“I watch you a lot.”
Having barred his CNN arch nemesis Jim Acosta from the White House, on Friday the president lashed out at another CNN reporter at the White House over his appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting AG as well as Whitaker’s views towards the special counsel investigation.
During a Friday morning gaggle with White House reporters before Trump’s trip to Paris, CNN’s Abby Phillip asked the president if he was hoping Whitaker, who previously criticized Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, would “rein in” the Russia probe. “Do you want [Whitaker] to rein in Robert Mueller?” Phillip asked.
Trump’s response left the stunned reported speechless. “What a stupid question that is,” Trump said and, just in case it was lost, repeated “what a stupid question.”
“But I watch you a lot,” Trump continued. “You ask a lot of stupid questions.”
Trump then demonstrably walked away, leaving the shocked reporters screaming more questions in his wake.
Earlier, Trump said he has not spoken to acting AG Matt Whitaker about the Russia investigation, which Whitaker now oversees. Trump defended Whitaker as a “very well respected man in the law enforcement community” but claimed he does not know him personally. “I didn’t speak to Matt Whitaker about it. I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for a trip to Paris.
While Trump sought to place personal distance between himself and Whitaker, he made it clear he stood by his decision to place a loyalist in charge of the Justice Department, a move many see as an effort to seize control of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The president also rejected suggestions that Whitaker is ineligible to serve as attorney general, a position held by some legal experts who say the Justice Department leader must be confirmed by the Senate.
The acting AG has raised eyebrows, and in some cases prediction of a constitutional crisis, because before joining the DOJ, Whitaker was an outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation and many Democrats and legal scholars have said he should recuse himself from leading the probe. Whitaker also claimed there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interference efforts in the 2016 election, which is the central question of the Mueller probe.
Trump lamented the criticism of Whitaker’s past commentary, saying “it’s a shame that no matter who I put in, they go after him.”
Trump then reiterated his plans to have Whitaker serve in an acting capacity, but declined to reveal who might be Sessions’ permanent replacement. He said he likes Chris Christie, who is under consideration, but said he has not spoken to the former NJ governor about the post. Christie was at the White House on Thursday for an event on prison reform but Trump said he did not speak to him.
* * *
Trump wasn’t finished, however, and during the same gaggle, he suggested he could pull press credentials from other reporters who don’t show him “respect” two days after the president suspended the press pass of CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta after a contentious exchange during a news conference.
“I think Jim Acosta is a very unprofessional man,” Trump explained and when asked how long Acosta’s credentials will be suspended, the president replied: “As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t made that decision. But it could be others also.”
Trump also went after April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks as a “loser” who “doesn’t know what the hell she is doing.”
Trump also denied claims that a video shared by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders of the Acosta incident was doctored. “Nobody manipulated, give me a break. That is dishonest reporting. All that was was a close up,” he said.