Asking Republican lawmakers Wednesday about the hush money that President Donald Trump's lawyer paid to an adult film star shortly before the 2016 presidential election and the lawsuit it spawned this week tended to generate terse, uninterested and/or sheepish replies.
"To me, it has nothing to do with me being a congressman," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., in one representative response.
Not so for Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who has shown an unusual willingness to speak up about Trump's alleged misdeeds.
"It's nefarious, it's awkward, it's unpleasant, it's unseemly," he said Wednesday. "It's not something people feel that comfortable talking about, but frankly it's something we ought to talk about, because it is a big deal."
In this case, Sanford's decision to speak out could be seen as surprising, given his personal history. Sanford admitted to having an affair in 2009 while serving as South Carolina's governor under dramatic circumstances that nearly led to his impeachment and the end of his political career.
While acknowledging the irony posed by his past, Sanford said Wednesday in two interviews with Washington Post reporters that he could not ignore the issues raised by the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star in question.
"People make mistakes, and they do things that they regret," he said. "That said, hush money is a big deal, particularly if it's not ancient history. We're talking about a payment in October of 2016. That is not a long time ago. We're talking about money that was exchanged in the midst of a presidential campaign. I think that's problematic, and I think it needs to be viewed for what it is."
Sanford said the essential issue is fairness.
"If the shoe were on the other foot and there was a Democratic presidential candidate who had done the same, Republicans would probably be holding hearings right now," he said. "So what we can't do is circle the wagons based on tribalism and say we're gonna protect those in our tribe. . . . That doesn't work and it's part of what drives a lot of people away from politics. I think we have to be evenhanded in condemnation of things that people get wrong. We need to offer grace in the process, but we also need to be evenhanded in calling an ace an ace. And what went on here — because it is in fact part of a larger pattern on this front — strikes me as wrong, troublesome, and something worthy of both further study and condemnation."
Earlier in the week, Sanford criticized Trump on another front — blasting his decision to impose wide-ranging tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. In a wide-ranging conversation with a reporter he compared the decision to the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, which was economically disastrous for the South, and the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariffs, which helped deepen the Great Depression.
"We're playing with absolute fire here," he said. "I mean, I think it is a bad idea of epic proportions."