WASHINGTON – Amid a debate over a photo showing White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s casual posture while sitting on an Oval Office couch, she stressed to The Washington Post on Tuesday that the focus should instead be on the reason she was there in the first place.
Leaders from the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, met Monday with administration officials to share “expert insights on policy issues impacting their individual campuses.”
Before the meeting, described as a “listening session,” President Donald Trump greeted the chancellors and presidents in the Oval Office.
“Coverage should rightly be on the actual visit and the incredible, important work of these men and women at HBCUs,” Conway said.
Conway, counselor to the president, wrote in emails to The Post on Tuesday that she was asked to snap pictures of Trump with the educators “to chronicle this significant event.” She knelt down on an Oval Office couch to snap a photo of the group.
“I saw her taking pictures – it was a very sweet moment, to be honest,” Omarosa Manigault, a top aide to Trump, said in an interview Tuesday. “She looked down at the picture after she got it, and I looked at her and said, ‘Kellyanne, did you get a good shot?’ Because I wanted one for my own records.
“I literally looked at her and said, ‘Kellyanne, can you try to get a good shot?’ . . . She tried again; she positioned herself to get a better picture. It really was at my encouragement for her to try to capture such an important, historic moment.”
Conway also addressed the controversy during an appearance on “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” which aired on the Fox Business Network, saying she was being asked to “take a picture in a crowded room with the press behind us.”
“And I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that,” she said. “I certainly meant no disrespect, I didn’t mean to have my feet on the couch.”
In her comments, Conway erred when speaking about historically black colleges and universities, saying HCBUs instead of HBCUs.
“I am not a victim at all but people should take very seriously the import of their words . . . but hey, Lou, if we started a trend here, where people are outwardly talking about greater respect for the office of the president and its current occupant, then perhaps that’s something positive to come out,” she later said, after Dobbs asked about “the venom of the left.”
Some critics complained that her posture while taking the pictures was disrespectful to the office of the president and all it stands for.
Others, however, noted that President Barack Obama had been spotted with his feet on the Oval Office’s storied Resolute desk on several occasions during his term, according to the Associated Press.
Manigault, assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, said that before Monday’s session, she got word that Trump wanted to meet the educators in the Oval Office.
“He thought, ‘They’re in the building; let’s allow them to come over to say hello,’ ” she said.
“One by one, they went up, introduced themselves, shook hands, had a chance to chat with him, to talk with him, to share their concerns and expressions about what they’ve gone through and what their universities are facing,” she added.
Ultimately, Manigault said, the Oval Office became packed as the university presidents and chancellors crowded around Trump for a photo op, which the official White House photographer, the press pool and Conway attempted to capture.
“There was nowhere to stand at that point,” Manigault said, so Conway got on the couch to get a shot.