Another day, another combative Sean Spicer press conference.
The White House spokesman’s tit-for-tat with CNN’s Jim Acosta might have been the most hostile disagreement of a contentious press conference on Thursday afternoon.
The tiff occurred toward the end of the press briefing — which was broadcast live on CNN — after reporters asked about President Donald Trump’s wiretapping allegations.
When Spicer called on Acosta, things quickly turned antagonistic.
As Acosta pointed out that Spicer was quoting Fox News host Sean Hannity instead of the House or Senate intelligence committees as his sourcing for the allegations, Spicer accused Acosta of “cherry-picking” commentary.
“How do you know all this?” Spicer asked, somewhat sarcastically, as the briefing appeared to start focusing on a New York Times report about Trump’s connections to Russia. “Where was your concern about the New York Times reporting? You didn’t seem to have a concern with that.”
As the two went back and forth a bit, Spicer at one point seemed to sarcastically ask, “How do you seem to be such an expert on this?”
“I’m saying that this has been looked at, Sean. We’ve all looked at it,” Acosta replied.
“How do you know it’s been looked at?” Spicer shot back in response. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid to understand — can you tell me how you know that all of this has ‘been looked at’?”
After some more discussion on the matter, Acosta said that Spicer was still ducking response on Trump’s wiretapping claims.
When Acosta continued his questioning, Spicer retorted that the reporter’s question was “cute,” and noted that the president “said there’s more to come” when it comes to the claims.
And as Spicer continued to doubt the Acosta’s background on the matter, there was an unfortunate pause that delivered what appeared to be an unintentional insult.
“You’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence. . .”
He stumbled to find the next phrase; the room broke out in nervous laughter.
“Give me some credit, Sean,” Acosta joked.
“Clearance. I wasn’t done,” Spicer said, though he did let out a smile before adding, “Maybe both.”
The questions came a day after the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (who is a Republican) said he didn’t think “there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”
Two Republican senators also threatened to block Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general until they get clarity from the FBI about the president’s assertions. One of them vowed to issue subpoenas, if needed.
Trump, for his part, appeared defiant on Wednesday, hinting at a broader meaning to his Twitter messages and saying that “wiretap covers a lot of different things.”
The following is a transcript of the exchange between Spicer and Acosta, as provided by the White House:
MR. SPICER: I believe he will.
Q Yeah, you were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate intelligence committees are quoting the FBI Director. You’re citing Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano.
MR. SPICER: I also quoted -- I get you’re going to cherry-pick -- no, no, okay, you also tend to overlook all of the other sources that -- because I know you want to cherry-pick it. But at the -- no, no, but you do. But where was your concern about the New York Times reporting? You didn’t seem to have a concern with that.
Q We have done plenty of reporting on all of this, Sean.
MR. SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry-pick one piece of commentary --
Q These connections between the aides of the President -- associates of the President to the Russians has all been looked at and it’s --
MR. SPICER: No, wait, how do you know all this? How do you seem to be such an expert on this?
Q I’m saying that this has been looked at, Sean. We’ve all looked at it.
MR. SPICER: How do you know it’s been looked at?
Q There have been --
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, where is -- I’m sorry, I’m afraid to understand -- can you tell me how you know that all of this has “been looked at”?
Q You’re asking me whether or not it’s been looked at?
MR. SPICER: You made a statement, you said, “All of this has been looked at.”
Q Our outlet, other outlets have reported --
MR. SPICER: No, no, so -- okay, so when your outlet says it’s all been looked at --
Q -- on contacts between associates and aides of the President and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. It sounds like during the context of that investigation there might have been some intercepted communications. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman did mention that, and we have reported that, others have reported that on our air and in various publications. But, Sean, what you are refusing to answer -- the question that you’re refusing to answer is whether or not the President still believes what he believes --
MR. SPICER: No, I’m not -- I just said to Jonathan. I didn’t refuse --
Q But you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don’t see any evidence of any wiretapping. So how can the President go on and continue to say these things?
MR. SPICER: Because that’s not -- because you’re mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, “I think it’s possible” -- he’s following up on this. So to suggest that is actually -- and you’re stating unequivocally that you somehow --
Q He said, if you take the President literally -- he said, if you take the President literally, he is wrong.
MR. SPICER: Right, and I think that we’ve already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the President has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping he was referring to surveillance.
Q Right, but it sounds like, Sean, that you and the President are saying now, well, we don’t mean wiretapping anymore because that’s not true anymore, so now we’re going to expand that to other forms of surveillance. What’s it going to be next?
MR. SPICER: No, no, Jim, I think that’s cute, but at the end of the day -- we’ve talked about this for three or four days. The President had “wiretapping” in quotes; he was referring to broad surveillance. And now you’re basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.
The bottom line is, is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does --
Q It sounds like your information is news reports, not evidence, not conversations with the FBI Director.
MR. SPICER: No, no, what -- I think the President addressed that last night. He said there’s more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there is widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people that came up.
Q There was an investigation going on into whether there were contacts between the President’s campaign and the Russians. Of course, they’re going to be looking at these various things. I mean, isn’t that right?
MR. SPICER: I get it. Somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information, you’ve been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.
Q I haven’t been read in by the FBI Director, but the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been.
MR. SPICER: Well, no, you’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence -- (laughter) --
Q Give me some credit, Sean.
MR. SPICER: I’ll give you some --
Q A little intelligence maybe. But no, what I’m saying is that --
MR. SPICER: Clearance. I wasn’t done. Clearance. Maybe both.
Q Well, come on, now. Those two panels have spoken with the FBI Director and have been told there’s no evidence of this. So why not just -- why can’t we just end this farce and just have the President say he was wrong?
MR. SPICER: Okay, I think this question has been asked and answered, Jim. It’s interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have and what they don’t have, and you seem to know all the answers. But at the end of the day, there was clearly a ton of reporting --
Q So a week from now, we’re going to be wrong, you’re going to be right?
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Jim. Let me answer -- I think that there has been a vast amount of reporting, which I just detailed, about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There’s no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this I think by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded.
And I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not -- and as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally and -- wiretapping, the President has already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false premise. That’s not what he said. He was very clear about that when he talked about it yesterday.Material from the New York Times wire service was used in this report.