There have been rumors since July that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders may be preparing to exit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Regardless of whether that is true, The New Yorker just published a detailed profile of the Trump staffer that is bound to send the political class atwitter.
Early on, the magazine demonstrates Sanders' loyalty to the president by recounting how she allegedly pushed the boundaries of the law in order to defend him when an anonymous member of the administration wrote an editorial for The New York Times condemning the administration:
Sanders has labelled “Fear” a work of “fiction,” and attempted to trivialize its celebrated author by noting that she hadn’t read his books. The day that the Op-Ed appeared, she convened her staff, then launched a counterattack questioning the mystery author’s honor, deploying such Trumpian keywords as “pathetic” and “coward.” On Twitter, she urged Americans to call the “failing NYT”— Trump’s favorite (and erroneous) characterization of the newspaper—and demand the unmasking of the “gutless loser” who’d written the piece. Her tweet included the paper’s main phone number.
Two former White House ethics chiefs declared that Sanders’s tweet had violated federal law. One of them, Richard Painter, who worked in the Bush Administration, told Newsweek that Sanders was “using her official position to interfere with the freedom of the press.” This wasn’t the first abuse-of-power complaint. In June, Sanders was accused of employing the @PressSec account to target the Red Hen—a restaurant in Virginia that, when she went to dine there, asked her to leave.
The New Yorker also elaborated on the fact that, when your boss is President Donald Trump, he is always watching you.
When Sanders holds a press briefing, Trump often watches it live on TV in a dining room next to the Oval Office. “It’s like having the theatre critic-in-chief sitting there, and you’d better believe he’ll tell you about it afterward,” a White House reporter told me. (Spicer once said that Trump expects his messages to be delivered “verbatim.”) Another reporter said that, under Trump, no press secretary can say anything “even somewhat nuanced,” and must constantly “praise the boss as a spotless king.”
At the same time, The New Yorker made it clear that the combative and sharply-partisan Sanders seen during the press briefings is not the same person who interacts with reporters in a friendly and helpful manner on a one-on-one basis.
The contentiousness that Sanders projects in public is not on display in private. The reporters and the White House officials who consistently work with her outside the briefing room like her personally, and find her to be helpful and reliable. If a reporter has uncovered a fact, she’ll confirm it. If a reporter is on the right track, she may say, “I can’t wave you off of that.” She’ll give reporters a heads-up on a development in a story they’ve been covering. If she feels that she has been too rough on a reporter during a briefing, she sometimes calls the person afterward and, without quite apologizing, smooths things over. One reporter told me that Sanders had “saved our bacon” by catching inaccuracies. Another said, “She has said things that aren’t true from the podium, and she, at times, has deflected my questions in a way that was misleading. But I’ve never caught her in a lie, one on one, where she told me that X didn’t happen and I found out later that it did.” The reporter added, “You sit in Sarah’s office and she can be remarkably decent and charming, and then she can be obfuscating and ridiculous at the podium. Both of those things are true at the same time.”