Exclusive: Kellyanne Conway on the Leaks in Washington and the Dangers of the Swamp 

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway arrives for an interview with Fox News outside the White House on January 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

For decades, Kellyanne Conway has lived and worked within the swamp of Washington, DC, yet as White House Senior Counselor to President Donald Trump, she remains in a tumultuous West Wing that has spat out seasoned Washington professionals, hardened generals, passionate reformers, and even a “killer” Wall Street banker.

The swamp is hungry, she explained in an interview with Breitbart News, pointing to a “staff infection” in Washington from Republican campaigns who never left town — even when they lost elections.

“It’s like that plant in The Little Shop of Horrors,” she said, referencing a fictional man-eating plant to describe the climate of the swamp. “Folks are unwittingly standing by one moment and gobbled up by it the next.”

Despite her long professional relationship with the president, there are no reports of Special Counsel Robert Mueller calling her in to testify. There appears to be little to no interest among Democrats for her testimony — no interest in hearing from Trump’s campaign manager at hearings about alleged collusion between the campaign and Russia. She does not even appear on the list released Monday of the 81 Trump-connected Americans that Democrats are investigating.

Maybe it’s because she’s not important enough to know anything significant, as her detractors suggest on background, or maybe it’s because she knows enough about Washington to navigate the swamp.

I spoke with Conway after Trump’s once braggadocious personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who once vowed to take a bullet for the president, spent the day berating his former boss on camera.

“This behavior is churlish, it denigrates the office of the president, and it’s simply un-American,” Cohen said to the cameras. ”And it’s not you.”

It’s been a long day in Washington as it began with the president meeting Kim Jong-un for nuclear negotiations and ended with the Michael Cohen show.

When I arrived for the interview, Conway had the wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the hearing playing in the background in her West Wing office.

She paused to listen to Democrat Chairman of the Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings and Republican Jim Jordan wrap up their closing statements before sitting down to talk about her role in the White House.

Conway has known the president almost as long as Cohen, as they both served on the board of Trump World Tower in New York. Cohen was the treasurer of the board, as his legal advice earned him points with the boss. Conway worked with Trump in a similar fashion — joining the board after her husband George impressed him (George Conway now spends his days on Twitter criticizing the president — much to the delight of the leftist “Resistance”).

Cohen self-imploded after the election. Despite his pledged loyalty, he failed to get a job in the White House, he missed his chance to use his connections to the president to cash in, and now he’s going to jail for other business failures — despite his attempt to avoid prison by betraying the president.

Now he is desperate to please a different boss — the newly empowered House Democrats, the Resistance, and the establishment media.

For hours, Cohen fulfilled every media and Democrat fantasy by describing the president as a racist, a con-man, a cheat, and a liar.

The president and most of his staff, however, were in a much different time zone — twelve hours ahead in Vietnam for the summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Cohen was running the show on cable.

The Republican National Committee launched a rapid response effort, and the president’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump spent the day ripping him on Twitter. But Conway was the only senior staffer left in the West Wing to go on television to defend the president.

Conway is used to the slings and arrows from the left and the media, but a growing number of former administration officials in Washington, sources “close to Trump” or sources “familiar with the family’s thinking,” express doubts about her loyalty or usefulness to the administration.

These sources are often hesitant to go on the record, not exactly eager to risk vengeance from someone close to the president.

The complaints are varied. She’s not in charge of communications, but she communicates. She’s not in charge of policy, but she’s political. She’s not in charge of staff, but she is keenly aware of what the staff is doing. She is kind and works to earn your trust, but some question if you can trust her.

Former Special Assistant to the president, Cliff Sims, took a direct shot at Conway in his tell-all book published in January. In one chapter, Sims revealed he witnessed Conway leaking to reporters in real time via text message.

In my conversation with Conway, she did not deny talking to reporters behind the scenes, explaining it as one of the strengths that she brought to the administration.

“It’s a tough balance,” she explained. “I try to lend support to what press and comms are doing while respecting that they take the lead on those matters.”

Many Trump supporters might prefer that the administration entirely ignore the “fake news” media, but Conway argues that the president is the one that wants her to communicate with them.

“It’s part of my job to provide information to the press, yet I don’t speak to them as much as the president might like or as much as they would like,” she said. “Fortunately, the president communicates directly with the American people through his various platforms.”

But is Conway a professional communicator or one of the “leakers” described by the president?

She had a lot to say to the leakers, many of whom have left the building, but she claimed it was easy to identify the sources.

“They act like we don’t know and that we don’t see,” she said. “The West Wing is a very small place.”

Leakers fall into three categories, according to Conway.

First, she says that leakers attempt to misdirect attention from themselves by calling other people leakers. Second, they’re rarely comfortable speaking publicly with the press. Third, she says that leakers believe it helps cover their tracks if they constantly berate the “fake news” in front of their colleagues.

But the ultimate tell, according to Conway, is any sudden drop of negative press attention directed their way.

Conway suggested she could blow up the entire Washington information game — but warns that it might put some reporters in an uncomfortable spot.

“I’ve often told reporters that if I reveal the true leakers that have been in this administration, I’d be forced to reveal the ‘leakees,’ too,” she says, referring to the reporters who receive the leaks. “That normally compels them to shift topics to the weather.”

After his book was published in January, Cliff Sims appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to promote it. Hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the once prominent prom king and queen of the swamp, were delighted with the latest gossip about Conway.

During the interview, Sims details his own challenge for her.

“All she has to do is tell every reporter in Washington, DC, she can publicly say, ‘if I’ve ever trashed the president off the record to you, I release you from the off-the-record binds,'” he said.

“That would be a very very long line of reporters,” Scarborough smirked.

But Conway has little interest in responding to “Joe and Mika” or Sims, who the president berated on Twitter after his appearance on their show.

“Working women spend so much of their careers amassing power. Information is power,” she said. “Why surrender it so freely?”

Despite the chaos, the leaking, and the bitterness of the first 500 days described in the Sims book, Conway appears unaffected by the latest round of criticism.

She remains among the few high-ranking former campaign officials still in the West Wing, which includes Steve Miller, social media director Dan Scavino, and, of course, the family — Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Oddly enough, former Governor Chris Christie released his own tell-all book on the same day as Sims. He has nothing but praise for Conway.

“She knew how to speak to Donald Trump,” Christie wrote, recalling her work on the campaign. “She could get a point across without being caustic but was still frank and direct.”

Conway steered away from any questions about her accomplishments in the campaign or the West Wing, carefully redirecting all credit to the president.

She said she was puzzled why some served in the administration despite professing misery in their high-ranking positions.

“The moment that you see it as more of a burden than a blessing, you should seriously consider moving on, because the president is right, many people would love to have these jobs,” she said.

The list is long.

Top aides such as Mike Flynn, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, John Kelly, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Joe Hagin, and H.R. McMaster were either forced out, quit out of frustration, sold out, or were fired. And don’t forget Anthony Scaramucci, who flamed out after a crass phone call with a reporter.

How is it that Conway has survived so long?

“I’ve been around my share of emotional and egotistical men, so maybe I’m an accidental expert on them,” Conway said, referring to her career. “Surviving them is easy; thriving in this environment is the true reward.”

She offered some insight about working for Trump, dismissing many of the tropes developed by the media.

“He easily detects and deflects nonsense,” she says.

Success on the Trump team is not about the kamikaze loyalty displayed by so many former Trump officials, she explained. And it’s not about being the most frequent or last person in the room on every issue. Despite what you might have heard, non-stop flattery of the president does not save you from exile. She claims that Trump is not convinced by people “puffing themselves out to impress him” in person or on TV.

“When I appear on TV, my primary audience is neither the president nor the press,” Conway said. “It is the people.”

For Conway, it appears, success lies in knowing your strengths in the administration and using them wisely.

Trump’s loyal supporters treat her like a celebrity, despite public mockery from the Washington political class.

As she walked through the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend, fans flocked to watch her participate in an interview before turning with a smile to greet them and snap some selfies.

Conway earned celebrity status in the world of Trump supporters, as she frequently appears on television to defend the president, despite public derision from the anchors who keep inviting her back. Her panel appearance at CPAC, however, focused on promoting the dangers of the opioid crisis and crediting the president for his unprecedented attempt to address it.

“The president acknowledges and appreciates those of us who are here for the right reasons,” Conway explained. “He prefers the company of people who are happy warriors like him.”

Conway said she did not consider herself a swamp creature, despite years of working in politics and media in Washington, DC. A swamp creature, she argues, is someone that leverages their power and influence for easy money and political status.

She reminds critics that she had a chance at post-election riches after her role in the biggest electoral upset in modern political history but chose to serve the president instead, at his request. That decision landed her in the center of the swamp for the foreseeable future, but she appears comfortable.

“There’s a huge difference between studying and understanding the swamp and diving into the quicksand of the swamp,” she explains.

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