Politico’s Tara Palmeri: A Reporter With Sources
August 10, 2017
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’m Bob Schieffer.
H. ANDREW SCHWARTZ: And I’m Andrew Schwartz.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And these are conversations about the news. We’re in the midst of a communications revolution. We have access to more information than any people in history. But are we more informed, or just overwhelmed by so much information we can’t process it?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Our podcast is a collaboration of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU and CSIS in Washington.
MR. SCHIEFFER: In this first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we’re talking to the reporters who are covering the president the closest, the White House press corps.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Our guest today is Tara Palmeri, who Sean Spicer once called, quote, “An idiot with no real sources.” Which raises the question, whatever happened to Sean Spicer?
TARA PALMERI: Right? (Laughter.) I think that the lesson here is don’t cross me. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHWARTZ: I agree!
MR. SCHIEFFER: You know what? If he’d have said that about me, I’d have put it on my tombstone.
MS. PALMERI: I put it on my Twitter handle, which is basically the equivalent nowadays. And the great thing about it is, like, every time afterwards I was even more dedicated to breaking news and really getting under his skin by proving him wrong. So I thank him for that.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I would say, without doing a thorough fact check, that your stories have been more correct than his has. If you –
MS. PALMERI: Oh, definitely. (Laughter.) Definitely.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Tara, is, as you may have guessed by now, and probably already know if you follow the news, is the White House correspondent for Politico. As of May 2017 she became a CNN political analyst. And you had – and because a lot of young journalists and people who want to be journalists are part of our audience, tell us how you got to Politico from – and where did you start?
MS. PALMERI: My journey was very windy. It started in TV, being a news assistant for CNN. It was right after the inauguration of Obama – actually, it was the inauguration of Obama. They needed helpers. I graduated early from college because I just really wanted to start working in the business.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Where’d you go to school?
MS. PALMERI: I went to American University. And so I really wanted to start working in the business. I had been interning at Voice of America. And I was able to get, through a referral there, to help out with the inauguration as a news assistant. I was freelance, you know, working hourly. And I did that for about nine months. And I kept making contacts with – well, I would produce stories on the side and I would work on the political ticker.
But I also was making connections with a lot of the guests who were editors at various newspapers in Washington. And so I ended up moving on from there to be a columnist at the Washington Examiner. I wrote their daily yeas and nays column, which was really fun because it’s a – it was a gossip column, but, you know, you got to really know a lot of the players in D.C., write about politicians. And some of my stories really made news. We really built the website up from there. We were getting over – almost 2 million views per month on this page, breaking stories.
And then I ended up getting the attention of the New York Post because of a story that I broke about Eliot Spitzer moving onto CNN. And at the time people said: No way. This girl is crazy. This is wrong. It’s wrong. Guess what? He ended up at CNN. And so the New York Post loved stories about Eliot Spitzer. That was, like, our sweet spot, you know? Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, those are – Alec Baldwin, Keith Olbermann – those were – you know, we had a story about –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Scaramucci.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah. No, they love Scaramucci, though. They don’t hate Scaramucci, which is funny. So I ended up getting a position at the New York Post at Page Six, it’s just, like, the iconic gossip column. And did I go to college thinking I was going to be a gossip columnist? No. But I saw it as an opportunity at a huge newspaper. Moved to New York and I did that. And I stayed there for about a year. Then I worked in the news desk and I chased big stories all over the country as a, you know, traveling reporter. And then I went on to cover city hall at the New York Post, which is really a great place to be because the paper is quite powerful in New York City especially, their local coverage.
And from there, I decided to do something completely different, scrub the tabloid off me, and I went to Europe and I covered Brexit. I covered the Greek financial crisis. I helped Politico Europe open their offices in Brussels because I have a dual citizenship. I’m also Polish because of my mother. And I lived there. It was an amazing experience. I learned about the European Union. I was based in their – basically their Washington of Europe. And I got to see the whole – you know, the whole continent and cover all types of stories, which actually are so similar. I mean, I covered Brexit. That was my story. I went on the campaign. I went to the UKIP, you know, conference. I got to know Nigel Farage and the leaders and also David Cameron and all of these players. And it’s just so similar to what was happening on our side of the pond.
And then after Trump won, I knew Trump from when I was at the New York Post. He used to call me when I was at Page Six. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: Really?
MS. PALMERI: Yeah. He liked to get into Page Six, especially when his political aspirations were, you know, bubbling up in 2012. And my boss though, you know what? Let’s bring her back and this seems like the right story for her, having the background of being a tabloid reporter – you know, the reporter that he would deal with mostly – and having covered, you know, some heavy populist issues in Europe. So that’s my story. Very winding. It’s been about –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Did he call you – did he call you as himself, or did he call you as –
MS. PALMERI: No, he called me as himself, yeah.
MR. SCHWARTZ: OK.
MR. SCHIEFFER: (Laughs.)
MS. PALMERI: Yeah. It was a different relationship. The relationship with the New York Post was different than, I think, with other reporters because, you know, his long-time assistant, Rhona Graff, you would just call her if you wanted to talk to Donald Trump. She wasn’t his publicist, but he didn’t really need a publicist. He would do it himself. If you wanted any information about the – any of the properties, you would call Ivanka, and she would handle that, almost as a, you know, spokesperson for the properties. It was really just – they felt very comfortable with the New York Post. They had been dealing with them for a very long time. I don’t think there was a feeling that they would get burned by the New York Post, especially since he was such a regular person there. I mean, even if you wanted a quote about someone who had just passed away, a celebrity, you would call and get a quote from Donald Trump. He was really easy to deal with.
I remember, though, at one point the editor in chief at the time, Col Allan, said: You know, we can’t keep writing about Donald Trump running for president. It’s just not happening. It’s been in Page Six almost every day this week. Like, enough with the Donald Trump stories. So I remember he called me, and I was at the Republican National Convention for the New York Post. And he wanted – he said he had just spoken to John McCain and he still thinks that he has a chance at the nomination. And I said – I was like, OK, interesting. Thank you, Mr. Trump. But of course, I couldn’t write about it. At that point, I’d already been told – Mitt Romney was just nominated anyway. I mean, there was no chance at the nomination unless he was – you know, it was just interesting. It was kind of crazy. It was the last conversation I think I had with him and I think I was, like, 24, 25 at the time, so.
MR. SCHIEFFER: It’s very interesting to me, because when you think about you, when you think about Maggie Haberman, you think about Glenn Thrush –
MS. PALMERI: Annie Karni.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Annie Karni.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah, we all worked at the New York Post. Except Glenn worked at Newsday.
MR. SCHIEFFER: He was at Newsday. But you were all tabloid reporters.
MS. PALMERI: We all covered city hall. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: Glenn went on to cover city hall.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And I remember, he told us once that when Trump held his first news conference at the White House, he said, you know, people were aghast. People said, well, I’ve never said anything like this. And he said to Maggie and to me, it was just like covering Giuliani or Ed Koch holding a news conference.
MS. PALMERI: Oh, right. Or even de Blasio, who I covered. He would often pick on journalists, especially at the New York Post. I mean, you see this all the time. You’re used to those theatrics in New York City. Like, that’s part of the game. You know, Catsimatidis stepping out in front of the city hall. And just the tone of politics in New York City is very much reflected in Donald Trump. That is the only world he understands. And I think there’s no such thing as pushing too many boundaries, I think, in New York. So we’re sort of, like, desensitized to it, whereas other people are offended, you know, by this sort of –
MR. SCHIEFFER: (Laughs.) So let’s talk about what is it like now covering Donald Trump? I have to tell you, this White House – I’ve never seen a White House quite like this. And I’ve been in Washington since 1969. Where there are so many voices coming out, where there’s – you know, I always used to tell reporters, I loved covering Capitol Hill because you got to talk to so many different people. And I always said, and at the White House it’s much different. They all work for the same guy. Well, this is no longer the case. They all work for the same guy, but everybody seems to have their own agenda to some extent there.
MS. PALMERI: I agree with you. And I know this phrase is sort of trite, where they say personnel is policy, but never before is it that important to understand the palace intrigue and the behind the scenes stories, which are often, you know, put off as gossip. But the truth is, is that whoever’s up that week is going to have a real impact on policy. And that’s because Trump does not really have a formed view on a lot of policies. Even the Paris climate accord, I remember I was on the foreign trip and we were talking to Gary Cohn about it. And he said: He’s learning. You know, for a president to come into office and not already have a position on really big issues is very rare.
Also, Trump doesn’t go on the computer and do research on this own. He really trusts people who are speaking to him. He loves having conversations with aides. He loves picking their minds. Like, he likes to get on the phone with old friends. He trusts them even more than he trusts the people who are known as experts. Remember, this is the guy who ran a campaign that bashed experts. So in a way, he’s actually more fungible and able to be influenced than any other president. So that’s why when you hear – when we write stories about, quote/unquote, “palace intrigue,” it’s important, because if Bannon is losing influence, that means you’re going to see that in the actual policy. You know, and you’re going to see that when Gary Cohn, which is part of the quote/unquote “globalist” faction of the White House – when his influence is rising.
And so you have to know who has the power that week. You have to know the internal factors waring, and who’s winning the war that week, because it affects everyday Americas. So that’s why I get so annoyed when everyone brushes it off. I think more than ever before you have to know that if you want to know why policy looks the way it is. And it’s always a shocker, every week.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I want to bring Andrew Schwartz into this, but I just want to follow up on something that you talked about when you’re talking about who’s up and who’s down. Lay out the factions in the White House right now? How would you – Gary Cohn is part of the globalist group. Now, who else would be in that group?
MS. PALMERI: Dina Powell.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Dina Powell.
MS. PALMERI: She has a lot of influence in the White House – quiet influence – because she’s much more organized than the other players in the White House. Whereas Bannon is a big thinker, a lot of his colleagues say he’s a little attention deficit, and he has a hard time actually executing his plans. So she is actually running circles around everyone because she’s such a doer. And she knows about the White House. She worked in – she worked in personnel for the Bush administration. Gary Cohn is another person who shows up at meetings with beautiful PowerPoints, making great cases. And because of that, he’s running circles around everyone. Whereas Bannon has the manpower underneath him, he’s hired five aides including a body man. He has an outside publicist.
MR. SCHIEFFER: (Laughs.)
MS. PALMERI: No, he has – he has a real team. And at one time, Stephen Miller was his guy, but Stephen’s realized that his fate – he doesn’t want to align it with Bannon’s fate. So he’s more pushed towards the Kushner end.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So here you have – OK, so Bannon has his own spokesman, his own PR person.
MS. PALMERI: She doesn’t work in the White House. She’s based in New York. But she used to be a Breitbart spokesperson, and she used to be a spokesperson for the Mercer family.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So maybe if you wanted to talk to Bannon you might call her, that’s how you get to him?
MS. PALMERI: I think actually Bannon is one of the more accessible White House officials. If you really want to talk to him, you could reach out to him yourself. But if you want to have a sit-down interview with him, yes, you go through her. If you’re writing a book about him – where there are actually people writing books about him, which is kind of rare to have an aide get their own book –
MR. SCHWARTZ: About Bannon?
MS. PALMERI: Yes. Various – you know, the – Josh Green’s book just came out, it’s called the “Devil’s Bargain.” It’s an amazing book. I highly recommend reading it. That book just came out and it’s all about Bannon. I mean, he needs somebody who’s actually managing him because he has such a high profile, in a way. And he actually wants Alexandra, who is his publicist, to really try to keep him out of the press, because he knows it’s harmful for him and his actual agenda. The president does not want a co-star. So he knows that it’s not helpful for him to be on the cover of TIME. It’s not helpful for people to be writing books about him. And so her job is really – I mean, whenever I speak to her it’s always like, oh, please don’t write about him. Please don’t write about him. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: So he has his public relations spokesman. Then the Kushners have their own spokesman, right?
MS. PALMERI: They do. Well, they say it’s Kushner Company, but then they actually have one inside of the White House, which is Josh Raffel. And –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Who used to be in the CIA, or is with CIA, or what? Is he at the White House or CIA?
MS. PALMERI: No, he works at the White House. He’s a White House employee.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So that’s two.
MS. PALMERI: Yes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And then I guess Reince and Spicer, they used to run their little operation.
MS. PALMERI: Right. And Spicer had a ton of RNC people underneath him who were helping. And in a way, it’s really funny because – I mean, it’s not funny, actually – but I knew that if I had a story and could have a Reince angle to it, I would get a response quicker from the press office than if the story had no Reince angle. So I remember writing a story about Omarosa, OK? And there was one bit in the story about how Reince had first offered her a lower position than she originally ended up getting because she went over his head to the president and said: I want to be commissioned officer. I don’t want to be – I think it was deputy assistant. So she went over his head. And that was a piece of my Omarosa story, kind of showing you that she’s the type of person who has such a – she’s a blessed member of the White House. She can go to the president and get these sort of things happening. But I couldn’t get anyone from the White House press office to cooperate on the story until I said, well, there is one piece of the story that involves Reince. And I got four phone calls that night.
MR. SCHIEFFER: (Laughs.)
MS. PALMERI: Even when I wrote the story about Spicer getting – Spicer resigning, there was one line. It was a background quote, and my colleague contributed to the story about how Reince said it’s – over my dead body is Scaramucci going to come in here. And the whole story – OK, this is, like, 12 paragraphs, I don’t know, more than a 1,500-word story. And I got a call from one of the press spokesperson and it was about that one line about Reince. That was the only thing they took exception to.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Now – and so, now we haven’t gotten to the boys yet. Donald – the sons. Do they have their own PR people?
MS. PALMERI: Yeah, they do, but they’re through the Trump organization.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And they go through –
MS. PALMERI: But I know that Don Jr. after the Russian meetings came to light, he was actually shopping around for a PR people. And a lot of them were just saying, you know, we really can’t control you. We don’t think it’s going to work.
MR. SCHWARTZ: (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: And then we have Kellyanne Conway who has her own operation, if I’m not mistaken.
MS. PALMERI: She has her own chief of staff, which is an interesting term to use for a person who only oversees one person, right? A chief of staff would essentially oversee a staff, right? But no.
MR. SCHWARTZ: You would think.
MS. PALMERI: Well, actually, Ivanka also has her own chief of staff.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Yes.
MS. PALMERI: And these people are paid at the highest level in terms of assistant to the president. And I actually ended up writing a story about this, about the difference – the staffers below the staffers and how it really – a lot of this organizational chart is set up to support senior staff rather than really to support the president in some ways. In mean, unless – I mean, they are saying we are supporting this president, so to have support that supports us. But it just – even the titles make it seem like they’re principals themselves. For a staffer like a chief strategist to have a body man, that’s something that typically only a president would have.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Tell our listeners what a body man is.
MS. PALMERI: A body man is essentially an assistant that holds your bag. It’s like – Reggie Love was a body man for Trump.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It’s the schleper.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah. For – kind of a schleper.
MR. SCHIEFFER: For Obama.
MS. PALMERI: It’s the closest aide who’s not really necessarily expected to do policy work, more to just handle their kind of needs at the time.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Here’s your Purell, yeah.
MS. PALMERI: Exactly. Exactly.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Yeah. (Laughs.)
MS. PALMERI: Exactly.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So –
MS. PALMERI: So for a person who’s not the principal to get that kind of – to have that kind of staffing is really interesting. I mean, Kushner himself has seven people underneath him, obviously within the American Office of Innovation is how they’re framing it. But all of those people, including his publicist, they work for him. That’s how it works.
MR. SCHWARTZ: So does the body man tell Steve Bannon, Steve, your hair’s not looking so good this morning? I mean –
MS. PALMERI: No, no, no. Steve Bannon doesn’t care about that. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: But, yeah. I’m going to tell you something, because I’m older than you. In no time – I’ve been in Washington now 40 – what, 46 or 7 years, what, in 1969. I have never ever known of any White House that had that kind of an organization, where you had that many people with these independent public relations operations going, that seem to be designed just for them alone. Well, obviously they are. And then they wonder where the leaks are coming from.
MS. PALMERI: Exactly. And that was one of the points I made in the story as well, was that – well, I didn’t make the point, but a Republican strategist who worked in the Bush administration said that. All of these people are entry points into the West Wing that aren’t the communications shop. And that’s a problem.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Andrew.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Thank you, Bob.
So let me get this straight. Bannon’s got his own outside PR person that’s affiliated with the Mercer family.
MS. PALMERI: Well, she used to work for the Mercers, yes.
MR. SCHWARTZ: So she – and Bannon’s obviously very closely tied to the Mercers.
MS. PALMERI: Exactly.
MR. SCHWARTZ: The Mercers – you know, when Bannon’s up or Bannon’s down, the Mercer’s notice acutely. Is the president OK with all this?
MS. PALMERI: I think the president – I have heard from my sources that he would never admit that a certain donor, that he needs them, right, because he’s Donald Trump, he funded is own campaign, that’s his feeling. But the Mercers really did a lot for him. I mean, they donated a substantial amount of money. And I do think having that alliance with the Mercers is something that gives you a stronger status in the White House. Kellyanne Conway was very close with Rebekah Mercer at one time. And that helped her status as well. At the end of the day, I don’t think that Donald Trump wants to fund his next campaign.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Now, talk about Gary Cohn for a minute. You mentioned Gary Cohn said when you all were in Europe, the president’s learning. The president didn’t like that. And what happened to Gary after he said that and it became public?
MS. PALMERI: Well, I haven’t seen Gary do a press conference since.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Right. So Gary’s influence is not on the rise.
MS. PALMERI: No, Gary has influence because Gary is more effective than a lot of the people in the White House. He’s effective behind the scenes in terms of policy, but he’s no longer speaking for the policy end. I don’t think they’re – actually, I take that back. There was a – there was a press conference with Gary a month after the foreign trip. I can’t remember – I remember it was him and McMaster.
MR. SCHWARTZ: But he’s not highly visible.
MS. PALMERI: No, but that’s smart. You know, it’s smart to not be visible in that White House. You don’t want to get too much visibility.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Is he close to the president?
MS. PALMERI: That’s a really good question.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Is Dina Powell close to the president?
MS. PALMERI: He likes Dina a lot.
MR. SCHWARTZ: What about Nadia Schadlow?
MS. PALMERI: I don’t know her.
MR. SCHWARTZ: She’s on the NSC. But I mean, we’ve heard a lot lately about, you know, obviously, Kelly coming in, and Kelly saying, well, we’re going to close the door to the White House, so not everybody’s going to have free-flowing access. I mean, your colleagues have told us about being in the Oval Office and it’s like a bus station, there’s people coming in and out all the time. Have you seen a change in the short amount of days since Kelly’s taken over in terms of the tone, in terms of the – you know, Kelly’s a pretty austere guy, when he wants to be.
MS. PALMERI: Right. I think that the staff knows that. They say that they really respect him. Whereas with Reince, they – one staffer told me you had the feeling you could take him out back and kind of punch him and he’d –
MR. SCHWARTZ: He was like a doormat.
MS. PALMERI: He was a doormat. And because of that, he became the doormat to the Oval Office. There was a feeling that his executive assistant was spying on whoever was coming into the Oval Office and then reporting back to Reince to let him know. But it shouldn’t ever come to that. It should never be – and they were joking around calling her a sleeper cell, because she was telling him who was coming into the Oval Office. But the fact that there’s that much traffic into the Oval Office is even more ridiculous.
What I’ve heard is that Kelly has created a new culture in the White House, OK? And that doesn’t mean that Trump is being completely cut off from aides. He likes spending time with people. He’s a social animal.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Right, he likes people.
MS. PALMERI: He love people. And he likes talking to his aides. And there are some that he really likes being around. And he gets that time with them, but maybe less time than he did before. But there are some people that he is trying to really limit their access. For example, Omarosa in the Office of Public Liaison, she’s a communications director there, which is an unheard-of title as well. A communications director in the Office of Public Liaison? Do you ever remember those ever?
MR. SCHIEFFER: No.
MR. SCHWARTZ: No.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah, no. So –
MR. SCHIEFFER: The public liaison, they’re the ones that set up – they oversee the mail that comes in, and –
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, or write the Christmas cards.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And plus, they have all these outside groups that they try to be liaisons to. Why would they need that?
MS. PALMERI: And she doesn’t talk to the press either, which is another thing. OK, so putting that aside, people like that who don’t really need to be having constant conversations with the president to do their job, he’s trying to limit access to them. But is he limiting access to Dina Powell? No. But she still has to go through him to talk to him. I mean, if he goes – that’s the thing. Trump likes Dina. He thinks she’s super effective. She’s smart. And she’s a doer. You tell her to do something, she does something right away. And that’s the difference. Whereas a lot of people in there, like Steve, are thinkers, got great ideas, they’re charismatic, great talkers. But it’s hard for them to actually do things. And because of that, you’re seeing that Steve Bannon doesn’t have the kind of influence that you would expect in that White House.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And Dina Powell is widely respected on both sides of the aisle in this town. You would think that that would be a good thing.
MS. PALMERI: It is. And that’s why you see her as the deputy NSA – as – yeah, deputy NSA. That’s a big job. I mean, she’s straddling both sides, the National Economic Council and the security side. And so this is a testament to how she’s regarded inside of the White House.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You know, I wish them well. I just think it’s good for the country if we can get the White House all speaking in one voice, as it were. They’re never going to get anything done otherwise. But covering Capitol Hill for 15 years, like I did, and I would see time after time members of Congress would try to make their wife the chief of staff, and it was obviously just to get two paychecks instead of one. It never works, because the people that work there, they can’t go and tell the principal, hey, your wife’s an idiot. She just has the wrong idea. I mean, it’s just impossible. And I think Kelly’s problem is going to be how’s he going to tell the boys they can’t talk to their dad? How’s he going to tell Ivanka she can’t talk to her dad? I mean, if I were the president and my daughter called, I would want her to be put through. You know, if she needed to talk to me, I wanted to talk to her. But I don’t see how he’s going to control that.
MS. PALMERI: I don’t see that either. I think they’re respecting him right now and they’re not pushing the boundaries of what he’s set up. But it’s going to deteriorate over time. That happens generally with rules in general, right, unless you’re a real stickler, which Kelly seems to be, which just might clash with the culture. But what I’ve heard is that there really has been a culture change there.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, well, we’ll see how long that the president –
MR. SCHIEFFER: Who’s up and who’s down now?
MS. PALMERI: Well, this is the funny thing. Bannon has really aligned himself with Kelly out of self-survival. He’s actually sort of been in self-survival mode for a very long time. I mean, after the TIME Magazine cover, really. And he aligned himself with Reince at that time, because to him Reince could, A, be railroaded and, B, was sort of a cover, in a way, and a person that he could have on his side when dealing with Gary Cohn who is really the enemy, because he’s one of the West Wing Democrats.
MR. SCHWARTZ: New Yorkers, right.
MS. PALMERI: And the way that his – the way that his faction is sort of spinning this now is that Kelly is a win for the real Republicans in the White House, not the West Wing Democrats, because Kelly is Bannon’s guy. And Bannon really does like Kelly. So I don’t know if Kelly would see himself that way. He doesn’t seem very political to me.
MR. SCHWARTZ: He’s not. He’s a national security guy. He’s a long-time public servant.
MS. PALMERI: Mmm hmm. Exactly.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And he’s somebody to be taken seriously, and is taken seriously, but both sides of the aisle. Which is why, you know, the president and a lot of the people around him seem to really love all these pop culture moments. I mean, the Mooch. The Mooch is a big pop culture moment. It’s not a policy moment. This Mooch – we’re going to be remembering and talking about the Mooch and his 10 days in the White House – (laughs) – for years and years and years to come. People might be writing books about the Mooch’s stay. And what did the Mooch do, except, you know, give a profanity-laced interview to a New Yorker reporter, which he wasn’t even sure whether he was on or off the record, well, he clearly was on the record. What’s going to happen when Kelly tries to normalize this White House?
MS. PALMERI: Well, a lot of the pop culture icons haven’t really lasted. Look at Spicer. He was another one. He’s not there anymore.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Yeah.
MS. PALMERI: Bannon is a pop culture icon.
MR. SCHWARTZ: He’s fielding TV deals.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Who got –
MS. PALMERI: From the White House, by the way. Which is – I was speaking to someone from the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub. Well, he used to be at the White House – Government Ethics. He left. And I asked him, you know, Spicer’s at a very high level. Is he allowed to be dealing with the media while also negotiating with the media? If he is giving access to a journalist, OK, to the White House, and they work for a media company that he’s in talks with, that’s – that company stands to benefit from his role in the White House. And he was saying that there is actually an act, it’s called the STOCK Act. And you have to recuse yourself from dealing with any organization that stands to benefit from your position in the White House if you want to eventually – if you’re seeking employment.
And so I asked him, have you done this yet? Have you filed a notice with the White House counsel? Have you filed the official form? And he never got back to me. And I think that now that he’s signed with Bob Barnett, he really does need to take those steps. There’s no reason for him to be there for the next three weeks.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Tell our listeners, who might not know who Bob Barnett and Michael O’Connor of Williams & Connolly are.
MS. PALMERI: OK. They are the power broker agents in Washington, D.C. They represent presidents. They represent Madeleine Albright, our former secretary of state. They are the premier power brokers for books, television deals, speaking engagements. If you have a profile in Washington, you want to be represented by Bob Barnett. So while a lot of Hollywood agents were making their plays at Spicer, and he was considering the idea of being on Dancing with the Stars.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Turned down, though. Might be too busy in the fall, he says.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah, he turned it down. Yeah, he also doesn’t seem like he’d be a great dancer.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I don’t think so. Neither was Tom DeLay.
MS. PALMERI: Right. (Laughter.) But he figured it out, right? I mean, Rick Perry was on Dancing with the Stars, now he’s in the administration. So it’s not like the worst –
MR. SCHWARTZ: He danced all the way to the Department of Energy.
MS. PALMERI: Tucker Carlson was on Dancing with the Stars. You know what? If they called me I might do it. No, I’m kidding. (Laughter.) I’m not a star yet, but.
MR. SCHWARTZ: I think you’d be great in Dancing with the Stars.
MS. PALMERI: Oh, thank you. I could probably be one of, like, the real dancers, you know what I’m saying? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHWARTZ: The real – yeah, you’d be on the real dancer said, for sure.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So let me just go back to Spicer and Priebus. Who got them? Why did they leave? Why were they run off?
MS. PALMERI: Anthony Scaramucci and – oh. First of all, there’s a little bit of a – this is really interesting. Reince did not want Anthony Scaramucci in the White House. Starting from when he was announced to be the director of Public Liaison, the job that Valerie Jarrett had. That was back in January. It came out. It was announced. They confirmed it. Reince did not want it. I actually wrote a story about Reince calling Anthony and saying: Anthony, your business dealings are too complicated. You can’t get a job in the White House. And then calling him – and then I found out about it, called the White House, and asked about it, saying, oh, is Anthony out of a job now? I heard that he’s not getting it.
Then they call him back and say, you have the job again. And then this ended up actually starting the whole debacle with Sean Spicer hating me, because of this one story. So they’ve always been anti-Anthony Scaramucci. He was brought in to clean up, if you know what I’m saying, to get rid of Reince. They assumed that Reince – they didn’t think that Spicer was going to quit over Anthony. They thought that Reince was going to quit over Anthony.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Who thought that?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Who brought him in?
MS. PALMERI: The kids.
MR. SCHWARTZ: The kids.
MR. SCHIEFFER: The kids thought that?
MS. PALMERI: The kids have really been disenchanted.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Jared and Ivanka.
MS. PALMERI: Yes, Jared and Ivanka have been very unhappy with Reince and Spicer for a very long time.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Why?
MS. PALMERI: Because they don’t think they’re doing – they think Spicer and his team are not doing enough to defend the president, which is partially true. They’re really defending Reince a lot. And the other problem was Reince – they knew that he was just not a strong enough character to handle Trump. And he was too obsessed with his own appearance in the media. And every person that he brought in – see, this is the thing about Reince I had heard from White House staffers. They said: Reince does not have, you know, personal clout in the White House. He has organizational clout. So when he lost Spicer, he was done. And he has tons of RNC people that he planted throughout the White House, who all are aligned with him. And they’re all in the press shop. So their number-one goal is to protect the person that brought them into the White House, because if he goes, they go.
And it’s all about self-survival in this White House. I’m sure you’ve see the Survivor cover of the New York Post, which I thought was brilliant, but they didn’t include McMaster, who also has a very conflicted relationship with Trump. But we’ll get to that another time. (Laughs.) Well, or we could get to it now. But you know what I’m saying. So there was a lot of really disenchantment. Jared thought that Spicer and his team should have been doing more to push back against the Russia narrative, even though they didn’t want to have anything to do with it because, A, they didn’t want to know too much and have to get layers – too expensive. They’re not making enough money for that. They don’t come from Kushner money to be able to lawyer up, especially the younger kids that are working in the White House press office. They just – they didn’t want to be able to deal with it.
He said, we should be changing the chyrons on cable news. We should be calling editors. We should be placing op-eds. We should be more aggressive from inside the White House against this Russia narrative. You guys are doing nothing. He was angry after the Comey firing when there was no communication from the White House for two hours. I mean, Kushner put a lot of pressure on them over this. And they were just like, hey, buddy, we’re not going to do anything. You know, this is kind – and in a way, I don’t blame them.
MR. SCHWARTZ: The other thing, I think, is that Jared and Ivanka may never have forgiven Priebus for what he said to then-candidate Trump, that he needed to step down, step out of the election after the NBC video surfaced.
MS. PALMERI: Exactly. They never liked Reince. Reince was brought on because Reince had a really great relationship with Paul Ryan, who was supposed to help them get their legislative agenda through. And he was a part of the Republican establishment that was going to help Trump do the things that he promised to do. But the second that that health care bill did not get a vote on the floor, Trump was done with Reince. And that was in March, OK? And that was when he started making phone calls to his friends saying: What do you think of Reince? What do you think of Reince? Literally, gave Reince deadlines all the time. The one I wrote about was July 4th. I’m giving you till July 4th – people were joking that every holiday had become a Reince referendum. But really, the reason for July 4th was because that was supposed to be when the next – the bill was supposed to be voted on in the Senate, but then Mitch McConnell pushed it back.
But the point is, they brought him there thinking that he had the keys of Washington in his hands and he could make the wheels turn. Then they realized that he’s really not a Washington operator. He’s a fundraiser. And –
MR. SCHWARTZ: And they didn’t need that.
MS. PALMERI: They didn’t need that, and they don’t – and they needed him to do – you know, to get the health care bill passed. And it’s been really embarrassing. They had – no legislative priorities have gone through. I mean, except for executive orders, and even they’ve been rocky. The one thing, though, Gorsuch. Give Reince Gorsuch, because he did that.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me – we’re running – coming close to the end of this. But I just want to ask you – we haven’t even talked about the Russia investigation itself. Where do you see this going? How does this shake down now?
MS. PALMERI: I wish I knew. Russia is – I think with this grand jury we’re going to see a lot more information coming out, right, because witnesses can provide information to the press about what they told the grand jury. And I think that this is just another tool for us to find out more about what happened. And it’s also a way to get into the Trump family business, and if there are any sort of outside forces. So grand jury probe is really taking this to another level. Bob Mueller seems protected by the Senate and the Congress. They really respect him. They don’t want him to go anywhere. And I just – I think this just means that he’s broadened the scope of the investigation, in a way, and he means business.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It feels much more serious in the last couple days.
MS. PALMERI: Absolutely.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Why do you think it’s gotten more serious all of a sudden?
MS. PALMERI: I don’t know that it’s gotten more serious. I think the Don Jr. thing, when he met with the Russians, I think that was, like, a smoking gun. I think it absolutely was. And I just think this is the natural evolution of an investigation, although I don’t know because I’ve never covered a White House before. You would know this better than I would, but I would assume that he’s been compiling his information, he’s been investigating behind the scenes, and he feels confident enough to move it forward. And I think it’s a time thing. I mean, Nixon, it took two years to impeach him, right? Or, not to impeach him, but to actually prosecute him. So I think it takes time. And I think this is just the next step. Or am I wrong to say that?
MR. SCHIEFFER: No, I think you’re right. Nixon, you know, resigned, but he was about to be impeached.
MS. PALMERI: Right, right.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But what I find interesting here is I think in recent days the Senate – and I’m talking about senators – Republican senators – seem to have soured a bit on Trump. And I mean, you know, you saw the passage Russia sanctions bill, the other things, introducing the bills to make it harder for him to fire Mueller and all of that. And I think it has something to do with his treatment of Sessions. Those senators – the Republican senators didn’t like that at all. Do you – do you sense a little shift in the mood on Capitol Hill toward Trump?
MS. PALMERI: Absolutely. What he did to Sessions is essentially he went after his own. And they were all shocked by his loyalty off the bat for Trump. And I think that they saw him turning on Sessions meaning that no one is sacred. There is no sacred cow to Trump. They – you know, they thought, why would Sessions give up his Senate seat, right, to be skewered? Although, I would think it was a dream for him, to be the top of law enforcement, right? This is sort of Sessions’ dream. I mean, poor guy, I’ve heard from people who are close to him, he’s just been really down. But Kelly has advocated for him, and has asked the president to keep him on. They have a good relationship. It’s good for Sessions that Kelly is there. But, I mean, it’s just incredible to see what he would do to someone who was so loyal and really was there –
MR. SCHWARTZ: From the beginning.
MS. PALMERI: Yeah. He didn’t even endorse Ted Cruz, his colleague.
MR. SCHWARTZ: He was the first guy out there in the make America great hat, that’s for sure.
MS. PALMERI: Right.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, you all have been reporting that there is, in terms of the investigation getting more serious, even the people on Mueller’s team – the lawyers on Mueller’s team are starting to get their own lawyers, because they’re worried that they may face outside lawsuits. That, to me, is an indication this is getting pretty serious.
MS. PALMERI: Exactly, but I do think that they know the characters that they’re playing with. These are very litigious people. Look at – look at Trump’s – his litigation history. It’s extremely expansive. I wrote a story for Politico about his playbook and how he goes through these steps in almost every single litigation, where one of the steps is to sue – is to go after the people who are suing you.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Sure, preempt them.
MS. PALMERI: So basically – yeah. Even after. I mean, he was once sued for – I guess – I can’t remember, a discrimination case for one of his buildings. They were allegedly suing them for not allowing African-Americans to buy in one of the buildings in New York. And he sued them back.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Sure. You know, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about Trump’s father, who had been discriminating against minorities in an apartment building they owned. So this is – this goes back a ways, that’s for sure.
MS. PALMERI: Right. I mean, Trump – the people he deals with, they’re very litigious. So I think they’re smart to do that.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, Tara, we want to thank you. This is one of our liveliest podcasts ever.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Absolutely.
MS. PALMERI: (Laughs.) Thanks.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And we got a lot of information here today. And Politico is doing what any journalist enterprise ought to be doing. They’re asking questions and when they don’t get an answer, they keep asking questions. And I think you’re right in the forefront of all of that. so we’re really proud of what you’re doing.
MS. PALMERI: Ah, thank you for having me. It’s such a pleasure. And obviously a huge fan of your work. And it’s great just to be sitting across from you. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, you’re a – you’re a good role model, because there are a lot of young women thinking about going into journalism, and a lot of young men too. Not as many young men anymore as there used to be. But women are really moving to the front in journalism, and you’re one of the examples of that.
MS. PALMERI: Oh, thank you. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: So thanks for listening, for Andrew Schwartz this is Bob Schieffer.