Was it a Valentine’s Day massacre in the White House press briefing room? Not exactly. Today’s briefing with Sean Spicer was an intense event, but not quite as bellicose as perhaps one might have expected considering it came slightly more than 12 hours after the resignation of Pres. Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. Late yesterday afternoon, it was reported that Flynn apologized to VP Mike Pence for “misleading him” about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. before Pres. Trump was sworn in.
At around 1:15 p.m., Spicer kicked off the briefing by wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day, before introducing new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to the press, who talked about Venezuelan VP Tareck El Aissami. The U.S. government considers El Aissami an international drug trafficker and is slapping severe sanctions on him.
Mnuchin answered a few questions, including one from NBC News’ Hallie Jackson regarding sanctions on Russia. In response to the Russian sanctions questions, Mnuchin only said “the existing policies are in place, “and then went back to Spicer, who talked about the president’s activities from over the weekend, today and tomorrow.
Below are some of the questions reporters asked in regard to the Gen. Flynn situation, which Spicer didn’t take until almost 20 minutes into the briefing:
- ABC’s Jonathan Karl got the first question: “Back in January, the president said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even Gen. Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?”
- CBS’s Major Garrett went second: “The president was asked on Air Force One on Friday traveling down Mar-a-Lago about reports, about conversation about sanctions. He said ‘I don’t know about it, i’ll look into that.’ Was he being truthful?” Spicer’s answer: “No. What he was asked specifically is: Was he aware of a Washington Post story? He hadn’t seen that at the time. Of course, he was involved. I just said that he was aware of the situation right after the White House counsel informed him back in January.”
- Next, an undentified reporter asked: “Yesterday Kellyanne Conway said the president continued to have trust in Gen. Flynn….but what happened between yesterday morning and yesterday evening that led the president to lose confidence in Gen. Flynn?”
- The next reporter had two questions: 1) “Does the president believe that anything that he discussed with general flynn he discussed during the transition might have been construed by the general as a request or an encouragement to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador?” 2) “Lawmakers on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle would like to investigate, probe or ask more questions about this. Does the president hope to cooperate with those investigations?”
- The next journalist asked about a question about a report that Omarosa Manigault threatened a journalist and that she had “dossiers on reporters.” Spicer said nothing of the sort exists. The reporter also asked about a timetable for permanent replacement. Spicer said: “Just like the way he handled this situation, the president will meet with individuals and when he is ready to make a decision and he feels as though the person is qualified, I can properly advise him on the issue. He will make that decision. as all decisions, they rest with him.”
- First Skype question of the day from John Huck of KVVU in Las Vegas, who asked about Dodd-Frank: “Las Vegas has suffered terribly in the last few sessions, more so than perhaps any other city in the country. As the administration moves forward with repealing financial regulations and possibly rolling back Dodd Frank, what guarantees can you make to Nevadans that those actions won’t lead banks and investment banks to re-engage with the risky financial behaviors that tanked our economies and left taxpayers to bail those banks out?”
- John Roberts of Fox News asked two questions: 1) “You said the White House counsel’s office reviewed this and determined that there was nothing illegal. What evidence did they look at in making this determination?” 2) Democrats up on the hill say that they want an investigation. They’re looking into what did the president know and when did he know it? Can you tell us what evidence you looked at the White House counsel’s office, and what did the president know about all of this and when was he aware of it?”
- Another question was about the NSA replacement timeline: “Why not dismiss Gen. Flynn on January 27th? Why, if the question was of trust and Vice President Pence is on Face the Nation saying that this is what Gen. Flynn told me, and January 26th, you hear that the opposite. Why not immediately act? Why wait another two and a half weeks?”
- There was a controversial Skype question from an outlet called The Federalist Paper, out of Ohio: “Our readers are interested in returning to the country to the first principles of Republican government as understood by the American founders. One of those principles, in the Declaration of Independence, is the consent of the government. My question is: What are the president’s future plans of rolling back the expensive and burdensome regulations of the administrative state, most of which are the product of un-elected, unaccountable bureaucrats who never received the consent of the governed to do anything, let alone make law.”
- Another Skype question came in from a reporter at WFTL, a West Palm Beach radio station. It was about security at Mar-a-Lago.
As this White House likes to do, Spicer cited a cable news personality mid-briefing. He mentioned Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer quite a bit, who appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier yesterday and, according to Spicer, expressed his feelings that Gen. Flynn’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador were no big deal.
But there were more to the comments that Spicer seemed to miss. While Krauthammer saw no problem with interacting with the Russian Ambassador, he wondered why The White House lied about these interactions, something which shows “a tremendous lapse in judgment.” He continued by saying that the president is in a tough predicament: “If he fires him, it puts in question the president’s own judgment of choosing him in the first place.”
Below is the content of a noteworthy soundbite from Spicer in regard to leaks, which he believes are “handed to the media.”
“We have an issue where classified information of which this would be, is handled in such a way that it is being given out, and I know in some cases it’s a good story, and I understand that, and that’s to some degree your responsibility to write that, but I think there’s also a story here where the amount of leaks that are coming out of people that are entrusted with national security secrets and classified information are leaking it out. That’s a real concern for this president. When he is talking on the phone with a world leader, that when he is making key decision that is are in the interest of protecting this country, that we have to wonder whether or not people who work for our government who are entrusted with classified information and materials are leaking that information out. That, I do believe, is a big story that should be reported, and I also believe that the president is rightly so very, very concerned about this because it isn’t something that’s just plaguing the current administration, but it’s something that has plagued previous administrations…this undermines our national security, frankly.”
Spicer concluded the briefing by reiterating that there was nothing wrong or truly inappropriate about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.