- President Donald Trump’s longtime personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout abruptly stepped down on Thursday.
- Her resignation follows reports of Trump allegedly learning she disclosed private information about his family and the Oval Office in an off-the-record dinner with reporters.
- Neither Westerhout or the White House have officially commented on her departure.
President Donald Trump’s personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, abruptly resigned Thursday after the president allegedly learned she had shared details about his family during an off-the-record conversation with journalists.
The 29-year-old, who had worked for Trump since he assumed office, also reportedly shared details of Oval Office operations during that same conversation. Both incidents allegedly occurred earlier this month during a dinner in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, while Trump visited his Bedminster club as part of a working vacation.
According to CBS News, at the dinner, Westerhout also gossiped about broadcast journalists who were seeking to sit down with the president.
Though the White House has yet to comment on her departure, the New York Times quoted a source who said Westerhout is now a “separated employee” and is barred from returning to the White House. Westerhout has also not made any public comments regarding her departure.
As Trump’s personal assistant, her office was situated directly in front of the Oval Office in the West Wing, with many media outlets dubbing her a “gatekeeper” to the president. During a farewell event for Sarah Sanders, the Trump Administration’s former press secretary, sources said Westerhout bragged about her role as a gatekeeper.
At the time of her resignation, she was earning $145,000 annually.
Westerhout’s History with Trump
Westerhout previously worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, having taken off the fall semester of her senior year at the College of Charleston to work as an intern.
She is also a former Republican National Committee assistant to Kate Walsh. Walsh later served on Trump’s transition team and accepted the role of White House Deputy Chief of Staff before resigning after two months.
At first, Westerhout was reportedly not in favor of a Trump administration, with Tim Alberta of Politico writing in his book American Carnage that she was so upset on election night in 2016, she cried. It also states Trump had reservations about Westerhout working as part of his staff. Because of this, some White House officials also feared she would be disloyal to the president.
“She was a spy from day one who sought to use her proximity to the president to curry favor with his detractors,” a former White House official said of her.
A different former White House official rebuked comments about her intentions, saying she had been singled out by long-term members of Trump’s team for her past with the RNC. The same official also denied reports that she cried on election night.
Yet another former official compared her resignation to a “mob hit,” claiming Alberta’s book stoked questions about her loyalty to the president.
During Trump’s transition, she gained traction from the media for her role in escorting potential administration officials and even Leonardo DiCaprio through Trump Tower.
“The President-elect wanted to make sure all of his meetings were very transparent, so it became a little bit more public than I originally thought it was going to be,” she told CNN in 2016.
Later in her role, she reportedly enjoyed her access to the president, sharing photos of herself at rallies on her private Instagram account or joking that she printed a piece of paper Trump held up during a speech. Trump, in turn, has often called her “my beauty.”
Politico reported that Westerhout, this year, had been working to expand her job to include aspects like foreign travel. One White House staffer claimed she had been acting like a de facto chief of staff and described her recent dinner with reporters in Bedminster as the “final straw.”
While writing Fire and Fury, journalist Bob Woodward reached out to interview Trump several times but never received the opportunity. Later, speaking with the president, Trump asked him, “Did you speak to Madeleine?”
Woodward then indicated he had not, to which Trump said, “Madeleine is the key. She’s the secret.”
Hatch Act Violation
In 2018, Westerhout was found to have violated the Hatch Act, along with deputy press secretary Raj Shah, deputy director of communications Jessica Ditto, and three other White House officials.
The Hatch Act, written into law in 1939, constitutes that federal employees cannot distribute partisan messages on channels of communication used for official government business. That includes social media accounts.
The violation came from the Office of the Special Counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and found that four of the six staffers — including Westerhout — either tweeted “#MAGA” or “Make America Great Again!”
The OSC argued that since she and others used the political slogan of Trump in his re-election campaign for 2020, they had violated the act to keep federal employees politically neutral in their jobs.
No action was taken against Westerhout or the five other staffers.
Scientists Warn Warm Weather May Not Slow the Coronavirus, But Social Distancing May Be Flattening the Curve
- The National Academies of Sciences is warning the White House not to rely on warmer weather to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
- This is because many factors can affect the virus, the most notable being the “lack of host immunity globally” since this is a new virus.
- Despite this, there is hope that the virus is beginning to slow its spread in the United States because of social distancing measures.
- Still, officials warn that continuing to practice social distancing even as parts of the U.S. flatten the curve will be key in gaining control over the outbreak.
We’re “Likely” Beginning to See a Flattening of the Curve
The goal of “flattening the curve” has been on the minds of many Americans over the past few weeks, and now certain areas in the United States could be beginning to experience that.
Despite New York reporting 799 deaths in the Empire State on Thursday—it’s highest single-day death toll—over the last few days, the number of people checking into hospitals for COVID-19 has stabilized and even started to go down.
Prompted by a question by Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show Thursday morning, leading Coronavirus Task Force expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the state’s condition could be turning around and it may be starting to see a flattening of the curve.
“You know, I don’t want to jump the gun on that, Savannah, but I think that is the case,” Fauci said. “You want to see a steady, several day program and profile like that. I think that’s what’s going on. I’m always very cautious about jumping the gun and saying, ‘Well, we have turned the corner’ but I think we are really looking at the beginning of that, which would really be very encouraging. We need that right now.”
In Washington, Oregon and California, the virus has also slowed. Like New York, officials have credited social distancing measures as key to those successes.
In fact, because of social distancing, Fauci says he believes the U.S. will see around 60,000 deaths—much less than the 100,000 to 240,000 deaths the Coronavirus Task Force had predicted only two weeks ago.
Still, Fauci warned that despite the seemingly good news, now is not the time to let up on social distancing measures.
“But, having said that, we better be careful that we don’t say, ‘Okay, we’re doing so well that we can pull back,’” he said. “We still have to put our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the mitigation and the physical separation.”
On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged his state to continue practicing social distancing measures to avoid a second spike in cases.
“So to the extent that we are seeing a flattening or a possible plateau of the curve, that’s because of what we are doing, and we have to keep doing it,” Cuomo said. “I know it’s hard, but we have to keep doing it.”
“If we stop what we are doing, you will see that curve change,” Cuomo added in warning.
Cuomo also seemed to indicate that New York may not fully return to normal anytime soon. After being asked about the Broadway League announcing tentative plans to reopen by June 7, Cuomo told people not to use that as a “barometer” for when non-essential businesses could reopen.
He added that decisions to reopen places like schools and workplaces need to come first and that even those decisions will rely on infection rates and the state’s ability to protect people in the vulnerable population.
In California, lockdown measures may also take a while to be lifted because Governor Gavin Newsom doesn’t expect the peak of the state’s outbreak to happen until mid-May.
AG Barr Says U.S. Must Re-evaluate “Draconian” Measures Soon
However, in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News Thursday, Attorney General Bill Barr suggested that once the White House’s social distancing measures expire at the end of the month, the government should start potentially easing lockdown measures.
“I think we have to be very careful to make sure that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and they’re not alternative ways of protecting people,” he told Ingraham. “When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves.”
Barr and Ingraham also discussed recent restrictions on religious gatherings in many states. While Barr said he believed governments have the right to prohibit such gatherings in times of emergency, he also said that rule only applies if churches are treated the same as any other institution.
Scientists Warn Virus Won’t Likely Go Away With Warm Weather
Despite optimism that parts of the U.S. are flattening the curve, researchers with the National Academies of Sciences have sent a letter to the White House telling it not to rely on warmer weather to slow the spread of the virus.
That’s because despite some evidence suggesting that this virus “may transmit less efficiently in environments with higher ambient temperature and humidity, given the lack of host immunity globally, this reduction in transmission efficiency may not lead to a significant reduction in disease spread.”
The letter comes in spite of Trump having made the claim in February that warmer weather would kill the virus.
The report also goes on to explain that multiple factors “besides environmental temperature, humidity, and survival outside of the host” influence how the virus spreads among people around the world.
Those researchers also highlighted countries already experiencing “summer” climates like Australia and Iran, which have both seen rapid spread of the virus.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Post) (CNN)
California Fast-Food Workers Strike Amid Pandemic
- Strikes at McDonald’s locations in Los Angeles and San Jose have inspired fast-food workers all over California to strike as well.
- On Thursday, workers are demanding that they receive gloves, masks, soaps, hand sanitizer, hazard pay, and paid sick leave if exposed to the coronavirus.
- According to Fight for 15, the many McDonald’s workers feel that they have not been able to properly follow social distancing guidelines at work, and have come to work sick fearing loss of income or disciplinary actions.
- Fast-food workers all over the country feel this way, with other major cities like Memphis, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay also seeing workers strike over the past several weeks with similar demands.
Strikes in California
Fast food workers are striking throughout California on Thursday, demanding protection gear and sanitary measures to be taken as they work during the coronavirus pandemic.
The strikes were inspired by ones that started in Los Angeles on Sunday. Workers at a McDonald’s on Crenshaw Boulevard began walkouts after one of their co-workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then, two more of the location’s employees have also tested positive.
Employees at the location want a two week paid quarantine because they were all likely exposed to the virus. They are also asking for healthcare coverage for them and their families if they contract the virus, as well as personal protection equipment and sanitation tools.
The workers put signs on their cars, demanding that their safety be prioritized. A day after these protests began, McDonald’s workers at a San Jose location also began striking. They demanded things like hand sanitizer, masks, and other PPE. Thursday’s strikes will take place at 50 fast food restaurants all over the state, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and more.
Concerns of Fast Food Workers
Workers are walking out and holding drive thru strikes calling for their health to be taken seriously. This protest is being organized by Fight for 15, a group that fights for workers rights. On Twitter, the Los Angeles chapter of the organization outlined their demands, which on top of PPE, included hazard pay and paid sick leave.
Fight for 15 surveyed McDonald’s employees, many of whom have concerns about working during the pandemic. As fast-food workers are considered essential and still heading out to their jobs, which involve interaction with the public during stay at home orders, many fear they are risking their health, as well as the health of others.
These employees do not believe that they have the proper tools to protect themselves from the coronavirus. The survey showed 92% say they had limited or no access to masks. Meanwhile, 46% said the same thing about gloves, and another 41% said so of hand sanitizer. A number of employees also claimed they did not have reliable access to cleaning supplies or soap.
Limited access to PPE and sanitation is just one of the ways that workers feel they are putting their health on the line. Over 40% said it is close to impossible to practice social distancing while at work and 22% also said they have come to work while feeling ill since the outbreak started. Some said they did not have sick paid leave and could not afford to miss work, while others feared disciplinary action could be taken against them if they chose to stay at home.
McDonald’s has responded to some of the concerns lodged against them. A spokesperson told Mercury News that the company will be starting wellness checks, as well as increasing cleanings, social distancing and hand washing guidelines throughout its locations.
These strikes in California are part of a pattern of fast food workers striking across the nation. In late March, 100 workers in the cities of St. Louis, Memphis and Tampa walked off the job, or opted to not go to work due to unsafe conditions, and cuts in pay and hours.
One KFC employee, Tiffany Lowe, told the Memphis Flyer that if fast food workers are considered essential, they should be treated as such.
“I’m frustrated, angry, and confused as to why a multi-billion dollar corporation such as KFC wouldn’t give us the things we need to survive like hazard pay, healthcare, and paid sick leave,” Lowe said. “I mean if they want to call us essential employees then they should make us feel essential, treat us like human beings, and give us what we deserve.”
An anonymous McDonald’s worker based in Michigan also wrote a piece for Business Insider expressing frustrations at the company’s handling of the coronavirus.
“I have a compromised immune system and have been told that I’m not allowed to wear any kind of mask at work because it might ‘put the customers off,’” the anonymous worker wrote. “That all I can do if someone sneezes on their money before handing it to me is wash my hands 2 to 3 minutes later and hope they didn’t have the coronavirus.”
“These big corporations don’t actually care about their employees like they claim they do,” the author added, “and that’s showing now more than ever before.”
Doctor Charged After Attacking Teens for Not Social Distancing
- A physician in Louisville, Kentucky was arrested after he was caught on video strangling a teenager, frustrated that she and her friends were out in public and not practicing social distancing.
- Over the past few days, there have been several cases all over the country where people disobeying social distancing guidelines has led to violence or overreactions.
- These are more extreme examples of quarantine shaming: the act of publicly calling out people who appear to not be taking COVID guidelines seriously.
Louisville Physician Charged
A Kentucky physician was charged with strangulation Tuesday after video showed him attacking a group of teenagers who were not practicing social distancing. The incident marks one of the more extreme examples of a new trend called “quarantine shaming.”
Footage of the incident went viral over the weekend and the Louisville physician in the video has since been identified as John Rademaker.
“Yeah, we’re leaving. Let’s not cuss at each other,” the person recording the video can be heard saying before Rademaker, who was accompanied by another woman when he found the group at an amphitheater, started to get physical.
“Hey, hey, hey do not touch, oh my god what the fuck is your problem?” another girl asked as he pushed her. “Do not fucking touch me.”
The screaming continues as he approaches another girl who is already on the ground. He appears to choke her as the rest of the group shouts for him to get off of her. Local reports say Rademaker and the woman left the scene after the incident.
The video sparked outrage online for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the worst violence was directed at a girl who appeared to be the only black person present. Others were also shocked that the situation escalated so quickly, considering Rademaker was not provoked.
In addition to being arrested and charged, WLKY says that Rademaker has been placed on leave from his job. The Louisville Metro Police Department also released a statement condemning his actions.
“Obviously, we do not advise individuals concerned about social distancing to take matters into their own hands and confront people about it, especially in any physical way,” the department said. “We ask people who are concerned about large gatherings to call 311 or 911 to report their concerns.”
Other Incidents Across the Country
This incident is one of several that have been reported throughout the last several days where conflicts about social distancing mounted to physical violence or blatant overreactions.
On Monday the Miami Herald reported that when a man and his 21-year-old daughter called out a group of 20 or so college kids for partying in the Florida Keys, they two were beaten with a baseball bat.
The two confronted the group about social distancing and asked them to keep the noise down. They were then hit on their heads with the bat by an unknown number of people.
Both had to go to the hospital and had noticeable bumps on their heads. At the time of the Herald’s report, no arrests had been made.
In New York, an elderly woman died after an altercation related to social distancing. A 32-year-old pushed 86-year-old Jane Marshall to the ground because she was standing too close to her. Marshall hit her head on the floor and lost consciousness, then died a few hours later. Right now the assailant was issued a summons for disorderly conduct, but if Marshall’s death is ruled a homicide, that could change to serious charges.
In another incident in Brighton, Colorado, police issued an apology after handcuffing a father in front of his six-year-old for playing in a park. Authorities responded to a report of a group of people playing softball. According to a Fox affiliate in Denver, there was a sign at the park that said it was closed, except to groups of four or less for walking, biking, and other activities.
The man who was handcuffed, Matt Mooney, says he was just with his wife and daughter. Police, however, said there were 12-15 people present in the park, and it is unclear if there was a misunderstanding or if other parties present at the time.
Officers told Mooney and his family to disperse because the park was closed, but the he and his family thought there was a misunderstanding.
This eventually led to Mooney refusing to provide ID, maintaining he was not doing anything unlawful. He told the Fox station that he sat in the back of a patrol car for ten minutes before being released. He believes that if anyone was breaking social distancing guidelines, it was the officers.
“During the contact, none of the officers had masks on, none of them had gloves on, and they’re in my face handcuffing me, they’re touching me,” Mooney told the outlet.
The Brighton Police Department is now conducting an internal investigation into what led to Mooney’s detainment.
While the investigation sorts through the different versions of what took place by witnesses who were at the park, it is evident there was an overreach by our police officers,” authorities said in an apology to Mooney and his family.
“We are deeply sorry for the events that took place on Sunday and the impact on Mr. Mooney, his family, and the community,” the statement added.
All of these cases are extreme examples of a recent trend that several reports have identified as “quarantine shaming.” The Washington Post defines it as “calling out people who are perceived as not doing their part to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
In cases where either the shamer or the shamee does not handle the situation well, things can ramp up rather quickly. There are, however, plenty of non-violent cases where people have taken to shaming in order to stop people from going outside and in public spaces. From smaller verbal confrontations to social media posts, there are many ways that people have chastised others for their behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.
BBC News published a piece looking into the phenomenon and spoke to experts that believe shaming is almost a natural reaction for humans in situations like this.
“Social psychologists say that shaming plays a significant role in enforcing social norms – especially at a time when norms are rapidly changing as a result of coronavirus,” author Helier Cheung wrote.
While violent cases of quarantine shaming are outliers, and under no circumstances should people find themselves in physical altercations because of the coronavirus, less aggressive shaming can actually be effective. Sociological data shows that it can be a productive strategy in a situation where new norms have to be established, like the pandemic we are currently living in.
BBC also spoke to Daniel Sznycer, a social psychologist at the University of Montreal who said that shame is about “reputational damage.” Because going outside is an “inherently public” act, people who have been shamed for it will likely not repeat the action. They will feel more obliged to practice social distancing, as they will not want to get caught and risk tarnishing their reputation again.
Sznycer says that shaming does not work, however, in situations that can happen behind closed doors. So behavior that many view as ill-advised during quarantine but can be easily hidden, like hoarding or unnecessarily online shopping, will likely not be stopped by shaming.