It was Brianna Keilar’s finest moment since she took on Trump lawyer Michael “Says Who?” Cohen back in August.
As the Trump campaign struggles to regain its footing after a massive loss of support from prominent Republicans, the candidate’s spinner-in-chief Kellyanne Conway sat down with the CNN host on The Situation Room Wednesday afternoon and for nearly 30 minutes attempted to deny everything we know to be true about her boss.
On Monday, Conway was trying to explain away Trump’s debate threats about sending Hillary Clinton to “jail” if he becomes president by saying it was nothing more than a “quip” (a defense echoed by Mike Pence earlier today). But then, at a rally in Florida on Wednesday, Trump repeated his sentiments even more forcefully. “She has to go to jail!” he declared to cheers from his supporters.
Confronted by Keilar about those remarks on CNN, Conway again repeated her “quip” line before quickly pivoting to an attack on Clinton for “imperiling our national security.” As Keilar continued to press Conway to explain why Trump insists on talking about “jailing your political opponent,” the campaign manager stopped her.
“You're taking it literally,” Conway said. “You're stuck on this one thing.”
“I'm talking about what your candidate is saying, which is more important than what you are saying about this,” Keilar said. “He is saying she has to go to jail. He is not talking about she has to stand and be judged. He is saying she has to go to jail.”
Conway attempted to use her rhetorical gymnastics to escape the question, listing off some of things Clinton has said about Trump, but Keilar kept hammering her. “He is saying, if he were president, she would be in jail,” the host said.
Later in the interview, Keilar also did not let Conway get away with denying that Trump has been “attacking” House Speaker Paul Ryan after the Republican leader said he would no longer defend the candidate. “Come on, Kellyanne, he tweeted repeatedly. He called him weak and ineffective. So I mean, you want to give him credit for not attacking him at one rally?” she asked. “Is he done attacking the House Speaker then?”
As the interview progressed, Conway resorted to attacking CNN for ignoring the “substance” of Trump’s campaign. “You're doing a disservice to the American people by not telling them exactly everything, fully and fairly, of what one of the presidential candidates actually the only one who goes out and talks to voters on a daily basis about issues,” she said.
Miraculously, despite the tension and animosity between the two women, Conway stuck around during a commercial break, something she may have regretted when Keilar opened the next segment with accusations from a former Miss Arizona who accused Trump of walking in on her changing backstage before one of his pageants, something Trump himself bragged about doing on The Howard Stern Show.
“I can't comment on what she is saying because I am not her and I wasn't in the pageant or any other pageant,” Conway said. Like, Trump, she tried to shift the conversation to Bill Clinton.
“The fact is that all you want to do, it seems, is talk about something he said ten, 15 years ago and, yet, we never ever want to talk, particularly CNN, where we offered up these women to you," Conway said, referring to the pre-debate press conference Trump held, flanked by women who had accused the former president of sexual assault and harassment. "We never want to talk to the women shamed and blamed by Hillary Clinton because they had sexual contact with her husband.”
“Maybe you want to ask me who it is I see day by day, this intelligent, clever, gracious, gentleman, frankly, whose family is making a huge sacrifice to run for president,” Conway said, entering full-on rant mode. “Nobody wants to talk about that. You want me to comment on something he said to Howard Stern in 15 second ten years ago and somehow I am an expert on it. I want to see the CNN poll that shows Americans want to focus on that, I truly do.”
As Conway urged more serious discussion about issues facing Americans, Keilar pushed back. “When does Donald Trump stop saying things like Hillary Clinton has to go to jail? He brings these things up himself,” she said. “You're saying this should be discussed. Why doesn't he make a pivot? Why doesn't he talk more seriously as a candidate about the issues and not upstage himself?”
Conway's stated desire to focus on issues that Americans care about as opposed to decades-old comments and behavior flies directly in the face of a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek that says the Trump campaign will go all in on accusations made by women against Bill Clinton. That plan, spearheaded by campaign CEO Steve Bannon and others, aims not only to distract from Trump's own apparent history of sexual misconduct but also to depress the vote of millennial women. "We’re going to turn him into Bill Cosby," Bannon reportedly told Trump staffers.
By the end of the CNN interview, they had reached an impasse and all Keilar could do was thank Conway for being “generous” with her time. “Nice to be here,” Conway replied, though it was unclear whether there was any more truth to that than to her insistence that Trump doesn’t really want to jail his opponent.