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Kellyanne Conway: Trump's fierce media pugilist

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The grilling went on for about 25 minutes and throughout the woman, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, pushed back.

[WASHINGTON] On an October day outside the White House, two dozen journalists surrounded a strikingly blonde woman during what could have been mistaken for a heated argument.

"You didn't answer the question," one reporter challenged.

"What about this one?" another demanded.

"What's your response?"

The grilling went on for about 25 minutes and throughout the woman, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, pushed back.

For every question - President Donald Trump's likely impeachment, US-China trade, vaping - she had an answer.

Often, that answer was actually a non-answer: she would find a way to change the topic, turn the question back on the reporter, or merely complain.

But in a White House where few officials regularly communicate openly with the media, Ms Conway was at least talking.

Plus she was smiling - even if the smile did drip with sarcasm.

TRUMP'S LOYAL DEFENDER

An army of Secret Service agents protects Mr Trump at the White House. But 12 months this Sunday from the 2020 presidential election, Ms Conway and her sharp tongue might be his fiercest defender.

Her flamboyant fashion sense - snake-skin pattern dress one day, a bright red one the next - stands out in an often-gray city.

And in an administration where the revolving door ejects senior officials onto the street at dizzying speed, Ms Conway is a survivor.

Not only has she been there since day one, she was already Mr Trump's campaign manager in 2016 - the first woman to run a winning US presidential bid.

But Ms Conway's chief singularity is her loyalty.

Whether boarding the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn, meeting in the Oval Office, or watching from backstage at campaign rallies, the 52-year-old is rarely far from the president's side.

And Ms Conway, a lawyer and pollster by training, is all too aware of the depth of anger against Mr Trump in the divided country ahead of the 2020 elections.

Her husband, prominent Washington lawyer George Conway, is one of Twitter's most prolific Trump critics, repeatedly and loudly questioning the president's mental fitness for office.

"It's simply astounding to me how many people continue to be willing to sacrifice their honour and reputation to defend a man who has no redeeming moral virtues," George Conway tweeted just this Thursday.

Despite Kellyanne Conway's insistence that the political schism at home has no bearing on her job, Mr Trump himself got involved this March, slamming George Conway as "whack job" and a "husband from hell."

MEDIA LION'S DEN 

Kellyanne Conway works on policy behind the scenes. However, one of her most important roles is as a public face of the White House.

That means frequent appearances on Trump's favoured TV network, Fox News, but also holding informal - and less cozy - press conferences known as "gaggles" with all the other outlets.

Under fire, Conway reacts much like her boss - by attacking. The only difference is she tends to remain polite.

Asked in that October gaggle about Mr Trump's branding of any opponents to him among Republicans as "scum," she calmly said: "I would use different words."

But then she continued, saying, "I think the president's point is legitimate."

Pressed on whether the White House was frustrated and confused in its attempt to respond to an ever-deepening impeachment crisis, she again went on the offensive.

"You don't need to call me confusing," she said, dressing down the journalist who put the question. "It's not frustration, it's consternation."

While Ms Conway seems to enjoy the back-and-forth, the exchanges can turn remarkably bitter.

She recently berated a reporter at the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner for raising the subject of her husband's feud with Mr Trump in an article.

Accusations that she'd also threatened the journalist made her even angrier.

"I never threatened anyone. Don't use those words. It's not a threat," she insisted outside the White House.

"If I threaten someone you'll know it, okay?"

For a few seconds, Ms Conway wasn't smiling.

AFP

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