White House Chief of Staff Doubles Down on Press as Enemy

Instead of doing the usual clean up, Reince Priebus told journalists on Sunday to take Trump’s attacks on the press seriously, and called serious reporting on Russian connections “fake news.”

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

If Reince Priebus—who serves as Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff—were a popular comic strip, Priebus would be the adorable little dog, wearing a hat, calmly sipping coffee from a mug as the dining room around him is engulfed in flames and smoke, saying: “This is fine.”

On Sunday, President Trump’s top aide made the rounds on the morning talk shows to tell the country that (despite everything that has happened during the Trump administration’s first month in power) there is nothing dysfunctional, chaotic, or unsettling about what is going on right now.

“The president believes in the First Amendment, he believes in the free press, I believe in those things,” Priebus assured viewers on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We don't believe everyone is lousy in the media, We don't believe everything is bad … [Also], we don't have problems in the West Wing. You read about all these stories [saying] I don't get along with [Steve] Bannon…Actually, we've really gelled as a team, and we get along great, and we're working well together. And the amount of drama and spin that you read about, mostly in the Washington daily gossip rags, is unbelievable stuff, and it just isn't true. And you read it everyday, and you wonder what alternative universe they’re reporting on, because it just isn’t true.”

(Given that Priebus is a longtime GOP operative with deep ties to the establishment, and White House chief strategist Bannon is a nationalist, alt-right flamethrower, tensions and conflict between the two were inevitable.)

When pressed by host Chuck Todd about Michael Flynn, Trump’s recently resigned national security adviser, and recent reports that the Trump presidential campaign had contacts with Russian intelligence, Priebus pulled the fake-news card, again.

“We don’t know of any contacts with Russian agents,” the chief of staff said. “I mean, we’ve spent days talking about a story that says that our campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies. And I can tell you, I’ve talked to the top levels of the intelligence community. And they’ve assured me that that New York Times story was grossly overstated, and inaccurate and totally wrong … It was total garbage … It is this sort of fake news stuff that is enormously important.”

Priebus continued to press his case that all of the scary-sounding Russia-related reporting, as well as stories of tumult and backstabbing in the Trump White House, are merely distractions from what the administration is trying to do for Real America.

“This is what we're dealing with while we're putting in a lobbying ban, while we're freezing federal government employees, while we're getting the economy back on track—we're sitting here talking about these stories or whether Steve Bannon and I get along or not,” he complained. “I can assure you people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, aren't worried about that. They want to see jobs and money back in their pocket. And that's what I'm trying to do, and we're trying to do every day.”

On Fox News Sunday, Priebus also railed against The New York Times’s national-security reporting, claiming that intelligence officials had told him that last week’s story was “complete garbage,” and that there was “absolutely” no form of collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian intelligence.

Bashing reporters, editors, and news outlets is, of course, one of Donald Trump’s favorite pastimes, as well. Priebus, one of the president’s most senior foot soldiers, wants to remind “the media” that when Trump brands them “the enemy of the American people,” journalists should take him both seriously and literally.

“There’s been a debate about when to take the president seriously,” John Dickerson, host of CBS’s Face the Nation, asked Priebus on Saturday. “He recently tweeted that the press was the enemy of the American people. Should we take that seriously from him?”

“Well, I think you should take it seriously,” Priebus replied flatly. “I think that the problem we’ve got is that we’re talking about bogus stories like the one in The New York Times.”

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Trump, Priebus, and the rest of the Trump team did not invent conservative hatred of The New York Times and investigative reporters. They’re just uniquely rowdy, flamboyant, and often gleefully unhinged about it.

To Reince, this is fine.