White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied he acted inappropriately when he asked government officials to bat down news reports that members of the Trump campaign had repeated contact with Russian nationals.
During a press briefing Monday, one reporter asked Spicer to comment on a report Monday morning, seemingly from Axios, that Spicer “reached out directly” to CIA Director Mike Pompeo to ask him to knock down a New York Times report that members of the Trump campaign had repeated contacts with Russian nationals, including intelligence officials.
Axios reported Monday morning that Spicer had contacted Pompeo, as well as Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC), to ask them to discredit the Times’ reporting to other journalists. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) also volunteered to give his phone number to journalists, according to Axios.
Spicer began by referencing an another report, that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked the FBI’s deputy director to bat down the same story. The FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, reportedly denied the White House’s request.
The day after the report, Spicer said, “the FBI deputy director was at a meeting here at the White House that morning. After the meeting concluded, he asked chief of staff to stand back a second. He wanted to tell him that the report in the New York Times was, quote, ‘BS.’”
Spicer went on to say that McCabe “came to the conclusion that they did not want to get in the process of knocking down every story that they had issues with.”
Other intelligence officials and congressional leaders were apparently more receptive to telling reporters what they thought about the Times’ reporting, according to Spicer.
“We then were informed that other people had come to the same conclusions, including at that time, chairman Nunes, that told us, ‘Hey, I’ve been knocking this down, telling reporters,’” Spicer said. “We shared a number with him of a reporter that had contacted us. And, again, when the reporters contacted us and we said, ‘No, to the best of our knowledge, that’s not true,’ they were asking us, ‘Can you point to anybody else that can substantiate this?'”
“I think we did a good job of saying, sure, we will share with reporters other people who have come to the same conclusion,” he said.
Aside from mentioning Nunes, though, Spicer didn’t get into details about who he asked to talk to reporters.
“I’m not going to discuss what we did internally,” he said when asked had reached out to Pompeo directly, as Axios reported. “We did our job about making sure that when reporters had questions, we let them know what subject matter experts were available to discuss the accuracy of a newspaper story.”