Last night on a special post-debate edition of Hardball, MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews railed against Ted Cruz for his supposedly McCarthyite attacks on Donald Trump vis-a-vis his undisclosed tax returns. Yet in August 2012 after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) insisted on the Senate floor that an unnamed source told him Romney hadn't paid taxes in a decade, Matthews led his program with the charge and gave it credence.
"Well, you just saw a classic move by Ted Cruz," Matthews groused immediately after NBC's Hallie Jackson spoke briefly with Cruz in the post-debate spin room, asking him about his criticism of Trump not releasing his tax returns.
Cruz, Matthews bristled, "accused" Donald Trump or at least "certainly put out the strong suggestion that he [Trump] was guilty of tax fraud a couple times there."
"Tax fraud! Without any evidence!" Matthews wailed. "[T]hat's McCarthyism, and you just saw Cruz engage in it," Matthews seethed.
But Matthews sang a far different tune back on August 3, 2012, one day after Harry Reid took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to insist that an anonymous source told him that Romney had not paid any federal taxes in 10 years.
Here's how the Hardball host opened that program. You'll notice Matthews put the onus on Romney as a guy who was hiding something, not Reid for making an unsubstantiated charge (emphasis mine):
August 3, 2012
onscreen graphic during segment: Photos of Reid and Romney with caption "Put Up or Shut Up"
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: If you want a crowd, start a fight. Let’s play Hardball.
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews down in Washington.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. One of my rules of politics is that if the truth about a politician is better than it appears, they’ll come out and tell you. If, however, the truth is worse, the politician will clam up and stay clammed.
Mitt Romney has refused to release his income taxes over the years. All he’ll put out is that 2010 return. He promises to put out his 2011 returns. So what about all the years he was swashbuckling at Bain, all those decades when he was making the big money? Did he pay taxes in those years, like regular people? And if not, why not?
Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, is now on the hunt for Romney. Reid says Romney`s sitting on 10 years of not paying any federal taxes at all. Romney says Reid should put up or shut up, but hey, isn’t Romney the one refusing to put up?
Let’s hear from David Corn of Mother Jones and Robert Costa of National Review.
Gentlemen, this fight has gotten to be a street fight. It`s livened up. I don`t know whether Reid’s playing surrogate or what he’s doing. Unusual for him, but he’s popping this guy.
Four days after this episode of Hardball, Reid's claim earned "4 Pinocchios" from Washington Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler, no conservative he.
Last year, Reid reveled in the success of his Senate floor lie, noting that it worked in that Romney did not win the presidency. It was such a display of slimey hubris it was rebuked at the Huffington Post.
What follows is a transcript of Matthews's relevant remarks from last night:
Special edition of Hardball
February 25, 2016; 11:37 p.m. Eastern
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: Well, you just saw a classic move by Ted Cruz, dropping out there that the Trump, whatever he knows, he doesn't say he knows anything, he just said, well, he's guilty of an ethics violation by not releasing his tax returns publicly. That's not an ethics violation, that's a political problem for him.
And then he accused him, or certainly put out the strong suggestion he was guilty of tax fraud a couple times there.
Tax fraud! Without any evidence, apparently. Well, I think somebody should ask the senator there, when you throw out these accusations like Chuck Hagel was up for secretary of defense took $200,000 from the North Koreans and throw that kind of stuff out, that's McCarthyism and you just saw Cruz engage in it.
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