Welp. Another one bites the dust. Sean Lawler, President Trump’s chief of protocol since December 2017 is out. Assistant chief of protocol, Mary-Kate Fisher, is in. Apparently, if the president frequently asks why a person is still working in the White House, it’s time for that person to go. He was told to pack his things Monday. There is, allegedly, a State Department investigation afoot. Lawler is suspended indefinitely.
This all comes at an odd time. President Trump is flying to Osaka, Japan as I write this. He is going to the G-20 summit, an occasion where the skills of the chief of protocol are needed to make arrangements for meetings and determine the stream of visitors for President Trump, among other duties.
The protocol chief assists the president on overseas trips, and when foreign leaders visit the White House, by making introductions and briefing the president on protocol. Lawler, a fixture in the Oval office during dignitaries’ visits, served as the president’s liaison to the diplomatic corps at the State Department.
Diplomatic fine points handled by the protocol chief include helping determine where to hold meetings and in what order participants should enter a room.
No one is commenting officially about an investigation that may or may not be underway. A State Department spokeswoman would neither confirm or deny a specific investigation. It looks like this is a behavioral matter on his treatment of staff.
One of the State Department officials described what multiple others told CNN was a pattern of behavior on Lawler’s part. “In my decade of government service, I have never seen someone so unprofessional, abrasive and rude as him,” the official said. “His bad behavior was terrible, and it was obvious. I personally saw it myself, as did a good chunk of the office.
“For example, in a recent meeting — a very routine planning meeting — when he asked a question, if he didn’t like the answer, he would immediately raise his voice, get angry, start using profanity, and use the ‘F word.’
“Then, a moment later, like the flip of a switch, he’d calm himself down and it would be like nothing happened. This has happened before. Many times. And everyone would talk about it after. Their reaction was, ‘What the hell just happened? Did he just start screaming at someone younger, or a woman, or an African American, in an extremely derogatory, condescending fashion? Did he just use the ‘F word’ several times? Did that really just happen?'”
The chief of protocol position is confirmed by the Senate and Lawler has the rank of a diplomat. It isn’t a trivial position. He micro-manages the president on overseas trips and during visits from dignitaries in the White House. In the case of Lawler, this isn’t his first rodeo. He should be well aware of proper behavior.
Lawler has worked for the government for almost three decades, according to his State Department biography. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran who has served in diplomatic roles at the White House National Security Council and U.S. Cyber Command in Maryland.
Lawler’s departure is awkward in its timing but Mary-Kate Fisher and her acting deputy Cathy Fenton have the experience to lead the office of protocol without on the job training. Fenton served in the George W. Bush White House as social secretary and before that also handled social affairs for Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.
There is one unusual claim in the accusations against Lawler. Not only did he intimidate his staff but he carried a whip in the office. There are no further details on the whip but it leaves me to ponder – was it a short whip like a riding crop or was it a full-on Indiana Jones style whip? I can’t be the only one curious about that little tidbit.
NBC News reports that Lawler will submit his resignation to President Trump when he returns from his overseas trip.