It was “junk food” time — again — in the White House Briefing Room on Tuesday afternoon. When Post reporter Josh Dawsey asked whether President Trump feels it’s ethical for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to have made inquiries about a Chik-fil-A franchise for his wife, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied, “I haven’t spoken with the president about that.” When asked about White House falsehoods, Sanders said that her credibility ratings were likely higher than those of the media. And when asked about the president’s attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sanders replied, “Look, the president’s made his position on this extremely clear. And I don’t have anything to add on that.”

Ah, yes, the old “position-is-extremely-clear” position.

This show, with its recurring non-answers, dodges and red herrings, has a mass of critics. One theme urges media organizations to bag the press briefings.


Media organizations are sitting tight though, and Tuesday’s session provides a good insight as to why. Among the more pressing developments to come out of the White House in recent weeks stems from a New York Times scoop from last weekend. A letter from Trump’s lawyers to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III conceded that Trump himself had “dictated a short but accurate response” to an earlier story by the New York Times about that famous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., a Russian lawyer and others. In a press briefing on Aug. 1, 2017, Sanders said of Trump’s involvement in drafting that statement: “He certainly didn’t dictate, but he — like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.”

Aha, a contradiction! Since the New York Times published its letter scoop, White House reporters have been pushing Sanders to account for the discrepancy. Her answers have been dodgy. Here’s an exchange from Monday’s briefing:

Q: Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you about the lawyer’s letter to the Special Counsel. You said, last August, that the President did not dictate a statement about the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign. But the lawyers wrote to the Special Counsel that the President did dictate that statement. What’s the reason for that discrepancy?
SANDERS: Like you said, this is from a letter from the outside counsel, and I direct you to them to answer that question.

A follow-up failed to elicit an illuminating answer from Sanders.


Again on Tuesday, reporters asked Sanders about the matter. Dawsey asked if she thought her August statement was accurate.

Sanders: Again, I know you want to get me into a back and forth with you on this conversation —
Dawsey: You said something, we just want to know if it was accurate or not. Was your statement accurate?
Sanders: I know your goal is to engage me in a conversation about matters dealing with the outside counsel, and I’m not going to do that today.
Dawsey: You said something from the podium. Was it accurate or not? That’s all we want to know.
Sanders: I work day in and day out. And I believe, frankly, with the majority of you in the room, I think you all know I’m an honest person who works extremely hard to provide you with accurate information at all times. I’m going to continue to do that, but I’m not going to engage on matters that deal with the outside counsel.

Predictably lame. Predictably formulaic. Predictably maddening. And also predictably on the record. Sample a week’s worth of White House reporting. A healthy portion of it comes from officials who decline to attach their names to their comments, for any number of reasons. It’s tough, accordingly, to hold any of them — and indeed, the White House as an institution — responsible for their utterances.

Now consider Sanders’s briefings. There’s video, there’s a transcript, there are questions from reporters. Absent that setup, Sanders never would have said last August that the president didn’t dictate the statement about the Trump Tower meeting. And so there would be no way to hold her to account for the discrepancy that emerged via the New York Times.

If Sanders wants to foul up the press briefings with partial answers and dodges, that’s her business. Her conduct is there for the country to observe. And as the “dictate” controversy shows, her utterances may be more newsworthy than we appreciate in the moment.