With the midterms next week, many White House aides are soon expected to head for the exits and look for new gigs, including in media. But CNN president Jeff Zucker has told people inside and outside the network that he’s not interested in hiring former officials he perceives as complicit in spreading falsehoods or spurious talking points, according to four people familiar with the conversations.
"If they do any hiring after the midterms, it's more likely to be members of Congress, senators and governors who lost their races, plus outgoing GOP members," including some who would likely defend Trump, one of the people familiar with CNN said.
There is no hard rule in place, however, and Zucker would be interested in what he views as independent-minded officials who he thinks have avoided damaging their credibility, another of the people said, citing Nikki Haley, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as an example.
Multiple networks, including CNN, have put out feelers to Haley, who has so far rebuffed them, said two talent agents familiar with the outreach.
At MSNBC, where the conservative voices are almost uniformly of the never-Trump variety, executives are also out on former Trump administration officials, the two agents said. But Fox News, where ex-Trump aide Sebastian Gorka became a paid national security analyst after leaving the White House, could be more welcoming to former administration officials.
“We are always open to talking with strong political experts on both sides of the aisle who are interested in being on-air talent,” a Fox News spokesperson said.
MSNBC and CNN declined to comment on the record.
The cooling interest at CNN comes after the network took flak for hiring analysts who had signed non-disclosure agreements — and as its relationship with the White House has grown even more tense after the network was sent pipe bombs over the last week. After the network’s New York office was forced to evacuate, Zucker sparred verbally with Trump and his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The broader job landscape for departing Trump officials could be just as challenging beyond media. Some officials from the Trump administration have already struggled to land the same high-powered jobs their predecessors in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations secured.
For instance, former Obama press secretaries Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney joined the executive teams at McDonald‘s and Amazon, respectively, and former White House chief of staff Andy Card landed a senior post at the global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard after leaving Bush’s side.
Trump's former communications director, Hope Hicks, scored a job on Rupert Murdoch's Fox payroll, and another top communications aide, Josh Raffel, now works with the e-cigarette company Juul. Others, such as former deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and ex-chief of staff Reince Priebus, returned to old employers after the White House.
But former White House press secretary Sean Spicer never picked up a high-profile corporate or media job after resigning as White House press secretary in July 2017. He now consults, does speeches and serves as a spokesman and senior adviser for the Trump-aligned super PAC America First Action. Ex-chief strategist Steve Bannon lost both his role as executive chairman of the right-wing news site Breitbart and his primary financial backer, Rebekah Mercer. He only recently re-emerged from a year-long hiatus to debut his latest project, “Trump@War,” a feature-length film that takes aim at Democrats and the media elite.
“The corporate gigs do not exist,” one former White House official said.
“People whose resumes predate the White House are basically going to end up fine,” the former official said. “People who think their job in the White House is going to be their golden parachute to a high-level corporate gig are going to find themselves crashing and burning.”
At the very least, exiting administration officials in the past have been able to count on TV gigs where they could capitalize on their inside perspective. And more than its competitors, CNN tends to air commentators from across the political spectrum, including liberals and pro- and anti-Trump conservatives.
During the 2016 campaign, Zucker hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, even after he was dismissed from his role amid an assault allegation by a reporter — and despite the fact that he had signed an NDA with the campaign. CNN was savaged for the decision, which Zucker defended at the time by telling Variety, “I think it’s really important to have voices on CNN who are supportive of the Republican nominee.”
In August, anchor Poppy Harlow challenged former Trump campaign hand and CNN contributor Rob Astorino about whether he could speak openly about Trump matters, as he struggled to answer her questions.
CNN’s last hire from the White House was Marc Short, the president’s top liaison to Capitol Hill, whose wonky presence in TV interviews during his tenure was markedly different from some of his flame-throwing colleagues. Since joining the network last summer, Short has disclosed multiple times on air that he signed a document preventing him from disclosing sensitive information or private conversations with the president, but he has said he is free to offer his “unvarnished opinion.”
Having signed an NDA — which many lawyers believe are not enforceable — would not immediately disqualify someone from consideration for a job at CNN, a person familiar with the network said, but that person would need to offer a unique perspective, and there would have be consensus that he or she could speak freely on the network.
In any case, there is a feeling inside CNN that the contributor roster is “pretty full on all sides,” the person said, though any potentially interesting candidates would be considered on a case-by-case basis. People who have "in the room" expertise but who operated under the radar and did not publicly defend Trump's less factual statements could stand a better chance.
“If you’re a behind-the-scenes player, you’ll have an opportunity to do TV,” one of the agents said. “The ones who are going to have difficulty are the mouthpieces of Trump.”
If they can't get cable gigs, though, administration aides might still have a shot at publishing deals.
One prominent D.C. literary agent told POLITICO he is in talks with would-be authors from the Department of Justice and the FBI, and he anticipates an uptick in submissions once special counsel Robert Mueller releases his final report on the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“There will be publishers interested in these books if they sell,” said D.C.-based literary agent Gail Ross, adding that readers could get tired of Trump books at some point. "Very few people are going to get the Woodward numbers or the Wolff numbers, but everybody wants to try."