Then she knifed the very arrangement she’d applauded. Acting, as usual, in the best propaganda interests of President Trump, Grisham invited One American News Network correspondent Chanel Rion to attend briefings outside of her participation in the seat rotation. Rion has a gift for asking Trump questions that match with his fondest talking points.
This act of uncanny self-sabotage now stands as one of Grisham’s final acts in her tenure as press secretary for Trump. News broke on Tuesday that she will be returning to the East Wing as chief of staff for Melania Trump, whom she served as communications director before becoming press secretary. “I continue to be honored to serve both the President and first lady in the administration,” Grisham said in a statement. “My replacements will be announced in the coming days and I will stay in the West Wing to help with a smooth transition for as long as needed.”
Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign spokeswoman, will replace Grisham. She’ll be the fourth to attempt to serve as the administration’s top press liaison, an utterly impossible job.
Starting last July, Grisham took over a storied Washington title whose cachet was already on the decline: Her predecessor, Sarah Sanders, had stopped doing formal briefings in the James S. Brady briefing room as of March 11, 2019. Nor was there a plan to reinstate them. Grisham argued that the president himself does frequent Q-and-A sessions with reporters. But the president’s chattiness never justified killing the briefings, in part because the more Trump talks, the more need there is for a press secretary to amend, clarify or un-lie Trump’s statements. That dynamic has never been clearer than during the coronavirus crisis, when Trump routinely spends hours at the briefing room lectern, generating more questions than answers.
In addition to serving as press secretary, Grisham also held the titles of White House communications director and communications director for the first lady. “It is 100% of my job(s) — plural — period. If you do want some math I can tell you that I do three jobs for 1/3 the salary that it would normally cost taxpayers,” Grisham told the Erik Wemple Blog in an email earlier this year. (Apparently that deal didn’t appeal to new White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who pushed for McEnany’s installment.) All the behind-the-scenes work was quite a departure for a press secretary. Grisham’s predecessors — Sanders and Sean Spicer — turned into highly controversial figures under Trump, known for soulless and mendacious defenses of the commander in chief. Grisham’s absence from the lectern prompted the Erik Wemple Blog to ask her: If you’re not doing the briefings, what are you doing?
Grisham was happy to oblige, sending this description of a day in January:
Phone calls w press beginning around 5:45 for AM showsMet with 7 members of my staff (separately) on internal staff mattersMet with the legal teamMet w the POTUSSpoke to FLOTUS on a few issuesFace timed my son to tell him to have a good day at schoolMtg in the sit roomTwo mtgs with the [chief of staff] on two separate issuesMtg with my comms team on impeachment and Davos next weekMtg with the Advance team on Davos and press access/movementsAs of this moment I have eaten two saltine crackers and had three cups of coffeeReading through talking points and messaging for next week so I can approve disseminationIve used the restroom twiceIn between all of that I have received countless texts and emails from reporters and other agency comms people, all of which I try to stay on top of — keeping in mind I am often in meetings that require my phone remain outsideOh, and now taking the time to explain my day to you.
Her activities weren’t all shrouded. In a much-remarked-about moment on Trump’s visit to North Korea last summer, Grisham got physical with North Korean officials in order to clear a path for U.S. media to access an important meeting. She sustained a bruise.
Back at home, Grisham did what was required of all White House officials these days: to salute their own dear leader. Last October, for example, former White House chief of staff John Kelly disclosed that he’d told Trump that if he hired a “yes man” for his next chief of staff, he’d be impeached. Grisham’s two cents? “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our President.”
Other highlights came from Fox News, a safe refuge for Grisham throughout her short-lived tenure. In a “Fox & Friends” appearance from last October, she stood foursquare behind a presidential tweet calling “Never Trump” Republicans “human scum”:
Demonstrating, once again, that there is no humanity in a Trump-led White House, Grisham told “Fox & Friends”: “It is horrible that people are working against a president who is delivering results for this country and has been since day one. And, the fact that people continue to try to negate anything he’s been trying to do and take away from the good work he’s doing on behalf of the American people, they deserve strong language like that.”
White House correspondents groused that for her appearances on Fox News, Grisham commonly did her talking from one of the network’s studios, as opposed to standing before a camera on the White House lawn, as Sanders was accustomed to doing. Once Sanders finished chatting, correspondents were able to ambush her with questions on her way back into the White House. There was no such luck with Grisham.
C-SPAN tells the story. Press secretaries tend to speak in public quite a bit, a role that pads their C-SPAN archives (which measure speaking appearances). Spicer has a long C-SPAN tail, as do Sanders, Josh Earnest, Jay Carney, Dana Perino, etc. As for Grisham? There’s nothing there.
Correction: A previous version of this post said that Trump had called Democrats “human scum.” In fact, he used that term in reference to Republican critics.