It would be difficult to contrive a more miserable professional existence: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, must appear on cable news to defend the indefensible, with no room, no latitude to give an inch. This bind plays out from time to time on the airwaves, though rarely in the searing fashion of Thursday night’s edition of CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”
As the segment proceeded, Conway did what she often does: attempt to deflect questions about the president’s mendacious and otherwise scandalous behavior by steering discussion toward the economy. When Cuomo pointed out that there’s an ongoing investigation relating to the Trump presidential campaign, Conway shot back, “So, you’ve covered that more — you cover that more than the booming economy. You cover that more than the low unemployment rate. You cover that more than the consumer …”
CNN and other outlets indeed cover the economy. But one thing about the economy: It doesn’t lie, nor does it invent noteworthy responses when pressed about lies.
And Cuomo had one heck of a presidential lie to place before Conway on Thursday night. As The Post’s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler wrote this week, Trump’s various and shifting answers about the payments arranged by himself and associates for women who’d claimed to have had affairs with him amount to something definitive: “Not just misleading. Not merely false. A lie.” We know this because there’s audiotape of Trump speaking with fixer Michael Cohen about hush arrangements at the time that they were made. Months later, when confronted by reporters about the matter, Trump claimed he didn’t know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to keep her mouth shut. And in a “Fox & Friends” interview that aired on Thursday, Trump said that he learned about the payments “later on.”
A clear and consequential lie. How did Conway handle the evidence? Typically.
CONWAY: We can’t even get our agenda covered on CNN because —
CUOMO: That’s not true. We cover it all the time.
CONWAY: Let’s do it today.
CUOMO: But listen, hold on a second — the truth matters. That’s what we sell to our audience because that’s the only reason we have a job. The truth is, he lied about this. You guys should own it.
CONWAY: Lied about what?
CUOMO: And move forward.
CONWAY: I’m sorry. Lied about what?
CUOMO: That he knew about what Michael Cohen was doing with these women and the payments. He lied about not knowing.
CONWAY: He knew about it after —
CUOMO: I know that’s a lie.
CONWAY: That payments were made.
CUOMO: That’s a lie.
CONWAY: Says who, you?
CUOMO: Yes, says me, says the facts.
CONWAY: Why? Why? What facts?
What facts? The ones that have been playing on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The Washington Post, the New York Times and every other outlet that Conway monitors obsessively so that she can nitpick them. As Conway made clear in the interview, she wants the public to latch on to the latest version of the story — the latest facts, so to speak:
CONWAY: No, he’s saying he didn’t know about it at the time. And he said yesterday —
CUOMO: I know. And that’s true.
CONWAY: — that’s aired this morning, he said he knew about it after the facts.
CUOMO: I know. But that’s not true.
And so it went — a frustrating and circular exercise in Trump-era obfuscation, not unlike the time that Conway unfurled the notion of “alternative facts” last year in a discussion with NBC News’s Chuck Todd. What’s worse: Lying, or covering for a liar? Conway, along with Trump’s press secretaries, have introduced that debate to the American public.
And Conway attempted to deploy one of press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s deflective moves when pressed on Cuomo about the big Stormy Daniels lie: “You’ve asked me 10 times the same question, and let me tell you, the president already answered the question,” said Conway. Under previous presidents, that might be a plausible response, considering that previous presidents weren’t addicted to lying.
As they went back and forth in a marathon discussion, Conway at one point sought to devalue Cuomo’s line of questioning by insulting him professionally: “You were a world-class journalist who used to go to plane crash sites and cover war,” she said. Never mind that Cuomo — as he pointed out — still does travel to breaking-news sites. In what way is hounding a White House counselor about the lies of her boss is something other than world-class journalism?
Look — Cuomo and his peers would be happy to go wall-to-wall on health care, or on a debate about U.S. foreign policy or whatever. Yet the world-class story playing out right now around Washington is the extraordinary commute of various Trump associates back and forth to federal courthouses. Those proceedings have the cleansing effect of squeezing truth from scoundrels like Michael Cohen — something that journalists haven’t had the leverage to produce.
And people like Conway cannot handle the truth about the president’s lie, as she demonstrated in this exchange:
CONWAY: Are you going to talk about —
CUOMO: No, you have to admit it. You have to.
CONWAY: No, I don’t. Are you kidding me?
To admit the president lied would be just too much for Conway and her boss, who maybe would just have to adjust the A-plus grade that he has given himself for his performance.