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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was ready to go on the attack Sept. 13 when a reporter asked about ESPN anchor’s Jemele Hill’s criticisms of President Donald Trump on Twitter. She’s ready, generally, when a reporter asks about the news of the day and provides an opportunity to criticize opponents of the administration.
But, uncharacteristically, she was reserved when asked by reporters during press briefings Friday and again Tuesday about the Democrats who have received generous campaign donations from fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. On Friday, when asked whether she thinks Democrats should return donations from Weinstein, Sanders replied, “I think that’s a decision for those individuals to make. Whether or not that’s money that they want to take, that’s up to them. That’s certainly not a decision for us to make.”
Sanders’ hesitation to go after Democrats was in stark contrast to the strategy taken by the Republican National Committee, which on Friday afternoon, before her press briefing, blasted out a release calling attention to “Harvey’s Dirty Democratic Donations.”
On Tuesday, once again, Sanders did not take the bait. She was asked whether Trump had seen a statement from Hillary Clinton, who had said she was “shocked and appalled” by Weinstein’s alleged conduct. “I don’t know if he’s seen Secretary Clinton’s statement,” the at-times pugnacious Sanders said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about that, so I wouldn’t want to weigh in on what his reaction might be on that front.”
A source close to the administration guessed that Sanders and her team are keeping fairly mum on the Weinstein-Democrats story because the media has done their work for them by pushing Democrats to respond to the allegations against Weinstein. After reporters pressed Democrats that have received funds from Weinstein, many announced plans to donate the money and put out statements taking him to task.
Another observer of the White House’s media strategy wondered whether the administration is taking a pass on Weinstein because Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct in the past. (On Saturday, Trump told the White House press pool that he’s “not at all surprised” by the Weinstein allegations, though he didn’t elaborate.)
Or perhaps the White House has just taken a surrogate strategy on Weinstein. On Wednesday, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox News and lashed out at Clinton. Conway said she’s a hypocrite for spending a month criticizing Trump over the infamous Access Hollywood tape but not publicly criticizing Weinstein, who once held a fundraiser for her campaign.
“I felt like a woman who ran to be commander-in-chief and president of the United States, the first one ever, who talks about women’s empowerment took an awfully long time to give support to those women who were coming forward and has still as far as we know, Bill, kept the money,” Conway told Bill Hemmer. Then, hemming closely to the RNC’s language, she said that Clinton “kept the dirty money that dirty Harvey has given her in her campaign.”
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