I was interested to see how White House press secretary Sean Spicer would respond to the swirling mess around House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes’s bizarre secret late night visit to the White House last week, as well as to the breaking news that the White House initially attempted to thwart the testimony of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
If I thought he was going to take these issues seriously, I was disappointed. At one point, Spicer told the assembled reporters that if the president had Russian dressing on his salad they would report it as a Russian connection.
He also went back on a promise to inform the press who it was who signed Devin Nunes into the White House complex.
His line on Sally Yates was somewhat defensible but also largely beside the point. Spicer noted that they ultimately did not exert an executive privilege to prevent her testimony and that they have no problem with her testifying in the future. Yet, that doesn’t explain why Devin Nunes cancelled her scheduled appearance before the House Intelligence Committee immediately after Yates’s attorney informed the White House that she intended to testify to precisely the things the White House was threatening her not to discuss.
Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Ken Wainstein, a lawyer for Brennan, declined to comment.
On Friday, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.
Spicer sidestepped this issue entirely. It’s nice that the White House backed down and claims that it won’t impede investigators’ efforts to learn from Yates and Brennan, but it’s an inescapable conclusion that they convinced Nunes to cancel the hearing once they realized that it would be damaging to them.
When you combine that with the confusing saga surrounding Nunes’s two visits to the White House, it all adds up to a blatant effort to direct the congressional investigation rather than cooperate with it.
Meanwhile, Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin has been making media appearances today saying that he’s never seen anything like Rep. Devin Nunes’s behavior and that Congress needs an independent investigation of Russia’s “most successful covert operation in decades.”
Spicer can talk about salad dressing all he wants, but the administration he serves has made enemies who are taking things quite a bit more seriously than that.