For all of the attention being given to former Donald Trump super PAC staffer Stephanie Cegielski's excoriation of the candidate she once worked to support, there's only one real reason to assume she has standing to be able to speak for the inner workings of the campaign.
A super PAC, as you no doubt know by now, must legally operate in isolation from any candidate it hopes to support. Since such PACs aren't constrained by fundraising limits and candidates are, it would undermine campaign finance laws if candidates could simply tell hugely wealthy PACs how to spend their money. So if everything was on the up-and-up, Cegielski, as an employee of the "Make America Great Again PAC," would have been in no position to know what was happening in the Trump campaign.
"Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count," Cegielski writes at XOJane. Trump's goal? "His candidacy was a protest candidacy."
Nothing else in the column matters. All the rest of it, all of the talk about Cegielski's conversion from Trump fan to Trump hater, her critiques of all of his foreign policy and his tweeting and all of that -- there's no reason to care unless Cegielski actually had some insight into what the campaign thought it was doing. Which she shouldn't have. Except that she says she was in Trump Tower, hearing details of the campaign's strategy.
Cegielski is a public relations person. Thoroughly. She was literally the P.R. person for the Public Relations Society of America -- P.R. with a P.R. icing -- until she was dismissed from that position last summer. At that point, she went freelance, offering her services to Make America Great Again in return for what amounted to $62,500. She also took a position teaching a class at New York University's School of Professional Studies. The class? Reputation Management.
It's natural, then, to assume that this column is as much a brilliant bit of P.R. for Stephanie Cegielski as it is a reflection of what was happening in the Trump campaign. For its part, the campaign denies that she would have had any insight to offer. In a statement to The Post, campaign communications lead Hope Hicks wrote that Cegielski "was never employed by the Trump campaign. She worked for a Super PAC, which Mr. Trump disavowed and requested the closure of via the FEC. She knows nothing about Mr. Trump or the campaign and her disingenuous and factually inaccurate statements in no way resemble any shred of truth."
"This is yet another desperate person looking for their fifteen minutes," Hicks wrote.
It would have been possible that Cegielski was being recruited for a position with the campaign at Trump Tower before accepting the position with the PAC. There's no law against that, as it turns out, since Cegielski wouldn't be barred from talking to the campaign if she didn't work for the PAC yet. But Hicks says that didn't happen.
(It is also clearly not that case that Cegielski was a "top-strategist-turned-defector," as XOJane's enthusiastic headline claims. The PAC itself had no apparent effect on anything.)
One of the reasons that the Make America Great Again PAC shut down, we'll note, is that The Washington Post raised questions about its ties to the campaign. Trump, we reported, appeared at fundraising events held by the PAC, which is common and allowed by the FEC. But Mike Ciletti, a consultant working for the group, also reached out to donors using information obtained from Trump staffers. He also owns a print shop that did work for the Trump campaign.
In October, The Post's Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger wrote:
Ciletti began working with Trump’s team in the run-up to his June 16 announcement and visited the Trump Tower offices multiple times, according to two people who saw him there. By July, he was fielding pitches from vendors who wished to do work for the PAC, according to a consultant who did a presentation for Ciletti.
We reached out to Cegielski to try and determine the point at which she spoke with the PAC and, she seems to claim, the campaign. (No word back yet.) That's the only question that matters. If she didn't have any inside information -- as Trump's team claims -- her story is a story that could have come from any number of people loosely attached to any number of candidates.
And if she did have inside information, the more interesting story is how the PAC and the campaign interacted -- not that she, like so many other Republicans, would rather not see Trump win the nomination. Which is why the post went viral, of course. The idea that an "insider" turned against the candidate is catnip for people who hate the candidate.
As an exercise in reputation management, in light of that, the piece was clearly a success.