ANALYSIS: 25 questions the White House has promised to answer but hasn’t
Asked if President Trump believes the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters this week he hasn’t had a chance to talk to the president about that issue.
“I’d be glad to touch base and get back to you,” he responded.
If the past is any guide, it’s going to be a long wait. At White House briefings since May 1, Spicer and his deputy, Sarah Sanders, have promised to come back with answers to more than 25 questions, but there is no public record of a single follow-up answer to any of those questions.
No White House press secretary can be expected to have answers for all the questions that come up at a press briefing. That’s why it’s long been common practice for press secretaries to respond to some questions by offering information at a later date. Previous White House press offices have included some of those follow-up answers as addendums to the official briefing transcript.
ABC News’ Adam Fisher reviewed every White House briefing transcript since May 1, documenting each time the White House spokesperson offered to come back with more information (see the list below). It happens at virtually every briefing – on subjects big and small.
At the White House press briefing on May 30, for example, Spicer was asked a fundamental question related to the Paris climate accord: Does the president believe human activity contributes to climate change?
“I can’t say,” Spicer said. “I haven’t asked him. I can get back to you.”
Asked again three days later, Spicer said he hadn’t had a chance to talk to the president about it yet, but said he would try to get an answer before the next briefing.
“If I can, I will,” he vowed. Two weeks later, reporters tried again. Still no answer.
The promised follow-ups have come on subjects ranging from U.S. policy toward ISIS to the severance payment given to a fired White House usher. In each case there is a pattern: a promise to get more information followed by … silence.
Occasionally, Spicer seems eager to get the answer.
On May 9, for example, he was asked about the administration’s policy toward the International Monetary Fund.
“I would be glad to follow up on that one and get back to you,” he said.
At the same briefing, another reporter asked about reports that fired White House usher Angella Reid received a generous severance package.
“I don’t know,” he said, referring to the amount of the purported severance. “I’d be glad to get back to you on that.”
Six weeks later, still no answer.
On May 12, Spicer said he would try to get back to reporters about whether the president invited James Comey, the former FBI director, to dinner at the White House, or whether Comey invited himself. When he didn’t have an answer three days later, Spicer said, “I still don’t – I’m apologize. I will follow up on that today.”
Still no follow-up.
ABC News asked Spicer if he intends to provide the promised answers, but he did not respond.
White House Briefings 5/1/17-6/19/17
1. On 5/9/17, SPICER was asked: “I have a question about that fired usher Angella Reid. It was reported that she received a generous severance package. I’m wondering how do you give a substantial severance package to a government employee.” SPICER responded: “I don’t know. I’d be glad to get back to you on that.”
2. On 5/9/17, SPICER was asked: “Two weeks ago Monday, when the president met with some of us, he said, and it was on the record, he would have an answer on the administration’s policy toward the International Monetary Fund in a few days. It’s been two weeks. Can we expect any time an announcement on what the administration will do regarding the IMF?” SPICER responded: “I — I would be glad to follow up on that one and get back to you.”
3. On 5/10/17, SANDERS was asked: “And in between — in between Monday night and Tuesday, when he decided to fire the FBI director, did he speak again with the deputy attorney general or the attorney general?” SANDERS responded: “I know that they spoke on Monday, and I believe the next follow-up was actually in writing. They may have spoken as well, but I’d have to double-check to be clear.”
4. On 5/12/17, SPICER was asked: “How many invitations did the White House send to Director James Comey after Jan. 20 and before the director was fired?” SPICER responded: “I don’t know. I’ll (inaudible) I’ll try to get back to you.”
5. On 5/15/17, SPICER was asked: “And one small follow-up. Last week you said you would get back to us on who requested the dinner between him and Comey.” SPICER responded: “I — I still don’t — I — I apologize. I will follow up on that today.”
6. On 5/30/17, SPICER was asked: “When you say that you’re going to — that you’re going to try to defeat ISIS and al-Qaida, what are you doing to eliminate the abject poverty that is the breeding ground for the terrorists?” SPICER responded: “I — we — as we’ve mentioned before, his national security team is putting together a holistic solution to — to defeating ISIS. When that strategy is complete, we’ll have something for you on it.”
7. On 5/30/17, SPICER was asked: “I know the president hasn’t made a public decision on the Paris agreement, and I don’t want to get out ahead of him. But on the more broad issue of climate change, can you say whether or not the president believes that human activity is contributing to the warming of the climate?” SPICER responded: “I can’t say. I haven’t asked him. I can get back to you.”
8. On 6/2/17, SPICER was asked: “You were asked earlier this week about the president’s personal views on climate change, about whether or not (inaudible). You said you hadn’t had a chance to have that conversation with him. Now it’s been you know 48 to 72 hours. What does the president actually believe about climate change? Does he still believe it’s a hoax? Can you clarify that? Because apparently nobody else at the White House can.” SPICER responded: “I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.”
9. On 6/2/17, SPICER was asked: “And then you said you haven’t talk to the president about whether he still believes that climate change is a hoax. Can you — would — would it be possible for you to have that conversation with him and then report back to us at the next briefing?” SPICER responded: “If I can, I will.”
10. On 6/5/17, SANDERS was asked: “Can you say, on the ambassador — the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., can you say why we don’t have one yet? Is there a reason for the delay? Anything in particular?” SANDERS responded: “I’m not aware of that and I’ll have to check and get back to you on that.”
11. On 6/5/17, SANDERS was asked: “A senior administration official told us flatly that the president himself did not take the Article 5 reference out of the speech [to NATO]. So, Sarah, who did?” SANDERS responded: “I’m not aware of that, and I’d have to check back and let you know.”
12. On 6/6/17, SPICER was asked: “[On the NATO speech] reporting that there was one version and another version was delivered. And that…” SPICER responded: “I understand, but I would argue that there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes in terms of every speech, every meeting the president has in terms of preparation. And until the president gets a version that he feel is appropriate on any number of subjects, it’s not appropriate for us to go out there and share. But I will follow up with Sarah on that thing, but I think to the broader point is that the president remains entirely committed to NATO and to all of the articles, not just Article 5.”
13. On 6/6/17, SPICER was asked: “On Sunday, the president put out a very forceful commemoration of the Battle of Midway 70 years ago. He did not know anything about the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in China, the uprising, the building of the Goddess of Liberty. Is there going to be any statement about the brave uprising in China of a quarter century ago?” SPICER responded: “I’ll look into that, John, for you.”
14. On 6/12/17, SPICER was asked: “I want to follow up on the tapes issue. If the president does have evidence that the FBI director lied under oath, what is he waiting for?” SPICER responded: “I think the president made it very clear on Friday that he would get back as soon as possible on this, and his position on — on that conversation.”
15. On 6/12/17, SPICER was asked: “The president mentioned a press conference in a couple of weeks on the ISIS review. Can you say where and when? And has he made a decision about — about changing the policy?” SPICER responded: “When we have an update on his schedule, I’ll let you know. But we don’t have one at this time.”
16. On 6/15/17, SANDERS was asked: “Christopher Wray is your pick for the new FBI director. His nomination has not been formally sent over to the Senate. Can you explain what the holdup has been and where that goes from here?” SANDERS responded: “There’s a pretty lengthy paperwork process, I know, that goes with selecting that individual. And so I believe they’re in the middle of that process. And as soon as it’s completed, it will be sent over.” When asked if she was referring to a security clearance, SANDERS said: “I don’t know the specific pieces of paperwork that go with that position. I’d be happy to check and get back to you.”
17. On 6/15/17, SANDERS was asked: “Has anyone at the White House gotten a request from Mueller for any documents related to the investigation?” SANDERS responded: “Not that I’m aware of, but I’d have to double-check to be sure.”
18. On 6/15/17, SANDERS was asked: “Does the president plan to nominate a Cuban ambassador, or will he leave that position vacant during his presidency?” SANDERS responded: “I’m not sure what the plans are for that and specific to any Cuba policy announcement. I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s activity that’s planned for tomorrow, and so I don’t know if that will be addressed. If not, we can try to follow up next week.”
19. On 6/15/17, SANDERS was asked: “On Bob Mueller, is there anything you can tell us more about when he came in to interview for the job, what the president was looking at offering him? Was it acting FBI director? Was it actually FBI director? Why didn’t the White House tell us more about that at the time when you did announce other people who were coming in for the director job?” SANDERS responded: “My understanding is he was actually here the day before he was named as a special counsel. In terms of specific job, whether it was acting or permanent, I’m not sure, and I’d have to check and get back to you.”
20. On 6/15/17, SANDERS was asked on the president’s plans regarding the Georgia special election. SANDERS responded: “Again, I’d have to double-check to let you know. I believe the vice president has done something on behalf of the candidate there, but I would have to check to see if there are further activities planned.”
21. On 6/15/17, SANDERS was asked if the Senate bill if the president would be willing to see any new developments in the Senate health care bill that would make it more palatable to conservatives. SANDERS responded: “I’d have to check on actual specific details that might be better for conservatives. I’m not aware of the back-and- forth conversations that they’ve been having.” Then, responding to a question on cost-sharing reduction subsidies, SANDERS said: “I don’t know if there’s been a decision on that made yet. But we’ll keep you posted.”
22. On 6/19/17, SPICER was asked: “And then secondly, we heard from one of the Sunday shows, a member of the president’s legal team mentioned something about us potentially seeing some answer on this question of recordings of conversations between the president and Comey. Can you explain to us what he meant when he said that we might get an answer in the week ahead? Are you planning to do some kind of release, some kind of announcement?” SPICER responded: “I do not have a specific answer to that, but I will tell you I believe the president will comment in the next couple of weeks. So it’s possible that we have an answer to that by the end of this week.”
23. On 6/19/17, SPICER was asked: “What informed the president’s thinking on Yucca Mountain? Does he want it to be a nuclear waste facility? And if so, what kind of checking did he do to get there?” SPICER responded: “That’s a great question. I probably need to do some following up on that. I don’t have an answer right now for you on that.”
24. On 6/19/17, SPICER was asked: “Will the president replace those six members who resigned from that council [on HIV/AIDS]?” SPICER responded: “I really don’t have a personnel update. I’ll try to get you something on that.”
25. On 6/19/17, SPICER was asked: “Has the president or members of his legislative team seen the text of the healthcare bill?” SPICER responded: “I don’t know. I’ve not asked that question. That’s a good question. I just have not talked to the legislative affairs guys, so I know they are in constant communication. So whether they’ve seen the final draft, I know that is something that we’ve been working very closely with the Senate on. So I know that there’s been a level of involvement.”
26. On 6/20/17, SPICER was asked: “Just very plainly, a yes or no answer, does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?” SPICER responded: “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing. Obviously we’ve been dealing with a lot of other issues today. I’d be glad to touch base.” SPICER was then asked if the president shares the views of 16 intelligence agencies that say the Russians interfered. SPICER responded: “I have not sat down and asked him about his specific reaction to them, so I’d be glad to touch base and get back to you.”