President Trump’s tweeting Tuesday morning set off the usual scramble among White House reporters for all manner of clarifications and amplifications. Look at the tweet, and it’s not hard to understand why:
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
Ever the self-proclaimed “counterpuncher,” Trump was tweeting in response to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s call for his resignation over sexual-assault allegations. In turn, Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called the tweet a “sexist smear.”
A chance to corner the president on this matter arose as the president participated in a signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, with a crew of reporters on the scene in what is known as a “pool spray.” CNN’s Jim Acosta was there to witness the moment. After Trump signed the document, he got up and began walking out of the Roosevelt Room. Acosta asked: “Mr. President, what did you mean when you said that Kirsten Gillibrand would do anything for a campaign contribution?”
Good question! The president turned his head with a glare and proceeded to exit. No answer.
Later on, Acosta told CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer about how desperately the White House wanted to sidestep that uncomfortable encounter. “In the moments before I asked the president the question in the Roosevelt Room as he was signing the National Defense Authorization bill, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, pulled me aside — this was prior to me asking that question of the president. And she warned me that if I asked the president a question at this pool spray, as we call them, that she could not promise that I would be allowed into a pool spray again,” said Acosta. “Wolf, this was a direct threat coming from the press secretary to me, warning me not to ask a question and, of course, I went ahead and asked the question anyway and the president did not respond. But Wolf, as you know, we don’t respond to threats, we’re not going to be intimidated.”
For context, Acosta’s insistence on getting his reasonable questions answered has rankled the Trump White House since before there was a Trump White House. The correspondent famously pressed Trump for a question at a news conference in January, during the presidential transition. Trump attempted to bypass him and called CNN “fake news.” Over the intervening months, Acosta has done frequent battle with Sanders and her predecessor, Sean Spicer. On Monday, for example, Acosta challenged the White House’s use of “fake news” as a catch-all descriptor for mistaken reports: “I would just say, Sarah, that journalists make honest mistakes, and that doesn’t make them ‘fake news.’ ” Sanders insisted that media outlets purposely mislead the American public.
The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Sanders for her version of events, and we will update the post when we receive a reply.
White House Correspondents’ Association President Margaret Talev issued this statement on the matter: “It is longstanding practice for reporters to ask questions of the president during events like the one today, and it is at the president’s discretion to decide whether and how to answer those questions. It is up to news organizations to determine which journalists they assign to represent them in the pool.”