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What happens when Trump targets you on Twitter

President Donald Trump spent the days before Christmas launching personal attacks against Andrew McCabe, the embattled outgoing deputy director of the FBI, whom the president accused of “racing against the clock to retire with full benefits.”

It was a fitting way to end the first year of his presidency, which has been punctuated by his targeting of individuals – from sports stars to print journalists to television personalities to Republican lawmakers – on Twitter.

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The personal attacks from the leader of the free world, blasted out to his 45 million followers, have no real precedent in American politics. They’ve energized the president and his base, outraged his opponents and driven entire news cycles — but also shocked and traumatized those individuals on the receiving end.

“It was funny, a little surreal,” billionaire Mark Cuban wrote in an email, regarding the president’s verdict, delivered online last February, that Cuban was “not smart enough to run for president!” For others, like comedian Kathy Griffin, the impact of a presidential tweet directed at her was much more devastating, costing her jobs and fans.

POLITICO talked to five people who have been singled out online by the leader of the free world — whether to be praised or pulverized — about what the surreal experience was like, on a personal and professional level.

Mika Brzezinski

“I was on the set, I was finishing the show, and everybody looked really uncomfortable,” the “Morning Joe” co-host recalled of the day the president’s infamous “facelift” tweet reopened a conversation about Trump’s bullying of women and sparked an outcry, and even a hashtag, #StandWithMika, on her behalf. “Willie [Geist] showed it to me, he was sitting next to me. I felt like people were more upset than I was.”

The tweet — referring back just to last December, when Brzezinski and her fiancé and co-host, Joe Scarborough, were social pals of the president — hit Brzezinski at the tail end of 24 months of back-to-back personal traumas, blunting its effect, she said. “In the past two years, I’ve lost my best friend to pancreatic cancer, I’ve gotten divorced, my oldest daughter had this harrowing day on her college campus, and we thought she had been kidnapped. My father went into the hospital and died, and right after my dad died, my mother had two heart attacks — and a month later the president tweeted.”

“The level for me of the tweet was below zero,” she added. “I remember being surprised even in myself.”

When Trump launched his Twitter attack, she said, she was just growing accustomed to strangers stopping her on the street to offer their condolences about the death of her father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an elder statesman and public intellectual who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. “I was using my line, I’d say, ‘Thank you so much, yes, he was a great man,’” she said. “After the tweet, people were running up to me to talk about it, and I was still saying, ‘Yes, thank you, he was such a great man.’”

If she was feeling numb, other women were outraged on her behalf. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted at the president: “Stop it! The presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down.” Ratings for “Morning Joe” skyrocketed, surpassing Trump’s preferred wake-up call, “Fox & Friends.”

But Brzezinski, at the center of the entire controversy, says she wasn’t deeply offended at the time. “The ones about the facelift were humorous,” she said. “I wasn’t on the same page as everyone else. I feel embarrassed if people think I was embarrassed. I got Botox. I’m very open about that stuff. It didn’t hurt me.”

She responded with a photograph of a Cheerios box with the cereal’s slogan, “Made for little hands,” hoping to get under the president’s thin skin with a joke aimed at one of his well-known physical insecurities. “[‘Morning Joe’ executive producer] Alex Korson saw me pouring my breakfast as we were all meeting after the show,” she said. “I was eating. Everyone else was talking. He saw the picture on the back and pointed to it.”

Since the tweet, Brzezinski said her higher profile has come with some downsides. “I’m getting more hate now than I’ve ever gotten in my life,” she said. “I can’t read it. I’m working on unplugging more because it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

Co-hosting “Morning Joe” “is a job I used to love, now it’s a job I have to do every day,” she said. “I make a point of taking days off, because I have to keep my thoughts in check. One shrill moment will be ripped on the internet. I don’t love it as much, but I feel really like, dammit, I’m going to work.”

The story of the now-infamous night at Mar-a-Lago, however, isn’t over yet. “I’m actually rewriting my book, ‘Knowing Your Value,’” Brzezinski said. “I’m going to be telling some behind the scenes stories and that night.”>

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Kathy Griffin

Griffin knew the photo shoot she participated in — featuring her brandishing a bloody mask of Trump’s head, in a play on Perseus holding the head of Medusa — was going to be controversial. She wasn’t prepared for the career-ending backlash that she attributes directly to the president of the United States elevating the controversy on Twitter.

“The photo was on TMZ, then Drudge tweeted it, and then Don Jr. retweeted Drudge,” Griffin recalled, fingering the president’s eldest son as the person who put her on Trump’s radar. “But the president’s Twitter feed is the greatest programming director ever. The minute he tweeted that tweet about me, it was literally breaking news on every channel.”

Much is made of how the president reacts in real time to the cable news shows he ingests all day. But Griffin said her experience showed how the feedback loop works both ways. “His Twitter account is talking directly to Fox News,” she said.

Griffin, who lives on the West Coast, figured out what had happened when her boyfriend starting getting calls from NBC and Fox News, minutes after the president’s tweet, she said. “It was very soon after the Comey firing,” Griffin recalled. “He absolutely used me as a tool to distract from his bad news of the day.”

Unlike Brzezinski, who was backed up by Democrats and Republicans alike condemning the president and defending her, Griffin found herself isolated, with no one defending what she saw as an edgy artistic statement. “After that, I had to go offline because of the death threats,” she said. “He didn’t use my handle in his tweet, so he didn’t have my followers coming after him.”

Griffin, who apologized for the photo, considered deleting her account completely and trying to wipe herself from the internet. But in the entertainment business, she said, a social media presence from a comedian is a professional requirement.

In the days after Trump highlighted the photo, the Emmy Award-winning comedian was fired from CNN, where she was set to co-host the channel’s New Year’s Eve show alongside Anderson Cooper. She was dropped as a celebrity endorser for Squatty Potty. The Secret Service launched an investigation. Today, she says she still can’t book a gig anywhere in the United States.

Griffin blames the change in her status to the president personally driving the outrage machine.“I think it would have been gone in a week without his tweet,” she admitted. “Trump knows what would be perceived as something hysterical and he loves hysteria. There are millions of people who think I’m a member of ISIS to this day.”

While she has been shunned at home — even Chelsea Clinton joined in the chorus of people claiming to be horrified by a photo they said crossed a line — she has found a welcoming audience abroad. “They were thrilled to have someone come over and make fun of Trump,” said Griffin, who just completed a 15-country world tour. “I wish I could tour in the U.S. without getting shot — I know I can’t. I was in the middle of a 50-city tour when the tweet happened. It was canceled in 24 hours.”

Griffin, sounding upbeat, said she’s soldiering on. “My answer is to keep producing funny stuff,” she said. “My YouTube is lit. I really do have a real story to tell. In my live act, I talk about the interrogation with the feds and how everybody turned on me on every platform. I still can’t tweet a picture of my new puppies without getting all hateful responses in broken English.”>

Alan Dershowitz

For Dershowitz, a former liberal standard-bearer and Harvard Law School professor, Trump plugging his TV hits and legal opinions has caused family rifts and social awkwardness. “It’s caused me to lose seven pounds,” Dershowitz said. “My liberal friends don’t invite me to dinner anymore.”

Over the past year, Dershowitz has become a regular talking head on Fox News, arguing that bringing an obstruction of justice charge against Trump would trigger a constitutional crisis for the country — and that Trump had every right to fire former FBI director James Comey. The counterintuitive take from a one-time Democratic icon has made him a Trump favorite — an uncomfortable position for a man who says he voted for Hillary Clinton and hopes Vice President Joe Biden challenges Trump in 2020.

“My really, really close friends say, ‘You’re 100 percent right in your analysis, but can’t you just shut the f–k up and not talk at all,’” he said. “They tell me, ‘This is a time for selective silence.’ My nephew thinks I’m helping keep in office one of the greatest dangers in American history. I tell him I’m just standing up for principle. He tells me that I don’t have to stand up so loud.”

After Trump highlighted Dershowitz’s television appearance on Twitter, Dershowitz said the hate mail came in droves. “I got emails saying, ‘You’re doing this because of Jerusalem,’ ‘you’re doing it because you’re being paid a lot of money,’ ‘you want to be Trump’s lawyer,’ ‘you want to be on the Supreme Court.’”

He said he has no interest in becoming Trump’s lawyer, and that At age 79, any dreams of a Supreme Court nomination live in the past now. He also doesn’t want to get any closer than he is to Trump: His only offline interactions with the administration have been about Israel, he said. “I’ve spoken to Jared [Kushner] about Israel, I’ve spoken to [Middle East envoy] Jason Greenblatt about Israel, I’ve spoken to the president about Israel,” he said. “I’m passionate about Israel.”

If the president’s Twitter accolades have been a problem for Dershowitz’s social and family life, it has had its professional upsides. “I think my view has had an impact,” he said. “I think I’ve changed the debate on the subject of obstruction of justice. I’m happy with the role I’m playing. I don’t get pleasure out of being praised by the president, but it’s not going to stop me from doing what I do.”

Overall, he said, his family is suffering more than he is. “I was a source of pride to my kids, my grandkids,” he said. “Now it’s ‘Oy, he’s related to Alan Dershowitz.’ That hurts me a little bit.”>

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John Podesta

Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman was setting off on a let’s-forget-about-Trump road trip with his wife on the morning of July 7, loading up the family Subaru for a trip to all of the national parks in Utah.

“We’re listening to music in the car, not paying attention to our phones,” Podesta recalled of his long-planned vacation. “Finally, we get some peace from Donald Trump, and we don’t have to think about him. It was one of these good-for-the-soul drives across the country. We had gone through the Cumberland Pass when one of Mary’s friends texted her and said, ‘the president is tweeting about John.’”

Trump was in Hamburg, Germany, attending the G-20 conference. Podesta said he was confused about what he had to do with Trump’s high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He pulled the car into a gas station while his wife pulled up the tweet and read it to him. “My reaction was, ‘This guy is out of control and insane,’” he said. “I have nothing to do with the DNC, let alone the fact that I didn’t think everyone at the G-20 was talking about it. I thought it was his way of diverting questions about his upcoming meeting with Putin. It pissed me off that he was ruining my vacation.”

With the help of his assistant, Podesta fired off a tweetstorm in response, including a nickname — “our whack-job POTUS” — and an order to “get a grip man.”

“I just felt like, enough already. You have now officially ruined the first day of my vacation, as if the fact that you’re ruining America is not bad enough. My wife was telling me to calm down and control my blood pressure so I didn’t have a stroke.”

As he was pulling out of the gas station, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus emailed, asking Podesta to write a column about the back-and-forth. He hesitated, but she convinced him that he had already done half the work in his series of Twitter responses. Podesta pulled into a Subway in Charleston, West Virginia, and started banging out an op-ed on his phone while his wife ordered turkey sandwiches and then took over the driving.

“By the time we were done, and I was hitting the final send, I looked up and we were driving past Morehead, Kentucky,” he said. “I datelined the piece from Morehead.”

The road trip wasn’t ultimately ruined, but Podesta said the entire incident bothered him. “This guy just creates chaos wherever he goes,” Podesta said. “Some high percentage of his 45 million followers thinks the FBI asked me for the DNC servers — none of which has any semblance to reality.”

Podesta recounted the affair with a chuckle, noting that after having his personal email account hacked by the Russians and posted on WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign, he “has so much scar tissue, I’m used to it.”

But he said it is concerning that the commander in chief goes after individuals who have so much less power than he does. “To be attacked personally is really undermining and demeaning to our democracy,” he said. “It’s what Putin does, and what [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan does. I talk to people all the time who aren’t attacked. Even then, his constant nastiness and presence tends to ruin anyone’s peace and tranquility.”>

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Kirsten Gillibrand

New York’s junior senator said on Dec. 11 that Trump should resign over the accusations of sexual misconduct lodged against him during the 2016 campaign. She didn’t know she had needled him into a Twitter response the following morning until she was summoned out of her bipartisan Bible study group in the Hart Senate Office Building by aides, who kept speed-dialing her cellphone until she finally picked up.

When two aides read the offending tweet to her, Gillibrand said her immediate reaction was to shrug it off. “At that very moment, I wanted to go back to Bible study and deal with this later,” she recalled. “My staff urged me to respond now because they thought it was a much more urgent thing than I did in the moment.”

After crafting a response to tweet back at the leader of the free world — “You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office” — Gillibrand returned to Bible study and went on with her day.

Things got stickier when she had to explain the incident to her two young sons, ages 9 and 12.

“When I picked up the littlest one, he’s in fourth grade, all I said was, ‘Mommy’s had a tough day today. I got in a fight with the president,’” she recalled. “[Trump] basically said mommy was doing a bad job, and I said no I’m not, and I stood up for all the women.”

But her younger son pressed her for the exact language Trump had used. “He really wanted to know, and I was not going to tell him, because I don’t want those words in his brain, I don’t want to explain what it meant, I didn’t want him to have the knowledge that the president of the United States said something so outrageously disgusting about his mother,” she said. “In the evening, I was taking [older son] Theo to visit a high school. I wanted to find out what was happening in the Alabama race, so I turned on the radio. But the story was not about Alabama, but about me and the president and the tweet. I quickly turned off the radio.”

Again, she tried to shield her child from the president’s insinuation that she might have traded sexual favors for campaign cash. “I said, ‘Mommy is in a fight with the president.’ When we got home that night, my husband was very protective of me, and said, ‘Boys, you need to be really nice to Mommy, she had a really tough day, but she did something so brave, and she protected millions of women and it’s important that she does that for her job.’ I see it in that lens, I don’t accept his tweet as a personal insult — I’m fighting for something that’s important, I’m not going to be silenced on it.”>

Photos courtesy of Getty images.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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