Josh Marshall

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As we noted a few days ago, back in 1984 then-Congressman Trent Lott gave a lengthy interview to Southern Partisan magazine, a 'neo-confederate' publication known for its, shall we say, rather problematic views on racial matters and other topics. (For an example of the SP's take on slavery, the magazine said in 1996: "Slave owners . . . did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves' peace and happiness.") Now we bring you the Trent Lott interview from 1984, word for word, page by page. It's just been added to the TPM Document Collection.

Coming later this afternoon, TPM publishes the full text of Trent Lott's 1984 interview with Southern Partisan magazine.

"Any suggestion that a segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong ...Recent comments by Sen. Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He (Lott) has apologized and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals. And the founding ideals of our nation and in fact the founding ideals of the political party I represent was and remains today the equal dignity and equal rights of every American." Those are President Bush's words today on the Trent Lott matter, given during a speech in support of his faith-based services intitiative.

It's a few days late in coming, I think. But he said the right things and he said them with eloquence. So no criticisms from me. The question of course is why Lott couldn't have said something similar, even yesterday when he was in full-bore self-abnegation mode. The question, I think, answers itself.

As of last evening, it began to look increasingly to me like Lott may really be finished as Majority Leader. I'm not predicting it. But at a certain point the question ceases to be how many people are insisting he resign and how few people are willing to say anything in the guy's defense. And as nearly as I can see, that's almost no one. Sure, Arlen Specter spoke up for him. But then we all know that the main reason for having Specter in the Senate is that if, for some reason, no one else will step up to the plate and say something moronic, you at least have Specter to do the job. In truth, no one is defending the guy.

What I think most Republicans understand is that a lot of Democrats would actually prefer Lott stay as Majority Leader. They'd like him to get battered and be wounded politically -- and that's pretty much already taken care of. But they'd really prefer he stay in place. Because as long as he's Senate Majority Leader, politically speaking, he's the gift that just keeps on giving.

Consider the fact that right now we're debating whether the Republican Senate Majority Leader is a racist who yearns for the days of segregation or just a good ole boy who says a lot of things that make it seem like he's a racist who yearns for the days of segregation. I think you can say that that's a debate the Democrats are pretty comfortable having. And it'll keep being that way. Republicans are starting to realize that.

One of the iconic events of the civil rights era was the murder of three civil rights workers -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- in Philadelphia, Mississippi on June 21, 1964. They even made a major motion picture about it -- Mississippi Burning (1988).

"In 1989," according to a March 29th, 1999 article in The Washington Post, Trent Lott, "refused to co-sponsor a congressional resolution designating June 21 as Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Day after the three civil rights workers murdered 25 years earlier in Mississippi."

This little snippet gets at what is really almost the bigger scandal of this whole Trent Lott affair. I didn't dig this fact up in some dusty vault. I didn't get put onto it by some secret source. It's in a Washington Post article from three years ago.

The truth is that everyone who's sentient and even remotely keeps up on politics has known about this stuff for years -- at least since the last Trent Lott-segregation scandal broke back in late 1998. Sad to say, everyone just agreed not to pay attention, not to care.

P.S. Special thanks to TPM reader NP for bringing this particular three year old article to my attention.

As you likely now know, Trent Lott did an interview on Sean Hannity's radio show on Wednesday (audio feed here). He said various things, sort of apologizing, sort of not apologizing. My only reason for hedging about that is that you should really hear what he said for yourself because everyone's going to have a different opinion about his tone, what was spin, and what was sincere.

One thing I do feel compelled to mention is the instance where Lott seemed, frankly, to lie through his teeth. That came when Hannity asked Lott about his association with a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group, which is the successor to the White Citizens Councils from the civil rights era.

(If you think I'm exaggerating by calling them white supremacists, here's what David Keene, head of the staunchly conservative American Conservative Union, told The Washington Post when asked why they barred the CCC from their annual Conservative Political Action Conference: "We kicked [them] out of CPAC because they are racists.")

Here's the exchange between Hannity and Lott about the CCC.

HANNITY: I want you to just--to address this one issue that has been brought up by your critics. You had this controversy some years ago. You spoke to a group called the Concerned Citizens Council (sic). You want to explain that? What, if any, relationship do you or did you have with that organization, which has been accused of having racist points of view?

LOTT: Well, the event they are talking about, I presume, was an open forum for candidates running for public office. And the public was invited, the media was invited. This was not a closed thing. There were Democrats and Republicans there, and African-Americans there. And it was one of those events that you have almost every two years when you have important elections at a small community--you have them all over the state.

You don't usually ask who's sponsoring this thing. Now, in this case, I knew some of the people that were involved, but I also knew that a lot of political candidates were going there, and I said, you know, the things that we support in terms of opportunity for people there that I'd say anyplace else. But the main thing was, it was an open forum.

And here's Lott saying they have the 'right principles and the right philosophy'...
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who last week claimed "no firsthand knowledge" of the controversial Council of Conservative Citizens, six years ago told the group's members they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."

This week, after being asked about a newly surfaced copy of the group's 1992 newsletter, in which he appears to endorse the group and ask for its support, Lott renounced the organization and said through a spokesman he has nothing to do with them.

December 16, 1998
The Washington Post

And here's some hints that Lott may actually be a dues-paying member of the group ...
According to a number of CofCC members, including Dover, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott is a dues-paying member of the group, which is particularly strong in his home state. (Governor Kirk Fordice, for example, is an open and enthusiastic supporter of the group.) The Citizens Informer occasionally carries Lott's freely distributed newspaper column. Moreover, despite Lott's claim that he had "no firsthand knowledge" of the CofCC, Edsall reported on December 16 that Lott addressed the group in 1992, telling the audience members that they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."

When I asked Baum--who had just volunteered that Barr was not a CofCC member--whether Lott does, in fact, belong to the group, he said, "We don't deny or confirm whether anybody's a member. If Trent Lott says he's not a member, then put it to bed: he's not a member." When I noted that another CofCC member had told me that there is a record of Lott's membership at the group's headquarters in St. Louis, Baum replied, "There's no earthly way you could obtain that information if it were true." John Czwartacki, Lott's spokesman, says that Lott rejects the group's views and "does not consider himself a member."

January 4th, 1999
The New Republic

And here's information about the columns he's written for the group's newsletter and his meetings with the group's leaders in his congressional office in Washington and in Mississippi ...
During its 10 years of existence, the council has maintained sustained relations with Lott. Photos of Lott at the group's gatherings in Mississippi and of Lott meeting in Washington with its officials have appeared periodically in the Citizens Informer, the organization's quarterly publication. The Informer regularly publishes a column Lott writes and distributes from his Senate office.

One of its earliest publications, the spring 1989 Citizens Informer, pictures Lott as he "talks with relatives, from left, his Uncle Arnie Watson; cousins, Frances and Frank Hodges, and aunt, Eurdise. Arnie Watson, a former State Senator, is a member of the Carroll County Citizens Council's Executive Committee, and Frank Hodges is a member of the Carroll County Citizens Council."

The summer 1997 issue of the Citizens Informer has a picture of Lott meeting "privately at his office with CofCC national officers": Lord, President Thomas Dover and CEO Gordon Lee Baum.

January 13th, 1999
The Washington Post

Every time he opens his mouth he digs himself deeper. First it was nostalgia for the good old days of Jim Crow. Now it's lies.

One other thing. Next time the AP rips off a story we broke at 11 AM and runs it as their own story at 5 PM maybe they could toss in a little attribution? I know it's their rep and all but do they have to be so slimy. Dow Jones Newswires caught wind of the Bob Jones Amicus Brief from the story TPM broke too. But they were classy enough to say we'd broken the story.

(AP said the "old court filing surfaced on a day when Lott tried to quell criticism." Dow Jones Newswires said "A congressional aide also circulated to reporters a copy of the brief unearthed by columnist Joshua Micah Marshall.")

Well, Trent Lott does a call in to Larry King tonight. And it's already been taped. And TPM's got the transcript. And well, let's just go to the tape.

The first run through about Lott's opinions about Strom Thurmond's 1948 candidacy?

Having said that, you know, I see -- I was 7 years old when, you know, Strom first ran for president. I don't really remember anything about the campaign.
And would Thurmond have been a better president than Harry Truman?
KING: But you don't think he'd of been a better president, say, than Harry Truman who defeated him that year?

LOTT: You know, I'd have to go back and look at the election of that year. Harry Truman obviously did a lot of great things for our country, and, you know, I was trying to remember who the Republican nominee was...

KING: Dewey. Tom Dewey.

LOTT: Yes, it was Dewey. I don't -- you know, I couldn't tell you one thing about what Dewey's policies were at the time. I remember the headline, you know, that Dewey wins.

KING: Yes, Dewey defeats...

LOTT: Yes, Harry Truman won. But, you know, one of the things that people don't even, you know, remember is that his running mate was a guy named Fielding Wright from my state.

Are we in meltdown mode now?

Here's a new statement just out from Joe Lieberman

Senator Lott's recent comments about Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign were hurtful, divisive, and fundamentally un-American. And the hurt they have caused is not going away, and will not until Senator Lott speaks out more explicitly.

The policies of the past that Senator Lott's initial statement appeared to embrace -- specifically, racial segregation -- are not just "discarded," as his apology put it. They are deeply offensive, morally wrong, and wholly contrary to our nation's most important ideal. And the revelation today that Senator Lott expressed nearly identical sentiments in 1980 raises some troubling questions that Senator Lott must answer immediately and fully if he is to restore his credibility as a national leader.

In particular, I would urge Senator Lott to come forward with a specific renunciation and repudiation of the indefensible days of segregation, which are a painful stain on our history, and which either ruined the lives or compromised the freedom of millions of our fellow Americans.

It's not enough to say his words may have been misinterpreted. He needs to speak from his moral center and make clear his commitment to racial equality. One way to do that would be to go beyond issuing another apology and meet directly with the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and show that he understands the hurt his comments have caused. That would go a long way toward healing the wounds that are widening now.

This is not about politics. It's about the fundamental American principle of equal opportunity -- about the core American value that we are all equal because we are all children of the same God. That's evident from the fact that Americans across the political spectrum -- liberals, centrists, and conservatives; Republicans, Independents, and Democrats; and people of every race -- have expressed outrage at what Senator Lott said.

To that end, I believe that President Bush also has a responsibility, as the nation's leader and the leader of Senator Lott's party, to show us where he stands and make clear that Senator Lott's words were unacceptable. The President has spoken vaguely so far through his press secretary, but that is not enough. These harmful words and their underlying message have hit a nerve among the American people -- offending our most basic values -- and I'm confident the President understands that. But the longer he waits to speak out, the more troubling his silence will be.

Honestly, Joe seems a bit late to the party. But he's at least right on the last point. The president's silence is becoming, well ... deafening.

And of course, there's more. In a landmark case decided in 1983 Bob Jones University sued the government of the United States, and particularly the IRS, claiming the IRS had wrongly taken away its tax-exempt status because the school practiced racial discrimination. The Court found against Bob Jones University and another petitioner, Goldsboro Christian Schools, Inc.

Deep in the court opinion we find this little snippet noting which individuals and organizations had filed amicus briefs on behalf of BJU and Goldsboro.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal in No. 81-3 were filed by Earl W. Trent, Jr., and John W. Baker for the American Baptist Churches in the U.S. A. et al.; by William H. Ellis for the Center for Law and Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society; by Forest D. Montgomery for the National Association of Evangelicals; and by Congressman Trent Lott, pro se.
Drip, drip, drip ...