Guilty, he pleads, when pressed on lying to his wife and campaign aides and voters.
Nailed me, he admits, about a furtive visit to Hunter and her infant child at a Los Angeles hotel last year — a clandestine encounter that became decidedly less so after the National Enquirer confronted him at the scene.
But no: Hunter's baby is not his child. Actually, the father happens to be a longtime Edwards friend.
Can this man be believed?
Even Elizabeth Edwards made clear this week that she's leery at best. "I have no idea," she said, when Oprah Winfrey inquired about whether her husband fathered a child from his affair.
With that equivocating answer, Edwards effectively nominated her husband into the gallery of implausible deniability — a place for politicians who have lunged past the standard-issue eye-rollers about "just a friend" or "more time with my family" or "revenue adjustments."
What follows are some of the most lame, most tangled, most flagrantly hard-to-believe explanations perpetrated by caught-in-the-headlights pols.
Rep. Richard Kelly, a Florida Republican, acknowledged that it looked bad when he was caught on video in 1980 stuffing his pocket with $25,000 in bribes from associates of a wealthy Arab sheik — especially when those associates turned out to be undercover FBI agents.
But Kelly said the authorities investigating what became known as the Abscam scandal had it all wrong. Kelly claimed that he was conducting his own personal undercover operation.
OK, but why did he never report the encounter, and why did he go on to spend some of the money? Kelly said it was all part of his plan to maintain his cover and protect his safety from dangerous hoodlums.
“I didn’t want to end up in the garbage can,” Kelly said during his trial.
He was convicted and spent 13 months in a federal slammer.
The “Rose Mary stretch”
The notorious 18½-minute gap in a critical portion of the Watergate tapes was blamed by the Nixon White House on an innocent error by presidential secretary Rose Mary Woods.
Woods said she believed she accidentally hit the erase button on the tape system while pressing a pedal with her foot at the same time she answered a phone located several feet away. Woods, who was fiercely loyal to Nixon, posed for an infamous picture demonstrating the supposed contortion, whereby she looked to be practically falling out of her chair.
After the photo went public, she wasn’t alone.
The “wide stance”
Wood’s defense anticipated by 35 years the one used by then-Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) almost two years ago to explain his awkward encounter with an undercover officer in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.
According to the arrest report, Craig denied he was playing footsy with the cop in order to initiate a sexual encounter, claiming instead that he typically relieved himself while maintaining a “wide stance.”
Unfortunately for Craig, the public took a more narrow stance on what happened that day.
No hablo Español
Why didn’t the powerful chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee tell the Internal Revenue Service about the $75,000 in income he received from a shoreside villa in the Dominican Republic?
Because, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) insisted, he couldn’t understand Spanish well enough — thus he couldn’t read the financial statements, nor could he understand his Dominican business partners.
The Purell defense
When former Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) was pulled over by an Alexandria, Va., cop last May, he registered a highly sloshed .17 blood-alcohol level. The arrest would lead to revelatins that Fossella was having an affair with a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, who picked Fossella up that night when he was released from jail.
In court, Fossella and his attorneys argued that the damning breathalyzer results were not the result of a drinking binge but were caused by the alcohol contained in the hand sanitizer he used hours before.
Last month, Fossella pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.
The father of the bride
After dropping out of the 1992 presidential race in the summer, full of praise for Democrat Bill Clinton, then plunging back in that fall, billionaire Ross Perot had some explaining to do: What gives?
His explanation did not do anything to quiet the skeptics who thought Perot had a slightly erratic streak.
Perot claimed that he had initially dropped out to halt a plot to sabotage his daughter’s wedding.
Offering minimal factual support, Perot said that he had it on good account that a Republican scheme was afoot to release digitally altered photos of his daughter, Caroline, depicting her as a lesbian. In a year when many voters were tired of politics as usual, this loopy explanation did not prevent the third-party candidate from commanding almost 20 percent of the vote.
The hacker defense
Those damned cell phone hackers and their steamy sexting. The defense team for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick put forth the idea that some high-tech mischief-maker had been responsible for the libidinous text chain between Kilpatrick and a former aide.
R U kidding? LOL.
The Scrabble defense
During his ill-fated reelection campaign in 2006, Virginia Sen. George Allen claimed that he spontaneously “made up a nickname” during an encounter with S.R. Sidarth, a young man working for his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb.
Unfortunately that nickname, “macaca,” was already long on the books as a racist slur deriving from a word in French-speaking colonies for monkey.
The Allen campaign subsequently blamed the media for putting words in the Republican’s mouth. And “macaca” went on to be a finalist for the American Dialect Society’s “word of the year” award.
Oh, you mean that woman…
Surprised that we made it this long without getting to Bill Clinton? That’s partly because the 42nd president offers so many selections from which to choose.
Here is a politician who started his 1992 campaign with an explanation of how he would have voted on the first Gulf War (“I guess I would have voted for the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made.”). That year, he would also try to deny pot-smoking (“I never broke the laws of this country”) before confessing, sort of, to partaking of the demon weed in England (“I never inhaled.”) He denied an affair with Gennifer Flowers, despite tapes capturing the two of them talking in very familiar ways. (Seven years later he would admit under oath that this denial was a lie. They had messed around…but just one time…in the 1970s.)
But Clinton’s most famous lame explanations, of course, would wait for his second term and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. On Jan. 26, 1998, Clinton squinted his eyes, jabbed his finger, and seethed: “I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, [pause] Miss Lewinsky.”
This came at a time when there were already voluminous news reports citing White House records making plain that the former intern had, in fact, made dozens of off-hours visits to the Oval Office. Privately, Clinton told aides such as Sidney Blumenthal that this was because of his caring nature and desire to counsel a troubled young woman.
Later, the explanations became a bit more tortured. Clinton told prosecutors that he was legally accurate to deny having sex wth Lewinksy because she performed oral sex on him but he had never touched her in a sexual way: “If the deponent is the person who has oral sex performed on him, then the contact is with — not with anything on that list but with the lips of another person.”
But Clinton is also an illustration of why politicians resort to lame explanations: They sometimes work. By the time Clinton finally 'fessed up publicly to his affair with Lewinsky, most Americans — with the notable exception of his wife — had long since reconciled themselves to this reality. The country had calmed down, and a strong majority had decided that Clinton might be a liar, but he was their liar, and most people did not want to evict a president they viewed as effective over a matter they viewed as private.