Maybe it's time for a "scarlet L," too

Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele seeks distance from the words that came out of his mouth.

Published July 27, 2006 1:58PM (EDT)

While it was probably a little much -- and, given her poll numbers, really unnecessary -- for Howard Dean to equate Katherine Harris with Stalin yesterday, we do think it's probably fair to add a word to Michael Steele's bio: liar.

A day after he was outed as the anonymous Republican Senate candidate who trashed his president and his party during an interview with the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, Steele Wednesday backtracked on some of his comments and claimed -- falsely, as it turns out -- that the things he said were never meant to see the light of day.

In his interview earlier this week with Milbank and eight other reporters, Steele was asked whether he'd want George W. Bush to campaign for him in Maryland. "To be honest with you," he said, "probably not." But as the Baltimore Sun reports today, Steele told a different story on a radio show Wednesday. He claimed that some of the things he'd said in the Milbank interview were meant to be jokes, and he insisted that the president of the United States is, in fact, his "homeboy." In a rather complete contradiction of what he told Milbank, Steele said: "If the president wants to come and help me in Maryland, he is more than welcome."

As TPMmuckraker notes, Steele is also trying to save himself from himself by arguing that the things he said in his interview were never supposed to be quoted, even anonymously, by the reporters who had been summoned to hear them. But Milbank says the interview was "on background," not "off the record," and he forwarded TPMmuckraker an e-mail from Steele's campaign staff proving as much: In the e-mail, sent as Milbank was writing his story earlier in the week, Steele campaign spokesman Doug Heye referred to the interview as a "backgrounder" and asked Milbank to let him "sign off" on any "specific quotes" he'd be using.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2006 Elections Howard Dean Michael Steele War Room