One of Donald Trump’s top aides Kellyanne Conway on Sunday warned Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to temper his criticism of the president-elect and that he should “be very careful about characterizing somebody in the legal sense.”
Reid had characterized Trump as “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.” During the campaign, more than a dozen women accused Trump of sexual misconduct with many of them describing what he did to them as outright assault. In a leaked 2004 tape, he boasted openly about sexual assault in crude terms. He began his campaign with bigoted attacks describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and his campaign was strongly backed by openly racist voices such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has quickly turned into a strong supporter of the Trump presidency and backed him throughout his campaign for the White House, described Trump’s attacks on a federal judge for his Mexican heritage as the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” These are just a tiny sample of the incidences of misogyny and racism attributed to Trump, his campaign, and his supporters.
The point is, there is some basis for Reid’s criticism of the Trump candidacy along with his citing of the personal accusations against Trump that haven’t gone away just because he won the White House. Still, Conway thinks it’s appropriate to warn an opposition leader that he needs to speak differently “in the legal sense,” with the implicit suggestion being that Trump might take legal action against said opponent.
“I find Harry Reid’s public comments and insults about Donald Trump and other Republicans to be beyond the pale,” Conway told Fox News. “They're incredibly disappointing—talk about not wanting my children to listen to somebody—and he should be very careful about characterizing somebody in the legal sense. He thinks he’s just being some kind of political pundit there, but I would say be very careful about the way you characterize it.”
When asked if she meant that Trump might sue him, she said, “No, I’m not suggesting that at all. I’m suggesting—I’m calling for responsibility and maturity and decency for somebody who has held one of the highest positions in our government in a country of more than 300 million people.”
Still, the implication certainly seemed to be that there would be legal repercussions for criticizing the president-elect in this way and Reid’s office immediately hit back, also pointing to some of the reported racist incidents that have occurred since Trump was elected President of the United States.
"It only took five days for President-elect Trump to try to silence his critics with the threat of legal action," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in a statement on Sunday. "This should shock and concern all Americans. Trump has always used threats and intimidation to silence his critics. Now he wants to silence a discussion of the acts of hate and threats of violence being committed in his name across the country. Silencing this discussion normalizes hate and intimidates the victims."
Note to Conway: Given Trump’s historic proclivity for using lawsuits and threats of lawsuits to silence critics and the extraordinary levels of concern around the country that he might not respect civil liberties and Democratic norms, maybe now is not a good time for his staff to suggest that they will retaliate against political opponents exercising their First Amendment rights.
It's also worth noting that in the same interview, Conway called on anti-Trump protesters to "come together for a peaceful transition" and to recognize the Trump presidency, saying it was the responsibility of Democratic leaders and not the president-elect to “calm” protesters. She also characterized these protesters as paid puppets rather than Americans exercising their First Amendment rights:
I think that the president of the United States, Secretary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, perhaps others, can come forward and ask for calm and ask for a peaceful transition and ask their supporters—which are masquerading as protesters now, many of them professional, and paid by the way, I’m sure—ask them to give this man a chance. So that this country can flourish.
Finally, she alleged that anti-Trump protesters were not peaceful without providing evidence and blamed Reid for the protests:
We have Harry Reid coming out and egging people on. I would put at his feet the fact that a lot of these protesters I walked right into the firestorm yesterday getting into Trump Tower, a lot of these protesters are not there peacefully, are not there just because they want to express themselves and make a point and make a difference. They’re there for nefarious reasons, they’re booing us, they’re spitting on us, they’re causing all kinds of havoc.
Again, now would not be a good time for one of Trump’s top aides to make threats and unproven allegations against people exercising their free speech rights.