Yesterday afternoon, Kellyanne Conway, President Donald Trump’s counsellor, was receiving a training that would allow her to obtain top-secret security clearances when an aide came to pull her out of the meeting.
That morning, Conway had appeared on Fox News. The big issue of the day was a tweet from Trump attacking the department store Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line. Conway came to the Trump campaign, last year, in part through Ivanka, and, like all Trump aides, she understands that staying in the good graces of Trump’s children is key to survival in his court. “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you,” Conway said with a wide smile, while sitting in front of the official White House seal in the James Brady Briefing Room. “It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully—I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
The comments were a clear violation of a federal rule that prohibits government officials from using “public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise.” Both inside and outside the White House, Conway’s violation set up a test: Would congressional Republicans, especially those with oversight responsibilities, condemn the remark? Would the White House rebuke her? What would Trump do?
Trump has at least four senior officials vying for alpha status in the West Wing: Conway; Reince Priebus, his chief of staff and nominally the person in charge; Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, who has been the architect of Trump’s early actions; and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and enforcer.
“Trump famously pits this one against the other,” a top White House official said, recounting the events of the day. “He’s like, ‘So and so is amazing, maybe smarter than you!’ He’ll just tease us.”