DC gossip on Priebus and Flynn
Washington, DC is a city that thrives on gossip and intrigue. That's especially true in the opening days of the Trump administration, where the comings and goings of top personnel -- many of whom are either loathed or feared by the town's grandees -- are fodder for speculation at all times.
Such is the case with people like Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, and Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn. They haven't been in place for a month yet, and already, the daggers are out for both men. Or so it would seem after reading the latest gossip from former Politico honco Mike Allen. In his daily missive, Allen has this to say about the men who may soon be on their way out:
Imagine you're Reince Priebus. Every day, you hear speculation that your days as White House chief of staff are numbered. You wake up on a Sunday and read that colleague Kellyanne Conway's dream job is, well, yours.
Then, you flick on CNN to see Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy -- a Trump pal of 10 years (and Mar-a-Lago member) who just spent time alone with him in Florida -- saying this on "Reliable Sources": "The White House is showing not the amount of order that we need to see. I think there's a lot of weakness coming out of the chief of staff."
After a pleading call from Priebus, Ruddy tweeted: "Reince just briefed me on new WH plans. Impressive! CNN today my personal view. Told him I have 'open mind' based on his results." Then Ruddy got another call: "Jared Kushner tells me COS Reince is doing 'amazing job.'"
Yikes! Not a reassuring end to your third week on the job! But this is a problem hardly confined to Priebus: After watching Trump clean house several times during the campaign, everyone feels on thin ice. This naturally breeds insecurity, ass-covering and endless leaking.
Those who don't fear for their hide are busy gaming out how they rise when someone falls. Trump feeds all of this. It's why an insider describes the White House hierarchy as "fragile."
"These people are insecure because Trump does not respect them," said a person in constant contact with the West Wing. "He does not because they have not made any money. He respects [Steve] Bannon and Gary Cohn because they are financially successful."
Trump has already consulted friends about his next chief of staff. I'm told that to avoid admitting error, Trump plans a smooth transition from Priebus, perhaps by making him a Cabinet secretary!
Ruddy told us in a phone interview: "Trump is trying to figure out who he should trust. This is totally new for him, so he's trying to figure out who the strong ones are and who the weak ones are."
Heather Nauert, the news anchor on "Fox & Friends," was spotted at the White House last week -- talking to Trump, we're told, about a communications job. Yesterday she tweeted that she's buying Ivanka Trump heels in solidarity after Nordstrom dropped the line, and will wear them on "Fox & Friends" this week.
That certainly doesn't make embattled West Wing officials feel any more secure as they try to put out what one called "400 fires a day."
Any purge will begin with national security adviser Mike Flynn, for lying to Vice President Pence about contacts with Russia on sanctions. In retrospect, that was clear as soon as Trump told reporters Friday evening on Air Force One that he didn't know about the story, which had been on the front page of that morning's Washington Post. It was a way for Trump to dodge showing support for Flynn.
"Spread the butter: He is toast," said a top source. "Lying to Pence damaged Pence's credibility and the administration's. That is an unpardonable sin."
It sounds juicy, It may even be true (or parts of it, at least).
But we note this not to say either Priebus or Flynn are out after less than a month on the job. Rather, we note Allen's work for its tone -- sharp, witty, well sourced, to be sure. But if it reads a bit like an old fashioned gossip column, that's no accident.
Still, both of these stories are worth watching. Official Washington may thrive on gossip, but more often than not, the tales are all told for a distinct purpose -- to advance, or end, a career, policy, idea, or project.
The knives very well could be out for both Priebus and Flynn. The question is who is peddling the stories...and who benefits if they prove to be true.