The White House Communications Staff and Press office are still managing the fall out of last week’s leak of Kelly Sadler’s joke in a closed door meeting about John McCain’s opinion not mattering because he “is dying anyway”. In the face of perpetual leaks, the White House is conducting an internal review of the leak, but has not yet determined who leaked the embarrassing statement. Pinpointing the leak has been difficult as the job of staffers and aids is to interact with the press on a daily basis and leakers go out of their way to cover their tracks.
After Kellyann Conway told Fox News that personnel changes can be expected and President Trump tweeted that leakers are “traitors and cowards”, rumors of firings and a restructuring of the communications team has led to staffers to worry that people will be fired, guilty or not, as an example, Politico reports.
In this White House, one former administration official said, media stories can become so intense and frequent that they “hit a critical mass,” turn into an echo chamber, and something must be done to stop the negative headlines and the president’s displeasure.
People could be canned, in other words, to set an example for others.
“The mood is bad. They are serious, and somebody will pay the price,” said the former administration official. “While there have always been a lot of internal leaks, in this particular case, it was easy to isolate where it was coming from because it happened in a communications meeting.”
The White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah admits there discussions of staff changes but states no announcements are forthcoming. Staffers, though, anticipate changes could come as early as today.
In the wake of the latest major leaks, the daily Communications meetings have been suspended indefinitely and the Communications and Press office teams have opted to meet in smaller groups, a Senior White House official tells CNN. After the leak of Sadler’s joke, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders angrily stated at a subsequent Communications meeting that “I am sure this conversation will leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.” That comment and others were quickly leaked to the media.
Furor over the comment has deepened the split between the Press Office, a small staff headed by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the larger Communications team, led by Mercedes Schlapp. Division and infighting between the two teams, consisting of former RNC members and Trump loyalists, has been exacerbated by the exit of Hope Hicks, former White House Communications director, who was able to bridge the divide between the two teams.
Some officials doubt that personnel changes will solve the deeper problems. One Republican close to the White House points out to Politico that the President himself is the problem.
“If you’re mad at the boss, then you don’t care if settling the score distracts from his message. That’s the culture Trump has bred. It will never change,” said one Republican strategist with close ties to White House staff. “Trump has bred a totally dysfunctional and disloyal atmosphere. He is the reason why the White House operates this way. If he’s unhappy with it, then he should look in the mirror.”
Why It Matters
The White House is home to the leader of the free world and how that White House is managed is a clue to the man at the helm.
That the President has fostered an environment of chaos, division, and paranoia is not just an embarrassment but a detriment to the nation. A staff that is more concerned about leaking, or being framed by someone who is a leaker, is a staff that is not doing the job that we the people are paying for them to do.
The world in 2018 poses many threats and the nation is being ripped apart by partisan strife. Donald Trump thrives on chaos but the nation does not: the stakes are too high. Firing staffers who may or may not be guilty to make an example to the unrepentant leakers is not going to solve the deep and profound troubles the White House is experiencing. The day to day management of the White House is not a reality show and the tagline “You’re Fired” isn’t conducive to governance.