Barack Obama really knows how to pick quiet appointments, doesn’t he? The New York Times recalls that his choice for Secretary of the Navy, former Mississippi governor Ray Mabus, created a national scandal during his divorce a few years ago by surreptitiously taping a marital-counseling session conducted by his minister and playing it in court. His wife later sued the church, and is appealing the dismissal:
President Obama’s nominee for secretary of the Navy was involved in a divorce that drew national attention for his secret taping of a conversation between his wife and his family priest that he used against her in court proceedings.
The nominee, Ray Mabus, is a former governor of Mississippi and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and he served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Mr. Mabus, a Democrat, was a strong supporter of Mr. Obama in the campaign last year.
In 1998, as Mr. Mabus and his wife, Julie (now Julie Hines), sought to work out their marital problems, he surreptitiously recorded a meeting the couple had with the Rev. Jerry McBride, a mutual friend.
Mr. Mabus had told Mr. McBride in advance that he had been advised by a lawyer to tape the conversation, according to court records. Neither man mentioned the recording to Ms. Hines. During the session, she admitted having an affair and told her husband, “I will hate you till the day I die, and I will tell my children.”
An expert psychiatric witness for Mr. Mabus referred to Ms. Hines’s recorded comments as evidence that he should get legal custody of the couple’s two daughters. The judge in the case awarded legal custody to Mr. Mabus and split physical custody between him and Ms. Hines.
Hines didn’t keep quiet about it. She conducted a media tour in 2002 to discuss the implications for privacy. And she has a point, at least regarding the church; the minister’s decision to play along with Mabus in that instance is a fairly stark betrayal, even if it isn’t actionable under the law, which the Mississippi Supreme Court still has to determine.
However colorful this may be for Mabus, I don’t think it’s material to his appointment. People do strange and embarrassing things in divorces, just as they say terrible things to each other in marital counseling sessions (which is why McBride should be ashamed of his role in this situation). It’s not even in the same league as Tim Geithner’s tax evasion, or Bill Richardson’s pay-for-play scandal, or even Vivek Kundra’s theft conviction. It didn’t break the law, and it didn’t have anything to do with Mabus’ conduct on the job. That makes it, in my mind, a non-issue.
Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, both Republicans, say they support Mabus and will see him through to confirmation. Unless something else arises that shows Mabus engaged in illegal or corrupt conduct, that’s the right decision.