This week, President Donald Trump waded for the first time into a long-running, one-sided Twitter fight with the husband of one his most senior advisers: Lawyer George Conway, husband of Kellyanne. Trump tweeted at Conway yesterday, and after Conway fired back, went at him again this morning. Here are those tweets, in order of appearance:
If you’re not familiar with Conway, he’s been an influential institutional conservative operative for decades, but over the last year has made a much more prominent name for himself by trolling Trump relentlessly on Twitter. In the process, Mr. Conway has sparked rumors about the tenability and nature of his marriage to Kellyanne, and has ingratiated himself to resistance Democrats: His Twitter follower count currently numbers over 400,000, and his tweets about Trump this week have all clocked tens of thousands of likes.
But these people either aren’t informed about Conway’s past, or have in a desperate “enemy-of-my-enemy” frenzy been willing to overlook it. I’m sorry to break it to you, but George Conway—who has done a sketchy favor for Trump, worked with Ann Coulter to impeach President Bill Clinton; attended a party with Trump thrown by Rebekah Mercer, offered the President free legal advice, and affirmed it would be a good idea for Trump to fire SDNY chief attorney Preet Bharara— is, despite his stunning ability to say what tens of millions of Americans say every day—that there is something wrong with Donald Trump’s brain—George Conway is not your hero.
First, some background.
George Conway is the son of a Filipino organic chemist (Omarosa Manigault wrote in her book that Trump has in private called Conway a “goo-goo,” a racial slur for Filipino that traces back to the beginning of the 1900s; Conway called her story “absurd”) and a Raytheon defense contractor. He was 20 when he graduated from Harvard, and he went on to lead the Federalist Society at Yale. Conway first came on the D.C. scene in the 1990s, when he played a quiet, but important role in what Hillary Clinton would later call the “vast right-wing conspiracy” to bring down her husband. Conway offered free legal advice to some of President Clinton’s accusers—most prominently Paula Jones—as well as setting up Linda Tripp with an attorney when she decided to go forward with her tapes of Monica Lewinsky. According to a profile in The Washington Post, Conway worked on the smear project elbow-to-elbow with Ann Coulter, and when Clinton and Jones seemed ready to settle their dispute out of court, they tried to stop it: “It was contrary to our purpose of bringing down the president,” Coulter said of that work.
Conway and Coulter then passed lewd details about the former President to Drudge Report, including Jones’s infamous allegation about the President’s curved penis. “If she is correct,” Conway wrote, “then Clinton has a urological condition called Peyronie’s disease.”
George married Kellyanne in 2001, and a few years later the two bought a condo in Trump World Tower. While there, George helped resolve a dispute Trump was having with the Trump Tower condo board, for which Trump expressed much gratitude. (More on that later.) In New York, Conway worked as a lead attorney at prominent conservative law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, but more or less stayed out of politics until Kellyanne took over as Trump’s campaign manager when Paul Manafort stepped aside amid allegations that he was laundering money in Ukraine. The night Trump was elected, Conway reportedly cried tears and shouted: “She did it! She did it! She made history.” He said later, “No one was prouder than I was that she was able to elect this man president despite his obvious flaws. She took a campaign that the candidate had run into the gutter.”
After the election, George and Kellyanne literally moved to D.C. with Trump, taking their belongings with them on a flight with the President-elect to Washington for an inaugural dinner. (Conway also told the Post he rode in a black SUV with Trump, Kellyanne, and Stephen Bannon to a costume party at the home of Rebekah Mercer, Trump’s largest financial backer and overall lunatic.)
But until March of last year, Conway’s Twitter account had been more or less dormant, save for a few tweets here and there about sports. But that month something triggered something, and he tweeted or retweeted several cutting critiques of his wife’s boss, including a retweet of a CNN (“FAKE NEWS!”) reporter with a comment it’s tough to see as not pointed straight at his own home:
Conway has since deleted that tweet among others expressing similar feelings. But he hasn’t let up. Most recently, Conway has been sounding the alarm about Trump’s mental state, calling out the President’s “brazen, pathological mendacity,” said “a serious inquiry needs to be made about this man’s condition of mind,” shared a screenshot of the entry for Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and advised that “all Americans should be thinking seriously now about Trump’s mental condition and psychological state, including and especially the media, Congress—and the Vice President and Cabinet” (a not-so-veiled reference to the 25th Amendment—a constitutional mechanism for removing the president from power which Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein also reportedly raised in discussions after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey).
Last December, after Kellyanne went on CNN to defend Trump’s lies about hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, George took to Twitter to contradict her, writing: “Given that Trump has repeatedly lied about the Daniels and McDougal payments—and given that he lies about virtually everything else, to the point that his own former personal lawyer described him as a “f****ing liar”—why should we take his word over that of federal prosecutors?”
Mr. Conway also wrote a 3,500-word essay on Lawfare defending Special Counsel Robert Mueller from Trump’s allegation his appointment was unconstitutional. And in response to Michael Cohen’s statement on ABC’s Good Morning America that “I gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty”—Conway tweeted “Truer words were never spoken.” (Again, when you read that exchange from Kellyanne’s perspective, it’s hard not to see it doubling as a shot at her.) And Conway said earlier this March that if, as news reports alleged, Trump directed senior White House official Gary Cohn to pressure the DOJ to block the budding AT&T-Time Warner merger, the president should be impeached.
If you’re interested in reading more of this stuff, there’s plenty of it out there. But to make it perfectly clear: Conway thinks Trump is crazy. But to move on, Conway’s performance almost immediately raised questions about his home life with his senior Trump aide betrothed. Last August, The Washington Post ran an incredible profile on the power couple, drawn largely from on-the-record interviews in their home. “The Conways, like the rest of the country,” it reads, “have been jolted by the Trump presidency. They love each other, are exasperated by each other, talk about each other behind each other’s backs. They share a roof and live in different bunkers.”
But considering George’s past, this raises questions of its own: If George truly feels this strongly about Trump’s general unfitness, and if Kellyanne truly feels as strongly about defending him, how can they possibly tolerate each other? Their high profiles—and especially her position in the administration—compound the conundrum. It’s easy to conjure thoughts of conspiracy—or at best, wild hypocrisy—when you consider the fact that Kellyanne has been alleged in several accounts now as the source of the leaks she goes on TV to call lies. Is George a pressure valve for her true feelings? Do his tweets double as her messages to Trump? Is George trading cynically on Kellyanne’s image to heighten his own public profile?
Who knows. But no matter the motive, we should think twice before canonizing Conway. His response to Trump’s Twitter attack shone a light on why.
Perhaps out of deference to Kellyanne, Trump had until yesterday refrained from going after her husband on Twitter, though it’s been reported he’s wanted to do so for a while. But it seems Conway’s most recent rants about his mental state were a bridge too far.
On Tuesday morning Trump tweeted Conway was “a total loser!” However direct that might seem, Trump still put a layer between himself and Conway (or the Conways): Trump didn’t tweet the attack out of the blue—he cited a tweet from current campaign manager Brad Parscale. Here that is again:
It doesn’t take a linguistics degree to surmise Trump wrote Parscale’s tweet himself—probably so he could put a layer between himself, these false statements, and Conway (both of them, really). This would have offered Trump a fairly cowardly excuse for quoting it the next day, but also could have been a menial protective measure for Kellyanne—or, to take it a step further, possibly orchestrated with her approval. Trump’s sophomoric Wednesday morning follow-up, however, was unadulterated, invoking Kellyanne by name:
George, of course, responded almost immediately. In a Tuesday afternoon interview with the Post, he disputed Parscale/Trump’s allegations, describing multiple interactions with Trump going back more than decade. They weren’t insubstantial. For instance, after George and Kellyanne married in 2001, they took up residence in New York City—in a Trump World Tower condo. In 2006, George stuck up for Trump in a disagreement with the condominium board when some members floated the idea of taking Trump’s name off the building. Conway’s argument pleased Trump, who Conway said invited him to join the board. (Conway passed the offer to Kellyanne, who accepted it.)
Most interestingly, Conway—in his rush to prove Trump told yet another insane lie—shared with the Post a letter from Trump in the wake of the dispute. In that letter, Trump thanked Conway for his help “ridding Trump World Tower of some very bad people.” Those “very bad people,” obviously, were the dissenters on the board. That slimy closeness in itself is kind of surprising, given Conway’s stentorian distaste for Trump’s personality, but, perhaps more interestingly, that same board dispute also prompted Trump to hire another Trump Tower resident, Michael Cohen, because Donald Trump Jr. had failed to negotiate a settlement.
Trump rewarded Cohen for his “favor” by hiring him. Seems Trump also rewarded the Conways.
Conway said more, though. According to his Post, interview, during that transition-era flight to D.C. with his wife and Trump, the President asked Conway what he thought about firing Preet Bharara, who at the time was lead U.S. attorney for SDNY. This was a highly controversial move—Trump eventually fired Bharara—and raised early questions about abuse of power, but by Conway’s own account, he gave Trump his blessing: “I said in general, it’s better to have your people in terms of important positions than others.” (SDNY has since named Trump as “Individual 1” in a federal indictment, and is pursuing a number of criminal cases involving Trump, his businesses, the inaugural committee, his foundation, and several associates including Michael Cohen.)
But wait, there’s more. Conway, in an effort to dispel “Parscale’s” claim that Trump didn’t know him, told the Post that in Spring 2017, Trump offered him the position of Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, at the Justice Department. Conway turned it down, saying he’d just seen Trump attack multiple DOJ officials—including then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reportedly done to Conway’s face—and fire FBI Director James Comey. Conway said he wasn’t interested in involving himself in what appeared to be an upcoming long-term battle between Trump and the DOJ.
Sounds great, right? HOWEVER.
George also said that after Trump fired Comey (and before Conway turned down the job), Kellyanne arranged a phone call with him, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Jared Kushner, who wanted his advice on selecting lawyers to defend Trump in the Mueller investigation. “He wanted to know my opinions on a variety of lawyers who were being considered to be his outside counsel,” Conway told the Post. “He asked me for my opinions on each of them.” The attorney made another point clear—there were “all these people in the room making it a non-privileged conversation”—however, Conway didn’t clarify to the Post what advice he actually gave the President.
Conway said he then spoke with Trump at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s wedding in June 2017. Trump came up to him, according to Conway, and congratulated him for choosing not to work under Sessions: “He said to me, I remember it clearly, you were smart not to work for that guy. He is so weak.” Apparently Trump groused for several minutes about Sessions’ recusal from all investigations involving the campaign (a recusal Conway endorsed). It’s telling of Trump, though, that he wasn’t hurt by Conway’s rejection, and had instead turned it inside-out to see it as an insult of a perceived common enemy. (Trump would around this time pressure White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Sessions.)
It’s also pretty clear that Parscale soon realized Trump had boondoggled him into making false claims in his tweet: A spokesman for the campaign manager said Trump had told Parscale he didn’t remember ever being in a room with George Conway (!), and that Trump first met Kellyanne Conway during the election. (Again, she was on the Trump World Tower condo board.)
But all available recent reporting suggests the Conways seem bound for a rough landing. According to the Post, last month, Kellyanne reportedly ripped into her husband in front of several guests at a British Embassy party thrown for members of Congress. The media-savvy White House official knew full well what she was doing: several of those present were high-profile journalists, including New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, and former Post political writer Sally Kohn.
She went on. She claimed George “preferred to spend his time in front of his computer, while she preferred to socialize, the attendees said.” She blamed the press for elevating her husband’s profile, and claimed George’s friends had asked him to stop the tweets. According to those present, Kellyanne said they wouldn’t like it if their marriages played out under such a spotlight. Conway also reportedly told them that both she and Trump believe George envies her, and that Trump trusts and wants to “protect her.”
George told the Post, “I made it possible for her to be where she is today. So there’s that. It’s not about jealousy. It’s about reality. Who this man is, and whether he’s fit for public office. Which, as I’ve said, he isn’t.”
In response to Trump’s unvarnished Wednesday morning attack calling him a “husband from hell,” Conway had three words: