It is very easy to mock Cory Gardner’s unwillingness to give a straight answer to a straight question or, in many cases, to give any answer to any question.
But let’s agree, Gardner is in a bind.
He’s got a buffoon for president — the same one the rest of us have, by the way, but not all of us are in the U.S. Senate and in the same party as the president and on record as having called that president a buffoon. This is not the best place to be when you are an ambitious politician whose go-to move is to suck up to those who hold more power than you do. And it’s also a bad place to be if you’re in charge, as Gardner is, of getting fellow Republican senators re-elected in 2018.
The problem for Gardner is that every so often, you’re faced with a basic yes-or-no question and your usual choice of going with “maybe” just gets you into further trouble.
We watched it happen with the Jeff Sessions recusal story. It became obvious where this story was headed. The dishonest press — in this case, the Washington Post — had broken the story that the now-attorney general had met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. This would not be a big thing except, of course, that during Sessions’s confirmation hearing, he said he hadn’t met with any Russians.
So, you’ve got either a misunderstanding (that’s Sessions’s take) or you’ve got something not unlike perjury.
The facts were plain. They were plain before the Post story. Sessions was a key figure in the Trump campaign, the first senator to support him and, for a long while, the only senator to support him. How could Sessions, regardless of which Russian he had or hadn’t met, impartially lead an investigation as to Russian influence in a campaign in which he was a key player?
While many of Gardner’s GOP colleagues were quickly jumping off the Sessions bandwagon — see: Coffman, Mike — Gardner didn’t know where to jump. Or, for that matter, how high.
This was a no-brainer, but still too much of a brainer for Gardner, who went on NPR that morning to, well, not answer the question.
NPR’s question began with Sean Spicer’s not exactly surprising assessment that there was nothing to see here and that it was all just a sad case of Democrats and dishonest media trying to create a scandal from nothing. And then Gardner was asked if he agreed with that assessment.
The very Coryish response: “Well, again, I think the investigation will show us that. So if that’s the direction that the investigation concludes with, then we’ll know that Sean Spicer was right. If there’s different information or a different conclusion from the FBI or the intel committee, then clearly he was wrong.”
So, there you have it. Gardner’s answer was that we needed more time to see the obvious.
I wonder if on Tuesday night, when Trump was being praised for briefly acting like a grown-up, Gardner had allowed himself to dream that, although this had been a nightmare so far, maybe things would get better.
The next day, remember, Gardner did his tele-town-hall excuse for a real town hall and escaped pretty much unscathed. He left early to do a photo-op luncheon at the White House. If you saw the photo, he was seated three chairs down from the president and was shamelessly smiling, of course, at what looked like a bit of photo-op Trumpian humor.
It was all going so well, until it wasn’t. That’s when the dishonest media did its nightly dump of bad Trump news, except this time the news was really bad. It wasn’t just the Post story. The New York Times reported that Obama aides had desperately tried to preserve evidence of a Russian connection that they feared the Trump administration might want to destroy.
And it was especially bad for Gardner, who is a well-known Russian hawk who has tried to say some tough things about Russian interference in the election — if you watched Sessions on Fox Thursday night, he said he had no idea whether the Russians had favored Trump — without directly criticizing Trump. (My favorite campaign take about Trump and Putin came from Gardner when Trump was complaining that the Colorado GOP convention was rigged. Gardner asked in a tweet how Trump was going to handle Putin if the convention directions were too confusing for him. We now have a better idea of the answer.)
The Russian story isn’t going away. If you missed the Carter Page story — one of the stranger ones in this saga — he was an unpaid foreign policy adviser who also met with the now famous and ubiquitous Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the GOP convention in Cleveland, just days before the story of the DNC hacking broke. Again, that wouldn’t be much of a story if Page hadn’t also denied that he’d met with Russians.
So, we have Paul Manafort who had to quit the Trump campaign after revelations of his support for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. We have Mike Flynn who had to quit as national security adviser for lying to Mike Pence about whether he had discussions with Kislyak. The list goes on. And now we have Sessions having to recuse himself after lying — and failing to correct the record — about his conversations with Kislyak.
In his news conference, Sessions went with the I-can’t-recall line about what was talked about during his meeting with Kislyak, but it couldn’t have been the campaign because, well, it just couldn’t have been. I mean, why would the Russian ambassador want to know inside news on the campaign and Trump’s views on Russia when, as Sessions did recall, they could talk about religion instead?
I don’t know where this story ends, or how damaging the Trumpist-Russian connection might be. At this point, no one does, unless it’s James Comey. But what I do know from having watched a million other scandals unfold is that we’re at the point where the questions will only get tougher from here. If you don’t believe me, just ask Cory Gardner at his next live town hall.
Photo of Cory Gardner (with John McCain) by Gage Skidmore via Flickr