Before joining the Trump administration, the White House principal deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, called President Donald Trump “a deplorable” and referred to the release of the Access Hollywood tape as “some justice,” according to private messages independently obtained and verified by New York. Shah, who worked at the Republican National Committee during the 2016 election, also asked an RNC colleague to dig up an old video clip of Trump that shortly afterward showed up in a Jeb Bush commercial.
Shah is an increasingly visible part of the White House staff. In recent weeks, he’s regularly appeared on TV as a White House surrogate, a job usually performed by better-known officials. The communications obtained by New York provide a window into the complex drama of the Trump White House, where the operatives who serve at the pleasure of the outsider president have in the past expressed contempt for him — and sometimes still do.
“Holy shit,” a source who advised Trump said, “plenty of people in the West Wing hate him right now. You hear them say things like, I’m serving the country. That’s code for, I hate the fucker.” On the campaign, the former adviser said, “We all thought he was a moron. He’s by no means a stupid guy, but he was such a pain in the ass and stubborn.” Shah declined to comment. A senior White House official said that Shah previously informed “his superiors in the administration” about the messages. In a statement, communications director Hope Hicks told New York:
Raj Shah is a talented operative and skilled communicator. We have always known about his previous roles and are so pleased he is using his unparalleled capabilities to advance the agenda of President Trump, whom he has tremendous respect for. Perhaps if the leakers trying to undermine him were as talented and smart as Raj, they would be here fighting for the American people every day, rather than trying desperately to remain relevant by spreading information that Raj himself shared many months ago. Raj’s skills as a press secretary are only surpassed by his stellar character.
Shah, who is 33, joined the RNC in 2012, but left the following year to work as the managing director of America Rising LLC. Several officials from the group would go on to work for Jeb Bush’s campaign. He rejoined the RNC in February 2015, but it would seem he never quite diverged from his former colleagues who joined the Jeb! campaign in spirit: Six months after Trump announced he was seeking the Republican nomination, Shah sent an email from his personal account to Andrew Hemming, a senior RNC researcher, seeking anti-Trump opposition research.
Dated December 15, 2015, at 12:09 p.m., the email — the subject line was “Dawg” — contains a 2008 CNN transcript in which Trump speaks positively of then-president-elect Barack Obama and describes his decision to make Hillary Clinton secretary of State “a great appointment.” Shah asked for footage of the interview — “Can we see if we’ve got?” — while telling Hemming to be cautious not to use an official RNC email while discussing the topic. “Nothing on GOP mail,” he wrote.
Hemming quickly replied to Shah that he would look into the matter. At 1:04 p.m., he said, “Yep we have it on DVD. Let me know what you want me to do with it.” At 2:21 p.m., he sent him the clip. “Tks man!” Shah replied.
Three days later, on December 18, the seven-year anniversary of the CNN interview, the Jeb Bush campaign released a 15-second ad titled “Happy Anniversary, Donald!” It featured precisely the clip that Shah requested.
Hemming refused a request to comment, but didn’t deny the legitimacy of the messages. Like Shah, he left the RNC to work in the Trump White House, as the director of rapid response, a job that included sending positive stories about the president to the press. He left in August, which the White House said was a “mutual” decision.
In other messages obtained by New York, Shah’s opposition to Trump is made even more obvious. On October 7, 2016, hours after the Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape, Shah contacted Hemming to say the story was “justice.”
At 10:57 p.m., he wrote, “u wanna hear something a little fucked up?” Hemming responded, “Sure.”
“I’m kinda enjoying this, some justice. I honestly don’t think it’s the worst thing he’s done but he somehow got passes for the other acts.”
Shah added, “Trump is a deplorable.”
Early in the Republican primary, Trump positioned himself not only against the Democratic Party, but against Establishment Republicans, creating a headache for the RNC when he refused to pledge his support to the eventual party nominee in the event that he didn’t secure the nomination himself. He complained that the RNC — which, like the Democratic National Committee, is supposed to remain neutral during primaries — was unfair to him. Shah’s messages would seem to grant a measure of legitimacy to Trump’s paranoia.
Yet as the other 16 candidates fell away and the RNC’s interests fell into alignment with Trump’s, RNC officials — including the group’s chairman, Reince Priebus, and spokesperson, Sean Spicer — began working closely with him. Shah joined Priebus and Spicer in the Trump White House.
In the earliest days of the new presidency, palace intrigue focused on the war in the West Wing between the RNC alums — Priebus brought with him a total of 46 — and the outsider nationalists represented by Steve Bannon. But as the summer saw the removal of Priebus and Spicer, as well as Bannon himself, ideological differences between the Washington insiders and the outsiders became a less obvious explanation for the White House dysfunction.
Still, sources say that how staffers personally feel about the president is just as much a problem today as it was a year ago — and that dynamic is especially prevalent in the White House press office.
“When every other department has stabilized, everyone wonders why the communications and press teams continue to be dysfunctional,” said one source close to the White House. Just over a year into the Trump administration, there have already been two press secretaries and three communications directors. “It’s because it’s filled with people who loathe the president or simply lack the competence needed to present a coherent strategy.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to America Rising as a pro–Jeb Bush political action committee. It has been updated to correct the error.