TRUMP MAY HAVE “TRUMPED” THE MEDIA
by Sharon Rondeau
On Wednesday, a transcript of Tuesday’s briefing was available at a link contained in the Trump White House’s regular email update, “1600 Daily.” However, the email alert contains no reference to a White House Press Corps daily briefing as it has each day since Donald Trump took office.
The newsletters, issued six days a week, contain a summary of the administration’s activity for that day as well as a recap of the previous day’s events.
Up until Wednesday, the time of the new day’s press briefing was indicated with a link for live streaming. On Monday, the briefing began slightly after 2:00 PM EDT, while on most days it has begun at 1:30 PM.
Last Friday, Trump floated the idea on Twitter of ceasing the daily briefings in which Spicer or Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answers journalists’ questions from a podium in the White House briefing room. White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) president Jeff Mason was quick to respond with a statement that “Doing away with briefings would reduce accountability, transparency, and the opportunity for Americans to see that, in the US system, no political figure is above being questioned.”
The WHCA uses a photo of the White House press briefing room depicting reporters asking questions on its website.
Since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, the mainstream media has erupted in a firestorm of criticism, innuendo, accusations of obstruction of justice, and leaks of information from the U.S. intelligence community which have been deemed by some to be harmful to national security.
Although many Democrats had expressed dissatisfaction with Comey and believed his actions last fall may even have cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election, some of the same politicians appeared outraged at his dismissal. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said last year that he had lost confidence in Comey but told reporters that when Trump called him in advance of formally announcing Comey’s departure, he advised Trump that he was “making a big mistake.”
On Monday evening, The Washington Post reported that unnamed sources claimed that Trump had divulged “highly classified” information to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a scheduled meeting in the Oval Office last Wednesday, one day after Comey’s firing.
Some reporters commented that “the optics” of Trump’s meeting with Russian diplomats on that day were poor given that Trump’s opponents had already leaped to the conclusion that the timing of Comey’s dismissal was questionable as an investigation into alleged “collusion” between Trump campaign aides and the Russian government is ongoing.
Although initially announcing that Comey’s firing was justified by a letter signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein citing Comey’s handling of the Clinton private email server last July, in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt broadcast last Wednesday, Trump said that he had his own reasons for terminating Comey.
As headlines repeating The Post’s story were replicated across the web, the political left began calling for Trump’s impeachment, political pundits and anchors discussed ways in which the administration should or should not handle the fallout. On Monday evening, national security advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster provided a brief statement to reporters claiming that the allegations as to Trump’s conversation with the Russians was “false.”
“I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” McMaster said.
On Tuesday evening, The New York Times declared the existence of an unseen memo purportedly written by Comey following a February 14 face-to-face meeting between the then-FBI director and Trump. During that meeting, The New York Times alleges, citing the alleged memo, that Trump asked Comey to cease his investigation into Trump’s first national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret).
Flynn’s name was leaked to both The Post and The Times by as yet unnamed members of the intelligence community which Trump had asked Comey to investigate. Trump was reportedly disappointed in Comey’s performance in that area, and no one has been held responsible.
Leaking the name of a “US person” captured during NSA surveillance of foreign targets is a felony carrying the penalty of five years in prison upon conviction.
The White House denied the characterization of Trump’s meeting with Comey in a brief written statement issued later that evening.
While the media anxiously awaited further word from the administration on Tuesday night, none was forthcoming.
On Monday night, MSNBC described the White House as having plunged into a state of “chaos.”
Tuesday brought CNN’s description of the administration as “under siege.”
During the 2016 campaign, Trump had run as “an outsider” to politics, having never served in public office before. He promised Americans that if elected, he would run a different type of administration and “drain the swamp,” a reference to entrenched Washington cronyism and corruption. Some saw Comey’s termination as the official beginning of that process, while others argued that Trump had ushered in the beginnings of a “constitutional crisis.”
As a businessman and public figure over the past four decades, Trump has had an adversarial relationship with the press. He has admitted to a report that while building his real estate holdings based in New York City, he often took reporters’ questions himself, posing as his own press secretary.
When Trump was asked in an interview with Judge Jeanine Pirro which aired Saturday if he were serious about discontinuing the White House press briefings, he responded in the affirmative, suggesting that he could hold biweekly press conferences himself and issue written statements on a number of issues.
On February 16, amidst allegations that the White House was in “chaos,” Trump gave an impromptu press conference in which he berated the media for publishing “fake news” while touting his accomplishments to date.
The above graphic and those below comprise the “1600 Daily” newsletter issued on Wednesday.
The transcript from Tuesday’s press gaggle can be read here.
Update, 5:01 p.m. EDT: Fox News reported that an off-camera press briefing was given by Spicer today.