Kayleigh McEnany refers questions to White House in Fox News appearance as Trump campaign adviser

McEnany attempted to defend her latest Fox News appearance by falsely claiming it was protected by the Constitution

By Roger Sollenberger
Published November 12, 2020 12:34PM (EST)
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Monday, July 06, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Monday, July 06, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has supplemented her taxpayer-funded government work with a role as a senior adviser to President Donald Trump's failed re-election campaign, referred questions to the White House during a Fox News appearance in her campaign role.

McEnany, who in late October drew criticism for the dual roles, declined to tell "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade whether her boss would give President-elect Joe Biden access to the highly classified President's Daily Brief — which Trump rarely reads, according to multiple reports.

"I haven't spoken to the president about that. That would be a question more for the White House," McEnany said before addressing the issue from the White House's perspective. "But I will say that all laws are being followed with regard to an expected transition, though we expect to continue on as the Trump administration. We will see how our litigation goes."

McEnany spoke in front of an image of the White House. McEnany's network appearances in her personal capacity potentially violate the Hatch Act, the federal law which bars federal employees from engaging in political activity in their official roles, according to government ethics watchdogs.

McEnany, who in April left her job as Trump campaign spokesperson to join the administration, was introduced in a Fox Business segment last month as "Trump 2020 senior adviser and White House press secretary." During another appearance on the same day, with McEnany in front of images of both the White House and the Trump campaign logo, Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney told viewers that she was "serving now as adviser for the Trump campaign."

A Trump campaign spokesperson told Salon at the time that cable news shows had been instructed not to refer to McEnany by her White House title, a directive which Kilmeade appeared not to fully adhere to on Thursday.

"Kayleigh McEnany joins us. She's got a dual role. Here, she's on as a Trump 2020 campaign adviser," Kilmeade said, referring abstractly to the press secretary's administration role.

"She's playing a delicate balancing act," national security attorney Bradley Moss told Salon. "In a normal administration, this would never be tolerated. With this one, we know they only care about the Hatch Act whenever it's convenient."

"Kayleigh McEnany's salary is being paid by American taxpayers. Rather than doing that job, she spends her time volunteering on the president's already-lost campaign," Jordan Libowitz, communications director for government ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Salon.

"She walks a very tight line not to violate the Hatch Act," Libowitz continued. "It could be completely avoided if she just focused on the job she was paid to do — something you'd expect when more than 1,000 Americans are dying a day in a pandemic, and the president hasn't made public comments in a week."

McEnany attempted to defend her latest "Fox & Friends" appearance by falsely claiming it was protected by the Constitution on Twitter.

"When you enter government, you do not lose First Amendment rights," she tweeted later on Thursday. "Hatch Act says to separate govt & political activity, which I diligently work to do. Reporters (who ironically have freedom of press embedded in the 1st Amendment), are complaining about my 1A right to speech!"

Despite that diligence, McEnany — speaking in front of an image of the White House — still spoke with White House authority, assuring "Fox & Friends" viewers that the administration was following "all laws" and "we" expect to have a second term.

The White House appears to bask in Hatch-related controversies. Former counsel to the president Kellyanne Conway was accused of violating the rule 50 times on Twitter alone — before 2019 — a pattern so flagrant that the Office of Special Counsel recommended her removal. (Trump did not remove Conway.)

But while some see McEnany's cable news appearances as an extension of the same behavior, others smell desperation.

"They're scrambling to get competent people in front of the cameras," Moss said. "After four years, this administration has such a thin bench of sycophants willing to defend their position that they'll use whomever is willing."

Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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