Mark Meadows Might Be the Second Most ‘Reckless’ Man in the White House
White House journalists and a former COVID Task Force staffer say Meadows’ hot temper and cavalier attitude toward mask-wearing are putting his staff and others in danger.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was hopping mad.
And, as usual, he was not wearing a mask as he furiously dressed down CBS News White House correspondent Paula Reid—invading her personal space, raising his voice and spraying aerosol particles at high velocity—because he didn’t like the sharp questions she had just asked him during a press gaggle in the West Wing driveway.
The chief of staff’s too-close encounter with a hard-hitting journalist this past July was typical of what several White House correspondents describe as his cavalier and dangerous attitude—parroting that of his boss, COVID-19 survivor President Donald Trump—that is still blithely exposing not only reporters but also an increasing number of infected White House staffers to the potentially lethal coronavirus.
Meadows’ surreal Sunday television appearance with CNN’s Jake Tapper—in which he declared that the Trump White House “is not going to control the pandemic” and teased the anchor about his insistence on mask-wearing—was very much on-brand, while he reportedly tried to suppress the news over the weekend that Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short and four other unidentified Pence aides had just tested positive for COVID-19.
Indeed, a recent profile in Politico Magazine argued that Meadows is “precisely the wrong person to be at the center of an international crisis.”
Author Tim Alberta wrote: “Friends would describe him as a respectable player—calculating and slippery but decent to a fault. Enemies would liken him to a political sociopath, someone whose charm and affability conceal an unemotional capacity for deception. What both groups would agree upon is that Meadows, the 61-year-old White House chief of staff, is so consumed with his cloak-and-dagger, three-dimensional-chess approach to Washington that he can’t always be trusted.”
In May, according to news reports, Meadows violated state of Georgia and municipal COVID-19 guidelines by hosting a maskless, un-socially-distanced wedding reception for his daughter at the Biltmore Ballrooms in Atlanta. And two weeks ago in a Senate corridor, as the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett commenced, Meadows refused reporters’ requests that he don his mask and instead stalked away from the microphone stand. “I’m not going to talk through a mask,” he pouted.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” said a prominent White House correspondent who, like others who spoke to The Daily Beast, asked not to be further identified for fear of reprisals from Meadows and his aides. “They have literally put lives in jeopardy, they have put people’s health in jeopardy—there’s no other way to describe it when you have multiple White House staffers getting sick with COVID and they’re still not taking precautions. I don’t know how else to describe it other than it’s just reckless and shows a lack of regard for other human beings—especially the press.”
A second correspondent recalled that White House medical officers chose the Monday right after Trump’s weekend June 20 superspreading rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma—which resulted in multiple infections among members of the Secret Service and White House advance team, while maskless attendee Herman Cain tested positive for the disease and died of it a few weeks later —to stop conducting temperature checks at the Northwest Gate through which reporters access the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.
“Although they’ll claim that they have been diligent about safety, they have been totally reckless,” said this person, noting that a sign admonishing that masks are mandatory was placed at the briefing room entrance by the White House Correspondents Association, not by Meadows’ team. Even though White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany is recovering from her own bout with the virus, the reporter said, she often roams the grounds maskless (as she was caught doing during Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes interview with the president), and has had young mask-free staffers seated to the side during her briefings.
While White House correspondents work inside the building as little as possible, members of the pool who are tested for the virus daily have had to do it in the jam-packed lower press office, a cramped space where frequently barefaced junior staffers mill about and sit at desks cheek-by-jowl.
“You wonder if anybody was exposed to the virus and caught the virus when they went to get tested for the fucking virus,” the reporter said, noting that so far an unknown but growing number of White House staffers, including Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, and four members of the press corps, including the New York Times’ Michael Shear, have tested positive.
While White House reporters praised Meadows—who wasn’t made available for an interview—for being more accessible to the press than his predecessors Mick Mulvaney, John Kelly, and even Reince Priebus, “he’s basically Laura Ingraham in the way he views COVID and all these kooky alternative theories and hydroxychloroquine and social distancing,” as one White House correspondent put it.
And then there’s that hot temper.
According to multiple sources, Meadows irritably pulled CBS News’ Reid aside in the driveway when the Q&A ended after she’d grilled him on why the White House spin operation had just issued an oppo dump in the form of a press release attempting to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, by listing all the times Fauci had allegedly been wrong about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reid—whom CBS News declined to make available for an interview—began her July 16 interrogation by asking Meadows, “Was it a mistake for the press office to release a list of Dr. Fauci’s mistakes?”
“You would always want your questions to be asked and answered,” Meadows replied, adding that the anti-Fauci statement—which was widely distributed to the White House press corps—was issued “in direct response” to a different reporter’s query. “You didn’t want information from the White House press [office]?” Meadows jeered, according to video of the aggressive exchange obtained by The Daily Beast.
“I’m asking you if, in hindsight, was it a mistake to release something that was perceived as opposition research on one of the nation’s top doctors?” Reid pressed.
“I can tell you that having been in elected office prior to coming here,” said Meadows, who was a four-term Republican congressman from North Carolina and chairman of the Tea Party’s House Freedom Caucus before becoming Trump’s fourth chief of staff in March, “opposition research would certainly be a lot more deep-diving and certainly a lot more condemning…”
“Do you have similar documents about mistakes the president has made or other Task Force officials?” Reid persisted, prompting Meadows to complain, “Can I finish my answer?” before cutting Reid off and inviting questions on other subjects from other reporters.
When Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville asked Meadows if he or the president had ordered the staff “to stop trying to undercut Dr. Fauci,” Meadows responded, “I don’t see a real effort, an ongoing effort, to try to undercut Dr. Fauci—”
“You can’t be serious!” Reid interrupted, pointing out that Meadows himself had just criticized Fauci during a television interview minutes earlier on “Pebble Beach,” as the camera positions on the north White House grounds are known.
“It was her question,” Meadows protested before stepping away from the microphone and confronting Reid, who was wearing her mask; he berated her in terms that, depending on differing accounts of the exchange, involved loud cursing and even an F-bomb or two.
Asked in an email about her boss’s alleged use of salty language—as well as about concerns that Meadows is “potentially exposing not only the young staffers and WH press officials but also the journalists”—longtime Meadows aide Alyssa Farah chose only to rebut the cursing allegation.
Another person in the chief of staff’s orbit claimed Meadows takes COVID-19 seriously, wears a mask indoors, and “encourages” aides to do likewise.
Never mind that Meadows, like Trump adviser Scott Atlas, is on record as a face mask skeptic. He told reporters in September: “If masks is the panacea for everything, if that’s the way that we open back our economy and get everybody back to work, I will gladly wear my mask each and every day if that’s what makes the difference. And it doesn’t.”
Regarding Meadows’ alleged use of salty language, “This is absolutely ridiculous and untrue,” Farah, assistant to the president and White House director of strategic communications, emailed The Daily Beast. “I’ve known Mark for 5+ years and have never heard him use the F word or swear in general. This clearly came from someone who does not know Mark Meadows.”
However, former Pence aide and coronavirus task force staffer Olivia Troye—a longtime Republican and national security aide who resigned last summer and subsequently endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—told The Daily Beast: “I’ve heard him [Meadows] get angry and curse, yes”—including dropping ungentlemanly F-bombs.
“I’ve certainly been down the hall when I’ve heard the yelling. But I don’t think he would do that around the V.P…. but I’ve certainly heard him lose it. I don’t know how anybody could say that he’s so pious.”
Troye added she wishes she had known in real time about Meadows’ Atlanta wedding reception last May—the news of which didn’t come out until earlier this month. “Meanwhile, I’m passing him in the hallway and sitting close to him in meetings, not knowing that he had been exposed to, like, 200 people,” Troye said, noting that Meadows typically didn’t wear a mask when she encountered him in the West Wing. “He just doesn’t care.” (Actually, news reports said around 70 guests, not 200, attended the Meadows wedding.)
Meadows aide Farah responded: “I worked with Olivia Troye, we were colleagues in the Vice President’s office and then worked together on the COVID task force when I returned to the White House. Numerous times, she expressed her respect for Meadows to me, and never once raised any of these specific concerns. She was certainly in a position to and even if she didn’t feel empowered to, knew I was close to Meadows and never once expressed any degree of concern while she was here.”
Troye, however, said, “It’s been this way from the beginning of the pandemic… It’s all being driven from the top. Quite frankly you’ve got the president and both chiefs of staff”—a reference to Meadows and Marc Short. “They want to get back to campaigning. It’s complete denial by them… Unless it actually hurts one of them or kills one of them or kills a family member, or they watch a close family member suffer from it, I don’t know that they’re going to ever accept it for what it is. The problem is that their actions and their words are being watched by Americans across the country.”