Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was grilled on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today about whether he has higher standards of integrity than the man he hopes to replace in the U.S. Senate, fellow Democrat Christopher Dodd.
The cross-examination by the show’s host, former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, may have been an attempt to be even-handed, following Democratic political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell’s pointed questioning in a separate segment of one of Blumenthals’ Republican opponents, Linda McMahon.
Whatever the intent, the questioning put Blumenthal in the awkward position of either denouncing an ally or defending an unpopular incumbent. (Video of the full interview is available here.)
The exchange started with a compound question that may be one of the longest ever posed on television.
“Have you been disappointed in some of the things that Christopher Dodd has done?” Scarborough asked. “You cleaned up Connecticut in a lot of ways. But obviously Chris Dodd got a sweetheart deal on his home mortgage, Countrywide. He’s received hundreds of thousand of dollars from the very industries he’s regulated. He’s the one that told us Fannie and Freddie were going to be just fine. Of course, that may be because Chris Dodd got more money from Fannie and Freddie than anybody on Capitol Hill. Do you think he’s had ethical lapses since he’s been in Washington? And if you go up there, do you promise you’ll do a better job?”
“I can promise you that I will fight as hard for higher standards of integrity in Washington and changes in Washington, which I’ve done –“
Scarborough cut him off.
“Will you have higher standards of integrity than Chris Dodd?” he asked
“I will have my own standards of integrity,” Blumenthal replied.
“Will you take a sweetheart deal from Countrywide?” Scarborough asked.
“I would not never take a sweetheart deal from countrywide. In fact –“
“Was it unethical for Chris Dodd to take a sweetheart deal?”
“Let me be very clear. I sued Countrywide –“
O’Donnell suddenly jumped in.
“I don’t think Chris Dodd is running any more,” O’Donnell said. “He’s out of the race.”
“Now you are you going to jump in?” Scarborough said to O’Donnell.
O’Donnell asked why Blumenthal has to take responsibility for Dodd.
“Chris Dodd is his responsibility because he is a Democrat, running in a state. He wants Chris Dodd’s support. I’m just curious if he will come out and say that what Chris Dodd did with Countrywide was unethical,” Scarborough said.
The Senate ethics committee cleared Dodd of wrongdoing in accepting mortgages from Countrywide as part of a VIP program. Dodd paid market rates, but he was allowed to “float down” and take a lower rate as rates fell, even after he had locked in the terms of his loans.
Blumenthal tried to turn the conversation to more comfortable ground — action that he and other attorneys general took against Countrywide.
“I will tell you, and if you live in Connecticut you will be receiving a check next week or in weeks thereafter from Countrywide,” Blumenthal said.
“Again, this is the last question I will have on Chris Dodd, who actually, we all like Chris Dodd around here,” Scarborough said. “I think this is a fair question to ask.”
“Any question is a fair question to ask,” Blumenthal said, smiling.
“Did Chris Dodd act in a way that was unethical by taking a sweetheart deal with Countrywide?”
“First of all, I would never take a sweetheart deal –.”
“I know you wouldn’t,” Scarborough said.
“I got a better interest rate than Chris Dodd did on that loan,” O’Donnell said.
“Maybe we better investigate you,” Blumenthal said.
“It was easy to come by,” O’Donnell said.
“You have a right to remain silent,” Blumenthal said.
“Mika, can you believe this?” Scarborough said to his co-host, Mika Brzezinski. “Now [O’Donnell] jumps in to stop him for answering the question.”
“Can you answer the question?” Scarborough asked Blumenthal.
“I will answer the question by saying to you, if Chris Dodd received a sweetheart deal from Countrywide, and so far no one has proved that he did, I certainly would never take it.”
“A quick yes or no, do you agree with me that Chris Dodd is a great guy?” O’Donnell asked.
Blumenthal’s reply: “He is a personal friend of mine.”