●Replying to former chief of staff John F. Kelly, who said in an interview that he warned Trump about hiring “yes men,” Grisham over the weekend said of the four-star Marine general: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
●Grisham agreed with her boss’s assessment last week that “Never Trump” Republicans are “human scum.” Asked about that presidential characterization during a Fox News interview, she expanded it to include all of his critics: “The people who are against him, and who have been against him, and have been working against him since the day they took office are just that.”
●After career diplomat, Vietnam veteran and U.S. Military Academy graduate William Taylor testified in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry last week, she issued a statement referring to Taylor and the proceeding as “a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”
●Following the release of undercover videos of CNN employees alleging an anti-Trump bias at the network earlier this month, Grisham offered this bit of media criticism on Twitter: “CNN’s corporate leaders have failed the American people. They have also failed their own employees.”
The sharp-tongued commentary is all part of the job, says Grisham, who took over for Sanders in July.
“It is literally my job to support and defend the President, so it is odd to me that I am being asked to defend or explain ‘comments in support’ of my boss,” she said in an exchange of emails. “Previous press secretaries have also used [strong language], so again, not sure why I am being singled out here.”
Grisham cited examples that she said were similar to her recent comments. Among them: President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, once called her boss “a genius” for his ability to absorb and synthesize information. Clinton’s communications adviser, George Stephanopoulos, also referred to Clinton as “Secretariat” because he was a “thoroughbred” as a campaigner, Grisham noted. And she said President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, once said, “I think he [Obama] is the smartest guy that I’ve ever worked with or known.”
All of which is rich, even fawning, praise, but not exactly the same as some of the scorched-earth commentary that Grisham has offered lately.
Grisham has regularly echoed Trump’s broadsides or fired off her own, especially as congressional Democrats have ramped up their impeachment proceedings. On Tuesday, she issued a statement slamming the process as “an illegitimate sham” and “a scam” and said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) “repeatedly lies.” On Monday, she said the House was taking “secret, shady, closed-door depositions” from witnesses.
Some former White House press secretaries find the rhetorical tone to be a bit unusual. To say the least.
It’s “off the deep end,” said Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary under Clinton and is now a communications consultant. “I think her comment [about John Kelly] was instructive because it suggests [she’s] shifted from a traditional communications person to a cult-of-personality propagandist. It’s the kind of thing you see in North Korea. It reminds me of what the North Korean state media said about [the late dictator] Kim Jong Il’s golf game” — that he shot an impossible 34 in a single round.
Added Lockhart: “Up until this president, the press secretary’s job was to balance the interests of the president and the interests of the press. Some did it well, some poorly, but everyone tried to do it. They don’t try. I’ve never seen people like this in our country.”
Ari Fleischer, a press secretary to President George W. Bush, is somewhat more sympathetic toward Grisham, whom he suggests is merely taking her cues from Trump. The Kelly statement, he said, was probably dictated to her by the president. “It sounds much more like him than it does her.”
Said Fleisher, who heads a communications firm: “My issue here is with the president. I didn’t like his use of the phrase ‘human scum,’ just as I didn’t like the use of the word Nazi that some of his opponents have used against him. I wish people in public life would stop seeking to delegitimize their political opponents.”
But Trump’s verbal thunder leaves his press secretary with little room to maneuver. “Once a president says something, the press secretary, whose job is to speak for the president, either needs to support and explain what the president said or resign,” Fleischer said. “There is no distancing yourself from the president when you are the president’s spokesman.”
What makes Trump’s press secretary unusual, however, is that she rarely makes her statements to the media or public at large, preferring instead to channel her thoughts primarily through official statements, tweets and print interviews.
Since replacing Sanders nearly four months ago (while also becoming White House communications director and remaining Melania Trump’s spokeswoman), Grisham, 43, hasn’t faced the White House press corps in a single briefing. Considering that Sanders gave only two briefings in the first half of the year, Trump’s press secretaries are now two for 2019 in doing what had been routine in previous administrations.
She argues that it’s unfair to criticize her for this: “First I wasn’t doing any TV and that was a big deal. . . . Now I am doing ‘only Fox’ and that is [described as] a problem,” she said. “When does it stop? When will I be doing enough?”
She adds, “As with everything, I will do things when it is most beneficial to the president.”