White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went with stout denial in his press briefing today after the speaker of the House, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and the ranking Democrat on the committee all said they had seen zip, evidence-wise, in re President Donald Trump’s charge he was wiretapped by President Obama during the campaign.
Spicer’s briefing was expected to be a humdinger — and it did not disappoint, despite starting more than an hour late.
“He stands by it,” Spicer said, chin out, when asked if Trump stood by his tweet-nado of nearly two weeks ago when he said he’d been wiretapped by Obama at his Trump Tower office. Wednesday night, however, Trump had walked back the wiretap thing, saying the expression is old-fashioned — and besides, he’d used it in quotation marks so it should not be taken literally.
Spicer, meanwhile, insisted the Intelligence Committee’s statement issued today is a progress report, not the final word, because “they have yet to go through the information.” He then filibustered for a while, reading from a pile of news-outlet clips that showed intelligence agencies’ interest in Trump’s activities, though none of them corroborated Trump’s actual Twitter claim.
“You were just quoting Sean Hannity there,” CNN’s Jim Acosta marveled, which Spicer dismissed as “cherry-picking.”
Speaking of cherry-picking, after reading the clips, including New York Times material, Spicer seemed to decline to take a question from the NYT. At least that’s the impression caught on camera when Spicer called on RealClearPolitics reporter Alexis Simendinger, who asked Spicer if he would please take the New York Times‘ question. He would not.
Things got pretty hot, causing Spicer at one point to snap at a member of the press to “Calm down!” though his voice had gone up nearly as many octaves. Offense being the best defense, Spicer began asking questions of the press in the room: “Where was your passion, where was your concern when the committees said there was no connection to Russia? You choose not to cover that … you want to perpetuate a false narrative.”
He also insisted that media outlets had not reported when, one day earlier, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said it is possible Trump staffers might have been surveiled via “incidental” collection of information. Thursday, the House Intel Committee was saying it had yet to see any evidence of wiretapping but had not yet closed the books out any and all forms of surveillance.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney also braved the presser to take questions about the administration’s “America first” federal budget released hours earlier. This “top-line spending” budget includes de-funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts because, he said, “I put myself in the shoes of that steel worker in Ohio, that coal mine worker in Ohio or mother of two in Detroit and ask, ‘Can I really go to those folks to take money to give to CPB? … That’s a hard sell and something we don’t think we can defend anymore.”