Please don’t misunderstand me: I can appreciate a a good porn-star-payoff sex scandal featuring secret recordings as much as the next guy. It’s just that I was hoping our new political melodrama would feature some fresh faces. While it’s going to be fascinating to watch a shyster like Michael Cohen be transformed into a hero of The Resistance, America—even with all our transgressions—simply doesn’t deserve Lanny Davis. None of us do.
For those of you who didn’t experience the rollicking ’90s, Davis can be properly described as a personification of the cliché, “everything that’s wrong with Washington.” Cringingly slavish to those in power, a consigliere, fundraiser, surrogate, and cheerful liar, Davis was a perpetual presence on cable TV during the Clinton scandals. Few men in history have ever been able to summon his kind of loyalty in the pursuit of shameless, transparent deceit and corruption.
But we must have angered the gods, because here is Davis back in the news, preaching—without even a trace of irony—the value of integrity and honesty.
Davis is now the lawyer for Cohen, the former Trump fixer who has a recording of the president discussing a possible payoff tied to allegations of an affair with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal. Davis contends that Cohen “has turned a corner in his life, and he’s now dedicated to telling the truth to everyone.”
Now, I certainly believe in the power of redemption, but I also tend to believe that the threat of criminal indictment, rather than an abrupt enlightenment, is more likely to induce a 51-year-old lawyer to turn over the secret tapes of his one and only client. Call me a cynic, if you must.
In any event, this morning, Davis told another former Clinton aide, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, that more secret tapes of the president were forthcoming. Some skeptical sorts might view Davis’s presence as a sign that all of this is driven by partisanship.
Perhaps these recordings will reveal campaign finance violations or some other criminality. Perhaps they won’t. Either way, the political price is likely to be minimal. At this point, any person who is honest with himself will not be surprised that our billionaire president might have paid a former Playboy model to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It would be more surprising if he hadn’t.
In some ways, though, you can thank Davis, who played a part in corrupting the value of personal responsibility, civility, and morality in our political culture. His unwavering defense of Bill Clinton’s corruption and extramarital dalliances (and possibly worse) is a valuable reminder of how we got to this place.
For years, Davis told America that what they were seeing and reading was not what was happening. After tapes emerged of the Clintons illegally soliciting donations from big-money donors at the White House in 1997, for example, Davis sprang into action, not only contending that there was “no suggestion that there was any solicitation for money” — despite the fact that the tapes suggested exactly that — but that many of the big contributions of those who had attended the event and only days later donated to the Clintons were merely an “incidental” occurrence.
This is what he did. Every day. It’s also worth remembering that this is the guy who titled his memoir of the Clinton years, “Truth to Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself.”
Davis’ loyalty has never wavered. When not busy representing the odd dictator or military junta, he still keeps in touch. We were reminded of this a few years ago when a 2010 email emerged from Davis. I mention it because it’s possible that Davis authored the most obsequious letter in the long history of human correspondence. In an email to Hillary Clinton, littered with “pleases” and cringe-worthy sycophancy, he begs for a favor.
Put it this way: If Davis had sent a similar request to the Lord Almighty, he almost surely would have told Davis to “take it down a notch.”
Anyway, there was Davis last night, imploring CNN’s audience to be scandalized by the tapes of a president and his lawyer discussing how to hide an alleged affair. Davis was likely familiar with the ins and outs of these kinds of uncomfortable interactions, considering he was once tasked with dealing with “bimbo eruptions” and smearing women he surely suspected were telling the truth about President Clinton’s habitual womanizing.
It was also he who surely knew that the president’s Oval Office affair with an intern could have led to real-life komporat. It was he who probably understood that the story of alleged rape victim Juanita Broaddrick sounded credible.
Yet when Davis was asked about Broaddrick, a story that surfaced in 1999—after Clinton’s impeachment trial and after tremendous pressure was exerted by the White House—Davis said the FBI itself had found her claims unreliable. This, you won’t be surprised to learn, was a lie (unless someone at the FBI had given Davis these mystery files, which would have been illegal).
Then again, Lanny Davis possess a preternatural chutzpah that puts most contemporary partisan hacks to shame. We’re all worse off having him back.