THE BUCK STOPPED with Harry Truman. With Donald Trump, the muck does.
But Trump is no Truman, of course, and he tries to duck it.
Thanks to Rudy Giuliani, Trump had a fleeting brush with partial honesty. As Giuliani acknowledged to a surprised Sean Hannity, Trump personally reimbursed his attorney, Michael Cohen, for $130,000 paid out to silence Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels and says she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006. Trump "didn't know about the specifics of it as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this," said Giuliani.
That grain of tawdry truth quickly ran up against an existing mountain of conflicting statements from Trump, his lawyer, and his press secretary about Daniels and what they knew or didn't know about the payment and Trump's relationship with her. To quell the uproar and placate the president, Giuliani told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that any inconsistencies between his account and Trump's "don't amount to anything — what is said to the press. That's political."
"It's OK to lie to the press?" asked Stephanopoulos. To which, Giuliani replied: "Gee, I don't know — you know a few presidents who did that."
Yes, sadly, it's time to drag Bill Clinton back into the mud and remind Democrats how willing they were to rationalize presidential lies concerning infidelity. To Trump loyalists, Monica Lewinsky is the silver bullet. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it in an editorial, "Stormy Daniels is the Lewinsky scandal all over again (almost)" — right down to the booming economy.
The Clinton/Lewinsky disclosures began with special counsel Ken Starr looking into a real estate controversy. Starr's convoluted investigation into the Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater somehow led to Clinton's public assertion that he did not have sexual relations "with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Clinton also lied under oath. Eventually, he told the truth to a grand jury and the American public. But still he was impeached.
Twenty years later, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Trump's lawyer, Cohen, is now entangled in the collusion investigation, as well as with the payment to Daniels, which also entangles Trump — who, according to Giuliani, might invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying under oath. That must be tempting, given Trump's well-established contempt for truthfulness and personal accountability.
On April 5, Trump said "No" when he was asked by a reporter if he knew about the payment to Daniels. "You'll have to ask Michael Cohen," he added, according to a timeline of Trump responses put together by The New York Times. Then, during an April 26 telephone call to "Fox & Friends," Trump acknowledged Cohen "represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me." After that came Giuliani's admission to Hannity, executed with the goal of communicating that Trump, not his campaign, repaid Cohen. Whether Trump's reimbursement violates campaign finance law is a matter of dispute. But morally, it puts Trump deep into the muck. And, as Giuliani also told Stephanopoulos, it's possible Cohen paid off other women as well. "I have no knowledge of that," said Giuliani. "But I would think if it was necessary, yes."
Yuck. Yet look at the muck through Trump-friendly eyes, and you see Clinton having sex with a White House intern, right in the Oval Office — a clear imbalance of power and corruption of the presidency. It comforts you to think that in contrast, long before he held public office, Trump allegedly had sex with a porn star who was unintimidated enough to first spank him with a magazine that she said had a picture of him on the cover.
So it goes in American politics, where morality is judged strictly along partisan lines, and Trump knows it.