Sean Spicer, who is already the subject of “Saturday Night Live” parodies and has become infamous for his rants, verbal pratfalls and jaw-dropping spin, seems to be heading for the distinction of worst press secretary in the history of Western civilization.
Consider the following three recent events:
First, Spicer has been caught lying or at least operating out of the loop on the decision by the nominee for Navy secretary, Philip Bilden, to back out. The Post reports:
There was real consternation behind the scenes, and Bilden was wavering. But the White House got its assurance from him that he was “100% committed” and decided to pretend all was well, even though it knew that wasn’t the whole picture.
Spicer had no idea that Bilden was wavering and didn’t bother to or couldn’t find out the truth (more likely the former, given how quickly the denial came). In this case, [CBS News’ Major] Garrett would have known something about Trump’s own nominee that the lead spokesman for the White House did not. Not good.
Spicer has become more useless with each passing day, because what he says too often isn’t true. Unlike with Kellyanne Conway, the press cannot very well refuse to put Spicer on air, but it can confront him on his inaccuracies and refuse to take virtually anything he says at face value. Perhaps Trump’s relations with the press might improve with a better, more credible press secretary. (“And for all the mileage the Trump White House gets for accusing the press of ‘fake news’ and relying on supposedly bogus anonymous sources, this is yet another example that proves they protest way too much.”)
Meanwhile, Mike Allen reported on Spicer’s central role in a wholly inappropriate and unethical enlistment of investigators both in the executive and legislative branches to defend the president and rebut unfavorable news accounts. We’ve explained how problematic it is for White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to be in communication with the FBI about an ongoing investigation. Even worse is the White House press secretary enlisting the CIA director and congressional Republicans charged with investigating the matter to spin the White House line back to the press. Who told Spicer to do this? Did he not realize this would be a gigantic conflict of interest? Moreover, he has burned the effective use of the CIA director for future, more urgent tasks. (“Intelligence officials from the Obama administration said it’s rare for the CIA director to talk directly to a single journalist – that in the past, the director usually was held in reserve to talk to a publisher or executive editor in a case where a news organization was contemplating publishing something that could harm national security,” Allen wrote.)
And to top it off, Spicer has such little confidence in his staff’s loyalty that he is reduced to police tactics to try to prevent leaks — tactics that, unsurprisingly, were leaked to the press. Politico reports:
Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room.
Upon entering Spicer’s office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as “an emergency meeting,” staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check,” to prove they had nothing to hide.
Spicer, who consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn before calling the meeting, was accompanied by White House lawyers in the room, according to multiple sources. …
The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cellphones.Spicer also warned the group of more problems if news of the phone checks and the meeting about leaks was leaked to the media.
The lack of respect they have for their boss is evident by the speed with which staffers defied his order not to leak about a leak crackdown.
Spicer is becoming a Frank Burns-like figure — disliked and disrespected by superiors, peers and subordinates alike. He has given ammunition to critics to take the Russia investigation away from the CIA and lawmakers and hand it to an independent prosecutor or commission. He is so lacking in credibility as to diminish, if not eliminate, his utility in conveying the views of the White House or basic facts about what is going on. Any replacement likely would have similar problems, but at least he/she might not be responsible for trying to poison the well of an ongoing investigation into whether the White House is compromised to Russia.