Lying in Washington: how it’s done

Kyl retracts his charge that the President was deliberately failing to secure the borders to hold the issue “hostage” to comprehensive immigration reform. But he does it a characteristically sleazy and cowardly way.

This is a little bit of inside baseball, but it’s instructive about the modus operandi of the collection of sociopaths now calling itself the Congressional Republican Party.

Four days ago, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona got himself some ink and electrons (517 stories that Google News knows about) by making an explosive charge: not only was President Obama deliberately neglecting border security in order to hold that issue “hostage” to comprehensive immigration reform, but that Obama had said so himself in a meeting with Kyl.

“The problem is, he said, if we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said, as the crowd in the room gasped loudly. “In other words, they’re holding it hostage.”


“They don’t want to secure the border unless and until it is combined with comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said. “They frankly don’t want to do it. They want to get something in return for doing their duty.”

At the jump, you will find the full text of the story posted by the RNC press office Fox “News.” It has the charge by Kyl, two denials by the White House, a reaffirmation by by Kyl’s office, and a reaffirmation by Kyl himself. “I portrayed our conversation totally accurately … The president cannot say that what I said was incorrect.”

Of course, there’s no way to resolve this sort of he-said she-said, at least if cameras aren’t present. Of course it would have made no sense for Obama to say such a thing to Kyl, and of course it would have made every kind of sense for Kyl to lie about it, so I didn’t have any problem figuring out which side I believed, but all the Obama-haters had one more bit of evidence that our Kenyan Muslim terrorist President is deliberately trying to make the country less safe, and Kyl had polished his wingnut credentials. (He made the charge at a Tea Party meeting.)

Now – four days later, on a Friday, when no one is paying attention anymore – Kyl has decided to ‘fess up, to Robert Costa of the National Review, who buries the confession at the bottom of a small piece embracing another silly complaint by Kyl: that the President had failed to consult with His Supreme Kylness before doing what Kyl was complaining that Obama refused to do by providing more resources for border security.

Kyl now admits that the the President never said what Kyl said he said, what Kyl’s office insisted he said, and what Kyl then reiterated that he had said.

Kyl tells us that the comments were “taken a bit out of context,” and that the “they” he was referring to was the Left, “the president’s base,” and not the administration. “I did not try to start a fight. This meeting happened a month ago and we were talking in the context of his political problems. He was talking about how they think that if we secure the border, you guys [Republicans] won’t have the incentive to work on comprehensive immigration reform.”

Note that the revised version makes no sense.

“They don’t want to secure the border unless and until it is combined with comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said. “They frankly don’t want to do it. They want to get something in return for doing their duty.”

How can “they” in that context apply to some unnamed “Left”? It isn’t the American Civil Liberties Union that has a duty to enforce the laws; the the President and the people who work for him. As I guessed, Kyl is liar, and not a very clever one at that.

Naturally, the retraction (there will never be an apology to the man whom Kyl accused of violating his oath of office) won’t get 1% as much attention as the charge. Worse, the next time Kyl rolls out some absurd charge, no reporter will confront him with his dishonesty in this instance.

And that, my friends, is how it’s done. If you don’t like it, then figure out what you can do to defeat as many Republicans as possible this fall. If you’re one of the libertarians who votes for Republicans, remember that this is the sort of crap you’re voting for.

President Obama is refusing to secure the border until Congress reaches a breakthrough on comprehensive immigration reform, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said at a recent town hall meeting.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, in a video clip posted on YouTube showing the senator speaking to a local Tea Party crowd on Friday, said the president told him during a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office that he was concerned he wouldn’t win GOP support on immigration legislation if he took care of border security first.

“The problem is, he said, if we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said, as the crowd in the room gasped loudly. “In other words, they’re holding it hostage.”

The White House denied the claim on Monday. Spokesman Bill Burton and Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer both said Kyl “knows” Obama did not make that comment to him in their meeting.

“The president didn’t say that and Senator Kyl knows it,” Pfeiffer said in a written statement. “There are more resources dedicated toward border security today than ever before, but, as the president has made clear, truly securing the border will require a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system.”

Burton repeated the claim at the press briefing Monday afternoon.

But Kyl’s office stood by the senator’s account. Kyl spokesman Ryan Patmintra said, “There were two people in that meeting, and Dan Pfieffer was not one of them.” He said Pfeiffer’s call for comprehensive immigration legislation “only confirms” Kyl’s story.

And later, Kyl himself affirmed to Fox News the accuracy of his version: “I portrayed our conversation totally accurately … The president cannot say that what I said was incorrect.”

While Obama has pledged to send an influx of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, Kyl said in the clip that the president made clear to him that border security is just a political tool in the broader goal of passing an immigration package through Congress.

In the town hall meeting, Kyl said he was “not so sure” the president’s concern about GOP support was legitimate, but that regardless, the administration has an “obligation” to secure the border.

“They don’t want to secure the border unless and until it is combined with comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said. “They frankly don’t want to do it. They want to get something in return for doing their duty.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

11 thoughts on “Lying in Washington: how it’s done”

  1. And… don't forget that Obama is copying the Reichstag playbook, according to Palin via T. Sowell, and AZ governor Brewer says "are coming here and they’re bringing drugs. And they’re doing drop houses and they’re extorting people and they’re terrorizing the families". There's something Tolkeinesque to all this.

  2. You say:

    Naturally, the retraction … won’t get 1% as much attention as the charge.

    You needn't wait for confirmation of this hypothesis. There's little in Kyl's Friday walk-back that he didn't already say three days earlier, toward the beginning of the controversy. Last Tuesday (June 22) on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox, he looked into the camera & said to a national audience:

    Well, I, I’m not trying to make a big deal out of it. He just told me what he told me, and I accept that. We were talking about the difficulties of moving forward, and one of the things he said was that there are people on “his side” that, uh, uh, believe that, uh, if we secure the border, then people on, I think his words were “you guys,” meaning Republicans, uh, would be less likely to support comprehensive immigration reform. And, uh, that’s why they weren’t supportive of it. (Emphasis added.)

    In other words, he offered this retraction once before — albeit under his breath & w/o acknowledging he was changing his story —, & the press just ignored it. The person he said this to, Van Susteren, looked at him blankly & went right on retailing the false version as if nothing had happened. Likewise with other Fox shows & talk radio. So he felt some quaint need to float the same retraction a second time, this time in print, to Robert Costa at NRO.

    Two or three new lies like this are promulgated every day just on this one subject. They never get corrected. They're calculated to do nothing but create fear & hatred in a population already predisposed to them. People who work the issue & know what's going on feel powerless to do anything about it.

    Obama isn't holding any hostages, but the Republican Party is utterly hostage to its own agitprop machine.

  3. So the lie has been exposed, the only way it could be: By the liar admitting he lied.

    Or, I suspect it would be more accurate to say, by one of the liars admitting that he'd lied about the other liar privately telling the truth.

    But, be that as it may, the fact remains that politicians meet behind closed doors, without recording, so that they CAN lie about what was said, if they feel like it. If they wanted the truth out there, they'd leave the door open.

  4. Good to see Mark use the correct punctuation with: Fox “News” I've been doing that for quite some time.

    I was puzzled when the story first broke because it didn't sound right (or make sense for purely political reasons). Now I see that Kyle is just another four flusher.

  5. One more thing. At mid-day last Tues. (June 22), before Kyl walked back his accusation on Fox, he & McCain took the Senate floor to recount their weekend. Almost everything they said was a lie. In particular, McCain widened Kyl's accusation against Obama, claiming that at the (exhaustively reported) May 25th lunch w/ Republican Senators, he’d made the same admission that Kyl said he made privately a few weeks earlier:

    It was made very clear to me, in the conversation we had, and I’m sure our 40, 39 other colleagues who were there, that the President, uh, conditioned his support for border security to overall comprehensive immigration reform.

    Kyl stood looking at his feet during this charade. The two liars then retreated to a Capitol meeting room where they taped the Van Susteren interview. Then Kyl conducted a phone interview for Mark Levin’s radio show:

    Kyl: Um, we were talking about the illegal immigration problem, and I was making a pitch that we needed to do a lot more to secure the border. And he talked about a lot of the reasons why this was difficult. I mean politically, uh, there are problems on, on, on both sides of the aisle in, in dealing with this. And in that context, I wanna make that clear, uh, he said, in effect, that, uh, and I don’t know whether, I don’t recall whether he said, um, um, uh, “folks on my side,” or, but, but, he, he was basically talking about Democrats, um, believe that if we, uh, secure the border, then “you guys,” meaning Republicans, won’t have any incentive to pass comprehensive reform. And in, in, in other words, expressing it as a trade-off. Now, he didn’t say that’s the philosophy of my decision not to secure the border, he didn’t say that, and I didn’t say he said that. Um, but it was clear that he was talking about a quid pro quo, at least in the minds of some, and, um, when I was asked at this town hall meeting why is it that people, uh, don’t want to, uh, secure the border, and my responds was, in effect, well, one of the reasons, one of the problems is, and then I repeated what the President told me. And I really do believe that that is the attitude of a lot of people, and the people that the President has to, has to listen to, because they are a big part of his, uh, political base.

    (All this was happening the day the Administration was dealing w/ McChrystal.) Right-wing media continued to report the original accusation for three more days, until, on a Friday afternoon, Kyl floated the NRO correction.

    In all this, Kyl is actually the less contemptible of the Senators from Arizona. All his nest-fouling, bloody-shirt waving demagogy was in support of McCain, a weak, panicky, & vain old man who asks to be re-elected, but can no longer look Latino staffers or constituents in the eye.

  6. Mark:"Note that the revised version makes no sense."

    Why not? Obama's reflexive centrism could well lead him to conjure up an army of radical lefties who unaccountably attribute bad motives to Republicans. Followed by the hand-of-friendship argument, "Look, we need both. I'm strengthening border security anyway, so how about your side moving on comprehensive immigration reform?"

    I trust he learnt the lesson about Kyl. The more Obama looks at the current crop of Republicans as enemies to be crushed rather than potential allies to be won over, the better.

  7. Michael O’Brien reports in The Hill that Kyl has again returned to this business. He again repeats the line that at the June 18th constituent meeting, he never attributed motives to Obama.

    But again, as Kleiman says, this version makes no sense. Kyl originally said: “Here’s what the President said. The problem is, he said, if we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform.” Kyl's point was to explain the conduct of the President & his Administration, not unspecified others. He has the President saying that if “we" do X, then Y, where Y is a reason not to do X. It’s the Administration, not “not anyone in particular,” that does or doesn't adopt Kyl’s preferred border policy.

    The alleged views of Congressional Democrats would be relevant in the context of new legislation. But Kyl wasn’t talking about support for new border security legislation; he was talking about existing law. It’s a key feature of his position that no new laws are needed.

    Kyl is still looking for a painless way out of his problem, but there really isn't one, & trying just makes it worse. He should just admit he was lying, apologize, & then shut up about it.

  8. The Michael O'Brien article is: "Kyl Stands Behind Original Account of Immigration Confrontation with Obama," Blog Briefing Room, The Hill (28 June, 2:53PM ET).

  9. One last. The exchange on Fox today was around 2:10PM local time, during the Kagan hearings:

    Bret Baier: Senator, one more question while we have you, on another topic, there were, have been a number of stories in recent days about a comment you made about a one-on-one meeting you had with President Obama about the situation along the border in Arizona. Uh, that you originally suggested that the President and the Administration was somehow holding the security of that border hostage to comprehensive immigration reform, that you’d have to get comprehensive immigration reform before security efforts could be made in earnest along the border. Ah, it seemed, according to recent stories, that you walked that back. Can you clarify that, sir?

    Kyl: I didn’t walk anything back, and I appreciate the chance to explain it. People read into what I said something that I didn’t say. Uh, what I said was exactly what the President told me, and I stand by it. He said that if “we” — and the “we” referred to the left, the Democrats, the Democrats in Congress, the Obama Administration, he was referring to the people on his political side of the aisle — if “we,” uh, secure the border, then “you guys,” and I think that’s a direct quote — meaning Republicans generally — will not want to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And then I said, in other words, these are now my words, they — not referring to anyone in particular — are holding hostage the securing of the border for comprehensive reform. Immediately people read into that that I was accusing the President of basing his policies today on a, I gather, personal view of his that, uh, we shouldn’t do one without the other. Now, that is his view, I’m firmly convinced of that, but I was not, uh, uh, making a charge or an allegation against him. People read into that, uh, read into what I said, uh, that particular statement.

    Baier: So you stand by the original statement?

    Kyl: Yes! I said, what I said was exactly accurate. That is precisely what he said to me. People misinterpreted what I meant by it. But what I said was accurate. And I still believe that it is absolutely true that many Democrats, many on the left, immigration advocates, many within the Administration, and perhaps the President himself believe that if we secure the border, then those on our side of the aisle won’t want to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And that, I suspect, is one of the motivating factors for the rather tepid, uh, attempts to secure the border. I also mentioned to the President right after that that I thought he was wrong, that (A), we had an obligation to secure the border, both he and I, irrespective of comprehensive reform, and (B), that if we did that, the chances are, he’d probably get comprehensive reform, or at least that it would be a lot more likely than if we didn’t do it. So, no, what I said, I stand by. Uh, I regret that it was, uh, misinterpreted, and that’s one of he reasons why I further explained the context in which he made the comment to me. I was trying to be fair to him, frankly.

    See Kyl's YouTube channel, at:

    The exchange is at 4:57 min.

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