CNN's Jim Acosta On Sarah Sanders And The Media
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Good morning. Sarah Sanders is out; Kellyanne Conway is still in, both with Donald Trump's blessing. Sanders, the White House press secretary for the past two years, is stepping down at the end of the month after a controversial tenure. Conway, a presidential adviser, remains, despite being accused by a federal office of breaking the law for using her official role for partisan political purposes.
Jim Acosta has covered both these administration officials. He is the chief White House correspondent for CNN, and he's the author of a new book called "The Enemy Of The People: A Dangerous Time To Tell The Truth In America." And he joins us now in the studio. Thanks for being with us.
JIM ACOSTA: Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, let's start with Kellyanne Conway. The OSC, the watchdog Office of the Special Counsel, not Robert Mueller's office, says she should be removed from federal service. So in your role covering the White House, is this just another call by an ethics office that will be ignored by this administration?
ACOSTA: I mean, it seems that way so far. I mean, what we've noticed since the beginning of this administration is that they've been, at times, ignoring the guardrails of our democracy and sort of charting their own path. I think we'll have to wait and see. What we've seen from the president so far is he sees this as no big deal. He thought that this accusation that Kellyanne Conway had violated the Hatch Act was a violation of her free speech rights, which is not exactly the case.
I mean, the Hatch Act is there to bar federal employees from engaging in too much political activity, go beyond where federal employees are supposed to go. And so it does seem as though this is another one of those instances where the administration is not going to adhere to the norms and traditions and, in some cases, the laws that have been in place in this city.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moving on to Sarah Sanders, give me your estimation of her tenure.
ACOSTA: Well, it pains me to say this. I think she's going to leave behind a record of dishonesty and not playing it straight with the American people. And what we saw in the White House briefing room, when we used to have briefings, is that there were, you know, multiple episodes where Sarah Sanders was caught giving false information to the reporters gathered in that room.
Now, obviously she's performing on behalf of the president, who has his own record of not dealing with the facts. But I think what Sarah lost sight of is that she doesn't work for the Trump organization; she works on behalf of the American people. She's a federal employee. And I think she lost sight of that at times.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does that mean, though, practically speaking, when you have a press secretary who you can't trust to tell you the truth?
ACOSTA: Well, we saw this on day one of the administration, and I wrote about this in my book - when Sean Spicer, the press secretary, walked into the briefing room the very first full day of the administration and lied to the public about the president's inauguration and crowd size and said it was the biggest inauguration crowd size in the history of the country. That set, I think, an immediate tone for the rest of the first two years of this administration where reporters went into that room thinking, we can't trust what these officials are saying.
And I think by the end of Sarah Sanders' tenure, she decided to stop having these briefings because she was getting caught in misstatement and falsehood. And again, you know, I think it's a violation of the public trust.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have obviously played a role in this, in the way that the public perceives this administration and its relationship with the White House press corps in particular. And you've come under what - criticism for what some people would call grandstanding. How do you see your role?
ACOSTA: I think aggressive, sometimes outspoken reporting from the White House briefing room is expected by the American people. I'm not just worried about the conservative critics out there. I'm also thinking about the folks at home who are saying, ask that question; we want that question asked.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about the White House briefing itself because you have noted this administration regularly says things that aren't true. So how useful is it, then, to have that back-and-forth when you can't hold the person on the podium to account?
ACOSTA: It's a great question. And I tell folks that I think the White House briefings are important, not just because of the answers that we receive, but the times when they don't answer the questions. And as The Washington Post fact-checker recently found, the president of the United States has uttered roughly 10,000 false or misleading statements since the beginning of his administration. That has made us fact-checkers in real-time.
And so we start our day with these tweets. And then we have statements throughout the day that are factually challenged. And my goodness, the question I ask folks is what kind of world would we be living in right now if we didn't fact-check this president over the last two years? What would be our common understanding of the truth and reality? I think it would be pretty darn warped.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Taking you back to the White House press briefing though, supporters of the president, you know, could look at it and see an entitled press corps that's combative and hectoring. Those who don't support the president have complained it's a press corps that's timid and complicit. I mean, it doesn't seem like there's much in it for you there.
ACOSTA: You know, we haven't had a press briefing in over 90 days. And what we have instead is the White House press secretary will go out and do an exclusive interview with Fox News. And then they'll come back down the driveway - Sarah will come back down the driveway. And if she has time, she'll take a few questions from the rest of us.
There's no record on the whitehouse.gov website of these gaggles. You know, when Josh Earnest and Jay Carney and Sean Spicer had these briefings on a regular basis, we would have a record of what they had to say.
I think another thing I would lay out for folks, during these briefings, you're not just getting questions from the network reporters. You're also getting questions from print reporters from various newspapers, foreign press outlets who come to the White House on a daily basis. They all come to these press briefings. And guess what? None of their questions are being answered anymore. I think that that is a real disservice.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's CNN's Jim Acosta. He's the author of a new book called "The Enemy Of The People: A Dangerous Time To Tell The Truth In America."
Thank you very much.
ACOSTA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.