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Trump PR team has no chance

DANA MILBANK Published: July 14, 2017 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- It's easy to see why Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants the TV cameras off during her White House news briefings.

There is, for one, the matter of her boss constantly proclaiming things that range from the inexplicable to the patently wrong. There's also the metastasizing Russia scandal, which keeps rendering previous Trump White House statements inoperative.

But above all is a more simple explanation: Sanders has no earthly idea what's going on in the White House she purports to represent.

And so, at Monday's off-camera briefing, she stood on the podium, frequently cocking her left eyebrow and raising the left corner of her lips to convey displeasure at the line of questioning.

The Post's Philip Rucker asked about other Trump campaign meetings with Russians such as the newly discovered one in which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort reportedly sought the goods on Hillary Clinton. "I am not sure," she said. "I'll check and get back to you."

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John Gizzi from Newsmax asked if Trump raised the subject of Russia's human rights abuses during their meeting. "I'm not sure," she said. "I'll have to ask."

The kerfuffle over the White House briefings is misplaced. The Trump White House move to have fewer briefings and to move them off camera is just a symptom. The real problem is that the people giving the briefings don't have a clue; they can't, as Trump put it, "stand at podium with perfect accuracy."

Or a semblance of dignity. The humiliations that ruined Sean Spicer will do the same to Sanders or whoever fills the role. Trump doesn't seem to tell his people what he's doing, if he knows himself.

Sanders did everything possible to avoid drawing attention to herself, but to no avail. It wasn't televised, but reporters were standing in the aisles. She brought out Marc Short, Trump's legislative director, to deliver a diversionary statement about Democrats' "needless obstruction" of Trump's nominees. But the distraction failed when half a dozen reporters used the opportunity to quiz Short about the floundering effort in the Senate to pass Trumpcare.

Sanders stepped onto the podium and gave her colleague the hook. She read a six-minute statement about Trump's "powerful and historic speech" in Poland and how he "successfully achieved his objectives" in Germany, then gave reporters exactly 15 minutes to question her.

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She called first on her "fellow Arkansan" Frank Lockwood from the Democrat-Gazette. But this was no safe harbor: He asked about Trump's tweet targeting Chelsea Clinton. "At what point is the president going to put Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Bill Clinton in the rear-view mirror?" he asked. "He won the election."

Sanders attempted to argue that the Clinton tweet was justified by an "outrageous attack against a White House senior adviser."

Then came a barrage of questions about Donald Jr.'s newly reported meeting with the Russians, which negated, as CBS's Major Garrett noted, the White House's "long history of blanket denials" that there had been campaign contacts with the Russians.

"There was simply no collusion," she said.

"That's a different question," Garrett pointed out.

In fairness to Sanders, there are no good answers to these questions. Trump, with his reckless tweets and nonsense claims, leaves his mouthpieces in an impossible position. No less an authority than former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said after Trump's vulgar tweet about Mika Brzezinski that "he makes my daughter's job very difficult."

But that's no excuse. Sanders has agreed to interpret the nonsensical and to rationalize the indefensible. Like Spicer, she will fail.


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