White House press secretary Sean Spicer talked to FOX News host Howard Kurtz in an interview aired on Sunday's Media Buzz:
HOWARD KURTZ: Sean Spicer, welcome.
SEAN SPICER: Thanks for having me.
ON TRUMP TWEET SAYING NO COMEY TAPES:
HK: The media is on fire over the President saying no, he doesn’t have any secret tapes of [former FBI Director] Jim Comey after having raised the prospect in a tweet weeks ago. Do you think, you said Friday, the president was just trying to enable that the truth come out.
SS: That’s right.
HK: But by raising that prospect didn’t he -- and the price of that is he insinuated something that wasn’t true.
SS: He said “I hope there’s not” because I think that he knew the truth would come out, and I think he is glad that the truth is coming out that he had said very clearly that on three occasions he was told that he was not under investigation, there was no obstruction, and he was right. And I think that having Director Comey come out and admit it under oath and testimony proves that the President was right.
HK: You said with some justification that the media spent way too much time covering the Russia investigation —
SS: But think about the lead up to that testimony, other networks were insisting that it was going to be — that Comey was going to come to the stand and undermine the President’s comments and yet exactly the opposite happened. Director Comey came and admitted that the President was right that on three separate occasions he admitted to him he wasn’t under investigation.
HK: But in terms of the amount of media oxygen this consumed, you being about it at many briefings, isn’t it the kind of distraction that the White House says it wants to avoid so you can focus on the policies.
SS: Well again, at the end of the day more than anything we obviously want to cover the President’s policies and agenda, but also we want to get the truth out there and when you have a bunch of media organizations falsely implying and stating something that is not true I think that to have us finally be able to resolve an issue such as that is helpful because it allows us to move past it and get to the issues and the agenda that the President is fighting for.
ON SENATE HEALTH CARE BILL:
HK: The President has said that he wants a more generous Senate health care bill that would perhaps spend more money and provide more coverage, how do you reconcile that with the big Rose Garden ceremony he had here for the more stringent house bill?
SS: Well, because I think that there is a process the legislation works on, we continue to seek input, ideas and opinions as to how to make it the best bill possible. The President has made it clear from the beginning he wants a bill that has heart he understands how important health care is to individuals and families.
He wants to make sure we do this right, he knows that ObamaCare is dead, it’s not serving the American people and that he has an opportunity to deliver on the promise that was made to the American people almost ten years ago and do it in the way it should’ve been done in the first place and give people that peace of mind.
ON FEWER ON-CAM WHITE HOUSE BRIEFINGS:
HK: You’ve been criticized, as you know, for holding fewer briefings and for moving some of them off camera -- for example, in this past week when the President was in town, one of the four briefings was held on camera. Is the President so frustrated by the spectacle of these television briefings that he is trying to shrink the number?
SS: No, first of all remember that that narrative is not true, we haven’t held fewer briefings, we’ve held a briefing almost every single day in some way, shape, or form.
HK: The number has been down from March until now.
SS: No it hasn’t! Because remember on days that the President travels, going back to at least four or five Presidents, the presidents traveling—
HK: No, I’m not counting that.
SS: OK, you’re not counting it. I think with the exception of the day that there was a congressional shooting, we’ve had a briefing of some sort every single day except weekends.
HK: I’m not somebody who says that every briefing has to be televised and I understand and business gets done with these off-camera gaggles, but when you have that many of them in a couple of instances, not even allowing the audio to be recorded, what are you trying to accomplish?
SS: Well, remember, just remember that it is a very one-sided discussion that’s occurring now. We’ve allowed the audio to be used today. The other day, what had happened was a couple days ago when we laid down some ground rules; networks like CNN broke through those ground rules and aired it anyway and I think that they had asked and other networks to please clarify the ground rules. So we had to make sure that everyone was on the same page.
Once we got clarity, as you know, the last couple we’ve allowed audio to come in and use it, but I think that when you look at the last couple gaggles — that they call them — they are off camera, they’ve been I think very substantive; the President speaks on those days. On Friday of this week he gave a very extensive speech on the Veterans Accountability Law that he signed into law that I think is going to help so many veterans get the care that they need and accountability from the work force here in Washington.
That is what traditionally has been done when the President speaks. Then, the press secretary doesn’t have to try to compete with the President —
HK: But you’re going in a different direction here, speaking of CNN and correspondent Jim Acosta — you’ve tangled with a few times — he’s got kind of a campaign against you. He says the briefings are now kind of useless, the White House is stonewalling, why should reporters bother attending?
SS: It’s sad that if he believes it doesn’t occur on TV, I think some of these reporters are more interested in their Youtube clips than they are in getting factual news. You look at the number of questions that get asked over and over again just so the reporter can get a clip of themselves saying something or yelling at someone and that’s — not only do I think its repetitive, but again there’s a mix.
I think the cameras are fine and there’s an opportunity to have them, but I think you can equally, on days when the President is speaking, have an off-camera briefing where you have a substantive engagement on policy issues. But to suggest that somehow if it’s not on television it’s somewhat nonsensical. Many of these reporters use anonymous sources and write up things and yet I can make an equal argument that that doesn’t sound like news to me. We engage with the press corps very robustly from early in the morning to late at night. The briefing is one small part of what this extensive staff does to engage with the media.
HK: You’ve taken some heat for saying in one of the briefings that you didn’t have the chance to ask the President whether he believes that the Russian hacking had an impact on the election, a lot of people criticize that —
SS: Look, here’s the reality: The President made comments in January where he said it was probably Russia and that we had to do everything we could to safeguard our electoral system, the integrity of our electoral system. I was asked actually have you —has the President changed his thinking. I hadn’t asked him since he made his initial comments. I think it is my job to make sure that to the best ability that I can represent the President’s thinking.
If I haven’t spoken to him recently about an issue, it would be highly irresponsible to go out and say here’s what he thinks if I don’t know what he thinks. I addressed it in the briefing on Friday because again I have to go in and say, “Hey we’ve got these questions, can you answer?”
He did in that case. I had an opportunity to speak to him about that particular question and so I updated the press corps, but the alternative is that I say something that I don’t know is in his current thinking. That would not be right or that’s not even responsible, he’s the President of the United States, I need to — as his spokesman — my job is to make sure that I accurately and timely — in a timely manner -- reflect his thinking and if I don’t have the best information at hand, I shouldn’t comment.
ON REPORTS THAT SPICER MAY BE CHANGING ROLES:
HK: Several news organizations, as you know, are reporting that you may be moving into a management role, there might be a new press secretary or someone handling the briefings. I know you’re not going to confirm that and I’ve asked this before, but having some scars are you a little weary of the televised combat?
SS: Well I think, look, it’s an honor to have this job, it’s truly a privilege for me to be able to do this on behalf of the President of the United States—
HK: Are you enjoying the back and forth corresponding with the lights and the cameras on?
SS: What I like is doing my part to advance the President’s agenda. I think he is fighting hard every day and if I can go out there and help amplify his message then I am going to do that to the best of my abilities.
ON THE GEORGIA SPECIAL ELECTION:
HK: Last question: The special election in Georgia, the media drumbeat was referendum on Trump, referendum on Trump, referendum on Trump. Democrat Jon Ossoff lost, did the tone of the coverage change?
SS: For the fourth time in a row they lost the special election, the second that it was called, they stopped talking about it. They’ve had four attempts at quote referendums on President Trump, he succeeded every time and I think that you’ve heard them walk away from that narrative right away. So, he’s 4 and 0 and I think that if that’s a referendum, then we’ll take it.