WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Sean Spicer said today he dipped into a topic he “shouldn’t have” touched when he said at Tuesday’s press briefing that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons… on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”
At a Newseum event this morning about the role of the press in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, Spicer described his comments as a “mistake” and told MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren that he let President Trump down.
“There’s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn’t have and I screwed up. I mean, you know, and I hope people understand that we all make mistakes,” he said. “…I hope each person can understand that part of existing is understanding that when you do something wrong, if own up to it, you do it.”
Spicer noted “it’s a very holy week for both the Jewish people and the Christian people and this is not to — to make a gaffe and a mistake like this is inexcusable and reprehensible… this compounds that kind of mistake.”
“Your job as a spokesperson is to help amplify the president’s actions and accomplishments and I think he’s had an unbelievable successful couple of weeks. And when you’re distracting from that message of accomplishment and your job is to be the exact opposite, on a professional level it’s disappointing because I think I’ve let the president down,” Spicer added. “On both a personal level and a professional level, that will definitely go down as not a very good day in my history.”
Spicer said he hadn’t talked with Trump about the gaffe, and wouldn’t say if other staffers sent him a message from the president. “I will just say that this is mine, mine to own, mine to apologize for and mine to ask for forgiveness for,” he said.
Trump told Fox News in a Tuesday interview “we’re not going into Syria.” Spicer said Trump’s position should not be “a shocker” to anyone.
“I think that’s specific to ground troops,” he said. “That doesn’t mean how we are going to deal with ISIS as a whole, so if we have to deal with ISIS and it moves into Syria that’s one thing. I think going in and occupying Syria for the express purpose of regime change is something the president has been very clear on throughout the campaign.”
Spicer said airstrikes in Syria are still “100 percent” on the table.
“Should they continue to use gas, especially against children and babies… all options remain on the table,” he said.
The press secretary said Trump’s tweeting “frustrates” the mainstream media because he “controls the narrative” by speaking directly to his supporters and the general public.
Spicer was asked if Trump’s tweets “complicate” his job as press secretary.
“I think that’s the default narrative, but I also think that when you realize that he has an ability through all the channels he has, over 100 million people that he can reach out to. And I think some of the media’s frustration is he does have this direct line to the American people where he can communicate accomplishments, thoughts, and pushback to false narratives and false stories that frustrates people who want to control that narrative,” Spicer said.
“For a lot of people, especially outside of Washington, they have yearned for an authentic voice that has not tried to script everything perfectly as a lot of politicians have done. And the president, even if you disagree with him on policy, I think one of the things people give him high marks for is keeping his word and being authentic and that’s something that has been missing a lot of times in Washington,” he added.
Spicer explained Trump’s rationale for not attending this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
“This is not the appropriate year to go,” he said. “I don’t think he should fake it. I think going to a dinner and you sit around and pretend that everything is hunky-dory is probably not an appropriate year to be doing this.”
Spicer kept the door open to Trump attending the dinner next year.
“We have a right and the same First Amendment gives us a right to say this isn’t appropriate to go and it sends the wrong signal, and if things get better maybe we’ll attend next year – but this is not the year to do it,” he said.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said many journalists have not learned from the 2016 presidential election.
“I don’t know that folks have really taken a step back and said, ‘OK, I missed a lot in the election, obviously,’” she said. “At least don’t keep getting it wrong by covering the president the way you covered him as a candidate.”
Conway said there are members of the media who “presume” to know Trump’s thinking or his decision-making process.
“They state it like it’s a fact and it’s not, often, and that’s all right,” she said, before explaining that Trump uses Twitter as a way to “cut out the middle man” and convey information directly to the American public.
Conway lamented the “presumptive negativity” toward Trump in the media so far in his presidency. Conway argued that there should be more of a focus on the media’s use of Twitter. She offered a critique of some reporters’ Twitter accounts.
“There are some things said about this president on Twitter that would never pass an editor’s test,” she said. “Some of those Twitter feeds are a hot mess.”
Without naming names, Conway said there are some journalists “openly questioning whether they should refer to him as President Trump.”
“When have you ever seen that before? I just wasn’t raised that way. You respect the office of the presidency and its current occupant,” she said.