Vice President Kamala Harris and her Chief of Staff Tina Flournoy clap as they watch the Senate vote to pass the American rescue plan in their west wing of the White House on Saturday, March 6, 2021.
Lawrence Jackson | Official photo of the White House
Tina Flournoy, Vice President Kamala Harris’s chief of staff, has earned a reputation for being a tough porter who uses tactics similar to those she used when overseeing former President Bill Clinton’s post-White House office.
Flournoy’s strict approach, which prevents even long-time allies from contacting Harris, has drawn both praise and criticism.
It has also created tension within the Vice President’s team and between her external confidants and donors. Politico reported Wednesday that there is dysfunction in Harris’ office and that much of the frustration has come from Flournoy. She oversaw about 10 employees in Clinton’s office, while the Vice President’s office typically has up to 100 employees.
Several people who say they were close to Clinton before Flournoy became his chief of staff in 2013 spoke to CNBC after a story released earlier this week described their management of access to Harris.
Several questioned her methods while she was working for Clinton. Some said Flournoy yelled at Clinton’s allies while others said she restricted staff access to the former president and ignored their ideas.
Others praised Flournoy, saying their approach was necessary given Harris’ busy slate. She has many defense attorneys in Washington, including the former president himself, allies of his and even a former chief of staff for the Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell.
“Tina Flournoy ran my office for over eight years, making it more efficient, effective and transparent. She made it easier, not harder, to advance my philanthropic and post-presidency activities and to keep in touch with my friends” Clinton said in a statement to CNBC on Thursday. “She has a unique ability to focus on the big picture and adapt to changing conditions. And she does all of this with a great sense of humor and an unwavering belief that we all have the ability and obligation to make a difference. She is an extraordinary person and I am so happy and forever grateful to have her as my chief of staff. “
Matt McKenna, who was Clinton’s spokesman for part of Flournoy’s tenure, praised her for helping create a much-needed structure for Clinton’s office.
“I think Tina put some much-needed structure and guardrails in place for this operation, and I’m grateful for that,” McKenna told CNBC on Wednesday.
Minyon Moore, who worked at the Clinton White House and helped introduce Flournoy Harris, defended her friend in a tweet: “Tina Flournoy is focused, disciplined and the person I want by my side.” Moore did not respond to the request from CNBC for comment on the previous story about Flournoy.
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Several Biden and Harris allies took to Twitter to defend Flournoy after CNBC released its story.
“Hiring managers have to get involved. Don’t always make you popular. But it’s part of the job. Protect the boss’s time,” Jennifer Palmieri, who previously worked in President Barack Obama’s White House and later in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, tweeted.
Steven Law, who was once McConnell’s chief of staff, tweeted in support of Flournoy’s work for Harris. He said the people who complain about lack of access are “complainers” who “need a life”.
“Welcome to the White House,” he added.
A Harris spokeswoman did not answer questions seeking comment.
Others recalled recent reports of Flournoy’s tactics of her interactions with her while she was working for Clinton.
Some of the people who shared their experience with Flournoy declined to be named because they didn’t have the authority to talk about their time with Clinton, while others didn’t want to risk retaliation from Flournoy.
There were times when Flournoy yelled at longtime Clinton allies asking Bill and Hillary Clinton for personal favors, said people familiar with the matter.
An example of how Flournoy wielded her power was when she yelled at longtime Clinton allies after trying to get personal favors from Bill and Hillary Clinton, people familiar with the matter said.
“It was shocking,” said one person who said Flournoy yelled at them. “It was shocking because I said to myself, ‘I’m an adult. I’ve known these people for a long time and I don’t work for them.’ You can’t call and yell at me. “
On several occasions, people working under Flournoy in Clinton’s office felt marginalized because she only favored certain ideas.
After Flournoy was hired in 2013, several senior advisors who continued to work under her leadership did not get as much access to Clinton as they did before they arrived, the people said.
Campaign chairman John Podesta hugs Tina Flournoy, chief of staff to former US President Bill Clinton, as they attend an event hosted by Hillary Clinton to announce the results of the US election to their staff and supporters at a hotel in the New Manhattan neighborhood to speak York, November 9th, 2016.
Brian Snyder | Reuters
“Before people schedule meetings, they had to meet with her beforehand and manage everything from her,” said a former long-time Clinton employee. “People were preparing a memo and she had to see it first. Sometimes she changed it, sometimes she just threw it away.”
“When you try to control his other senior advisors who are also doing his best, it becomes an information vacuum,” this person said.
An example of Flournoy’s management style can be seen in a series of 2014 emails that were reviewed by CNBC.
The first email said an Associated Press reporter from Clinton’s hometown of Little Rock, Ark., Was preparing to write a story about the Clinton Foundation’s finances. The email contains text from a previously published AP article intended to serve as an example of the Clinton Foundation story that was expected in a few days. The email sought thoughts from the Clinton office and foundation leaders on the upcoming article.
Flournoy, apparently unaware that the text was from an old AP article, then wrote back with changes for the story.
“I would change the paragraph below to ‘after Hillary Clinton resigns as Secretary of State’,” says one of Flournoy’s suggestions.
Almost two hours after sending that email, McKenna, the former Clinton spokeswoman, took the suggestions lightly in a reply.
“I’m not 100% sure other than that you’re editing a year-long story from Associated
Press’ office in Little Rock, “he wrote.” For the following, I am happy to refer to the office manager in Little Rock. “
Flournoy was among the more than a dozen people CCed on that email.