Reporters fought back against President Donald Trump on Saturday morning after he tweeted that a senior White House official quoted in a New York Times story “doesn’t exist.” And then reporters proved that source does, in fact, exist.
On Friday, Mark Landler and David Sanger of the Times reported that Trump might reschedule his now-canceled summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which was originally set to take place in Singapore on June 12. The story cites a “senior White House official” who said that “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”
Trump took to Twitter to refute the validity of this claim. “The Failing @nytimes quotes ‘a senior White House official,’ who doesn’t exist, as saying ‘even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.’ WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources,” he wrote.
The Failing @nytimes quotes “a senior White House official,” who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2018
Several White House reporters responded to the tweet, insisting that the Times did, in fact, use real people.
“This is a ridiculous lie about the Times,” wrote Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star. “The senior White House official is not only real—the official said June 12 was extremely unlikely *at an in-person White House briefing to the media* on Thursday.” Dale also tweeted a picture of a White House notice that confirmed a “senior White House official will hold an off-camera, not for broadcast, background briefing on North Korea.”
Here's the White House notice of the briefing at which this senior White House official said June 12 was extremely unlikely to be salvaged. pic.twitter.com/0vEhIq6MCN
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) May 26, 2018
Weekly Standard writer Mike Warren corroborated Dale’s claim in his own tweet, writing, “I mean, every reporter on the call knows who this official was, and this official exists. And we all heard the official say it.”
Sanger himself also explained that he kept the source anonymous in his report at the behest of the White House: “The reason that this official was not named in our story is that the White House press office insisted that its briefing—for hundreds of reporters—was on background. Best way to alleviate the President’s concern about anonymous sources would be for WH to name the official.”
The reason that this official was not named in our story is that the White House press office insisted that its briefing — for hundreds of reporters — was on background. Best way to alleviate the President's concern about anonymous sources would be for WH to name the official. https://t.co/dTKNTbGzJR
— David Sanger (@SangerNYT) May 26, 2018
New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali went one step further and identified the anonymous White House official as Matt Pottinger, who serves on the National Security Council. Ali clarified that he tweeted the name because he’s not a White House reporter and wasn’t on the call and thus was not bound by any off-record or background agreements.
2. To be clear, the only reason I tweeted Matt's name is because I'm not a White House reporter and I was not on this call. I do not believe reporters should violate off record or on background agreements under any circumstances. Not my agreement, so I can tweet.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) May 26, 2018
Ali also obtained audio of the White House press briefing in question. It includes Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah introducing Pottinger and establishing the terms of the briefing. Pottinger then makes the statement that Trump denied. Ali said there were “lots of reporters in briefing room and on phone.”
4. I've obtained audio of the WH press briefing. You can hear Raj Shah, Deputy Press Secretary, introduce Pottinger (along with the terms – which are standard) and then Pottinger makes the statement that POTUS says was never made. Lots of reporters in briefing room and on phone. pic.twitter.com/2gEYkRSyTv
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) May 26, 2018
Trump has made no effort to hide his adversarial stance toward the media, often lambasting journalists and publications on Twitter. But even by his standards, trying to outright dismiss the existence of a White House official seems ill-advised.