The Trump administration wants reporters to say Trump has been a success, but they won't stand behind their claims in public.
If Donald Trump is so proud of the so-called “accomplishments” he has made in the first year of his presidency, why won’t his top aides go on the record with reporters to discuss them?
That’s the question reporters asked at the conclusion of a “background” briefing offered to journalists this week.
Two figures, who insisted they be identified only as “senior administration officials,” talked up Trump with a group of reporters. They offered several claims to justify their allegation that Trump has done well over the last 12 months, despite the considerable evidence to the contrary.
He has two notable accomplishments: installing a right-wing Supreme Court justice in a vacancy that was available only because Republicans changed the rules to steal it from Obama, and passing tax cuts for multi-millionaires on a completely party line basis. The tax legislation is historically unpopular, and Trump himself is not liked by most Americans despite the strength of the economy as the Obama recovery takes hold.
But the two briefers would not put their names on this package of supposedly great news.
After noting how odd it was that the White House aides would only speak positively about Trump if it remained a secret, a reporter asked the pair, “I’m just curious if there’s anything you said there that you don’t want to attach your name to and why that is on background.”
The official was unresponsive, and instead replied, “I’m happy to, from the press office, work together to put things on the record or deal with specific items you guys want to talk about. All right?”
The reporter pressed further, asking, “Could you please let everything before questions on the record?”
The official shut that down, answering, “No. We’re going to keep it on background.”
The reporter then asked if the exchange about putting information on background was also secret.
The Trump official said, “It’s all on background.”
What makes the exchange even more absurd is that the remarks give big clues as to who the supposedly anonymous officials were.
One official notes that the other person is a “she” who served as Trump’s “campaign manager.” This is obviously Trump aide and cable news flack Kellyanne Conway, who held that title during the election (though she carried out very few of the functions traditionally associated with the position).
And based on other hints, such as the indication that the official works with the press on a regular basis, it is highly likely that the other official was press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders or another high-ranking press official.
The entire episode was an absurdist encapsulation of the Trump press approach — seeking praise yet sourcing it anonymously — while also publicly trying to undermine the notion of a fair and objective press.