TOWOIT #59

March 16, 2017…. Day #56

Amy Siskind is doing a great job of writing a list of strange things happening, changing, and shifting in the U.S. since the election. I want to print them all out and put them in a three-ring binder. And also I should pick up a copy of that book that helps you skip the middle ages and get back to 19th century technology if everything goes totally blammo.

Things don’t seem to be going great for Rex Tillerson in Korea. He’s got one lone reporter with him. His budget got cut almost as much as the EPA.

The budget has been a ghastly spectacle today. Mick Mulvaney and Sean Spicer, feeling plucky and Irish throughout, managed to be so blatantly, cheerfully heartless on live television. It’s all been trending on Twitter all night. Stuff like feeding poor children and the aged. Stuff like that. Terrible optics. I don’t know. I’m in a real “we’re all gonna die” mood, but before I go, I’m going to write about podcasts and the White House Press Briefing.

“Sean, wait, listen–can we put it to REST, Sean ?!” 

–a reporter to Sean Spicer as he left the Briefing Room without giving any reasonable answers on what the hell is the deal with Trump’s wiretapping claims.

Oh yeah, I have to tell you that the White House Press Corp was kept jammed in their tiny room in a state of readiness for over an hour, waiting for Sean Spicer to keep his appointment with them. Fifteen minutes before the briefing was supposed to start, the House and Senate Intelligence committees released their bluntly worded statement that they did not believe there was surveillance of any kind of Trump Tower, before or after the election.

I had C-span running and one earbud in, but had minimized the screen and was just doing my work. I lost track of time so was really surprised when I looked up and realized that 42 minutes had gone by since the briefing was supposed to start and everyone was still just in the room waiting.That’s when I brought the screen back up and started paying attention.

42 minutes— reporters standing at the front communicating with their networks. They are talking about a Spicer call earlier today on the conservative Laura Ingraham talk radio show, trying to intuit what he would say about the intelligence committees and what was going on behind the closed door of the briefing room.
There’s also talk of college basketball and brackets.
50 minutes— John Roberts’s cell phone rings, and the ring tone is “I want it all” by Queen and everyone bursts into laughter.
Whispering
Someone sings a few bars in a low alto–it sounds like a spiritual.
A hush falls on the room, and then a semi-maniacal, half-stifled giggle rises up.
Someone yawns loudly.
53 minutes— Peter Alexander is standing at the front, facing the camera and saying to his network, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts it back on the media today,” and then later, “I think he’ll probably come out and say something scripted.”
54 minutes— the room looks so small, so cramped. No one has even updated them.
55 minutes–they’ve started to talk about how their phones are dying, and beginning to look into the outlet situation.
56 minutes— a woman’s voice saying “everybody stretch.”
57 minutes— the sound of something falling with a thud and a woman groans. It’s starting to feel like they are trapped in an elevator.
58 minutes— a man’s voice, gasping “wa-a-a-a-t-er…. w-a-a-a-a-ah-ah-ah-ter.” Someone’s reading a physical newspaper cover to cover.
59 minutes–“Can we order a pizza?”
60 minutes–Peter is talking to NBC again and saying, “I think we can presume that they’re formulating what they’ll say” and then “…increasingly appearing to be a made-up claim.”
61 minutes–Jim Acosta is saying to the CNN audience, “I’m not sure if they’re trying to run out the clock or what.”
Somebody hums “Final Countdown”

And then the briefing started. I will add in the Mick Mulvaney budget stuff later.

Questions asked of Sean Spicer today:

 

So, Sean, the day before yesterday you said you were extremely confident that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees would ultimately vindicate the President’s allegation that Trump Tower was wiretapped.  As I’m sure you have now seen, the Senate Intelligence Committee has said they see no indications Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance.  That seems to be a pretty blanket statement.  What’s your reaction?

Devin Nunes said he saw no evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower.

Now you’ve had the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee —

He said there was no — “I saw no indication of wiretapping” — no evidence of wiretapping.

Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee is saying point blank — they say no evidence of surveillance.

So you’re saying the President stands by his allegation that President Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower?

I want you to respond to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So, Sean, are you saying that despite the findings, the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee —

I let you do that whole long answer.  Can I just ask my question?

Okay.  So are you saying that the President still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower, despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee says they see no indication that it happened?  Does the President still stand by the allegation?

No, the Senate has no indication.  I’m reading exactly from their statement.

They’ve been briefed by the FBI Director.  They’ve been —

Because —

Actually, I did report that Clapper said that.  I actually did.

So he’ll be vindicated.  You think he’s going to be vindicated.

Yeah, you were just quoting Sean Hannity there.  The House and Senate intelligence committees are quoting the FBI Director.  You’re citing Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano.

We have done plenty of reporting on all of this, Sean.

These connections between the aides of the President — associates of the President to the Russians has all been looked at and it’s —

I’m saying that this has been looked at, Sean.  We’ve all looked at it.

There have been —

You’re asking me whether or not it’s been looked at?

Our outlet, other outlets have reported —

— on contacts between associates and aides of the President and the Russians during the 2016 campaign.  It sounds like during the context of that investigation there might have been some intercepted communications.  The House Intelligence Committee Chairman did mention that, and we have reported that, others have reported that on our air and in various publications.  But, Sean, what you are refusing to answer — the question that you’re refusing to answer is whether or not the President still believes what he believes —

But you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don’t see any evidence of any wiretapping.  So how can the President go on and continue to say these things?

He said, if you take the President literally — he said, if you take the President literally, he is wrong.

Right, but it sounds like, Sean, that you and the President are saying now, well, we don’t mean wiretapping anymore because that’s not true anymore, so now we’re going to expand that to other forms of surveillance.  What’s it going to be next?

It sounds like your information is news reports, not evidence, not conversations with the FBI Director.

There was an investigation going on into whether there were contacts between the President’s campaign and the Russians.  Of course, they’re going to be looking at these various things.  I mean, isn’t that right?

I haven’t been read in by the FBI Director, but the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been.

Give me some credit, Sean.

A little intelligence maybe.  But no, what I’m saying is that —

Well, come on, now.  Those two panels have spoken with the FBI Director and have been told there’s no evidence of this.  So why not just — why can’t we just end this farce and just have the President say he was wrong?

So a week from now, we’re going to be wrong, you’re going to be right?

So just to be clear, you’re good and the President is good with stories that have anonymous sources in them.

I’m just asking.

So let me ask you what the President said last night.  He was asked by Tucker Carlson — “you’re in charge of the various intelligence apparatus that report to you.  You can ask them.”  And he said —

Can I ask my question?

He said he was reluctant to do that.  So let me just put two things together.  Earlier this week, you told us, when asked, “Has the President directed the Justice Department to collect and distribute information to the various relevant congressional committees?”  If I remember your answer correctly, it was, “No, we hadn’t given that specific direction.”  Has that changed?

Has he now directed the Justice Department?

And is he asking, himself, for the intelligence agencies that report to him, to provide him specific answers to these underlying questions that are separate from the reports you’re citing?

Why not?

But interfering —

Sean, is the President making these statements based on classified information?

(Inaudible) that that information is available to members of the House and the Senate.  It’s public, as you noted.  They are looking at that same information, and they came to the conclusion that they have not seen —

— any evidence to back up the President’s claim.  So if there is other information, why won’t the President release it?

He discussed these reports —

Sean, I’d like to ask you about two topics, but can you help us all by calling on Peter right now?

Will you call on the New York Times?

In the case that Judge Watson issued against — the restraining order against Trump’s second travel — or the president’s second travel ban, he included one of the president’s tweets. And this is also included in the Washington State case. So I’m wondering, does it give the president any pause that this virtual paper trail is creating — is having an impact on advancing his agenda?

Is the President concerned that comments made by his staff came up in this lawsuit–Stephen Miller saying that the second travel ban would have roughly the same outcome as the first. Is he concerned that there’s mixed messaging coming out of the West Wing on this ban?

Your long list of these reports you mentioned, one had the accusation that perhaps GHCQ was involved. Did the President raise this during his visit with Theresa May, and is this something that would imperil the special relationship–

The news report about the President meeting with the Saudi defense minister, saying the Saudi defense minister told the President about a terrorist plot against the United States. Did that happen? How worried should Americans be?

Secretary Tillerson said that 20 years of diplomatic efforts have failed to get North Korea to demilitarize. That’s plainly true, but does the President plan to give up on diplomacy altogether–are we looking now at only the use of force or some other coercive measures?

Sean, over the course of the campaign, the President made many comments about the budget. At one point he said he thought he could get rid of the national debt over the course of 8 years. Now the baseline is “at least we’re not adding on to the deficit,” which is nearly half a trillion dollars. So I’m curious how he got from that point to where we are now.

There are lots of cuts in here, but anyone will tell you, if you want to drop the debt you’ve gotta go after entitlements. Is that on the table?

When the President puts together his 2016 taxes, will he release it publicly? Presumably his 2016 returns are not under audit yet.

Thank you, Sean. Reading the draft of the budget and listening to Director Mulvaney’s comments, it appears that the NEA will be phased out entirely in two years. Can you name any other governmental programs in which it’s entire function will be phased out or reduced within another agency?

 

You keep going back to the fact that the president used wiretap in quotes, and last night he said it was very important that it was in quotes. But out of the four tweets where he accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping him, he only used quotes in two of them. In two of them he specifically said that he tapped his phones. He didn’t use the term wiretapping. And just minutes ago you said it was communications being swept up. So can you definitively say that he still feels like Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower? Or does he feel like it was broadly surveilled? Which is it?He wasn’t clear about it …

So which WAS it?

So was it phone tapping?

But it hasn’t — there’s no specific answer what it was. What did President Obama do…

So I want to follow up on that. If all of this comes out and there’s no proof that President Obama had any role in any wiretapping, that there was no wiretapping, will President Trump then offer an apology?

Thank you, Sean, for taking questions from a talk radio host right here in Georgia and not in the D.C. swamp. President Trump campaigned on draining the swamp. The American people want to know then why FBI Director Comey has not yet been fired by the President yet. Furthermore, a lot of Americans are worried that Paul Ryan is leading the President down a very wrong path on health care. How do you respond to that?

(inaudible) by 19%. The NIH is, as you know, a very important part of the government for funding medical research. Director Mulvaney acknowledged that the private sector can’t fill that gap when there are rare diseases, we do need a robust government presence. The President invited a rare disease patient to Congress so he could talk about medical research and innovation.How do you square those things? When many conservatives wanted to raise the budget.

My outtake from yesterday was that it wouldn’t be cut. I almost wrote that!

Sean, wait, listen–can we put it to REST, Sean?! (a reporter at the end of the briefing, as Sean Spicer walked out of the room)

 

 

 

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