When presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s openly gay foreign policy spokesman resigned under pressure from right-wing anti-gay groups, the campaign sought to minimize the perceived damage by noting that Richard Grenell had not actually started yet on the job.
When a CNN anchor asked campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom about Grenell, the top aide prefaced his remarks by saying: “First let me correct you. He wasn’t two weeks on the job. He was scheduled to start on May 1.” Other Romney-friendly media, vaguely sourcing the campaign, addressed Grenell’s departure the same way, implying that he left the job before he’d started it. When the Washington Post reported that Grenell was “kept under wraps,” Washington Examiner’s Byron York pushed back:
But Romney campaign officials say strongly that they did not keep Grenell under wraps or in any other way discourage him from taking the job. First, they point out that at the time (last week) in which Grenell was supposedly being held back, he was not yet an employee of the Romney campaign. Like a number of other new hires, officials say, Grenell was getting ready to move to Boston to begin work May 1. Romney officials fully anticipated he would begin his public role as spokesman then.
The only problem? Grenell could well have been set to officially become an employee of the Romney campaign on May 1, but he’d already started working for the team.
As Andrew Sullivan reported last night and the New York Times later confirmed, Grenell helped organize a Romney campaign conference call to pre-empt Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy speech last week. Sullivan reported that after Grenell’s voice was not heard on the April 26 call, which he’d helped set up, people started to ask questions:
Some even called and questioned him afterwards as to why he was absent. He wasn’t absent. He was simply muzzled. For a job where you are supposed to maintain good relations with reporters, being silenced on a key conference call on your area of expertise is pretty damaging. Especially when you helped set it up.
Sources close to Grenell say that he was specifically told by those high up in the Romney campaign to stay silent on the call, even while he was on it. And this was not the only time he had been instructed to shut up.
The Times added information to Sullivan’s story, also noting that the call was the “biggest moment yet for Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team”:
It turned out [Grenell] was at home in Los Angeles, listening in, but stone silent and seething. A few minutes earlier, a senior Romney aide had delivered an unexpected directive, according to several people involved in the call.
“Ric,” said Alex Wong, a policy aide, “the campaign has requested that you not speak on this call.” Mr. Wong added, “It’s best to lay low for now.”
It’s no wonder Grenell felt the need to resign from the campaign. The newly revealed information only bolsters his reasons: the campaign was clearly seeking to mislead the media to downplay Grenell’s departure. “It’s not that the campaign cared whether Ric Grenell was gay,” an anonymous Republican told the Times. “They believed this was a nonissue. But they didn’t want to confront the religious right.” If Romney campaign can’t stand up to a bigoted special interest on personnel issues — for what they clearly thought was the best man for the job — how could a Romney administration be expected to make the politically tough decisions needed to successfully govern the country?