The daily White House press briefing has become a predictably contentious affair during the presidency of Donald Trump. His press secretaries, first Sean Spice and now Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, operate more like defense attorneys for Trump than public servants. And the briefing held on Monday affirmed that twisted perversion of the relationship between the White House and the people.
Not surprisingly, much of the briefing focused on the weekend’s disturbing news regarding Trump’s staff secretary, Rob Porter, who was fired (or resigned depending on which story you believe) due to reports of his having assaulted his former wives. Trump’s only public comments on the matter were to offer praise for Porter and best wishes for his future. Trump shockingly expressed his sympathy for how sad it was for Porter, without mentioning the suffering of the victims.
Sanders was asked by several reporters about why Trump would not personally address the plight of the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. She could not offer an explanation for his deafening silence except to say that the President “supports the victims of any type of domestic violence, but the President also supports due process. And I don’t have anything else further to add beyond that.” When asked why he couldn’t just say that himself she said that he told her and that she’s telling the media, and that that was the end of the story.
Later, Sanders was asked if Trump still wishes Porter well, and hopes that he has a great career ahead. Her painfully tone deaf response was that “the President wants success for all Americans, and that he was elected to serve all Americans, and he hopes for the best for all American citizens across the country.” And apparently that goes for wife-beaters and other criminals as well. Good to know.
Addressing another angle of the Porter affair, NBC’s White House correspondent, Kristen Welker, sought to sail down some inconsistencies in the White House’s explanations for the lack of security clearances by top Trump officials. She engaged Sanders in the following exchange (video below):
Welker: Why are high-level aides allowed to work with classified information without a permanent security clearance?
Sanders: That’s a question that the FBI and other intelligence communities — they make that determination. That’s not something that’s decided by the White House.
Welker: Can you guarantee that you are protecting classified information given that you have someone like Rob Porter who didn’t have a permanent security clearance to access classified information?
Sanders: I think we’re doing and taking every step we can to protect classified information. I mean, frankly, if you guys have such concern with classified information, there’s plenty of it that’s leaked out of the Hill, that’s leaked out of other communities well beyond the White House walls. If you guys have real concerns about leaking out classified information, look around this room. You guys are the ones that publish classified information and put national security at risk that doesn’t come from this White House.
First of all, it is absolutely not the determination of the FBI whether the White House provides access to classified information to people without proper security credentials. That decision was made solely by the President. But more troubling is the way that Sanders deflected her answer to level scurrilous allegations at the press. The problem with unsecured persons receiving classified information isn’t just that they might leak it to the media. It’s that they might leak it to other unsecured persons, or even hostile foreign operatives. In addition, they could be subject to blackmail and present a serious national security risk.
But Sanders avoided all of that in favor of insulting the press. She had absolutely no evidence of anyone in the White House press corps leaking classified information. But she leveled that accusation as if it were a verified fact. What’s more, the press cannot leak anything at all. They can only report information that is leaked to them. They can be the recipients of leaks, not the originators. And the originators, contrary to what Sanders said, are in the White House.
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The utterly irresponsible accusations by Sanders were unsupported by any proof of wrongdoing by reporters. And if she has “real concerns about leaking out classified information,” she should look to her colleagues in the administration. They are the ones who provide information to the press, and reporters are just doing their jobs when they inform the public. Sadly, that is often the only to get information to the people in this administration. Trump and company have been notoriously determined to keep deep, dark secrets like tax returns, financial backers, and clandestine meetings with Russians.