WH Press Corps, Huckabee Sanders Clash Over Attacks on John Kelly, Obsessive Media Coverage

Friday’s White House press briefing devolved into a tense sparring session as liberal journalists circled the wagons around Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (Fla.) against criticism from Chief of Staff John Kelly while Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed the media’s obsessive coverage of the Gold Star family story.

The question from AP correspondent Ken Thomas first raised the temperature, touting Sun-Sentinel video of Wilson’s 2015 remarks at the dedication of a new FBI building that Kelly criticized as being no more than political grandstanding. 

 

 

Thomas argued that “it doesn't appear that she referenced funding for the FBI building in South Florida” and wondered if Kelly stood by his Thursday remarks.

Sanders responded with her usual fire:

Absolutely. General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation. As, you know, Generally Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you're a empty battle. If you don’t understand that reference, I’ll put it a little more simply. As we say in the South, all hat, no cattle. 

This drew in CBS News correspondent Chip Reid, who first asked if Sanders had seen the speech. When she stated that she had, Reid launched his crusade for Wilson:

REID: Okay. Then you know most of it was her effusively praising these FBI agents and when she was talking about what she did in Congress, she was not talking about getting security for $20 million. She was talking about naming the building for these FBI agents —

HUCKABEE SANDERS: She was also talking about that —

REID: — who she then went on to effusively praise —

HUCKABEE SANDERS: She was also —

REID: — and that was the bulk of the speech

HUCKABEE SANDERS: She also mentioned that and she also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren't part of that video that were also witnessed by many people there — what General Kelly referenced yesterday. 

REID: Well, can you tell us, again, specifically because, if he’s going to —

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Exactly what he said. There was a lot of grandstanding. He was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself. 

REID: Can he come out here and talk to us about this at some point so that he can get the facts right? 

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he's addressed that pretty thoroughly. 

“No. He was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money was secured before she came to Congress...Will he come here so he can get the facts straight? I think it would be great if he could come out here and talk. It’d be wonderful,” Reid added amidst his crosstalk with Sanders.

As for what Sanders declared, she dropped this line: “If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think that if you want to get into a debate with the four-star Marine general — I think that's something highly inappropriate.”

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On the topic of the media, Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum wanted to know if President Trump feels responsible for the spread of fake news in light of former President George W. Bush’s speech warning against bigotry, hatred, and lies.

The White House Press Secretary uncorked this zinger: “I think if anybody is pushing a lot of fabricated things right now I think most of that would be coming from the news media and we would certainly agree with that sentiment.”

With Jim Acosta away this week, CNN had White House correspondent Sara Murray in the room, seeming to chide Kelly for making public comments about the dispute surrounding the late Sgt. La David Johnson:

General Kelly was upset this became a political conversation, the President's, call with the widow and, I think, more broadly, the fallout of the servicemembers that were killed in Niger. So why did he feel like it was appropriate to come out here, to call the congresswoman an empty barrel rather than calling her privately like he's done with other members of Congress who have been critical of the President and why did President Trump feel the need to take that even further today and tweet about it. 

Sanders didn’t flinch as she hit back that the media “are the ones talking a lot about that story and he felt it was important to address you and all of America directly.” 

She then continued:

This story has been given an enormous amount of coverage over the last 48 hours and he thought it was important people got a full and accurate picture of what took place and that was a personal decision he made, that he wanted to come out and, frankly, not just share with you but all of America and make an appeal to America to go back to kind of honoring that sacred code of Gold Star families. 

Murray attempted to follow-up, but Sanders kept moving along with comments that left Murray’s CNN colleague David Chalian seething after the briefing:

Hold on just to finish on the rest of your question why the president felt the need to respond because it should have ended yesterday after General Kelly's comments. But it isn't did. It continued and it's still continuing today. It's still the bulk of the coverage on most every TV you turn on, in most every newspaper that you open up today, and the President responded to those continued accusations and continued mischaracterizations of his comments. 

Here’s the relevant transcript from October 20's White House Press Briefing:

White House Press Briefing
October 20, 2017
2:22 p.m. Eastern

KEN THOMAS: Sarah, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel released a video of Congresswoman Wilson's speech in 2015. In the speech, it doesn't appear that she referenced funding for the FBI building in South Florida. Does General Kelly still stand by the statement he made yesterday that he felt that she was grandstanding and that she was taking credit for fighting —

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely. General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation. As, you know, Generally Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you're a empty battle. If you don’t understand that reference, I’ll put it a little more simply. As we say in the South, all hat, no cattle. 

(....)

REID: No. He was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money was secured before she came to Congress. 

HUCKABEE SANDERS: If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think that if you want to get into a debate with the four-star Marine general ---

KELLY: Will he come here so he can get the facts straight? I think it would be great if he could come out here and talk. It’d be wonderful.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that's something highly inappropriate. 

(....)

2:28 p.m. Eastern

MATTHEW NUSSBAUM: On the George W. Bush speech. He said at, one point: “Bigotry seems more emboldened, our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” Does President Trump agree with this assessment and if so what does he see as his role in addressing that. 

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Does he agree with the assessment of what? Sorry.

NUSSBAUM: That “bigotry seems emboldened and our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” Those were former President Bush’s words

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think if anybody is pushing a lot of fabricated things right now I think most of that would be coming from the news media and we would certainly agree with that sentiment. 

(....)

2:29 p.m. Eastern

SARA MURRAY: General Kelly was upset this became a political conversation, the President's, call with the widow and, I think, more broadly, the fallout of the servicemembers that were killed in Niger. So why did he feel like it was appropriate to come out here, to call the congresswoman an empty barrel rather than calling her privately like he's done with other members of Congress who have been critical of the President and why did President Trump feel the need to take that even further today and tweet about it. 

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that it's real simple. You guys are the ones talking a lot about that story and he felt it was important to address you and all of America directly. This story has been given an enormous amount of coverage over the last 48 hours and he thought it was important people got a full and accurate picture of what took place and that was a personal decision he made, that he wanted to come out and, frankly, not just share with you but all of America and make an appeal to America to go back to kind of honoring that sacred code of Gold Star families. 

MURRAY: I want to know one other question the president was asked earlier today. I know there was an investigation —

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Hold on just to finish on the rest of your question why the president felt the need to respond because it should have ended yesterday after General Kelly's comments. But it isn't did. It continued and it's still continuing today. It's still the bulk of the coverage on most every TV you turn on, in most every newspaper that you open up today, and the President responded to those continued accusations and continued mischaracterizations of his comments. 

NB Daily Africa Military Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Associated Press CBS CNN Video Frederica Wilson White House Press Briefing Ken Thomas Sara Murray Chip Reid John Kelly Sarah Huckabee Sanders Donald Trump
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