A week ago, CBS News's Major Garrett reported that President Trump's nominee for Navy secretary, Philip Bilden, was close to withdrawing.
News: Am told by two people familiar with the matter that Navy Secretary nominee Philip Bilden is likely to withdraw - cld b this weekend.
— Major Garrett (@MajorCBS) February 18, 2017
It was met with a full and almost instant denial from the White House, just eight minutes later.
Those people would be wrong. Just spoke with him and he is 100% commited to being the next SECNAV pending Senate confirm. https://t.co/AfRZfQQCzG
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) February 18, 2017
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that Philip Bilden, a private equity fund manager, had withdrawn his name in a decision “driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests.”
“While I am disappointed, I understand and respect his decision, and know that he will continue to support our nation in other ways,” Mattis said in a statement.
In his own statement made public by the Pentagon, Bilden said he concluded that he would not be able to fulfill U.S. ethics rules “without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family’s private financial interests.”
The question, yet again, is whether Spicer knew Bilden was truly wavering and misled all of us or whether he was simply out of the loop on Trump's own Navy secretary nominee. Neither is a good look for Spicer. It goes back to an Adam Carolla theory I've spotlighted called "Stupid or Liar."
- 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, Garrett would have known something about Trump's own nominee that the lead spokesman for the White House did not. Not good.
In fairness to Spicer, he wasn't the only one offering a denial; so did the Pentagon, albeit a little less forcefully. The Pentagon said in a statement that Bilden "remains fully committed to serving as Secretary of the Navy."
Perhaps that was true at the time. But, Spicer went the extra step of saying Garrett's report was wrong. It wasn't.
Next to all the other messaging foul-ups from the White House, this wouldn't appear to rank very high. But yet again it raises real questions about the Trump press office's credibility. When journalists report out other stories about what's going on in the White House, and Spicer issues blanket denials like this, it's gets very difficult to take them at face value. Whether Spicer didn't know what was going on or lied about it, it's damaging.
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.