Before he was bounced from his White House beat, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush lamented the struggle for reliable information from Team Trump. “The nutritional value of your interactions with anyone in the White House — pre-Mueller, post-Mueller, during Mueller — tend to be of the junk-food variety,” said Thrush at a conference organized by the Atlantic.
My, how things haven’t changed.
The White House has become a personnel mill. As NPR has reported, the Trump White House has experienced 43 percent turnover in the first 13 months, compared with 24 percent in the Obama White House over its first two years. Recent weeks have seen departure news related to communications director Hope Hicks, Josh Raffel and Reed Cordish (advisers to Jared Kushner) and staff secretary Rob Porter. Economic adviser Gary Cohn is headed toward the door as well. Graphics are the best way to depict the tumult:
Batting away inquiries about mayhem requires a dubious sort of skill, one that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has, by now, quite perfected. In Wednesday afternoon’s White House press briefing, ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked Sanders, “So far this year, six top White House staffers have resigned. The president says there are more names to come. Why are so many people leaving this administration?”
Sanders: Look, this administration has had a historic first year, we’re going to continue to do great things. This is an intense place, as is every White House. And it’s not abnormal that you would have people come and go. But we’re continuing to do great work, we’re continuing to focus on the president’s agenda. And that’s what we’re all here to do.
Vega: But it is actually abnormal. No administration in recent history has had this much turnover.
Sanders: I said it’s not abnormal to have turnover.
Vega: If this is not the definition of chaotic, how would you describe what is happening in these recent weeks?
Sanders: If it was, then I don’t think we would be able to accomplish everything that we’ve done. The economy is stronger than it’s been in ages, ISIS is on the run, the remaking of the judiciary, jobs are coming in at record numbers, there are historic things that have taken place in the first year, sounds like a very functioning place of business to me.
Bolding added to highlight Sanders attempting to normalize White House dysfunction right in front of a room of reporters. For the record, no one ever contended that it was abnormal to have staff turnover. Just that the amount of Trump staff turnover was abnormal. Plowing through that distinction, Sanders went on to other inquiries about staffing, Russia’s activities and a replacement for Cohn. Fox News correspondent John Roberts asked whether Cohn’s replacement would be a globalist such as Cohn himself. That was a policy question, a substance question, of the sort that Sanders has claimed she doesn’t get enough from this White House press corps. Well, here’s how she answered this policy question: “I’m not going to get ahead of the president’s announcement of who will replace Gary.”
When someone asked her about personnel stuff, Sanders pointed the reporter to White House press releases.
On the Stormy Daniels story, Sanders made a bit of news, though it’s difficult to figure out what kind of news. She was pressed about a lawsuit brought by Daniels — an adult film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — claiming that the nondisclosure agreement she signed before the 2016 election was null and void, because Trump didn’t sign it. That agreement arranged for her silence regarding an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has admitted to facilitating a payment of $130,000 to Clifford.
What about this whole controversy, Sanders? “The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration,” said the press secretary. Really? People wondered about that one:
Now: Clifford’s lawsuit includes a claim that “considerable steps have been taken by Mr. Cohen in the last week to silence Ms. Clifford through the use of an improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view.” Was Sanders referencing that issue? What arbitration was she talking about? Who were the parties, where did it take place, is the ruling public? A reporter at the briefing asked merely when the proceeding took place and by whom was it “won.” She responded, “By the president’s personal attorneys and for details on that, I would refer you to them.”
Not content to accept that referral, the reporter pushed again, pointing out that clearly Sanders knows some details. Why not share them? “I can share that the arbitration was won in the president’s favor and I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel on any details outside of that,” said Sanders, tossing out some potato chips to the assembled reporters.