Expert on White House chiefs of staff says Mark Meadows 'absolutely owns' the title of 'worst' chief in history after ex-aide's damning testimony

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Expert on White House chiefs of staff says Mark Meadows 'absolutely owns' the title of 'worst' chief in history after ex-aide's damning testimony
Mark Meadows
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the Oval Office in April 2020.Evan Vucci/AP
  • The historian Chris Whipple said Mark Meadows was the worst White House chief of staff in history.

  • Whipple, who wrote about the post's history, said Meadows is worse than the infamous H.R. Haldeman.

  • "The Watergate figures really look like choir boys compared to Trump, and Meadows, and their gang."

The author Chris Whipple, who has interviewed dozens of White House chiefs of staff, said that Cassidy Hutchinson's shocking testimony before the House January 6 committee has made it abundantly clear that Mark Meadows is by far the "worst" White House chief of staff in history.

In the wake of Hutchinson's damning testimony about her former boss' inaction around the Capitol riot, Whipple argued that not even Richard Nixon's Watergate cronies compare.

"It used to be a fairly stiff competition for the worst chief of staff in history, but Meadows absolutely owns it," Whipple told Insider in a Thursday interview about Trump's fourth chief of staff.

Hutchinson, a former top aide to Meadows, painted a jaw-dropping portrait of her boss appearing nonplussed by an insurrection unfolding just blocks away, an attack stoked by President Donald Trump's campaign to overturn the election.

"The rioters are getting really close. Have you talked with the president?" Hutchinson told the committee she asked Meadows as the riot was unfolding.

According to Hutchinson, Meadows replied: "'No, he wants to be alone right now.'"

Hutchinson further described repeated attempts to convince one of the most powerful people in America's government that he should be concerned about a violent attempt to storm the Capitol, where Meadows served four terms in the House.

"I start to get frustrated because I sort of felt like I was looking at a bad car accident about to happen where you can't stop it but you want to be able to do something," she said. "I remember thinking in that moment, 'Mark needs to snap out of this and I don't know how to snap him out of this but he needs to care.'"

Meadows' muted response to the violence will become the lasting image of his legacy, Whipple said.

"I used to think the defining lasting image of Mark Meadows would be mugging for Don Trump Jr.'s video camera in the tent at the Ellipse right before Trump went out to incite a mob to attack the Capitol," Whipple said. "I now think the defining image of Meadows is the guy sitting on the couch in the White House chief's office scrolling through his phone while a violent mob attacks Capitol Police that day."

During her testimony, Hutchinson often portrayed Meadows as sitting on his couch and scrolling through his phone. In one instance, she said, Meadows didn't look up as he mused that "things might get real, real bad on January 6."

Calling Meadows the worst chief in history means elevating Trump's final chief over H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff during the Watergate burglary and the subsequent attempts to cover it up. Haldeman, who served 18 months in prison for his role, dubbed himself Nixon's "son of a bitch."

Mark Meadows struggled in an admittedly tough role, Whipple said

Mark Meadows and Cassidy Hutchinson
Acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Cassidy Hutchinson, one of his top aides, at the Capitol in March 2020.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Whipple said that after Hutchinson's testimony it's even more clear that Meadows was far worse than Haldeman. The extent of what the public knows about Meadows' conduct has only grown since the January 2021 Washington Post op-ed in which Whipple first declared that he was the worst chief in history.

"The Watergate figures really look like choir boys compared to Trump, and Meadows, and their gang," Whipple said. "That was before now the most serious political scandal in American political history, but it pales in comparison to a president who sends an armed mob against the Capitol knowing that they are armed, knowing that there will be violence. And with a chief of staff who at best just shrugs and looks the other way and at worst was a co-conspirator."

A spokesperson for Meadows did not respond to Insider's request for comment. In a statement to NBC News, Ben Williamson, a former aide to Meadows who is now his spokesman, disputed any notion that Meadows didn't care about the attack on the Capitol.

"I've worked for Mark Meadows for 7 years — any suggestion he didn't care is ludicrous," Williamson wrote in a text message to NBC earlier this week. "And if the committee actually wanted answers as to that question, they could've played my interview where I outlined to them how Meadows immediately acted when I told him of initial violence at the Capitol that day. They seem more interested in hearsay, speculation, and conjecture as a means of smearing people, and it's obvious why."

Meadows initially cooperated with the January 6 committee's probe, turning over thousands of text messages that detail the extent to which lawmakers and even Fox News hosts pleaded with the White House to get Trump to calm the mob. But since then, Meadows has repeatedly refused to provide more documents or testify about the texts.  The House later held Meadows in contempt, though the Justice Department has reportedly determined it won't prosecute him for his refusal.

Whipple wrote the literal book on White House chiefs of staff

Chris Whipple
ABC's George Stephanopoulos interviews the author Chris Whipple in 2017.Heidi Gutman/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Whipple literally wrote the book on what it's like to be the president's top aide. In "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency," Whipple traced the post's history, beginning with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's chief, Sherman Adams, nicknamed the "Abominable No-Man."

The job has become even more critical as the modern presidency has ballooned the size of the executive office. It can be so stressful that Dick Cheney, who served as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, blamed the job for his first heart attack. Whipple and other historians have argued that James A. Baker, who was chief of staff to both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was one of the most effective chiefs in history. Baker himself understood the power of the role.

"I've said oftentimes that being White House chief of staff is perhaps the second most powerful job in Washington, D.C. I think that's true. But so much depends upon your relationship with your president," Baker told NPR in 2017 during a  joint interview with Whipple.

Trump went through more chiefs of staff than any other president in their first term. Whipple said that those who took on the job faced "mission impossible" in placating a mercurial president. But even judged on this curve, Whipple said Meadows still falls woefully short.

"What he wanted is what he got ultimately in Mark Meadows, which is a sycophant," Whipple said of Trump's approach to the job. "I think he was less a chief of staff than a kind of glad-handing maitre d' who tried to please Trump in every way. And, in fact, he told basically everybody what they wanted to hear, not just Trump. He was and is a spineless character and the polar opposite of the best chiefs."

Other former Trump staffers have gone after Meadows, too. In her memoir, the former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway wrote that Meadows "did not match the moment" despite billing himself as a "chief's chief." Trump himself lashed out at the North Carolinian after Meadows wrote in his own book that Trump contracted COVID-19 before the first presidential debate. (Meadows spokesperson later claimed it was a misunderstanding about a false-positive rapid test and that Trump didn't have COVID during the debate.)

It's now up to President Joe Biden's administration to figure out how to respond to what the January 6 committee is uncovering. But Whipple doesn't expect this to be the end of what Americans learn about what really happened in the West Wing under Trump's watch.

Reince Priebus, who resigned as Trump's first chief of staff in July 2017, shortly after "The Gatekeepers" was published, made a remark to Whipple that has proven more prescient as time goes on.

"Take everything you've heard and multiply it by 50," Priebus said of the early days of the Trump administration. Whipple will write about Biden's presidency in the forthcoming book, "The Fight of His Life."

Before this week, Whipple pointed out, few people even in Washington knew who Hutchinson was.

"I have no doubt there is much more to emerge. Think about where we were on Monday as opposed to the end of the day Tuesday when Cassidy Hutchinson was finished," Whipple said. "I don't think we're at the end of the road by any means."

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