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Mick Mulvaney doesn't deserve CBS's offer of rehabilitation

You know what we're not doing? Forgetting Mulvaney enabled Trump's lies and scheming.
Image: Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney listens in the Oval Office on March 19, 2019.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in the Oval Office on March 19, 2019.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

CBS News announced Tuesday that it had hired Mick Mulvaney, the tea party Republican and Trump administration official who illegally withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that Congress had approved as a defense against Russia.

After the announcement of Mulvaney’s new role as an on-air contributor who will provide “political analysis across the network’s broadcasts and platforms,” Mulvaney immediately appeared on CBS News’ MoneyWatch segment, where he commented on President Joe Biden’s latest budget proposal and, not surprisingly, found it problematic.

One can only assume that the CBS newsroom leadership has suffered a mass amnesia event. That is the only reason I can come up with to hire Mulvaney, a partisan hack devoid of any sense of ethics who lacks the authority to offer credible analysis on his own breakfast, let alone fiscal policy. Absent that excuse, the network’s decision to hire him is a detriment to its credibility and to the press as a whole.

In the Trump administration, which held on to staff about as well as a colander holds water, Mulvaney wore many hats in just four years — sometimes multiple hats at once. During one week in December 2018, he went from simultaneously being the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to being named “acting” White House chief of staff — without leaving his position running OMB. (By the end of President Donald Trump’s term, any new resignation was met with the punchline, “Congratulations to new [insert job here] Mick Mulvaney.”)

In what appears to have been a soft launch of his pending role, CBS News asked Mulvaney earlier this month to weigh in on Biden’s State of the Union address and the U.S. economy. During his debut Tuesday as an official contributor, Mulvaney dismissed the proposed new tax on billionaires that Biden has included in his budget. He offhandedly claimed that said tax might be unconstitutional (jury’s out on that one) and that it may be “troublesome” for average Americans to prove every year that they are worth less than $100 million.

It was a deceptively moderate, if fiscally conservative, tone from Mulvaney, who was elected to the U.S. House from South Carolina as part of the tea party movement, complaining about government spending and widening deficits. He was one of the far-right Republicans who nearly drove the U.S. to default on its debts for the first time in history and one of the founders of the (ironically named) Freedom Caucus.

“He’s as vicious a budget hawk as there is,” Rep. John Yarmouth, D-Ky., said of him in a 2017 Politico Magazine profile.

This particular hawk was well and truly plucked once he joined the Trump administration.

But this particular hawk was well and truly plucked once he joined the Trump administration. While running the show, he oversaw what would total $7 trillion added to the national debt. In 2019, he reportedly told a group of friendly Republicans that “nobody cares” about budget deficits anymore. This wasn’t a principled change of heart; the only difference was in who signed his paycheck.

It was in his capacity as OMB director that Mulvaney illegally ordered congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to be held hostage as part of the scheme that would lead to Trump being impeached (for the first time). When he then admitted that the money was held as part of Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election, Mulvaney told reporters to “get over it.” He also cooperated in the administration’s cover-up attempt, refusing to hand documents from OMB related to the shakedown over to Congress.

Mulvaney was put out to pasture soon after the first impeachment trial ended, never having had the “acting” removed from his title. He was given the sinecure position of “U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland,” a role that left him with enough free time to start up a hedge fund seeking a minimum of $1 million per investor soon after the 2020 election. (A gig that surely doesn’t affect his stance on Biden’s tax plan.) He only bailed on the administration after the Jan. 6 insurrection attempted to overturn the election results.

Oh, but speaking of the 2020 election, Mulvaney wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed that assured readers that Trump would accept defeat with poise and grace. Once the votes were fully tallied, “I have every expectation that Mr. Trump will be, act and speak like a great president should — win or lose,” Mulvaney wrote. That, as we have seen, was not at all the case.

Mulvaney has made no amends for his time in office but still stands to gain from a whitewashing of his tainted record.

This is the kind of expert opinion and keen analysis that CBS News has decided to pay for. Mulvaney being offered money and a platform at all is an embarrassment. This hire is not like White House press secretary Sean Spicer appearing on “Dancing With the Stars” to help revitalize his image. It’s more egregious than former White House national security adviser John Bolton still appearing on television as an expert despite being tremendously wrong at every turn of his career. In this role, Mulvaney is being given both the chance to rehabilitate his standing and to be presented as a neutral voice for reasonable policy instead of the far-right enabler that he is.

Mulvaney was an awful chief of staff to a uniquely terrible president. He has made no amends for his time in office but still stands to gain from a whitewashing of his tainted record. As a congressman he advocated for decimating the federal social safety net and crashing the American economy. As a Trump crony, he readily abandoned whatever principles he claimed to possess. Now, it seems, CBS News is doing the same.