White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accused the media Monday of overplaying and misreporting on a range of fresh administration controversies -- specifically describing claims of a shakeup at the National Security Council as "utter nonsense."
“There’s been a lot of misreporting,” Spicer said.
The press briefing on Monday saw a return to a more combative style for Spicer. While he spent much of the briefing chiding the media over their description of President Trump's executive order on immigration, he opened with a point-by-point rebuttal -- complete with visual aids -- to critical reports about a separate action signed Saturday that restructures the NSC, a key advisory body.
Those reports claimed Trump had effectively downgraded the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, while promoting adviser Steve Bannon to the principals committee – which is the National Security Council, only without the president.
The New York Times had labeled Bannon's role “a startling elevation of a political adviser” and said it put him at the same level as National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. The Times also said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and DNI chief are only to join the principals committee when directly affected.
Spicer shot back, saying, “The idea that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and DNI are being downgraded or removed is utter nonsense.”
In making his point, he presented a related 2001 memo by President George W. Bush and a related 2009 memo by President Barack Obama, and argued the relevant passages were virtually the same.
As for Bannon’s elevation, Spicer also downplayed its significance and noted that former Obama adviser David Axelrod had attended NSC meetings as well, though had not been given a formal promotion to the role.
“David Axelrod walked in and out of NSC meetings,” he said. “What this shows is that this administration is being rather transparent.”
He also suggested Bannon “won’t be at every meeting.” He added, “He'll come in and out as needed, but we wanted to be up front about it.”
Spicer also reacted to a tweet by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who had asked where the role of the CIA was in the memo. Spicer noted there was no mention of the CIA in Obama's 2009 memo either. However, he said Trump had decided to amend his memo to add CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the top circle of national security advisers
Since taking the podium for the first time last week, Spicer has made a point to call out what the administration believes to be inaccurate or biased reporting. On Monday, he also doubled down on the administration’s defense of the controversial order suspending the refugee program and entry to the U.S. for travelers from certain countries. Spicer said it was one of a number of steps "to make sure that this country is as safe as it can be and that we're ahead of every threat."
Spicer further was asked to comment on a report in The Washington Post that said dozens of State Department staffers are ready to sign a memo opposing Trump’s travel restrictions, saying they are poorly conceived and against American values.
Spicer seemed unfazed by the memo: "I think that they should either get with the program or they can go," he said. "This is about the safety of America."
He also addressed the controversy surrounding a statement released by the White House on Holocaust Remembrance Day – which omitted any specific reference to Jewish people despite them being the overwhelming majority of victims in the genocide.
"By and large he's been praised for it," Spicer said of the statement. He said Trump was recognizing the suffering of those who endured the Holocaust, “whether they were Jews, Gypsies, gays, [people with a] disability, priests.”
"The idea that you're nitpicking a statement that sought to remember this tragic event that occurred and the people who died in it is just ridiculous," he said.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, among other groups, called the omission "unfortunate."