If the White House is trying to embarrass Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, it is doing a terrific job.
In a media briefing Monday, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders first made Conway appear out of the loop and then contradicted the counselor to the president. Later in the session, Sanders did little to counter the appearance that Spicer, the White House press secretary, is being marginalized.
About six hours before the briefing, Conway appeared on the “Today” show and was unable to answer questions about whether President Trump will invoke his executive privilege to stop former FBI director James B. Comey from testifying Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“The president will make that final decision, but if Mr. Comey does testify, we'll be watching with everyone else,” Conway said. When “Today” host Savannah Guthrie asked whether it was even an “open possibility” that Trump would try to block Comey, Conway repeated herself: “The president will make that final decision.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 5, 2017
Sanders, however, knew the answer when asked the same question during the briefing.
“The president's power to assert executive privilege is very well established,” she said. “However, to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump will not assert executive privilege regarding James B. Comey's scheduled testimony.”
It is entirely possible that Trump reached a decision in the time between Conway's interview and Sanders's briefing. It is also possible that Trump wanted to hold an announcement until the briefing, which is carried live by multiple networks, instead of making news on a single show. But to help Conway seem in-the-know, he could have, at minimum, told her to say that an announcement would be coming soon.
At another point in her appearance on “Today,” Conway complained about “this obsession with covering everything [the president] says on Twitter.”
“But that's his preferred method of communication with the American people,” replied Craig Melvin, who was filling in for Matt Lauer.
“That's not true,” Conway shot back.
Well, it sure seems true, based on what Sanders said in the briefing. Asked whether Trump's tweets are vetted by an attorney, Sanders answered: “Not that I'm aware of.” Then she volunteered this: “I think social media for the president is extremely important. It gives him the ability to speak directly to the people without the bias of the media filtering those types of communications. He, at this point, has over 100-plus million contacts through social media, on all those platforms. I think it's a very important tool for him to be able to utilize.”
Near the end of the briefing, Spicer was the subject of an exchange between Sanders and April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks:
RYAN: Where is Sean?
SANDERS: He's here today.
RYAN: Why didn't he come out?
SANDERS: Uh, this is part of my job, as well. Did you guys ever ask any of the other deputy press secretaries when they filled in?
RYAN: Is he in a new position now or are you just ...
SANDERS: I mean he is taking on a little bit of extra duty at this point, so I think it's fairly ...
RYAN: Has his position changed then?
SANDERS: Uh, it's probably upgraded, at this point, given that we don't have a communications director.
RYAN: So you will be the new press secretary here at the podium?
SANDERS: I did not say that at all.
Okay, but how about saying you won't be the primary press briefer going forward? Sanders's responses were so evasive that she only fueled doubts about Spicer's future.
That was bad, but Conway still topped Spicer for lousiest Monday. At least he didn't also have to deal with a rather unhelpful tweet from his own spouse.