Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway listens during an event for military spouses as part of “American Dream Week,” at the White House in Washington last year. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Media critic

Go to the transcript: In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Dana Bash (filling in for Jake Tapper) pressed counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway about:

*President Trump’s haywire tweeting.

*The prospect of Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen flipping against the president. Bash asked the counselor: “Can you tell me that the president is — can you assure the American people that the reason the president isn’t tweeting concern about Michael Cohen flipping because he is in potential legal jeopardy, given whatever he knows that Michael Cohen has that the feds now have from that search?”

*A bizarre attack on a source for a news story:

*Fired FBI Director James B. Comey’s memos and their implications for the president’s side of the ongoing controversies.

*The social-media habits of George Conway, an accomplished attorney whom The Washington Post last year dubbed “the man at the center of everything.” Last year he withdrew his name from consideration for a top post at the Trump Justice Department.

So, which of these doesn’t fit? Why on earth would CNN be interested in the social-media disposition of some private-sector lawyer? Because he happens to be Kellyanne Conway’s husband. Here is the slipshod manner in which Bash introduced the question to Kellyanne Conway: “Kellyanne, we’re almost — we’re almost out of time,” said Bash. “I just ask you one question that a lot of people are asking me, probably you too. And that is, what is up with your husband’s tweets? Your husband is a very well-respected lawyer, and he’s been sending some tweets that have been critical of the administration. Just an example, in response to a tweet he saw saying President Trump’s aides are reluctant to speak for him because he contradicts them, later, your husband wrote: ‘So true. It’s absurd.'”

On other occasions, the husband of Kellyanne Conway has had certain pithy responses to the idiocies of Trump:

This particular juxtaposition — a top White House aide whose powerful spouse occasionally slams the White House in a public forum — has attracted interest before from media outlets. “Kellyanne Conway’s husband gives Trump a public legal rebuke — and it’s not the first time,” noted Business Insider in April. “Kellyanne Conway is one of Trump’s top aides. Now her husband is trolling her boss,” headlined The Post’s Emily Heil in March. HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg: “Kellyanne Conway’s Husband Is Going Rogue.”

A little detail from the stories of Heil and Feinberg: They both checked with George Conway to ask him about his tweeting (Feinberg checked with the White House, too). They didn’t get any cooperation.

After Bash asked the what’s-up-with-your-husband’s-tweets question, Kellyanne Conway gave her the Kellyanne Conway treatment:

CONWAY: [I]t’s fascinating to me that CNN would go there. But it’s very good for the whole world to have just witnessed that it’s now fair…

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: Excuse me — that it’s now fair game what people’s — how people’s spouses and significant others may differ with them.

I’m really surprised, but very, in some ways, relieved and gratified to see that.

BASH: No.

CONWAY: That should really be fun.

BASH: No, I actually — first of all, I would ask you that if you were a man and your wife…

CONWAY: No, you wouldn’t.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: A thousand percent, I would.

CONWAY: No, no, no, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: And it’s not about that. It’s about — it’s about — it’s about questioning — publicly questioning what you are doing for a living and with regard to your boss.

And it has nothing to do with your gender, and it has…

CONWAY: No, and it has nothing to do with my spouse.

BASH: Right. That’s…

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: … just asking.

(CROSSTALK) CONWAY: Oh, no, no, no, you just brought him — you just brought him into this, so this ought to be fun moving forward, Dana.

BASH: OK.

CONWAY: We’re now going to talk about other people’s — people’s spouses and significant others, just because they either work in the White House or at CNN?

Oh, how right is Kellyanne Conway! Middle-age Washington is nothing but a bunch of people married to kiln-hardened conflicts of interest. The Erik Wemple Blog’s very own maritally derived conflict — wife works as a staff writer at Mother Jones — has been disclosed on these pages several times. We would prefer never to be faced with the question, “Hey, Erik Wemple Blog, what’s up with your wife’s tweets?”

Now, back to the action. Launching off of the standard laid out by Bash, Conway riffed away:

BASH: By the way, this wasn’t critical. I’m just asking about…

CONWAY: Oh, of course it was.

It was meant to harass and embarrass. But let me just tell you something.

BASH: Absolutely not.

CONWAY: Let me just tell you something.

By definition, spouses have a difference of opinion when adultery is happening.

BASH: I could not agree more.

CONWAY: By definition, spouses have a difference of opinion when one is, I don’t know, draining the joint bank account to support things that maybe the other disagrees with.

So, this is a fascinating cross the Rubicon moment. And I will leave it at that.

BASH: OK. Well, that certainly was not intended to cross any Rubicon. It was actually intended to be somewhat lighthearted about the fact that we are all grownups who have different opinions. But I’m sorry that you took it that…

A couple of points here: First, the stuff about adultery and bank accounts — we have no idea whence it comes. Nor will we speculate. But it undermines Conway’s otherwise righteous argument. Second, while Bash may have intended it to be a lighthearted moment, it just didn’t come off that way. Lightheartedness, in fact, may be a commodity impossible to procure in an interview between a CNN host and a representative of the Trump White House.

As the debate wore on, Bash attempted again to justify asking a wife about the actions of her husband: “You are a professional working for the president of the United States, and your husband is a very well-respected lawyer. And my point is, is that we don’t often see — in fact, I don’t remember the last time we saw somebody working for the president in a high-profile position when their spouse is saying critical things about them,” said Bash. “That is all. That is all.”

Of course, that’s not how she opened the matter. She asked “what’s up” with your husband’s tweets? Perhaps Bash could have asked whether Kellyanne Conway’s colleagues at the White House have raised the issue with her. Perhaps Bash could have asked some version of this cheesy Beltway formulation: Is this a distraction for you as you carry out your duties? Perhaps Bash could have asked if she channels any of her husband’s sentiments to the president.

But “what’s up with George’s tweets?” is a question for George Conway, not for Kellyanne Conway.

In a bit of wagon-circling Monday morning on CNN’s “New Day,” host Alisyn Camerota said, “Let’s just remember for one second that it is also President Trump that has gone after Ted Cruz’s wife, Andrew McCabe’s wife. So Kellyanne Conway saying, ‘You never go after the spouse.’ Tell your boss.” May Donald Trump’s name never be invoked as a benchmark for journalistic ethics.

Read more from Erik Wemple:

Rudy Giuliani’s pre-election comments on Fox News prompted an FBI leak investigation

Sean Hannity cannot tweet his way out of journalistic corruption

How a Web marketer sneaked her pseudonym into U.S. News, New York Times