White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appears to have taken on a new gig. In addition to her role as a government employee, she’s now serving as a senior aide on her boss’s reelection campaign.
In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday morning, McEnany was introduced as “Trump 2020 senior adviser and White House press secretary.” A few hours later, Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney introduced McEnany by saying she is “serving now as adviser for the Trump campaign."
McEnany’s dual roles for the White House and the Trump reelection campaign immediately set off alarm bells among good-government advocates, who said they represent yet another instance of the often blurry lines between the Trump administration and the president’s political operation.
“This looks like the latest example of Trump administration officials bending and breaking ethics laws and norms,” said Paul Seamus Ryan, the vice president of litigation for the group Common Cause. “This is unfortunately par for the course for this administration.”
A White House spokesperson said McEnany was not representing the White House during her Fox appearances on Tuesday.
“Kayleigh was appearing in her personal capacity as a private citizen,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign confirmed that McEnany is an unpaid adviser and also said she was appearing on Fox on Tuesday in a personal capacity. The spokesperson said that cable news shows on which she appears “have been instructed not to refer to her with her White House title,” notwithstanding the America’s Newsroom introduction on Tuesday that included both her campaign and White House titles.
While most of McEnany’s two Fox hits on Tuesday concerned the status of the Trump campaign and the 2020 race, she also weighed in on official administration policy on issues such as COVID relief negotiations with congressional Democrats.
“The chances [for a deal] are slim when you have someone like Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House,” McEnany told Varney. “If we’re providing stimulus relief for the American people, it should be just that, for American people, for United States citizens, not a wish-list from the liberal left,” McEnany told Varney.
Speaking in front of a backdrop that featured both the White House and the Trump campaign logo, McEnany also rattled off a series of policy proposals that “we offered” in those negotiations.
It’s that sort of blurry line between White House and campaign messaging, and the prospect that taxpayer resources could continue bolstering the president’s reelection effort, that concern Ryan.
“This excerpt is McEnany commenting on federal government policy currently being negotiated by the Trump administration with Congress. This is McEnany doing the work of a [White House] press secretary,” he said. “It's permissible for someone who works in the White House to also do campaign work. They just can't mix the two. They can’t try to do the two things simultaneously.”
Ryan compared the situation to controversy over illicit politicking by former senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who used her official Twitter account to share political messages, leading the Office of Special Counsel to recommend her removal over violations of the Hatch Act, which bars the use of taxpayer resources for partisan purposes.
Conway brushed off the recriminations with a simple statement: “Blah blah blah.”
The Trump White House, and the president himself, have reveled in the frequent criticism they get over their unprecedented uses of taxpayer resources in the service of the president’s reelection. After coming under fire for putting on a political nominating convention on the White House grounds in August, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted, “Liberals are more upset about the use of government buildings than they ever were about the use of the FBI to target political opponents.”
McEnany’s Fox appearances on Tuesday came about two months after White House attorneys waived ethics rules so that she could meet in her capacity as a government official with employees of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, both of which previously employed her.
The waiver memo is undated, but metadata in the file posted to the White House website indicates it was created on August 26. That was the day of McEnany’s speech at the Republican National Convention. She also spoke at a Trump campaign rally this month.
The White House has also waived ethics rules for another staffer, director of advance Bobby Peede, to permit communications with the Trump campaign. According to Federal Election Commission records, the Trump re-elect has made regular payments from December 2019 through early this month to the firm Event Strategies, where Peede served as a partner prior to joining the White House.
The largest of those payments, for nearly $100,000, came on August 24, two days before Peede’s waiver memo was created.
-- With reporting by Justin Baragona