White House tries to play defense with falsehoods about former Pence aide Troye
Posted September 18, 2020 4:26 p.m. EDT
CNN — The White House moved quickly Thursday to try to discredit Olivia Troye, the former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, after she released a video charging that President Donald Trump failed to protect the public from coronavirus and that he only cared about getting reelected.
In a flurry of statements from White House aides and President Donald Trump, the administration sought to paint Troye as a disgruntled, low-level employee who was fired. But in doing so, the White House made a series of misleading and sometimes outright false statements about the role Troye had on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the circumstances of her departure.
Troye told CNN she left the Trump administration on her own, and that much of the behavior from the President she cited in the video -- such as accusing the President of suggesting Covid-19 was a good thing because he wouldn't have to shake hands with people -- was witnessed by others.
The White House denied her claims, and in doing so, downplayed her role. White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said Troye was "never in private meetings with the President," while White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted Troye "typically sat in the overflow room of task force."
But there are pictures of Troye sitting behind Trump and Pence at a task force meeting, and a White House aide acknowledged she was "present a few times when the President addressed large groups -- like the task force -- where dozens of people were present."
Asked for clarification on defining a "private meeting," the White House aide said "she's never met the President, she definitely never briefed the President, and to the best of my knowledge never stepped foot in the Oval and she was never in small meetings with the President."
But Troye tells CNN much of this is also false. She claims that she has met the President, and that in fact, he asked her who she was in one of the first task force meetings. Troye claims she was present for every meeting when the President joined for calls with governors about Covid-19, and that she was in the Oval Office a few times with task force members, including when Trump asked her boss at the time, the vice president, to lead the task force.
"What I've said about him and his behavior was also witnessed by all of these other people because yes, they were in the meetings with me," Troye told CNN in an interview. "I'm not claiming to be in small meetings with him. And it didn't take a small meeting to make the President speak freely because he is who he is."
Trump joined in the attacks on Troye Thursday evening, falsely claiming she had been fired and touting the goodbye letter she sent to colleagues in July.
"We have a letter from her, I was just told, that is absolutely, the most beautiful going away letter. She was terminated. They didn't want her. She was terminated," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn Thursday.
"Mike Pence came to me. He told me about her. He said she left. They let her go, with cause but they let her go," Trump added.
Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Pence's national security adviser, said in a statement Thursday that Troye's detail to the vice president's office was cut short "because she was no longer capable of keeping up with her day-to-day duties."
Troye disputed this claim from Kellogg and said she was not fired, however, and that she resigned from her position in July. Earlier this month she took a job with the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Troye says she left on her own volition — and that there is contemporaneous evidence it was her decision — because she no longer had confidence the vice president was being served well by some of his staff.
Her goodbye letter to colleagues is glowing about the work that the Task Force is doing -- but it notably makes no mention of the President or the vice president.
"I have witnessed first-hand how dedicated and committed all of you have been to doing the right thing," she wrote. "I will always be rooting for you knowing that you will continue to fight the good fight."
The White House's attacks on Troye are hardly a new tactic, as Trump and his aides have gone after many former administration officials or campaign advisers who have criticized the President, both via Trump's Twitter feed and by attempting to downplay their role.
When Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and began cooperating with former special counsel Robert Mueller in 2017, a campaign adviser tried to dismiss him as the "coffee boy." When Papadopoulos later turned against Mueller, he was lavished with praise on the President's Twitter feed promoting his book.
In the video released Thursday, Troye endorsed Trump's Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. She said Trump's comments showed he didn't care about the public, claiming he suggested at one point that perhaps coronavirus was a good thing because it meant he didn't have to shake hands.
Pence said in response to the video that Troye's comments sounded like "one more disgruntled employee who's left the White House and now has decided to play politics during an election year."
Kellogg pushes back
Kellogg, who rarely does television interviews, went on CNN's "The Situation Room" Thursday as part of the pushback to charge that Troye's comments were "egregious" and "flat wrong," saying he had been in all the task force meeting and hadn't heard the president say what Troy was alleging.
Miles Taylor, who was chief of staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and like Troye has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, disputes Kellogg's characterization of Troye's work. Taylor, who is a CNN contributor and co-founded one of the anti-Trump Republican organizations, said he heard both Pence and Kellogg praise Troye's work.
"I had lunch with the vice president of the United States in the West Wing of the White House and he told me to my face Olivia Troye is doing an incredible job as my homeland security adviser," Taylor told CNN's Chris Cuomo.
"Keith Kellogg told me this year Olivia Troye is doing an incredible job, I'm so glad DHS referred her to us," Taylor added.