WASHINGTON — The first White House press briefing in roughly two weeks following President Donald Trump’s closely watched first foreign trip and continued scrutiny over contact between some members of his administration and Russian officials brought more questions than answers.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer‘s more than ten-minute recap of Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G-7 summit in Italy included such phrases as “historic,” “unprecedented,” and “extraordinary”.
Spicer was less verbose when asked about reports from over the weekend that the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner sought to set up a back channel with Russia prior to Trump’s inauguration. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen confirmed to NBC that he is now also part of Congress’ Russia probe.
In answering questions about Kushner, Spicer relied heavily on a statement from the adviser’s attorney that said the president’s son-in-law would still share what he knows with Congress.
Spicer said questions about whether the president knew of the back channel assumes “a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources” leaking them out.
Hours earlier, the president re-tweeted a Fox News report that used an anonymous source to defend Kushner.
That tweet, Spicer said “speaks for itself.”
“Your question pre-supposes facts that have not been confirmed,” Spicer said. He added later,”I’m not going to get into confirming stuff.”
He did, however, point to general statements from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster calling back channels an “appropriate” part of diplomacy.
Such responses set the tone for a briefing that was brief and left unanswered a number of questions on foreign and domestic policy.
Reporters asked about progress being made on issues like tax reform and referenced tweets from Trump over the weekend that celebrated advancements in the “process” making it “ahead of schedule.”
Spicer’s response focused on the “reception” key administration figures, like Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, were given on the Hill during discussions on these issues.
When reporters asked about the president’s belief in man-made climate change — a question that plays heavily in the coming decision about the Paris Climate Agreement — Spicer also had little to add.
“Honestly, I haven’t asked him,” Spicer said, noting the final decision on the global climate agreement is ultimately “up to” President Trump.
The same was also true regarding the ongoing search for an FBI director.
Calling Trump “the ultimate decision maker” on the issue, Spicer said that two more candidates were coming to the White House Tuesday for interviews —Chris Wray a former Assistant Attorney General who worked during the President George W. Bush’s administration and John Pistole, a former FBI official who led the Transportation Security Administration under President Obama.
Whether or not they were the leading candidates, however, Spicer couldn’t say.
“When (the president) makes a decision as to who he believes is best to lead the FBI, he’ll let us know.”
The press briefing ended with Spicer quickly leaving the podium after an elaborate answer about the frustrations of fake news that plague the White House
After leaving the podium, Spicer was trending as number one on Twitter.