About a month after Roger Ailes was ousted as chairman of Fox News over sexual harassment allegations, the New York Times reported that Ailes had already landed a new role – as an adviser to Donald Trump, specifically in the area of debate preparation.
Almost immediately, the Trump campaign, perhaps fearing the consequences of bringing on such a controversial figure, denied the reporting. In a statement, the Republican ticket insisted, “He is not advising Mr. Trump or helping with debate prep. They are longtime friends but he has no formal or informal role in the campaign.”
Last week, Rachel sat down with Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s latest campaign manager, and asked a straightforward factual question:
MADDOW: Is Roger Ailes working as part of the Donald Trump campaign?CONWAY: No. He is not a formal or informal adviser. They’re old friends. I mean, he’s Donald Trump. He talks to a lot of people. Something is always ringing. […]MADDOW: Roger Ailes, no role in the campaign, though?CONWAY: Roger Ailes has no formally or informal role in the campaign, no. But he is a marketing genius.
A “marketing genius” who was recently accused of grotesque and indefensible workplace behavior.
What’s more, Rachel asked specifically about accounts of a meeting at a New Jersey golf club two weeks ago, where they reportedly discussed Ailes helping Trump prepare for the debates, joining the team as an informal adviser. Conway said she wasn’t there, and while she’s sure the two men “talk,” the campaign manager was nevertheless categorical: Ailes has no role on the team.
There’s nevertheless a fair amount of evidence of Ailes having at least some kind of role in the Republican operation. The Washington Post reported over the weekend, for example, that Ailes still has no formal role on the campaign, but the former Fox News chairman “talks to the candidate frequently and attended a strategy session last weekend.”
The Post’s Robert Costa added that Ailes is a member of Trump’s “new inner circle,” which includes a very small group of allies. (Costa emphasized this again on “Meet the Press” yesterday.)
NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell also reported that Trump scheduled a debate-prep meeting yesterday at his New Jersey home, and Ailes, “who is advising Trump ahead of the debates,” was in attendance.
Conway’s response to Rachel didn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room – Ailes “is not a formal or informal adviser” – but it’s hard not to get the impression that the former Fox News chief, at a minimum, has the GOP candidate’s ear.