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"Battle in the Briefing Room: The President Versus the Press." Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 27, 2018 - 21:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "The Battle in the Briefing Room: The President Versus the Press," hosted by Randi Kaye.

ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.

RANDI KAYE, CNN HOST: Welcome to the White House briefing room.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I know it's hard for you to understand.


KAYE: When briefings happen, it can feel like a war room.

JOHN GIZZI, NEWSMAX WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: My colleagues refer to it as "beat the press."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said something from the podium. Was it accurate or not?

SANDERS: I'm not going to engage on matters that deal with the outside counsel.

MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They believed a lot of gotcha questions it's unnecessarily hostile.

SANDERS: Settle down.

GARRETT: Not skeptical but hostile.

KAYE: Frustration is apparent on both sides.

SANDERS: If you spent a little bit more time reporting the news instead of trying to tear me down you might actually see that we're working hard trying to provide you good information.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The President of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you report fake news, which CNN does, you are the enemy of the people.

KAYE: Tonight, a behind the scenes look at a historic room.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm not taking any more questions.

KAYE: Built by another president who hated the press.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Nixon gets into office and said, we're going to move the sons of bitches.

KAYE: The current president has yet to use it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He poked his head in, I would say three or four feet.

KAYE: "Battle In The Briefing Room: The President Versus The Press."

On Pennsylvania Avenue, past the posing.

CROWD: Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!

KAYE: And the protests, is the gate the White House press corps uses to get to work. Down a short driveway, past the green tents where TV reporters do live shots.

ACOSTA: Where you come through the gates of the White House, it doesn't take you very long to walk right into the West Wing.

KAYE: That Regal Portico is the gateway to the Oval Office. The office of the President of the United States, the man who constantly attacks.

TRUMP: The world's most dishonest people.

KAYE: And tries to undermine the mainstream media.

TRUMP: I call it the fake news the enemy of the people.

KAYE: About 75 feet to the left is the door where the journalists he calls enemies enter the White House. The entrance leads directly into the briefing room. Site of the much-watched --

SPICER: And I'm trying to answer, Major.

KAYE: Much-talked-about daily briefings.

SANDERS: Frankly I think my credibility is probably higher than the media's.

KAYE: Actually the briefings are no longer daily. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.


SPICER: It never gets boring.

KAYE (on-camera): What is it about these White House press briefings that has become must-see TV for people?

ACOSTA: To me, two words. Sean Spicer. KAYE (voice-over): CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta

says it started on Spicer's first full day.

SPICER: Thank you guys for coming --

ACOSTA: There's no other way to describe it. When he came out that day, the day after the inauguration, and went after us about the crowd size.

SPICER: Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.

ACOSTA: He basically turned those briefings into must-see TV.

SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

KAYE: Long-time White House correspondents were stunned.

GARRETT: It was a bit hard to keep my sense of balance, even though I was sitting. That day signaled to me that this would be a completely different orientation to communication, to facts.

SPICER: Thank you guys for being here tonight. I will see you on Monday.



KAYE (voice-over): Former press secretaries say it was the day Spicer sacrificed his credibility.

MCCLELLAN: To call a special briefing and the first thing you go out there and do is attack the press for the coverage that was accurate. And right off the bat, you have a credibility problem.

KAYE: About that day, Spicer now says, "If I could have a do-over, I would take it." But the tone was set.

SPICER: Phil, this is like the fourth time I've asked and answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but this is a different context, Sean.

KAYE: And it was combative.

SPICER: Thank you. You've asked the question now eight times. Why are you asking why I didn't do it when I literally stood here and do it? OK, this is silly. OK, next?

KAYE: Millions began watching.

SPICER: You tend to overlook all the sources. Because I know you want to cherry pick it.

KAYE: And Spicer often beat some long-running soap operas in the ratings.

SPICER: You're minimizing the point, Jim. It's not about one tweet.

KAYE: In the Trump White House, facts mattered less than the stories they were trying to tell.

SPICER: I think there's been studies. There's one that came out of Pew in 2008 that showed 14 percent of people who voted were noncitizens

KAYE: That's not factual. And sometimes it wasn't civil either.


[21:05:02] SPICER: No, we don't have that. You've got Russia. If the President puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection.

RYAN: I asked a simple question. Simple answer required.

SPICER: You're shaking your head.

RYAN: No, but you want to talk about Russian salad dressing. And I thought that was trite.

SPICER: You know what, you're asking me a question and I'm going to answer it, which is the President -- I'm sorry. Please stop shaking your head again.

RYAN: There's a level of expect we're supposed to have for each other.

KAYE: If respect was out the window, so were the rules of engagement.

JAY CARNEY, PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: The press secretary conducts business governed not by law but by tradition and convention. So the convention was that the first question went to the AP reporter, Associated Press.

SPICER: I'm glad to take some questions. Of course, you can John Roberts.


KAYE: Spicer started where he wanted.

SPICER: Jim Stinson.

KAYE: -- often with conservative or non-traditional media.

SPICER: Daniel Halper, "New York Post."

ACOSTA: It was essentially a message to the press, hey, if you don't do what we want you to do, you're going to get frozen out. SPICER: John Gizzi.


KAYE: White House reporter John Gizzi, who writes for a conservative website, sees it differently.

GIZZI: Press secretaries have historically favored reporters and publications their bosses liked over those that they didn't.

KAYE: Another way to avoid unwanted questions.

SPICER: Thank you, guys. See you tomorrow. Happy Valentine's Day.

KAYE: And the briefing.

REPORTERS: Sean! Sean! He walked away.

KAYE: Until Spicer, the senior wire reporter ended the briefings. Mike McCurry was President Clinton's press secretary.

MIKE MCCURRY, PRESIDENT CLINTON'S PRESS SECRETARY: I would stay out there until one of the correspondents said, thank you, Mike.


MCCURRY: Thank you, Helen.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has resigned --

KAYE: Spicer lasted six months, resigning after President Trump appointed businessman Anthony Scaramucci communications director.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I love the president. And I'm very, very loyal to the President.

KAYE: Scaramucci lasted ten days. Fired following a foul-mouthed interview. In came Sarah Sanders.

SANDERS: Good afternoon.

ZELENY: She's combative as well, but just a little sweeter about it.

GIZZI: Do we have to keep it to one question today?

SANDERS: Yes, sir.

GIZZI: All right.

SANDERS: Even you, John.

KAYE: Not always.

SANDERS: I know it's hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess. But please don't take my words out of context.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are President Trump's flaws?

SANDERS: Probably that he has to deal with you guys on a daily basis.

KAYE: What the administration wanted you to believe was more important than facts.

SANDERS: The President still strongly feels that there was a large amount of voter fraud.

KAYE: There has never been any evidence of widespread fraud.

KAYE (on camera): What about Sarah Sanders, is she 100 percent accurate?

MCCURRY: She's 100 percent reflective of what the president wants her to say, let's put it that way.

SANDERS: Look, I think the President, as he's said many times before, has been tougher on Russia than anybody.

MCCURRY: I think they say things that maybe they know are not quite right. But they're trying to paint a picture, a narrative that fits with what the President believes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What color is the sky in the President's world?

MCCURRY: And I think the President probably does believe some things even when they're absolutely wrong. So what are you supposed to do? You can't go out there and say, the President's full of it.

KAYE: We wanted to ask Sarah Sanders about her answers from the podium. But our request the weren't answered. She did speak with CNN in June.

SANDERS: What I think is important to remember is that you guys get to ask the questions, but you can't always complain about the answers. You constantly ask the same question over and over and over again and expect different answers.

REPORTERS: Sarah? Sarah?

KAYE: Ahead.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: What is it about television coverage of you that has so aroused your anger?

KAYE: How the briefing room came to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Nixon gets into office and said, we're going to move the sons of bitches so far away from here.


[21:12:32] KAYE: This is the press briefing room at the White House. It's part workspace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the mike up?

KAYE: Part live studio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear you loud and clear.

KAYE: Part briefing room.

SANDERS: Good afternoon.

REPORTERS: Good afternoon.

SANDERS: Thanks for your patience.

KAYE: The room were President Reagan faced questions about the Iran- contra affair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you make a mistake in sending arms to Tehran, sir?

REAGAN: No, and I'm not taking any more questions.

KAYE: The room where President Obama mourned first graders killed in their classrooms.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

KAYE: And it's where George Bush 43 defended his decision to invade Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you really want to go to war?

GEORGE BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just -- is just flat wrong, Helen.

KAYE: President Trump has yet to take the podium, which means Sarah Sanders fields the questions about credibility. Her credibility.

SANDERS: Good afternoon.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Every official that speaks for this White House gets questions about their credibility because there have just been a number of statements that have been said at the top, from the President himself, that have just been simply not true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want to correct the record on your statement from August?

KAYE: In August of 2017, Sanders said the President did not dictate Don Junior's statement about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians.

SANDERS: He weighed in, offered suggestion, like any farther would do.

KAYE: Ten months later it became clear he did dictate his son's statement. But Sanders went silent on the topic.

SANDERS: I'm not going to comment on the outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said something from the podium. Was it accurate or not?

SANDERS: I'm not going to engage on matters that deal with the outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should we be able to trust that the information we're getting from this administration is accurate?

SANDERS: I think that if you spent a little bit more time reporting the news instead of trying to tear me down you might actually see we're working hard trying to provide you with good information.

KAYE: In the past, being perceived as credible was a priority for a press secretary. President Ford's first press secretary, Jerald terHorst, believed credibility was so central to his position, he resigned when he thought he lost it.

[21:14:59] DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Within the first 90 days, President Ford stunned the country, stunned the world by pardoning Richard Nixon. And Jerald terHorst had not been part of the circle of people who thought about it and went out to announce it to the world. And he felt, I've been so badly undercut by not being part of the team of the inner circle, people will no longer think I'm credible. And he resigned over principle.

KAYE: David Gergen worked in the Ford administration and says terHorst aspired to be a man like Jim Haggerty, President Eisenhower's press secretary.

GERGEN: Haggerty said my job as press secretary is to help you get the news, to have the president held accountable through the press. Increasingly it's become a political arm of the White House, one could even say it's become a propaganda arm of the White House.

KAYE: Gergen is talking about spin, something he and others did for President Reagan.

GERGEN: We worked very, very hard to convince people that our version of the truth was the right version or at least a credible version of the truth.

KAYE (on camera): How would you define the difference between a spin and a lie?

GERGEN: I think a lie is a story that's contrary to the truth. I think spin is an effort to draw on parts of the truth. It's more like a piece of advocacy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks for being here for your daily briefing. CARNEY: You don't have to lie, ever. You simply say I can't answer

that question or I don't know.

MIKE MCCURRY, PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRESIDENT CLINTON: I always had a glass of water on the podium. And so if I got a tough question and I really needed to think, I would stop to take a drink of water.

KAYE (voice-over): The goal of all this is not just to be truthful but to be truthful and supportive of their president's agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America is safer because of the action we took.

KAYE: That, says the former press secretaries we spoke to, takes hours of preparation.

MCCURRY: I would get up early in the morning and I would listen to the BBC and then listen to other radio broadcasts, then read a whole bunch of newspapers.

MCCLELLAN: By the time I come into the office, I probably have a pretty good sense what's going to be coming up at the briefing that day.

MCCURRY: I would mentally start figuring out what all the questions were. I would start talking to myself in the shower.

MCCLELLAN: And I'm starting to talk to the president, other members of the senior staff, and say, hey, I might need more information.

KAYE: Problem is, in this administration the President may not be ready to share that information.

SANDERS: We are fully cooperating with the office of the special counsel.

KAYE: Which can make Sarah Sanders' job difficult.

MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE TRANSITION PROJECT: She's getting questions about her credibility because the President often doesn't tell them what he's going to do, because he wants to be the person that controls the information.

SANDERS: Good afternoon.

KARL: I think it's a very difficult dance, to be the press secretary in this White House. Perhaps the biggest reason is that Donald Trump really sees him as his own press secretary.

KAYE: President Trump may be the first president to try to act as his own press secretary. But his administration is the no the first to have friction with the press corps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those steps have never been blocked to us.

KAYE: This door, which leads to the White House press shop, triggered a lot of friction at the beginning of the Clinton administration. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The press secretary's office has never been off


DOUGLAS MILLS, PHOTOGRAPHER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I remember coming in and seeing Helen Thomas from UPI standing at that door, banging her fist, let us in!

KAYE: Photographer Douglas Mills is with "The New York Times."

MILLS: And I was like, what is going on, Helen? They've locked us out, damn it! They locked us out. It was a tough time.

KAYE: The door stayed locked for months --

GERGEN: And I'm deeply honored by --

KAYE: Until David Gergen joined the Clinton administration.

GERGEN: I went to the Clintons and said, can we open the door, please? And they said, yeah, let's open it. And it was seen as a symbol of, we're going to have a new day. And we began inviting reporters for dinner. They needed to spend time with the president and begin to understand they're professionals too. It gradually healed itself.

KAYE: So can the relationship between this White House press operation and its press corps be healed?

GERGEN: I think they're less interested in getting to a better relationship with the press than they are in using the press as a foil.

KAYE: Ahead, behind the scenes in the briefing room.

MARGARET TALEV, FORMER PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: It's smaller than it looks on TV. And kind of smells like socks.


[21:23:16] ACOSTA: This is where it all happens.

KAYE (on camera): I see why everybody says it looks so much smaller in person.

(Voice-over) The press briefing room at the White House is 48 feet long by 20 feet wide, about the size of a large classroom.

TALEV: It's a special place. But it's smaller than it looks on TV. And kind of smells like socks. And there's empty spray bottles on the floor. And -- yeah.

KAYE: There are just 49 seats. Seven rows of seven seats. They are assigned. The organizations who invest the most in White House coverage and have the largest audiences are up front. ACOSTA: This is the CNN seat. You can see the little plaque there on

the bottom. So nobody here at the White House has peeled that off yet, that anything goodness.

KAYE: If you don't have an assigned seat, you'll stand.

KAYE (on camera): Where does that go?

ACOSTA: That goes to lower press, which is an office of the deputy press secretaries, and then there's a hallway that goes up to what we call upper press, which is where the press secretary sits.

KAYE (voice-over): In the back of the briefing room --

KHALIL ABDALLAH, CNN WHITE HOUSE PHOTOJOURNALIST: You open this and you find every single drop that we have in the White House.

KAYE: A drop is essentially the ability to plug in a camera at a given location and feed what it shows, either live or recorded.

ABDALLAH: And this is where we control all those drops.

KAYE: Up above, the photographers have tucked away memories from the road.

ABDALLAH: Some of the highlights are Donald Trump rubber duck, bobble heads from campaigns, trinkets.

KAYE: Douglas Mills made an interesting discovery back here during his early days at the White House.

MILLS: Noticed there was a hatch. And I said to couple camera men, I was like hey, what's down here? Story climbing down, I hit the light, there was a switch, hit the light on, light -- oh, my gosh this is a swimming pool.

[21:25:07] KAYE: You heard him correctly. There wasn't a briefing room here in 1969. When President Richard Nixon moved into the White House, this space was a swimming pool.

DAN RATHER, REPORTER, CBS: There was no briefing room. You had a White House press pass, you were allowed to go to the West Wing.

KAYE: Before he anchored the evening news, Dan Rather covered the Johnson and Nixon administrations for CBS.

KAYE (on camera): So tell me about the briefings during the Johnson administration. Where were they conducted?

RATHER: Well, sometimes they were conducted in the press secretary's office.

KAYE: And sometimes the president did the briefings himself.

RATHER: It was not unusual, if you were a regular White House correspondent, to some days be in the Oval Office, five, six, seven, eight times a day. President Johnson would stand at the oval desk and in a normal tone of voice, Mr. President, I was about to ask you about this.

KAYE: Back then White House reporters were located in the office that now belongs to the national security adviser. It's very close to the oval. And when the reporters weren't busy, they gathered in the lobby near the entrance to the West Wing. Sam Donaldson covered Watergate and later the White House for ABC.

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Before Nixon, the press on many if not all the visitors to the Oval Office. Richard Nixon didn't want that. I felt that mistreated him during the 68th campaign.

KAYE: When Nixon lost to John Kennedy.

DONALDSON: President Nixon gets in office and says, we're going to move the sons of bitches. The scheme was, put them over in the executive office building.

KAYE: Across the street.

DONALDSON: Every news organization in the country said, you know, this is ridiculous. And so somebody on the Nixon staff came up with what for President Nixon was a brilliant idea. Among the people President Nixon couldn't stand was President John Kennedy. The White House swimming pool was identified some over to President Kennedy because President Kennedy had a bad back and liked to swim a lot. So the advice to President Nixon was, we can pour over the swimming pool and put this press room there, it will still be in the White House, it will be out of the West Wing. Mr. President, get the picture we're going to board over Jack Kennedy's swimming pool. And that's how the president briefing room came to be.

KAYE: But the room you're used to didn't look this way when first constructed.


KAYE: Says Ann Compton. She reported from the White House for more than 40 years.

ANN COMPTON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT FOR ABC NEWS: The briefing room itself looked like a doctor's waiting room with big stuffed sofas and captain's chairs and people milling around all day.

KAYE: Behind and under the press briefing room, the Nixon administration built office space for the press corps.

DONALDSON: On the first floor. Down below, there's a basement which we nicknamed movie (inaudible) after a Russian prison.

KAYE: CNN has been in the basement since 1980.

ACOSTA: This is what we affectionately call the booth.

KAYE: We were assigned there as a startup network. Fox is right next door.

ACOSTA: It's a very small space.

KAYE: Nine by nine. About half the size of a bedroom.

ACOSTA: We're literally on top of each other.

KAYE: Right.

ACOSTA: You better not bring smelly food to work.

KAYE: Upstairs is a break room and a coffee machine with quite a back story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Tom Hanks Espresso Machine. Tom Hanks came into the White House for a tour probably 20 years ago. He said, where can I get a cup of coffee? Somebody directed him right back to this room.

KAYE: To an old coffee dispenser where you put in a coin and the cup drops out. The front display was crawling with ants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said, I can't believe the press drinks it. Probably two months later, and up in the mail comes a beautiful coffee machine, espresso machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now somebody's got to put it together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the third one. About every four years we get a letter from one of his assistants saying, how is the machine doing?


KAYE: Just ahead, the briefings go live.

MCCURRY: At some point I said, I'm allowing the broadcast guys to have full access to the briefing. It was a big deal.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to theater of the absurd. We do this five days a week, believe it or not.



Mornings are interesting.

Home sweet home.

The President is still tweeting about it today.

He starts tweeting about 5:30, 6:00, sometimes 6:30.

KAYE: Long before the internet reshaped the way the White House press corps did its job, television reshaped the briefing room. COMPTON: Nothing has transformed White House coverage as much as the

advent of 24-hour-a-day Cable News.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could walk down here and tell us very easily, it's a very few steps from the Oval Office to here.

KAYE: In the '60s and '70s, print reporters ruled the roost. In 1980, CNN was born. Television reporters at the White House were on the rise. And they need good pictures and sound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll be covering the president and his advisers as they have never been covered before.

KAYE: The media-savvy Reagan administration understood that and remodeled the briefing room to help create better pictures.

COMPTON: The old doctor's waiting room look gave way to theater seating. Quality studio lighting, better microphones.

KAYE: There were also now lots of cables, which allowed TV to go live when need, which was often.

COMPTON: We became a deadline every minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

[21:35:02] KAYE: All this meant, when Reagan came into the briefing room, the networks could easily take it live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has it damaged your reputation, Mr. President?


KAYE: Which advisers like David Gergen sometimes thought was too much of a good thing.

GERGEN: Reagan was under a lot of pressure to come out and give a press briefing. We wanted to get the news out but we didn't want him out there for an hour taking questions.

KAYE: Enter David Gergen and Nancy Reagan with cake.

GERGEN: We got past the requisite 15 minutes, we opened the door widely and had this great big birthday cake.

REPORTERS: Happy birthday to you

GERGEN: And he shared the cake, he shared the ice cream. The press briefing was over.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sold out for less than that.

KAYE: It was David Gergen who took the briefing room podium first. GERGEN: Good afternoon.

KAYE: On one of the darkest days there, the day Ronald Reagan was shot.

GERGEN: His condition is stable. A decision is now being made whether or not to operate.

KAYE: And Gergen was present that day when secretary of state Alexander Haig made an infamous briefing room blunder.

ALEXANDER HAIG, SECRETARY OF STATE: As of now, I'm in control here in the White House.

GERGEN: He said I'm in charge here, as if the constitution put him next in line, which was not true. It became an albatross for Al Haig. When he ran for president, it's what did it him.

KAYE: It was a rough are day in the briefing room. In addition to the president, the man who ran the room, Press Secretary James Brady, was badly wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vice president landed at Andrews at 6:30.

KAYE: Ordinary daily briefings were still not live.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We're waiting for the United Nations.

KAYE: That all changed during President Clinton's second term.

COMPTON: Press Secretary Mike McCurry decided he would allow the daily briefing to be broadcast live.

MCCURRY: Several radio reporters that came and met with me and said, look, we're at a disadvantage here because we need the sound in order to broadcast every hour on the hour. I had come from the state department, I had been the spokesman at the U.S. State Department where the briefings were televised. So I said, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't do it. In fact I didn't even ask permission. I think at some point I told Leon Panetta, who was the chief of staff, I said, I'm allowing the broadcast guys to have full access to the briefing now because they used to have limits on it. He said, eh, that's fine. Nobody thought it was a big deal.

KAYE: Until there was a sex scandal.

MCCURRY: Would it be improper for the president of the United States to have had a sexual relationship with this woman?

CARNEY: Mike McCurry has apologized to every one of his successors for being the press secretary who agreed to allow the entire briefing to be firmed.

MCCURRY: My next move is to get out this podium as quick as possible.

KAYE: It laid the groundwork for what we have today, forever changing the questions.

MCCURRY: We started seeing repetition of people asking the same question because they wanted to be on camera asking the question for purposes of their own network broadcast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean by an improper relationship?

MCCURRY: I'm not going to parse the statement. You will get the statement I made earlier and speak for itself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One more stab at this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are these allegations outrageous?

KAYE: Changing the answers.

MCCURRY: You've tried now I think a dozen different ways to get me to amplify the statement. I'm clearly not going to do it.

DONALDSON: The press secretary, the briefer, now knowing they're on television, is far more careful from the standpoint of not going beyond the guidance.

MCCURRY: I'm not leaving any impression, David, and don't twist my words.

KAYE: And changing the main purpose of the briefing, which was to provide information. That's because televised briefings are viewed by a much larger audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president have anything to say to Monica Lewinsky?

KUMAR: In that environment, then the pressure increases to use the briefing for more than just information, but use it as an opportunity to persuade.

KAYE: In 2000, the press room was officially named after Press Secretary James Brady, who never returned to the podium. By 2007, there was a major renovation of the room and surrounding press space.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to the west wing. We missed you. Sort of.


KAYE: New cables and servers laid the groundwork for the next technological wave to change the briefing room. The internet. They were tucked away, tucked below, actually. Remember the swimming pool?


What you're looking at here are the actual tiles of the swimming pool.

[21:40:00] KAYE: They've been autographed over the years by some famous and not so famous visitors.

MCMICHAEL: This is bono here, see the glasses with the nose. And then I signed my name right next to his.

KAYE (on camera): Should I sign near you and Bono? I'm on it, it's official.

MCMICHAEL: And here he is.

KAYE (voice-over): Ahead, presidents in the briefing room. They've all used it, except Mr. Trump. Well, he did once, sort of.


TRUMP: I guess they've been listening to me a lot more. Hillary Clinton --

KAYE: In the Trump era, this is the president's briefing room.

TRUMP: I want to just tell you something.

TALEV: The President has taken the stage with him. And he treats rooms that are not the briefing room as the briefing room.

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.

KAYE: President Trump often answers questions in route to his chopper or at the end of Oval Office events.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.

TRUMP: I may, I may. I'm not sure. That's the Democrats --

KAYE: In June, he even did 20 minutes of Q&A on the front lawn of the White House.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Everybody's walking backwards, asking him questions. I've never seen a president do an interview on the front lawn, ever.

KAYE: Of course president Trump's favorite place to brief --

ZELENY: The President every morning has his own daily briefing with no one there, on Twitter.

[21:45:05] KAYE: Mr. Trump has only been in the real briefing room once, and he didn't make it to the podium.

ZELENY: He poked his head in, I would say about three or four feet through the door. He just was not at the microphone.

KAYE: The President didn't stay long. Photo journalists raced to get the cameras turned on and focused. CNN's Jeff Zeleny snapped a picture.

ZELENY: He was walking through the door, a big smile on his face. And he said, you'll want to stay tuned tonight, talking as the executive producer that he is, there will be a big announcement from South Korea. That of course was the very beginning of his Kim Jong-un meeting.

TALEV: President Obama was willing to come in there at important times when he thought that something need to be said or engagement needed to happen.

OBAMA: Trayvon martin could have been me, 35 years ago.

KAYE: Like after the not guilty verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

KUMAR: George H.W. Bush would come out. He did a lot of press conferences in the briefing room.

KAYE: At least once he used the room to play a joke.

MCMICHAEL: I was sitting here and I was just reading a sports page. All of a sudden I hear this door open from behind me, I don't even look. And I hear, hey, can I borrow that sports page? I'm like, yeah, sure. I just kind of like do this, and I hear, gotcha! And I look up, and it's Bush 41, like in the door, and he shuts the door real fast and takes off and the whole room scrambles.


KAYE: His son didn't like the space much.

MCCLELLAN: Because it's so compact, I mean, the podium is just a few feet away from the front row. He preferred more rose garden setting where the press is a little further back, it's a little more open, or the east room for a prime time news conference.

KAYE: As for those solo presidential news conferences, President Obama did 20 of them in his first 23 months. President George W. Bush did seven. President Trump has also done seven. One in the East Room, less than a month after inauguration.

TRUMP: The reporting is fake. I just see many, many untruthful things.

KAYE: Another in New York.

TRUMP: Somebody said, well, this is the first news conference in a long time. I said, what do you mean? Every time I sit, I take a lot of questions from people that are screaming like maniacs.

KAYE: It's the informal, unplanned Q&A the President prefers.

TRUMP: I think we're going to have a very successful --

KAYE: He's had more than 300 of those interactions, quadruple the number President Obama had.

TRUMP: Any questions? KAYE: So is this President's preference for informal over formal a


MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It is a problem. And to be clear, it's not as if asking him questions will necessarily result in truthful, candid answers. But it is important to be able to, in this U.S. Democracy, to question our President. And he has shielded him from that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you a racist?

HABERMAN: Formal press conferences give you a chance to ask questions at greater length. They're not on the fly. You're not shouting them. He doesn't get to control when he cuts it off the same way.

ACOSTA: Mr. President?

KAYE: In January, the President cut off a question about immigration from CNN's Jim Acosta.

ACOSTA: Just Caucasian or white countries, sir? Or do you want people from come in from other parts of the world? Whether people of color

TRUMP: That's enough. Put down the mike.

KAYE: Months later, this happened.

TRUMP: You are a rude, terrible person.

KAYE: The fallout has journalists alarmed. That's next.


[21:52:23] KAYE: Three days before Sean Spicer took the briefing room podium and attempted to alter facts --

SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period!

KAYE: President Obama used the same room to remind reporters about their obligation to dig for them.

OBAMA: You're supposed to ask me tough questions and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here.

ZELENY: It was almost like a parting lesson about the importance of the fourth estate, the importance of the first amendment.

KAYE: The right to free speech and a free press.

TRUMP: The enemy. The enemy of the people, I call them.

SANDERS: I'm trying to answer your question.

KAYE: In the briefing room in August Jim Acosta made an issue of the words the President uses to try to undermine the free press.

ACOSTA: The President of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people. All I'm asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here.

SANDERS: I appreciate your passion. I share it. I've addressed this question. I've addressed my personal feelings. I'm here to speak on behalf of the President. He's made his comments clear.

GERGEN: That phrase "the enemy of the people" has historic roots going back to the French revolution. It led to a lot of violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Closed off the month of July without holding a briefing.


GERGEN: If you have open rallies, and these are with a lot of guns.

KAYE: Like the ones the president and his press corps attend regularly.

GERGEN: And you get people all whipped up. You do not know what's going to happen next.

ACOSTA: They're saying things like "CNN sucks," "go home" and "fake news."

KAYE: Three months later the White House pulled Acosta's press pass, barring him indefinitely from the briefing room.

ACOSTA: I am now getting my hard pass to the secret service.

KAYE: It came hours after this.

TRUMP: I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well your ratings would be much higher --

ACOSTA: Let me ask you one -- Mr. President, if I may ask one other question, are you worried --

TRUMP: That's enough. That's enough.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, can I ask one other --

TRUMP: That's enough.

ACOSTA: Pardon me, ma'am. I'm --

KAYE: Sarah Sanders tweeted, "President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job."

ACOSTA: I was trying to hang on to the microphone. I didn't put my hands on her or touch her as they're alleging. KAYE: After CNN filed a lawsuit, a federal judge ruled in CNN's


ACOSTA: Let's go back to work.

[21:55:00] KAYE: Acosta's access to the White House was restored. And CNN dropped the lawsuit. Something similar but less severe happened during the summer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tell us precisely what happened because it's very, very worrisome.

KAYE: CNN's Kaitlan Collins was banned from a rose garden event.

TRUMP: Thank you all very much.

COLLINS: Mr. President --

KAYE: For asking the President questions following an Oval Office event.

COLLINS: Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen --

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

COLLINS: -- is going to say to prosecutors?

COLLINS: They thought the questions I posed to President Trump were inappropriate and inappropriate for that venue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody.

COLLINS: I told them that is often our only chance to ask the President questions. Those questions were questions any reporter would have asked.

Thank you.

KAYE: Sanders issued a statement saying Collins shouted questions and refused to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Come on, guys. Thank you very much.

KAYE: To be clear, we support a free press, wrote Sanders. Another example of trying to control the White House press corps are the actual press briefings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Audio check. One, two, three --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House holding its first on-camera briefing in 19 days.

KAYE: Over June, July, and August there were a total of 13 briefings. September through December there were just five. Remember, these used to be daily. And they're getting shorter too. At the beginning of the Trump administration the average briefing was 43 minutes. During the summer Sanders' solo briefings averaged 20 minutes.

GARRETT: They're shorter because they don't prepare for them as well. Because they don't view them as the place through which the White House actually communicates.

SANDERS: You guys want to create a narrative that just doesn't exist. Hey, guys.

GARRETT: And they also just feel that the briefings are needlessly contentious.

SANDERS: John Gizzi.

GIZZI: Thank you, Sarah.

KAYE: John Gizzi of conservative Newsmax sees a little differently.

GIZZI: When things get a little too tense sometimes, when there's too much shouting --

SANDERS: I let you rudely interrupt me --

GIZZI: One wants to go on and do other things.

SPICER: The briefing has become more of a show than an outlet of information for the media.

KAYE: In May Sean Spicer suggested the daily briefings were no longer worth the administration's time.

SPICER: The time and effort that it takes to get that briefing going and what you get on the outside -- you know, in return is not worth it anymore.

KAYE: An appalling argument to White House reporters past and present.

GEORGE CONDON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL JOURNAL: It is the only time that our government stands up there and is even partly held accountable. You need to take questions.

KAYE (on camera): Some people have suggested they're just a waste of time now, there's no substance to them.


KAYE: You should just get rid of the daily briefing.

DONALDSON: No. Don't give up. Don't give up. Reporters, people in the press know anything, it's that you don't give up. Quiescence, complacency, is the enemy of the truth.

KAYE: We wanted to talk with the Trump press office about the future of the briefings, but they didn't answer any of our multiple requests. Sarah Sanders did discuss the infrequency of the briefings with Fox News in late September. SANDERS: I always think if you can hear directly from the President,

and the press has the chance to ask the President of the United States questions directly, that's infinitely better than talking to me.

KAYE: In the lead up to the election the President did more interviews than usual.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We keep hearing that the White House is in chaos.

TRUMP: It's so false.

KAYE: And answered many informal reporter questions.

TRUMP: This is one of the most important elections --

I think we're going to do well with the House.

I would call in the military, and I would seal off the border.

KAYE (on camera): Do you worry that this is the new normal, that future administrations will handle the press the same way that the Trump administration has?

ZELENY: The press has evolved with every president from the fireside chat to Twitter now. So who knows what the next president will use to communicate things? But I hope the briefing room remains because it is that one chance where you can ask questions about your government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Denials that have been coming in --

GERGEN: The real danger is what comes after. And if we establish a new norm, that truth plays second to politics, that the press briefing room is being weaponized against opponents, I think that's going to weaken one of the basic foundations of our democracy.

We've always taken for granted our democracy is sacred. It's been here forever. It's going to stay forever. Over a dozen countries since the end of the cold war have gone from being democracies to authoritarian states. We're not there yet. But if we let these sacred traditions slip away from us, this can be very, very hard to rebuild.

KAYE: And you thought it was just a room.

ACOSTA: Sarah, it's the third briefing you've not taken a question from CNN. Do you expect the Justice Department to --