The Rev. Al Sharpton was rankled by headlines dubbing him a "rat" for carrying a bugged FBI briefcase into meetings with Mafia figures in the 1980s.
He made this clear in a news conference yesterday as he responded to The Smoking Gun website's publication of federal documents that referred to Sharpton as "CI-7," a confidential informant.
"I'm a cat. I chase rats," Sharpton said.
He does seem to have nine lives.
Anyone surprised at these details of Sharpton's gig as CI-7 is either excusably young or has disregarded the 59-year-old reverend's uncanny gift for landing on his feet.
TV audiences know less than they think about people who achieve celebrity, that most-envied American asset. This may be especially so of the quick-witted Sharpton, whose ability to prevail in the civic spotlight eclipses a past that included involvement in the Tawana Brawley hoax, IRS proceedings against his city-based National Action Network and a presidential campaign that left behind hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
On Jan. 20, 1988, New York Newsday first reported Sharpton had been "secretly supplying federal law enforcement agencies with information" for about five years.
At the time, the Brooklyn minister was presenting himself as a militant civil-rights activist agitating for justice in racially-tinged cases.
Some who accepted his fight-the-power image never reconciled it with his own acknowledgment of having allowed the U.S. attorney's office to tap his home phone, purportedly to nail drug dealers.
Every day's a new day for Sharpton -- which is one reason that President Barack Obama is due to headline the National Action Network convention this week. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a frequent Sharpton ally, said the new report "doesn't change the relationship one bit. I'm very proud to be his friend."
Seven years is a long time in politics generally and for Sharpton in particular. In March 2007, with Obama an underdog for president, Sharpton expressed sharp irritation with the U.S. senator from Illinois, suggesting he might be taking African-American support for granted.
"Why shouldn't the black community ask questions? Are we now being told, 'You all just shut up?' " Sharpton asked. "I'm not going to be cajoled or intimidated by any candidate."
Nowadays, on MSNBC, Sharpton reliably slams GOP critics of Obama. And now, he says of his past as CI-7: "I did what I tell kids every day all over the country, and that is, deal with getting guns and crime out of their community and cooperate with the law."
Sharpton failed in his own long-shot Democratic campaigns for U.S. Senate in 1992, for New York City mayor in 1997 and president in 2004. His partisanship has never been hard core. In 1986, for example, he endorsed Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato over Democratic challenger Mark Green -- and declined to help D'Amato's opponent six years later after losing the Democratic nomination.
In 2011, Sharpton landed at MSNBC. Months earlier, he was helping Comcast Corp. as it sought Federal Communications Commission approval to merge with NBCUniversal -- which owns MSNBC.