White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended President Trump’s sometimes-tenuous relationship with the truth by saying that he can be taken at his word — unless he’s joking.
Amid confusion over several of Trump’s fact-free assertions, Peter Alexander of NBC News asked Spicer on Wednesday whether people should trust the president to tell the truth.
“If he’s not joking, of course,” Spicer said to laughter of disbelief from the press corps. “Every time that he speaks authoritatively, that he speaks, he’s speaking as president of the United States.”
Spicer claimed that Trump was not lying earlier this month when he accused former President Barack Obama — while declaring it a “fact” — of having wiretapped his campaign during the 2016 presidential election. “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Trump declared in a string of angry tweets.
According to Spicer, Trump was using the word “wiretapping” metaphorically to represent surveillance methods in general.
“Should they trust the president?” Alexander asked. “Is it phony or real that President Obama was wiretapping?”
“He doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” Spicer said of Trump. “But I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election.”
The White House spokesman added, “The president used the word ‘wiretapping’ in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities during that.”
Hallie Jackson, also from NBC News, pointed out to Spicer that he has both said that Trump’s “tweets speaks for themselves” and has clarified certain tweets, such as the Obama wiretapping allegation.
“When do you decide when a president’s tweets — when his words — are open to interpretation, and when those words stand on their own?” Jackson asked.
“He literally had it in quotes,” Spicer said of Trump’s bombshell and evidence-free “wiretapping” allegation, again making air quotes with his fingers. “He said it was in quotes. It was referring to surveillance overall. It’s something that had been referred to in other reports.”
Throughout the press conference, Spicer repeatedly defended Trump for having dismissed widely accepted, positive employment figures under Obama as “phony,” while celebrating the new, cheerful job numbers under his administration as “very real.”
Spicer also declined to give a straight answer on whether or not Congressional Budget Office numbers are legitimate, ahead of the nonpartisan agency’s review of the Republicans’ Obamacare replacement bill. Republicans, including Spicer and Trump, have repeatedly touted the CBO’s estimates in the past. But last week, Spicer sought to discredit the CBO, arguing that its initial review of the Affordable Care Act failed to hit the mark.
“Just, yes or no. Are CBO numbers legitimate or not?” Jackson asked.
“That’s not my determination to make,” he said.
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