So who is floating the rumor that current Veep Cheney adviser Mary Matalin could end up sitting in presidential counselor Karen Hughes’s chair come September? Matalin claims she isn’t behind it, and no doubt she isn’t given her concern that she not be tied to White House leaks.
Most likely no current staffer will fill Hughes’s rather large shoes. “Anyone who thinks that job is going to end up in the hands of one person is nuts,” says a White House communications staffer. “No one could fill her position.”
Some of Hughes’s duties will probably be split between senior White House speechwriters and members of the communications shop. More interesting will be to see how credit for future Bush endeavors is doled out. For example, it has always been reported that Hughes actively wrote many of Bush’s finest speeches, when in fact she wrote almost none of them. “She’d do some editing and have some input, but beyond that, nothing. It was all the speechwriters,” says the communications staffer.
No one doubts that Hughes will be missed by the senior White House staff. Hughes was more than willing to protect them from serious media scrutiny and criticism by serving as the lightning rod for White House correspondents angry about tight access to the President and even more tightly controlled spin.
In some ways Hughes won’t be leaving at all. Several White House sources say after her family moves back to Texas in August, she will most likely spend up to a week at a time in Washington advising the White House on everything from news management to rolling out the Bush agenda leading into 2004. “We expect we will be seeing her and hearing from her probably every day for months and hopefully years to come,” says another White House staffer.
“The gossip in here is that she’s going to be gearing things up for 2004 from Texas, doing stuff she wouldn’t have been allowed to do as a federal employee in Washington,” says an RNC staffer. “We assume we’ll be hearing from her a lot in the coming months.”
Rumors in Washington had Hughes returning to Texas ahead of bombshells from the ongoing Enron investigation. “If there was damaging stuff about her in Enron, believe me, Democrats up on the Hill would have trotted that out weeks ago,” says a senior Republican Senate staffer. “We haven’t seen or heard anything that would lead us to believe there is any more bad Enron stuff out there on current members of the White House. The fact that she’s staying through the summer is a pretty good indication there aren’t going to be any shoes dropping.”
But back to those Matalin rumors, which should be troubling to conservatives everywhere, particularly those in the White House. It’s unclear just how much access Matalin has had to the presidential side of the West Wing. Hughes and Karl Rove are both said by insiders to have allowed her into the White House with trepidation and insisted that she be placed on Cheney’s staff for fear that were she on President Bush’s staff, there would be leaks aplenty to the press corps.
“I can’t see any way that Matalin would be brought over from Cheney’s staff,” says a White House legislative staffer. “She seems happy there, isn’t making any noise and she’s been playing well with others. I think everyone’s aware of how that could change if she was given senior adviser status to Bush. Everyone knows Bush Senior is loyal to her and that’s why she’s here. But she isn’t that popular with the current president’s crowd.”
The big concern would be potential leaks to the media. Matalin has many connections to the Washington press corps, and has been known to throw off a comment now and again. She has claimed she isn’t interested in moving over to the president’s staff, but insiders say someone like Matalin never tires of the opportunity to gain a toehold on power and influence. “Otherwise, why would she take a job with Cheney?” asks the White House political aide.
Even more troubling to conservatives than a Matalin move should be the story floated on Wednesday in several newspapers that had current Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke moving across the river to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in some capacity. Word out of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s shop is that he’s looking to push her out, but is unsure where she could go. There are concerns there about ongoing leaks and her failure to contain them.
Clarke is closely allied with Matalin, going back to her days as press assistant to Vice President Bush and later his campaign press secretary in the ill-fated 1992 presidential race. She also served as a press secretary to Congressman and then Sen. John McCain. “Who knows what would happen if those two ended up in the same building. It’s bad enough knowing they probably talk a lot outside of work with Matalin’s husband [Democratic consultant and CNN “Crossfire” host James Carville] listening in,” says a former Bush White House staffer. That scenario alone should give conservatives nightmares.
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