Strangers on a train

Lanny Davis

A rather interesting piece by Betsy Woodruff appeared in the Daily Beast on October 9. That morning, she recounted, one of her colleagues, Guy Benson, had been a passenger on the 6:55 A.M. Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., to New York. Sitting right across the aisle from Benson, as it happened, was Lanny Davis, the longtime Clinton spinmeister whose sleazy career we surveyed back in July.

Benson overheard a few juicy tidbits, which Woodruff passed on to Daily Beast readers. Davis, who was engaged in an unguarded conversation with a couple of unidentified companions, referred to Senator Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate from Vermont, as a “nut.” Said Davis: “There’s no way he can be nominated, ever.”

With Hillary Clinton

Davis also declared that he was sure Vice President Biden would enter the presidential race – but he added that Biden’s bid would go absolutely nowhere. Why? Because, he explained, Biden is viewed in political circles as a “buffoon.”

There was more. Davis told his travel companions that candidate Carly Fiorina is “nasty” when she makes public statements about Hillary Clinton.

The chitchat wasn’t entirely about politics. Davis went on to express interest in watching the Showtime series Ray Donovan, leading one of his companions to say: “Oh yeah, it’s about a fixer.” The other companion added: “It’s like us if we had guns and baseball bats.” Fun crew.

Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan

When the Daily Beast contacted Davis about his palaver on the 6:55, he walked his remarks back with his usual shamelessness – claiming, for example, to have “nothing but the highest respect for Bernie Sanders.”

In fact, Davis was remarkably lucky that the chitchat Benson overheard was as anodyne as it was. Imagine if he had been talking about other aspects of his career?

Teodoro Obiang

This is, after all, a guy who, in exchange for a million bucks a year, led the morally bankrupt – indeed, downright chilling – effort to whitewash the repulsive Equatoguinean dictator Teodoro Obiang in the international media. According to World Policy Review, Obiang has “killed or expelled more than one third” of his own people, as a result of which his country is widely known as the “Auschwitz of Africa.” Then there’s Obiang’s wastrel son (and presumptive successor) Teodorin, who “spent more on luxury goods during 2004-2007 than the [Equatoguinean] government’s 2005 budget for education.”

Yet Davis didn’t hesitate to pocket Obiang’s money (or, rather, his people’s money) for performing the disgusting job of covering all that up. 

Laurent Gbagbo

And let’s not forget another reprehensible African dictator and Davis client, Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire. After losing the 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo, instead of stepping down and allowing the winner to be inaugurated, did two things: he started murdering and “disappearing” his opponents – and hired Davis to go on CNN and other cable networks and tell the world that he was, in fact, a man of peace. Davis didn’t hesitate to front for this creep, either. 

That Amtrak exchange, then, was small potatoes. Very small potatoes. Davis should count himself exceedingly fortunate that Guy Benson overheard such remarkably innocuous stuff, given the utterly loathsome, morally bankrupt nature of Davis’s “work.” And Benson – and Woodruff – should be kicking themselves for not having lucked into the far meatier, more damning material with which Davis might have inadvertently provided them – and which might have brought him down at last, removing at least one ball of slime from the Beltway swamps.

Following Lanny Davis’s slime trail

Lanny Davis

Yesterday we started following the slime trail of lowlife Lanny Davis, whose longtime role as shameless spinmeister to the Clinton family, it turns out, is the less unsavory of his two main jobs. The other: shilling for some of the world’s most nefarious despots.

Teodoro Obiang

Among Davis’s clients: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbsogo, dictator of Equatorial Guinea. In April 2010, Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist since a 1979 coup, hired him for a million bucks a year (plus expenses) – allegedly to help formulate and introduce human-rights reforms but really, it soon became clear, to help whitewash the Obiang regime in the international media. Justin Elliott, who has done a yeoman’s job of covering – and exposing – Davis in Salon, wrote in January 2011 that Davis had made a “direct promise” to “a reporter” (presumably Elliott himself) “that political prisoners in Equatorial Guinea would be released”; Elliott noted that no such release had yet taken place.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York with, H.E. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea and his wife, Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, or promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
Obiang and wife with the Obamas

What kind of government does Obiang run? Well, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. State Department, Obiang’s regime was guilty of “unlawful killings…torture of detainees and prisoners…life-threatening conditions in prisons…arbitrary arrest, detention and incommunicado detention…restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly…violence and discrimination against women,” among many other offenses.

Teodorin Obiang

Elliott, citing this litany of transgressions, additionally pointed out that according to Human Rights Watch, Obiang’s son Teodorin had actually “spent more on luxury goods during 2004-2007 than the government’s 2005 budget for education.” In 2012, a World Policy Review article reported that Obiang had “killed or expelled more than one third” of his country’s population; that under him and his immediate predecessor – who was also his uncle, and whom he eventually overthrew and executed – the country “became known as the ‘Auschwitz of Africa,’” in which more people were killed by them, proportionally speaking, than were killed by the Nazis in all of Europe; and that under Obiang’s family of “kleptocrats,” who’ve “devoted three decades to siphoning off Equatorial Guinea’s wealth into their pockets,” the great majority of the nation’s people have not only been terrorized but impoverished.

None of which, apparently, deterred Davis from taking money from this creep to help polish his international image.

Laurent Gbagbo

Then there’s Laurent Gbagbo, President of Cote D’Ivoire since the year 2000. After losing his bid for re-election in late 2010, the brutally dictatorial Gbagbo refused to leave office; instead, to quote Elliott, he “mount[ed] a campaign of organized violence against the opposition.” Gbagbo did something else, too: he hired Lanny Davis. So while this autocrat’s henchmen were busy murdering some members of the opposition and “disappearing” others (who were presumably dispatched by death squads), Davis got to work “assuring the American press that his client, Gbagbo, opposed violence.” And while the UN was formally accusing Gbagbo of committing “massive” human-rights violations, Davis was on CNN insisting that Gbagbo, innocent as a lamb, was calling on the legitimate winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, “to join him on [sic] putting the arms down” and holding talks.

davis3Alas for Davis, the Gbagbo gig didn’t last long: his paymaster was soon deposed, arrested, and charged by the International Criminal Court with murder, rape, persecution, and “other inhuman acts.” All told, Davis’s job with Gbagbo lasted only 12 days: he registered as a foreign agent for Ivory Coast on December 17, 2010, and resigned on December 29.

Lanny Davis, Hillary Clinton

The lesson, we suppose, being that even the most unprincipled and hardest-working hustler can’t win ’em all. But you’ve got to hand it to Davis: he never allows himself to be discouraged by adversity. Or, for that matter, by shame, or conscience, or remorse. By all indications, these concepts aren’t even on his radar. No, he’s always ready, it seems, to go out there in the media one more time and get to work defending the indefensible. 

Well, these days he’s hard at work defending the Clintons. Given the alternative, that’s probably a cause for celebration.

The dictators’ D.C. spinmeister

Do you ever get tired of cleaning up after the Clintons?” Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Lanny Davis back in March after the latter – a longtime spinmeister for Bill and Hillary – had spent over nine minutes on Wallace’s show, Fox News Sunday, trying to work his slippery magic on their behalf yet again, this time in regard to the matter of Ms. Clinton’s private e-mail server.

Davis, who worked as a “special counsel” in the Clinton White House, went on afterwards to become a familiar name and face in the media, writing for places like the Huffington Post and appearing frequently as a talking head on the cable news networks. But since the beginning of this year he’s been even more visible than usual, rushing from one TV interview to another to practice his shifty craft. The topic at hand, on each occasion, was supposedly Hillary’s e-mails, but Davis spent the bulk of his camera time skillfully changing the subject, talking out the clock, singing the Clintons’ praises, casting aspersions on his interviewers, and insisting over and over, in direct contravention of the obvious facts, that “you’re not letting me finish.” For all his patently strenuous efforts, he cannot have convinced a single soul: even Salon, a website that tends to be reflexively sympathetic to Democratic politicians, dismissed him a “well-known spinster…whom no one trusts” and who “endear[s] precisely zero people to Hillary Clinton.”

But get a load of this: the shrewd, wily character who went on TV day and night to serve up transparent prevarications on behalf of Ms. Clinton is only one side of Lanny Davis. In point of fact, he’s a highly multifaceted personality; the slimy spinmeister, the Artful Dodger, is only one side of him.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, it’s the more attractive side.

Lanny Davis

For when he’s not being elusive and duplicitous on behalf of the Juan and Eva Perón of Chappaqua, Davis works as an inside-the-Beltway lobbyist for a list of foreign clients so unsavory that the whole thing reads like some kind of bad joke. In a May 2012 piece in the Atlantic, Jon Lovett called him “a pitchman for warlords” who “carr[ied] the Devil’s water in Washington,” and said that he “represents all that is wrong with politics today.” “The last time we heard from Lanny Davis,” began an August 2013 item in the New Republic by Isaac Chotiner, “he was doing what he does best: representing a dictator.

Details tomorrow.