As they had many times before, reporters in the White House press pool filed into the West Wing conference room where a cabinet meeting was about to begin. In normal times, they’d hear the president give a statement, take some photos, and perhaps get an answer to one or two questions they might be able to sneak in.
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This was no ordinary day, however. This gathering of the president’s top deputies was scheduled primarily to discuss what the U.S. response would be to Syrian dictator Bashir Al Assad’s apparent chemical weapons attack on one of the last rebel held areas in that war torn country.
But just a couple of hours earlier, news broke that the FBI had raided President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen’s offices, sending the already chaotic White House into full-blown freak-out mode.
After Trump delivered characteristically meandering and incoherent comments on Syria, reporters began asking about the FBI raid. Trump proved only too eager to talk about the incident, but most reporters weren’t asking the question he really wanted to answer, and he didn’t want to offer opinions on the touchier aspects of the investigation – like who’s running it – without being prompted.
Enter Jon Decker, the correspondent for Fox News radio and the secretary of the White House Correspondent’s Association. After Trump rambled on for a bit, calling the lawful, warranted, properly authorized raid “an attack on our country,” Decker tossed the underhanded baby pitch the president was waiting for.
“Why don’t you just fire Mueller?’ Decker asked. Trump, trying desperately to appear like he had no idea that question was coming, answered, “Why don’t I just fire Mueller?”
“Yeah,” Decker responded, “just fire the guy.” Properly prompted, the president swung away.
“Well,” he said, “I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens. But I think it’s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, ‘You should fire him.’ Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that’s a big statement. If you know the person who’s in charge of the investigation, you know about that. Deputy [Attorney General] Rosenstein — Rod Rosenstein — he wrote the letter, very critical, of Comey.”
For a friendly reporter to ask a softball question, particularly one that has the utility of advancing your network’s narrative as well, isn’t that big of a deal. All networks and both political parties are guilty of the practice. Had Decker gone home and never spoken of the incident again, no one would have thought any less of him.
Today, however, Decker appeared on a conservative talk radio show, hosted by the Idaho-based Kevin Miller, and he not only patted himself on the back for helping the president push his false narrative in the news; he revealed what the president told him immediately after the meeting!
Jon Decker: It was quite a day yesterday. I happened to be, luckily, the pool reporter yesterday, so I was in two very important meetings the president had yesterday in the Cabinet Room. One was with his Cabinet and one later in the afternoon with military leaders who are contemplating military action against Syria. And as you know, in that second meeting in the Cabinet Room, that’s when the president spoke about the Mueller investigation. And I don’t know if you know this, Kevin, but it was me who actually asked the question to the president, ‘Why don’t you just fire Mueller?’ And the president responded to that, which was pretty remarkable in terms of what he was telling us and obviously telling the rest of the American public. He is not happy with the Mueller investigation. He tweeted this morning that it’s a ‘A TOTAL WITCH HUNT’; that’s the way he described it yesterday, that it’s disgraceful. And he seemed to be contemplating actually firing Bob Mueller.
Kevin Miller: What was that like, I mean, Jon, you’re paid to write stories and ask the questions but here you are, at the epicenter, the president focused on Syria but obviously very, very concerned about what happened to Gary Cohn and others and then boom: you ask the question and he responds by looking right at you.
Jon Decker: Oh, he does. . . . Yesterday was a remarkable day for me, Kevin. He answered four of my questions yesterday over the course of the full day… And when we were leaving the room, the president mouthed to me, ‘Thank you.’ I think he wanted to get that off his chest and he wanted the question that I posed to him yesterday. And so, that’s the reason why you see this answer being rerun constantly on 24-hour cable. It is news that the president is contemplating — it sounds like — possibly removing Bob Mueller from his position as special counsel.
So many times during this still-young presidency, an otherwise innocuous episode spirals into a self-made scandal. What should have been a typical exchange between the president and the media has now taken on the air of a man and his sycophants in the media actively – and clumsily – conducting a coverup, executing a misinformation campaign, or obstructing justice. Or perhaps all three. Anything to try to control the story in the court of public opinion.
Unfortunately for the president and his fawning fan-boys at Fox News, special counsel Robert Mueller doesn’t operate in the court of public opinion.
Transcript first published by the Washington Post.