Rep. Cynthia McKinney
Now that former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is leaving the national stage, the Ethics Scoreboard is scouting its next "Least Favorite Elected Official." Georgia Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has sprinted to an early lead by her unethical and dishonest handling of a recent confrontation with a Capitol Hill police officer.
She may have had the lead anyway, for McKinney is a serial offender. Several weeks after the fatal attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a Saudi prince named Alwaleed bin Talal sent Rudy Giuliani a check for $10 million, ostensibly to be used for post-9/11 relief efforts. But the check came with a statement that made it clear that Talal was attempting to use his money to make sure Bin Laden's terrorism had its desired effect.
"At times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack," Talal said. "I believe the government of the United States of America should reexamine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."
Guliani refused the "gift" as a cynical tactic to pass blame for the 2,000 deaths on U.S. foreign policy. But Rep. McKinney attempted to take the Prince up on his offer, pandering to the Prince by agreeing that the 9-11 murders should point the way to policy change. "Let me say that there are a growing number of people in the United States who recognize, like you, that U.S. policy in the Middle East needs serious examination," she wrote. Not surprisingly, members of both parties regarded her venal grandstanding as offensive, imprudent and in atrocious taste. So McKinney, as she has during her political entire career, attributed the criticism to racism, saying, "I believe that when it comes to major foreign policy issues, many prefer to have black people seen and not heard."
Colin Powell was Secretary of State at the time, and Condoleeza Rice was National Security Advisor.
A bit later, McKinney went on a radio program to imply that the Bush Administration intentionally allowed the 9-11 attacks to occur:
When this slanderous comment provoked an avalanche of outrage, McKinney displayed a real talent for deceit, backing away from her statement without really backing away from it at all:
This was masterful. In a city in which deceit is the language of choice, McKinney obviously is a virtuoso. Note how she concedes that there is no "evidence" of her contention without actually disavowing her earlier statement. Note also how she even undercuts that by saying that the President and his administration haven't "personally" profited from 9-11, leaving intact her earlier suggestion that those "close to" the administration were the intended beneficiaries of the attacks. Then she slyly suggests that a complete investigation might show that her unfounded innuendoes are true, just as a complete investigation "might reveal" that Nancy Pelosi is from Neptune and that the real John McCain was replaced by an android in 1981.
These misadventures (and others) cost Rep. McKinney her seat in 2002, but she returned triumphant in 2004. On March 29 of this year, she walked around the Capitol metal detector while entering the building. Legislators are allowed to do that, but they are also supposed to wear a special identifying pin. McKinney is infamous for refusing to wear her pin: after she complained bitterly when she was stopped by police in her first term, Capitol police kept a photo of her on display for officers, with a note directing them to learn her face, because this congresswoman was not going to cooperate by wearing the identifying pin. The photo of McKinney showed her in her trademark cornrow braids, but this time McKinney was without them, having recently changed her hair style. When the Congresswoman by-passed the detector, a Capitol police officer asked her to stop three times. She ignored him, so he put his hand on her arm. According to witnesses and the policeman, Congresswoman McKinney then hit him with her cell phone.
As charges against her for assaulting an officer threatened to become a reality, McKinney was unapologetic and true to form. She refused to accept responsibility for her actions. She blamed the officer, and attributed the whole incident to racism…not to the fact that she obstinately had refused to wear her identifying pin; not to the fact that in an era of heightened anti-terror precautions, the officer would have been derelict in his duty not to act as he did; not to her decision to alter her appearance without altering her actions; not to her own temper or ego or arrogance.
"The issue is racial profiling and that's something we have to deal with as a country," McKinney said. No, Congresswoman, the issue is an officer stopping a person he didn't recognize who was bypassing security at the entrance of a Federal building that is a prime terror target. As Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer put it: "Any time an officer does not know who the person is coming in the building, I direct them to stop that person. And even if you're stopped, you're not supposed to hit a police officer. It's very simple. Even the high and the haughty should be able to stop and say, 'I'm a congressman,' and then everybody moves on."
The Ethics Scoreboard has pointed out elsewhere on this site that frequently someone who asserts what isn't true cannot properly be called a liar. He or she may be deluded, misinformed, confused, dumb, or plain crazy. But one telltale sign of a liar is the tendency to keep trying new false explanations until one appears to have the desired result. This was McKinney's tactic.
First, she denied that she hit the officer. Then she attributed his actions to racism. Next, and especially despicably, she suggested that the confrontation involved sexual harassment. "The whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me -- a female, black congresswoman," she said, as if the officer had attempted to "cop a feel."
Then she retreated to the position that it was "all about a hairdo," and that the officer had an obligation to recognize her on sight, along with her 534 Congressional colleagues, irrespective of new hairdos, botox, extensions, extreme makeovers, weight fluctuations and facial hair. "I have been in Congress 11 years and I can go into many airports, not just in America but around the world, and people don't have a problem recognizing me," McKinney told CNN. "It's only with certain police officers on Capitol Hill." (The Ethics Scoreboard invites Ms. McKinney to attempt her bypassing the metal detector act in an American airport and see what happens.) Not surprisingly, this approach wasn't any better received than the earlier denial, racial profiling, or inappropriate touching tactics.
So McKinney lied again. She apologized, and did so in another one of those brilliant displays of deceit (using literally true statements to give a false impression) that have marked her tenure in Washington:
"I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation, and I apologize," McKinney on the House floor. "There should not have been any physical contact in this incident." Her first two statements pointedly manage to avoid assigning responsibility for either the misunderstanding or its escalation, and the last could, and almost certainly does, refer not to McKinney's bashing of the officer but to his touching her initially. That leaves the words "I apologize," which McKinney, an expressive and articulate communicator who probably could have a successful career as an actress if she wanted one, delivered with a quickly flashed forced smile that said to her supporters, "They're making me do this."
And so ended yet another bravura Cynthia McKinney performance. It probably won't lose her many votes, and to her core constituency, it probably burnished her reputation as a courageous black woman who "speaks truth to power." She got herself interviews with Wolf Blitzer and Bill Maher, and somehow designating her an April David Manning Liar of the Month is a pretty feeble response to all of that.
But it's the best the Scoreboard can do.