Trump’s Mean Girls

Things change when there’s no point in those things even existing anymore. Elevator operators disappeared. Anyone can push the button for their floor. There are no more switchboard operators. There are no more pay phones. None of that is necessary now. The world changed. And there may never be another White House press secretary again:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary who fiercely defended President Trump through one of the most tumultuous periods in American politics while presiding over the end of the iconic daily news briefing, will step down at the end of the month.

Mr. Trump announced her departure on Thursday on Twitter, the presidential tweet having supplanted the role that a White House press secretary played in previous administrations. He later praised her for her grit, her heart and her loyalty to him and his goals.

“We’ve been through a lot together. She’s tough and she’s good,” the president said as he brought Ms. Sanders onstage at an unrelated event in the East Room of the White House. “She’s a warrior,” he added, kissing her affectionately on the side of the head.

But she’s useless now. The Brits would say she’s been “made redundant” – her services are no longer needed. The president tweets. He needs no one else to explain himself. And he suggested she get a real job:

While Ms. Sanders said she planned to spend more time with her three children, Mr. Trump urged her to run for governor of Arkansas, an ambition she has quietly nurtured for some time. Her father, Mike Huckabee, served as governor from 1996 to 2007. The current governor, Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, was just re-elected last year but cannot run again in 2022 because of term limits.

Let her do that. She cannot come back. There’s no job now. No successor was announced because there will be no successor. Trump can tweet. And there will be no communications director. Hope Hicks left long ago and Fox News’ Bill Shine left in March. Trump is his own communications director.

Still, this woman had been useful:

At one point, she suspended the White House pass of a CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, who angered the president, only to have a judge order it reinstated. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, wrote in his report that Ms. Sanders had admitted it was untrue when she claimed the White House had heard from “countless” agents who complained about James B. Comey, FBI director fired by Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Trump admired her, concluding that she had the right disposition for the job, one senior administration official said on Thursday.

That is, she was willing to blithely tell outrageous and sometimes rather laughable lies, over and over, and then double-down on them, and then when caught she shrugged – and then she’d go on to lie about something else. She knew it. The press knew it. And that was that:

Breaking with decades of tradition, Ms. Sanders effectively killed the daily briefing from the White House lectern that had been one of the most visible symbols of the American presidency. It has been 94 days since she held a formal briefing. Instead, she left the daily feeding of the media to Mr. Trump, who prefers to speak for himself and takes questions from reporters on a far more regular basis than most of his recent predecessors.

She was unnecessary, but there has always been another way of looking at this:

Katie Hill, a former assistant press secretary for President Barack Obama and now his post-presidential spokeswoman, said the daily briefing was not just for the benefit of the press. She said it served as an “organizing mechanism” for the administration, from the Treasury Department to the National Security Council, to understand and carry out the president’s priorities.

“It was one of the most powerful tools that the White House had to signal to the rest of the world what its message was and what its beliefs were,” Ms. Hill said.

Press secretaries used to hold those daily briefings to make announcements – this is the day’s agenda, as it fits into the week’s agenda, as that fits into the week’s goals and the general point of it all. These were short and quite dull affairs. This is the plan for the day. Does anyone have any questions? No? Okay – see ya tomorrow.

She didn’t even do that. She was Trump’s mascot. And she was his lightening rod. She took the direct hits:

She became one of the most recognizable faces of the administration, a popular figure on the right who was cheered at Mr. Trump’s rallies. But she was vilified by the left, once asked to leave a restaurant and skewered by a comic at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner who mocked her “Smokey Eye” makeup and compared her to “an Uncle Tom” for “white women.”

Ms. Sanders never gave an inch, pushing back against her critics and the president’s while declining to repudiate Mr. Trump’s description of the news media as the “enemy of the people.”

And the boss loved that, not that this did her much good:

Viewing performances like these, Mr. Trump grew to trust Ms. Sanders, appreciating her public loyalty to him, even if legions of critics said it came at the cost of her credibility.

But in the past several months, as the press briefing atrophied and then disappeared, a Washington mystery emerged: What was the press secretary doing all day if she was not briefing the press?

Ah, that would be this:

During the president’s recent overseas trips, Ms. Sanders and other White House aides posted behind-the-scenes updates to Instagram.

In Tokyo, she took a sushi-making class. In London, she posted a Buckingham Palace selfie with Louise Linton, the actress who is married to the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. (In an undocumented interaction, she asked the Prince of Wales to sign her dinner menu. He did.) In Ireland, Ms. Sanders and her husband, Bryan, took a photo with a group of Trump loyalists at the president’s private golf club and visited a local pub.

“The best days for a press secretary are the days you don’t brief,” Ari Fleischer, who had the job during President George W. Bush’s administration, said in an interview before Ms. Sanders’s resignation was announced. “Sarah’s having a lot more best days than I ever had.”

And then she was gone, but then there’s her buddy, Trump’s other mean girl:

The Office of Special Counsel on Thursday recommended the removal of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway from federal office for violating the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work.

The report submitted to President Trump found that Conway violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.” The agency described her as a “repeat offender.”

Of course the origins of this go back a long way:

The Hatch Act, also known as the “Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” was signed into law in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then-Sen. Carl Hatch (D-N.M.) introduced the bill amid allegations that Democratic politicians gained an unfair advantage in the 1938 midterms through employees at the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal employment agency.

So, here, FDR had to deal with the accusation all of those millions of WPA workers were, at times, not building roads and bridges and schools and the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge. They were, on the government’s dime, out campaigning for FDR and the Democrats. That wasn’t fair and the Hatch Act would fix that. They’d have to do politics on their own time and on their own dime. And that, in early 1939, would keep those damned Republicans quiet.

That’s the history and those are the rules, not that it matters much:

The decision about whether to remove Conway is up to Trump. A senior White House official said Thursday the president is unlikely to punish Conway and instead will defend her. The White House counsel immediately issued a letter calling for the agency to withdraw its recommendation that Conway be removed – a request the Office of Special Counsel declined.

So no one can DO anything, but they can trash-talk:

In an interview, Special Counsel Henry Kerner called his recommendation that a political appointee of Conway’s stature be fired “unprecedented.”

“You know what else is unprecedented?” said Kerner, a Trump appointee who has run the agency since December 2017. “Kellyanne Conway’s behavior!”

“In interview after interview, she uses her official capacity to disparage announced candidates, which is not allowed,” he said, adding: “What kind of example does that send to the federal workforce? If you’re high enough up in the White House, you can break the law, but if you’re a postal carrier or a regular federal worker, you lose your job?”

And on the other side:

The White House on Thursday said the agency’s assessment of Conway’s actions was “deeply flawed” and violated “her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.”

But wait! Shouldn’t she be doing that on her own time? Democrats pay her salary too. And there are the larger issues:

Legal experts said that if the president refuses to enforce Hatch Act violations, it will reduce the force of the law.

“He’s essentially writing the Hatch Act out of existence,” said Andrew Herman, an attorney in Washington who specializes in election law and congressional ethics and investigations. “He’s telling Congress, ‘I don’t care what you enact. I’m not going to faithfully meet my duties to make sure that the law is upheld.’ ”

Democratic lawmakers said the White House response sends the message that complying with the law is optional. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), chairman of the House Oversight committee, said he will hold a hearing this month with the Office of Special Counsel about its findings and seek Conway’s participation.

Fine, but complying with this particular law may actually be optional:

Trump can simply decide not to follow the agency’s recommendation, legal experts said.

“Because Kellyanne Conway is a presidential appointee, the Office of Special Counsel itself does not have authority to discipline her,” said Daniel Jacobson, who worked on ethics and compliance matters at the White House Counsel’s Office during the Obama administration. “They can only recommend disciplinary measures, and it is up to the president to take up the recommendation or not.”

Jacobson said he could not recall a previous episode in which the agency recommended such drastic action against a White House appointee.

Well, something odd is going on:

Since Trump took office, the Office of Special Counsel has fielded an unusually high number of queries from civil servants on both sides of the political divide about what is permissible for them to say in the workplace, agency officials said.

 As the 2020 race is getting underway, federal agencies have been reminding employees that politicking at work is not allowed.

In the heat of a political campaign, federal employees cannot “engage in communications that are directed at the success or failure” of Trump or any other candidate, according to OSC guidance.

Government workers do ask, and the rules are clear:

This week, acting defense secretary Pat Shanahan sent 750,000 Defense Department civilians two memos reminding them to limit “active partisan political activities or actions” on the job. The missives come in the wake of an episode in which the White House requested that the USS John S. McCain warship be kept out of sight during Trump’s visit to Japan.

They can donate to a political campaign on their time, but they cannot solicit money or bundle campaign contributions for a candidate. And they can’t do anything official at work, including tweeting, that appears to endorse the president for reelection or endorse a Democrat trying to unseat Trump.

That may apply to Kellyanne Conway or it may not, depending on who you ask, but Lloyd Grove reports that one of the other mean girls is having second thoughts:

It has been far too long since America has heard from Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Linton, you may recall, became instantly notorious in August 2017 as a modern-day Marie Antoinette when she bragged on Instagram about her super-rich lifestyle, and then mocked one of her online critics – a Portland, Oregon, mother of three -for not having as opulent a bank account or paying as much as Linton does in taxes, and also for being “adorably out of touch.”

Los Angeles Magazine editor Maer Roshan has remedied the problem of Linton-free public discourse with a glamorously illustrated cover story rife with movie-star poses, in which the 38-year-old aspiring actress dishes on how uncomfortable she’s being made to feel by President Donald Trump’s hard-right social policies, and her terrible ordeal of being married to a high-ranking public servant in Washington, D.C.

“It sucks being hated,” she confides to Roshan during the three interviews she granted in her “massive Bel Air mansion,” the last two for which she sent her publicist packing.

Louise is feeling oppressed:

Linton, an ardent animal-rights advocate, acknowledges the awkwardness when she is compelled to sit at a dinner table with, among other members of the Trump family, big game hunter Donald Trump Jr.

“Yes, I feel uncomfortable,” she says.

Junior does like to kill large endangered species, but there’s more to this:

She’s no fan of the Trump administration’s increasingly antagonistic stand toward LGBTQ Americans either.

“Look, all of my besties are gay,” Linton says. “I did the Pride Run last year and again this year. Either I can express my beliefs and be at odds with my husband and his boss and get in trouble that way, or I can decline to comment and be in hot water with everyone else. Sucks either way. I very much respect my husband and the president of the United States, but I am an individual with my own beliefs and views. You should measure me by my actions, the friends I keep and the charities I support, not by the politics of my husband. It’s like walking a tightrope of dental floss in high heels and trying not to fall left or right.”

Poor baby! Sarah and Kellyanne need to teach her how to be as mean as hell. She’s not one of Trump’s mean girls.

But there are other mean girls, and some on the other side:

The head of the Federal Election Commission released a statement on Thursday evening reiterating, emphatically, that foreign assistance is illegal in U.S. elections.

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” wrote Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the FEC. “This is not a novel concept.”

She also sent the statement via Twitter with the introductory line: “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”

But she did need to say this:

Weintraub’s statement comes after President Donald Trump told ABC News that he would probably hear out opposition information offered by a foreign national if given the chance in 2020. He also said he might not tell the FBI about it, even though bureau Director Christopher Wray said such assistance would need to be reported…

“Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation,” she said in her statement. “Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Trump says that’s not true. Trump has said Christopher Wray is wrong. Now he has to say Ellen Weintraub is wrong. Trump appointed Christopher Wray to head the FBI and George W. Bush appointed Ellen Weintraub to chair the FEC – so no Democrats are picking on Donald Trump this time. There’s just this one mean girl this time.

He’s not the only one with mean girls. He’d better watch out.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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