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White House press secretary refers question to the White House

I never thought I'd see the day in which the White House press secretary appeared on national television and referred a question to the White House.
Image: Kayleigh McEnany
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany talks to the media outside the White House on Oct. 4, 2020.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

The barriers can get a little tricky on a presidential team during an election season, with dividing lines between White House staff and campaign staff. The former group is paid with taxpayer dollars and is supposed to steer clear of partisan activities; the latter group is paid by campaign contributions and is supposed to steer clear of governing.

In normal administrations, it's not uncommon to hear White House officials refer journalists' questions to the campaign, and vice-versa, as a way of recognizing the importance of the legal and ethical firewalls.

But in Donald Trump's not-at-all-normal administration, there are no firewalls.

With this in mind, in a modern first, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made two cable-news appearances a couple of weeks ago in which she was identified as a "Trump 2020 campaign adviser." Though McEnany is a presidential aide whose salary is paid by taxpayers, the White House said she was "appearing in her personal capacity."

It was the start of a series of related media appearances in which the president's official spokesperson effectively held two jobs simultaneously: McEnany, who ostensibly left the Trump campaign to become the president's press secretary, was both a White House official and a campaign spokesperson.

This morning, the exceedingly awkward and ethically dubious dynamic reached a new level when McEnany appeared on Fox News and was asked about the possibility of providing President-Elect Joe Biden with intelligence materials, including the President's Daily Brief (PDB), ahead of Inauguration Day. She replied:

"I haven't spoken to the president about that; that would be a question more for the White House. 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."

To be sure, it was notable to see McEnany reference "an expected transition" -- a suggestion that she realizes her boss was defeated -- a line she seemed eager to walk back moments later.

But it was the other part of her response that made me laugh out loud: "That would be a question more for the White House."

Unless McEnany stepped down from her taxpayer-financed job and failed to tell the public, what viewers saw was the White House's chief spokesperson refer a question to the White House. If McEnany is still Trump's press secretary, she effectively referred the question to herself, since she's the one to whom reporters would direct such a question.

If you're wondering if that's weird, I'd refer you to the guy who publishes content to MaddowBlog.