Shakespeare long ago wrote that “truth will out,” meaning that what’s true—by virtue of its basis in fact and logic—eventually will conquer the lie.
Sometimes truth is so eager to be heard that it slips past the speaker’s tongue without his conscious cooperation.
Enter acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. On Thursday, Mulvaney’s cat escaped the bag he had been carrying for Trump during his 10-month-long “acting” tenure.
Yes, yes, yes, we withheld funds to Ukraine in order to obtain help investigating the 2016 hacking of a Democratic National Committee server! You could almost hear the relief of having gotten it out—the truth, that is—so that he could get some REM sleep for a change.
Keeping the lie that there was no quid pro quo, as the official White House narrative went on and on, would have been a burden to the good, which Mulvaney is. If he were otherwise, surely he’d be the non-acting chief of staff by now. It’s the liars and the not-so-good who seem to survive in the Trump administration.
Mulvaney’s days, on the other hand, are likely numbered. Truth may be the heart’s best friend, but it is not helpful in the sort of presidential politics being played out on Pennsylvania Avenue. This may explain Mulvaney’s near-immediate walk-back of his comments to the press. He issued a statement asserting “there was absolutely no quid pro quo” (because Ukraine didn’t produce anything?) and that the pause on funding was related only to “corruption” in Ukraine and had nothing to do with the fantastical server heist.
Remember that the Mueller report concluded that Russian operatives did, in fact, hack a DNC server to gain information that might be helpful to Trump’s election. Trump is still so undone by this now-obvious truth that he seems determined to disprove it and has become obsessed with the conspiracy that the server somehow ended up in Ukraine and contains evidence that there was no hacking by the Russians. Even though the special counsel also concluded that there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, the president seemingly has a desperate need to prove that he won by his own genius.
“I want to see the server,” he told reporters in the White House last Wednesday. “I think it’s very important for this country to see the server.” Really? I have bad news for the president: The idea even that a single server exists—and can be hidden somewhere—is ludicrous. Nowadays, a “server” is actually dozens of different interconnected systems.
In other words, Trump has risked everything, inviting impeachment, to prove that he won fair and square. His Ukraine parry was a matter not of national security but of ego. His need for reassurance and public validation is so consuming that he’s apparently blind to consequences, never more obvious than his recent dealings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which led to Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. In that case, however, people—not reputations—died. What part Trump’s ego played in that transaction hasn’t been discovered yet, but Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s theory that Erdogan issued an ultimatum and Trump caved may be getting warm.
Before we leave the subject of the 2016 election, let’s be very clear: Trump didn’t win so much as the Democrats lost. And, if they’re not very careful starting immediately—that is, if they don’t stop sounding like aliens whose implanted data receivers haven’t yet mastered the code for “Mainstream America”—they could lose again.
Mulvaney’s stab at survival, meanwhile, may have been a smart move. A wise friend once told me: “Always tell the truth as soon as possible.” You may not win friends; you may sacrifice something wanted. But over time, lies will consume the liar, make you crazy, and paranoia usually follows. Mulvaney may lose his job over the truth—the bus under which so many have been cast sits idling outside the West Wing—and it calls for thee.
Granted, he might have skipped his other lines about “Get over it” and “We do that all the time,” but he must feel that a weight has been lifted. Mulvaney, at least, will enjoy an afterlife beyond the White House. As for Trump, his paranoia expands with his prevarications. By The Washington Post’s Fact Checker’s count as of Oct. 9, the president had made 13,435 false or misleading claims since taking office.
If truth ever does slip off his tongue, Congress will have to declare a national holiday.