The Lucrative World of ‘Helping People Who Are Not in Charge of Democracies’

Earlier today I caught a fascinating interview by SiriusXM POTUS’s Joe Mathieu with former Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis, a regular contributor to the POTUS program.

It sounded like Davis’ first lengthy interview since the New York Times did a scathing piece detailing his lobbying work for some morally reprehensible clients: “coup supporters in Honduras, a dictator in Equatorial Guinea, for-profit colleges accused of exploiting students, and a company that dominates the manufacture of additives for infant formula. This month, he agreed to represent the Ivory Coast strongman whose claims to that country’s presidency have been condemned by the international community and may even set off a civil war.”

The New York Times piece can be found here; Davis’ letter of response can be found here.

Mathieu was kind enough to send over a few transcribed excerpts. On attacks from liberal talk show hosts:

“Ms. Maddow went on television after the New York Times story and without blaming her, cause she was just repeating what the Times had written, had awful photograph of me with a scrawled face and my twelve year old son was watching that night and said, ‘Dad, look at you, this is awful.’ And Ms. Maddow went after me as being the defender of dictators and corrupt people and whatever the dark side is.  So I called the next day to say would Ms. Maddow allow me to be on to offer the other side of the story. And I never heard back. And then I called my friend Ed Schultz, I sent him an email, saying could you have me on to tell my side of the story. And he said, “You criticized Rachel Maddow; I’m not having you on anymore.”

On whether it is right to defend dictators:

“Wouldn’t that be a shame if people like me, who are liberals, gave up on helping people who are not in charge of democracies who ask for help.”

On whether the Times reporters quoted the State Department spokesman accurately:

“I was furious with PJ [Crowley] until I actually exchanged emails with him and realized that he had been, let us say, not completely quoted, and had more to say. So I called Mike Allen, who posts on January 1, New Year’s Day, the only one working—I knew Mike would be working—and said would you call PJ Crowley and please clear up the record that has been clouded by the New York Times’s let us say cryptic and misleading quote from PJ. And the fact that he [Mike Allen] put that quote out, suggests to me that the New York Times should have gotten that quote, didn’t; should have called the State Department; had the name and telephone number of the senior official that I worked with, said it would, and never did.”

“Two reporters who worked on this story never called me, and they would have gotten a much different outcome had they called me about other facts that they were omitting in their reporting.”

“He [Eric Lipton] never called me the entire day although Ginger Thompson did. So, this is about reporting under pressure; I assume Eric Lipton is a sincere person. He was—I’ve been told he said some negative things about me to some of the people that he called but he has a right to his opinion. But I think the article was disappointing. Maybe under the time pressure—in his defense and everyone’s defense—it was December 30th and they were under great time pressure.”

During the interview, Davis said that when he took the contracts, he believed he could do some good in his positions and that he realizes, in retrospect, he may have been naive.

Where to start in this mess? His experiences with Maddow and Shultz confirm the most cynical suspicions of what those shows are really about: find a target and demonize them, then move on to the next.

But I suspect Davis will have a hard time finding too many sympathetic ears; it’s not like many of us can say, “ah, tell me about it, we’ve all been there, offered $100,000 per month to represent national leaders characterized as ‘strongmen.’”

If you’re a former White House counsel, a close confidant of a former president… what do you think these regimes were looking for when they offered those fees? Did Davis believe that by taking on the contracts, he, his voice, and his arguments, would gain the access and influence to change the nature of regimes and the character of corrupt, power-hungry national leaders? That he was going to be the catalyst for change that all of the opposition within those countries could not achieve? And did he really think that by representing these regimes in Washington policy circles, that these regimes’ worst impulses and instincts would be mitigated? Did he ever fear that the regimes would feel empowered, now that they have a powerful friend in the U.S. capital working the phones and arm-twisting?

I guess it’s not technically lying if you begin the endeavor by not being honest with yourself, huh?

UPDATE: Justin Elliot sends along word that Davis’ work for Equitorial Guinea did not bring about many of the promised changes…

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