WASHINGTON – His patience apparently worn thin, Sean Spicer pointedly shot down barbs from network reporters twice during Wednesday’s press briefing.
When NBC reporter Peter Alexander interrupted the White House press secretary to ask a question without being called upon, Spicer deflected him by saying, “I’m answering a question …”
Alexander interjected again to complain, “We’re all part of the conversation.”
His voice rising, Spicer sharply shot back, “No, you’re not, actually,” and then continued to answer the original question.
Later in the briefing, Spicer admonished CNN’s Jeff Zeleny for asking a “silly question.”
It wasn’t quite the fireworks when Spicer first assumed his role with the new administration back in January, but it was another contentious day in the White House press briefing room.
Reporters peppered the administration spokesman on such volatile topics as the president’s claim the Obama administration spied on his campaign; alleged ties between that campaign and Russia; and the big scramble for votes over the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare (detailed in the WND article “Both sides claim to gain support in health-care battle.”)
Spicer began the briefing by reading a statement from House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., that appeared to confirm the president’s allegation that he and his team had been spied on by the Obama administration.
Nunes had just told the press that he’d learned that, “on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
And that details about those people “were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting” even though they had “little or no apparent foreign intelligence value.”
Nunes also confirmed that “additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.”
Unmasked means the names of those surveilled were revealed, which would be illegal if the information had been obtained under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, court warrant.
The chairman said he had asked the directors of the FBI, NSA and CIA “to provide a full account of these surveillance activities.”
Nunes also said he would be going to the White House that afternoon to share what he’d learned with the president.
President Trump would say later in the day that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by the revelation.
Network reporters have repeatedly attacked the veracity of Trump’s claim.
As WND reported, during Friday’s daily White House press briefing, CNN’s Jim Acosta even demanded, “Why can’t we just end this farce and just have the president say he was wrong?”
On Wednesday, CNN’s Zeleny asked Spicer if the president had “asked the FBI director or the NSA or any other agencies involved to come here to the White House and brief him on this new information, or is it just the intel chair? And if so, why not?”
Spicer answered in a slightly mocking and measured cadence: “Well, Jeff, it just happened. So it’s a silly question to ask me, literally as I’m walking out here, when the chairman was wrapping up an event saying that he is announcing that he is coming down here.”
He continued: “It’s not like we picked up the phone and then called everyone else. The first step is to actually hear what he has to say and to find out who else he’s briefed, where he’s got that information from, and then we’ll take the next steps going forward.”
Undeterred, Zeleny pressed on, asking: “Is this the first of several meetings, though? Do you believe he would like to have the FBI director come in?”
Spicer dismissed a possible implication that the president was not interested in a thorough investigation by simply replying, “I don’t know.”
He then explained, “It’s literally – it literally just happened as I was walking out here. So to suggest that other steps have occurred, until that briefing occurs we’ll see what this leads to. I don’t know.”
Actually, it may be the FBI that is avoiding a thorough investigation.
Nunes revealed after his meeting with the president that the FBI is apparently not cooperating.
The chairman said, “I’ll tell you NSA has been cooperative, but so far the FBI has not told us if they will respond to the March 15th request.”
In his statement, Nunes had said, “I’ve asked the Directors of the FBI, NSA, and CIA to expeditiously comply with my March 15 letter, and to provide a full account of these surveillance activities.”
The interruption by NBC’s Alexander that Spicer would not tolerate occurred during another reporter’s question about an AP report published Wednesday that claimed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to ‘greatly benefit the Putin Government,'” during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Peppered with reporters’ questions as to whether that proved some kind of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Spicer repeatedly noted that the business dealings examined in the report were from the last decade.
And that Manafort was only involved with the Trump campaign for five months, ending in August.
He also noted, “Nothing in this morning’s report referenced any actions by the president, the White House or any Trump administration official.”
Spicer went on to turn the tables on the media narrative about Russia meddling in the election. He observed that, just recently, “John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, sat on the board of a Russian-based energy company. This was something tied to Hillary Clinton, who was the face of the failed Russia reset policy.”
Spicer also noted: “As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, along with the Obama administration, approved a deal that gave Russia one-fifth of America’s uranium reserves.
“Hillary’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, received over half-a-million dollars by a paid speech by a bank connected to the uranium deal. And Vladimir Putin personally called the former president and thanked him for giving the speech.”
The press secretary charged that the Clintons had far more extensive ties to Russia than did Manafort, and, “while secretary of state, Hillary was crafting a policy she said was designed to ‘strengthen Russia.'”
Spicer warned “members of the media trying to conflate Paul’s role in activities with Monday’s hearing” by Nunes’ committee on possible meddling by Russia in the 2016 election campaign.
“Numerous individuals,” recounted the press secretary, “including former Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and acting CIA Director Mike Morrell and members of the intelligence community from both parties who have been briefed, have said across the board that they have seen zero evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.”
“And,” he concluded, “that’s not going to be changed by former business dealings of a campaign staffer from a decade ago.”
When Spicer did eventually call upon Alexander, the reporter asked, “Can you say with certainty right now that there isn’t anybody else that’s working in the interests of another foreign government working for this government right now?”
Perhaps the press secretary felt he had been too hard on the NBC reporter earlier, because he complimented Alexander by prefacing, “It’s a good question, Peter.”
After some back-and-forth, Spicer eventually explained that the government has a strict vetting process for every single applicant, “and if there is an instance brought to our attention where someone has misled, either they will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency or dismissed, or appropriate action will be taken.”
“There is no tolerance for that,” he concluded.