TOWOIT #278: Complete Fantasy

January 4, 2018

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Los Angeles Times headine from December 2017

Today they had the head of Trump talking on the TV screen in the briefing room. This was creepy and dear-leaderish. But Sarah always knows how to put the cherry on top. “Thank you, President Trump” she said to the TV screen at the end, even though it had been pre-recorded. Is this idolatry yet?

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The only other photo I have from today’s briefing is of a woman who I don’t often see in the frame, and I never notice her being called on during the briefing–but when I do catch a glimpse of her, I always think–“There she is!! My style icon!!” One day she was wearing head to toe canary yellow and standing and stretching before the briefing started, and she was resplendent. (On the right is a mirror selfie from Tuesday, so you can see that I have a ways to go but may yet get there).

The questions that reporters asked today:

  • (Jeff Mason, AP) Sarah, a follow-up on the Steve Bannon issue.  Did White House staff, including Steve, have to sign nondisclosure agreements when they came to work at the White House?
  • Does the President want to have Steve’s support for anti-establishment political candidates going up into the midterm elections?
  • (Appears to be the wonderfully named Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg News) The White House has said there were false statements in this book.  The President’s lawyer has said there are libelous statements.  Could you just give a few examples of things that have been said in this book that are false, that you would like set the record straight on?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. I read the cease-and-desist letter that was sent by the President’s lawyers to both Michael Wolff and Henry Holt, the publisher of his book, which seeks to stop the sale of his book. Did the President’s lawyers share with the President the idea that this is a prior restraint, and that prior restraints are generally unconstitutional? (Jon Decker is a lawyer. Whenever Sarah doesn’t want to answer a legal questions she says something jokey like “Jon Decker is the only lawyer in this room.”)
  • Does the President believe in the First Amendment? Does he believe in prior restraint such as the one that’s contemplated here? (Note, this is a reporter from Fox News asking this question)
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) What’s the President’s reaction to the growing number of suggestions, both in this book and in the media, that he’s mentally unfit to serve as President? (The Hill is a right-leaning outlet, though not off its rocker)
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax). Yeah. Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, the book repeatedly says that candidate Trump, his family, and the top officials of the campaign did not believe he would be elected. It was the farthest from their mind. You said yesterday you believed in this campaign and felt he would win. Can you name anyone else who said at the time, on the eve of the election, they felt he would win? And did the President himself believe he would not win? (This reporter is from the outlet whose founder, Chris Ruddy, suggested on TV today that Bannon was striking out at Trump because he, Bannon, might want to run for President in 2020!) 
  • My other question is: Tomorrow, can we expect a major personnel change? And I particularly ask, is Gary Cohn going to stay where he is?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah.  I wanted to follow up on something you said yesterday.  The last time that the President spoke to Steve Bannon was early December, at least to your knowledge, you said. So that’s one thing. But secondly, the President said today, I don’t talk to Steve Bannon, I don’t talk to him. So how much were they in contact from the time that he left the White House to that early December call that you mentioned? And also, how close were they when they were in the White House? One of the claims that was made in the book was that he frequently dined with Mr. Bannon unless he was already in bed.
  • So is that correct? Was he sidelined? Was he sidelined by April, Sarah? Were they not close by the time that he left?
  • (Fred? Sirius XM?) Thanks, Sarah. This is regarding the election commission and the President’s tweets that follow that. On voter ID, does the President favor a national voter ID?
  • And on that, why the DHS instead of the DOJ, which would seem to be more of an investigative body?
  • (Trey Yingst, One America News Network) Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you. First, does President Trump see marijuana as a states issue or a federal issue? (whispers of Trump running afoul of young libertarians in this question from this reporter). 
  • Without getting ahead of the President, the meeting this afternoon with the RNC chairwoman, do you imagine they will be discussing a potential run by Mitt Romney in Utah? Is this something that the President would like to discuss with Mitt Romney’s niece?
  • (Ashley Parker, Washington Post) Sarah, it’s an incredibly high bar for a public figure to win a libel case — a public figure, especially like the President. So I was hoping you could explain why the President thinks it’s an appropriate use of attention and resources to marshal both his West Wing and his legal team against the book’s author, the book’s publisher, and a former staffer.
  • (Brian, not Brian Karem) Thank you, Sarah. Will the President go to court to stop the publication of this book?
  • The book is going to be published on Tuesday. I mean, how far is the President willing to go to prevent this book from being published?
  • (Margaret Brennan, CBS News) Sarah, I know we’re talking a lot about Steve Bannon, but he’s not the only person quoted in this book.  Katie Walsh, who worked for this White House, was quoted on the record extensively —
  • Is there any kind of action being taken by the White House against any of these individuals? Is there outreach to these individuals who are quoted to verify whether, in fact, they made these statements or not? You know, there are these reports that there are going to be, perhaps, implications for her, potentially being pushed out of groups that work to help support the President from the outside.
  • Can you take them at their word? And there won’t be implications?
  • And no further legal action against any of those individuals?
  • (Kevin Corke, Fox News) Sarah, thanks. Just a couple. I just want to ask you, broadly speaking, what is your level of exhaustion when you have to have this issue out there when there are other policy issues you’re trying to get to and trying to communicate to the American people? How do you balance that? And I guess the obvious would be, did you speak to the President specifically about what has been said, or at least has been released about this book?
  • If I could follow on immigration very quickly. Is it your impression that something will be done vis-à-vis the wall, and there will be a grand announcement of some sort that the President would like to make on that?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News). Sarah, thank you. As a candidate, President Trump threatened some twenty lawsuits and followed through with two of them. So why should Steve Bannon and Michael Wolff be concerned?
  • But is the President committed to following through with these lawsuits?
  • Doesn’t it just run the risk of increasing book sales, though, Sarah? Drawing more attention to this?
  • So is the cell phone ban a response to the revelations in this book?
  • (Mike–CBS News Radio) How would you describe the President’s relationship with the Mercer family?
  • The President’s relationship with the Mercer family, how would you describe that?
  • You were eager to call on ESPN to fire one of its sportscasters for criticizing President Trump.
  • Well, should Breitbart part ways with Steve Bannon after the comments in these books?
  • I certainly think that it’s something they should look at and consider.
  • (Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers). Thanks. I’d like to drill down on something that Peter asked yesterday. And I profess my ignorance in this, but next week when he goes for his —
  • Don’t smile.  (Laughter.)
  • I am. (Laughter.) So, enlighten me, make me smarter. So, next week, when he goes to his physical, are there mental acuity tests that go along with that, or is it purely physical in nature?
  • And the second question I had for you is, yesterday you said Steve Bannon was entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. This administration has said, on many occasions, that they are entitled to alternative facts. So how is that different with Steve Bannon?
  • (Dave, Washington Times, I think) Sarah, thanks. The President said today that Steve Bannon changed his tune about him last night. Does the President feel that the cease-and-desist letter had the desired effect on Steve Bannon?
  • And a second question on oil drilling, please? Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, is re-expressing concerns about the administration’s new oil drilling — offshore oil-drilling plan which would allow, obviously, drilling under most coastal waters. Can the President afford to cross this important political ally? And what do you plan to say to Governor Scott about the whole plan?
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN News) Sarah, you were calling the Michael Wolff book a book full of lies. Didn’t this White House give Michael Wolff all the access that he wanted to write the book?
  • Can I just ask one quick follow-up?
  • Sarah, other folks got a follow-up, so if I may, just quickly.
  • Okay, I appreciate that. Should the letter from the President’s lawyers aimed at Steve Bannon and aimed at the publisher be interpreted as a threat from the United States government, from this administration to not publish this book? Is it an attempt to censor a book?
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Demographics of the press corps, from Politico in April 2017

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