US Politics

The only White House communications chief to be fired quicker than Scaramucci was a Nazi sympathiser

Reagan hire was sacked within his first week

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 10:50pm

Anthony Scaramucci might occupy a few lines in future political history books with his remarkably short tenure as White House Communications director, but it is not even the shortest.

Forced out 10 days after he started, his brief stint was marked by public battle with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus only to have John Kelly, the new chief of staff, orchestrate his removal, according to two people knowledgeable about the decision. But John Koehler, who was the chief communicator for Ronald Reagan in March 1987, had an even shorter tenure.

Koehler arrived at the White House with a glittering communications resume. He retired from Associated Press in 1985 as an ­assistant general manager and took a job with the US Information Agency, the now-defunct State Department arm used to promote US diplomatic efforts among foreign audiences.

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German-born Koehler took over in the waning years of the cold war with personal and professional animosity for the Soviet Union. He translated for the US Army during the second world war as a teenager before Soviets closed in on his hometown of Dresden, the German city that sat on the Red Army’s southern approach to Berlin. He then served as a US Army officer in the 1950s.

He told Associated Press on February 18 that he accepted the job during a 15-minute meeting with Reagan, adding that “I am going to be as low-key as I can”.

But like Scaramucci the controversy surrounding Koehler’s appointment began even before his first day in the West Wing.

Soon after Koehler’s hiring announcement, NBC News reported he had been a member of a Nazi youth group when he was 10.

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Koehler said he disclosed his participation in Jungvolk, the Hitler Youth programme used to indoctrinate young boys with Nazi ideology through outdoor activities, when he went through the security clearance process.

The voluntary involvement of German youth was later compulsory in 1939, and some were pressed into full military service. Koehler called it “the Scouts run by the Nazi party” and said he spent about six months in the ­programme. Koehler sought to downplay his involvement after news of the disclosure was circulated in the media.

“If you lived in Germany at that time and were of a certain age, you had something to do with the party,” Koehler said.

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Koehler had few allies outside the Oval Office. The new chief of staff, Howard Baker, asked Koelher to resign on March 7, 1987. Less than a week had passed since his first day on March 1. In Reagan’s letter accepting Koehler’s resignation, the president wished Koehler and his wife, Dorothy, godspeed and good health.

Koehler, who died in 2012, wrote in response: “I have believed totally in your goals for the United States and for the world from the first day we met in the early 70s. Thus, I welcomed the privilege to serve you albeit briefly. I recognise and endorse the ­importance that Senator Baker must have his own team with whom he will feel comfortable to carry out your programme so vital for the American people.”