to several sources close to the budget director during his time representing the Palmetto State’s fifth congressional district from 2011-2017.

For starters, Mulvaney has told the story of “not meeting with non-donors, possibly meeting with donors” on dozens of occasions.  It’s one of his go-to stories, and is usually delivered with tongue planted at least partially in cheek.  Of course the story by Thrush omitted the takeaway from the anecdote – that Mulvaney always met with his constituents.

“If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talked to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions,” Mulvaney said during his speech to the Washington bankers.

A source close to Mulvaney told us he has “given the same speech 100 times” and that it’s point is to “encourage citizen engagement.”

In fact, the next line of Mulvaney’s remarks – which has been omitted from every mainstream media article covering this story – drives that point home.

“People coming from back home to tell people in congress what issues are important to them is one of the fundamental underpinnings of our representative democracy,” Mulvaney said.  “And you have to continue to do it.”

In other words, he was talking about these bankers physically traveling to Washington, D.C. to talk to their leaders – not encouraging them to donate more money to political campaigns.

So … why would the Times go to such lengths to selectively quote/ impugn the integrity of Mulvaney?  Why would its reporter turn a benign, half-joking anecdote into calls for an investigation into Mulvaney?

Seriously … dozens of other media outlets were in the room when Mulvaney addressed the American Bankers Association (ABA) this week.  Not one of them interpreted Mulvaney’s remarks in the same way as the Times – at least not until Thrush’s report was published.

What gives?  According to our sources, Thrush thought he had some dirt to dish on Mulvaney in the aftermath of hearings held earlier this month on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – an agency Mulvaney leads.  In fact we’re pretty sure we know what Thrush had – because we were tipped off on it, too.

The “tip” involves congressional fund transfers made to Mulvaney’s old State Senate account – which until recently had an outstanding loan balance.

Is this a big deal?  Apparently it wasn’t to Thrush’s editors – who made the same decision we made regarding this information: Pass.

Thrush didn’t like that decision, we’re told … and so he responded with this week’s piece twisting the text/ meaning of Mulvaney’s address to the bankers into something nefarious.

“Strange days when encouraging involvement in the process is decried as swampy,” one White House source told us. “But that’s just life in D.C. these days.”

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