“Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing ‘fake news’ . . . As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer,” and talked about Trump “like a child she had to set straight.”
After the book was published, Conway said the idea that she was a viciously critical leaker was a pure lie and that she was the furthest thing from a backstabber: “While it’s rare, I prefer to knife people from the front, so they see it coming.”
Leaking and lying. Lying and leaking. It’s been the Kellyanne way, and the news media has largely gone along for the ride: Giving her airtime on news shows, failing to forcefully call her out for her continued violations of the Hatch Act, and offering kid-glove treatment in exchange for her inside information.
Perhaps more than any other Trump official, she has undermined the entire notion that truthful information should be expected from the White House and that public officials at the highest level should be held accountable for their words and deeds.
“She has been an innovator in shamelessness, a true entrepreneurial spirit, and that is saying something in this group,” as Jack Holmes, Esquire’s politics editor, put it.
Now that Conway — scheduled to speak Wednesday evening as part of the Republican National Convention — is finally on her way out, we can start to get a full picture of just what a dire influence she’s been.
It was all quite plain, though, from the beginning.
In January of 2017, she uttered the instant-classic phrase “alternative facts” in an interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News, as she blithely defended the indefensible: White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s pitiful insistence, against all evidence, that Trump’s inauguration crowds were the biggest ever.
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that,” she said. She also told Todd he’d been “overly dramatic” to push back against Spicer’s falsehood.
Nearly two years later, she had become even bolder about her deceptions. In an on-air wrangle with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, she denied the known facts about the pre-election hush-money payments made to two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who had been sexually involved with Trump.
“Christopher, in April of 2018, Donald J. Trump, the president, and everybody else were told about the payments,” Conway said. A straight-up lie, since an audio recording from August 2016 made public months earlier showed Trump and his then-fixer/lawyer Michael Cohen discussing one of the payments.
Yet she kept being invited on the air, she continued being a key source for reporters, and she schmoozed her way through every problem.
“Thank God the White House correspondents’ dinner is over so I don’t have to see reporters drinking with Kellyanne at Fiola Mare again,” one astute media observer told me recently, mentioning a high-priced, see-and-be-seen Georgetown waterfront restaurant.
Worse, though, were her repeated violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from political activity while serving in their official roles. Conway got away with it — disingenuously referring to efforts to call it out as violations of her free speech. In doing so, she paved the way for further likely abuses, such as having Secretary of State Mike Pompeo give a convention speech this week or Trump’s use of the White House as a backdrop for parts of the convention.
But the political press, with some exceptions, gave Kellyanne a pass. More than that, they seemed to like her just fine.
“They will all attend her farewell drinks,” predicted Matt Negrin, a producer for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” in a blistering series of tweets.
None of this is new. Just ask anyone who has read Mark Leibovich’s 2013 classic “This Town,” about the symbiotic and incestuous relationship between politicians and the D.C. press.
The spin, the leak, the plausible denial; rinse and repeat endlessly.
But Kellyanne Conway took it all to a disgusting new level.
As she departs the White House, in part because of family concerns (“less drama, more mama” as she put it, a cringe-inducing phrase unlikely to endear her to a rebellious teenage daughter), she leaves a shameful legacy:
Lie with impunity. Trade access for hands-off media treatment. Trash the press publicly and manipulate reporters privately.
And, no doubt, find a lucrative next chapter because the last one went so very, very well.
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