What a pathetic climax to the days-long controversy following Dana Milbank's column about the "Scarlet Letter" Republican.
As everyone now knows, Milbank wrote a column Tuesday, relating the comments of an anonymous Republican carping about the burden of being a GOPer during Bush's second term. All day Tuesday, bloggers and pundits took turns guessing at the mystery Republican's identity. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, Michael Steele admitted to ABC News that it was him.
And now, he takes it all back. Bush is his "homeboy," he said during a radio interview this morning. Whereas before (when he was under the guise of an anonymous "GOP Senate candidate") he said that "to be honest," he probably wouldn't want Bush campaigning with him, now he says that "If the president wanted to come and help me in Maryland, he is more than welcome, because I'm not going to turn my back on a friend."
But it gets even better.
Backpedaling furiously, Steele also said this morning that the interview with Milbank and other reporters was supposed to be off the record. That would mean that Milbank wasn't supposed to quote his remarks, anonymously or otherwise.
But it turns out that's just not true. Steele appears to be lying through his teeth. As Milbank clearly stated in his piece, Steele spoke to reporters "under the condition that he be identified only as a GOP Senate candidate."
This afternoon I contacted Milbank to find out what happened and he confirmed that the meeting, done over lunch, was not off the record. "The luncheon was one in a regular series, and they are all on background. It was announced at the start of the lunch that this one, too, was on background," he said.
As proof, Milbank forwarded me an email from Steele's flak Doug Heye, who in response to an email from Milbank checking whether he could run certain quotes from Steele in his story, responded, "since it was a backgrounder, if there are specific quotes you'd like to use, can you email them to me so I could sign off?"
So case closed.
Late Update: Here's the email as forwarded to me by Milbank (I've redacted their email addresses):
From: "Doug Heye"
To: "Dana Milbank"
Subject: RE: Reconsider?
07/24/2006 03:38 PM
Won't waste your time, and know deadlines are tight.
I'd probably be fine with those you sent, but since it was a
backgrounder, if there are specific quotes you'd like to use, can you
email them to me so I could sign off?
I can hold off on signing off for other press for the time being, as