Sean Spicer may need the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up a mini-mess created by his boss.
Spicer’s second full-fledged White House briefing was notable both for the identity of the first questioner and, far more, the persistent reality of President Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally and robbed him of a popular vote win against Hillary Clinton.
Spicer doubled down on the claim. Or tripled down. Well, some will suggest he quadrupled down in a manner that would give even a brazen poker player pause as he vouched for the Trump claim.
In the process, the new press secretary needlessly took the bait multiple times in a generally stout performance during a bumpy first few days in a high-profile, difficult job.
He was asked again and again — and again — about Trump’s claim, repeated by Trump Monday to congressional leaders. There were variations on the query — including whether there’d be a federal investigation of such alleged rampant fraud — but Spicer backed the boss by saying that’s what Trump believes based on unspecified information he’s received.
What’s the actual evidence? There apparently is none, but Spicer fell back on the same rationale.
“He continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have given to him,” said Spicer.
The clashing media environments in which Spicer is operating were quickly evident, as the three cable news networks reacted very differently to the session.
“White House: Trump believes millions voted illegally — would not provide any evidence for claims of voter fraud,” declared a chyron on CNN even as other topics were broached.
“White House: Trump still believes millions voted illegally in 2016 election,” was the similar MSNBC refrain even as the subject matter switched.
At Fox News, the tack was divergent. “Spicer: excessive regulation is driving manufacturing out of the U.S.” Later came, “Spicer: President Trump welcomes the input, advice on how to move his agenda.”
In the most prickly exchange, CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny, who covered Clinton’s campaign, asked if Spicer, in his then role as a Republican Party spokesman, and his then boss, Reince Priebus, believed those claims.
On this topic, Spicer was Robo Spokesman: “He (Trump) believes what he believes based on the information that he’s been provided.”
“What does that mean for democracy?” Zeleny asked.
Losing his cool, Spicer quickly retorted, “It means that I’ve answered your question.”
The voter fraud inquiries were likely to dominate coverage of the briefing, which did have a conspicuous and clearly premeditated opening that underscores the administration quest for a new media order.
Spicer eschewed the tradition of calling upon a famous mainstream organization of some sort — either The Associated Press or a major TV network or newspaper — and instead beckoned Jim Stinson, who is covering the White House for LifeZette, a conservative cultural and political site started in 2015 by Laura Ingraham, the radio talk host and Fox News analyst.
LifeZette? It’s safe to say that many in the room haven’t checked it out. As Spicer spoke, its primary stories included, “Immigration Hawks Worry Trump Backtracking on DACA,” “Drug pricing sets up first Trump vs. old guard GOP test” and “Trump reverses Obama on major pipeline projects.”
When reached about the rather vivid recognition, Ingraham told me:
“I think we more accurately reported on the issues that rocked the election cycle than many of the more established outlets, so it’s right that we are included. Trade, immigration, judicial overreach are issues that I’ve been writing about and analyzing for years — so at Lifezette we are excited to see how the Trump Administration handles them.”