The White House has attempted to avoid direct questions about the unfolding Russia investigation, directing inquiries to lawyers representing President Donald Trump and other top administration and former campaign officials.
Thus, no prominent White House surrogates were on television on Tuesday following a bombshell New York Times report from Monday evening that revealed that Donald Trump Jr. was informed that a Kremlin-connected lawyer was attempting to pass him information as part of a Russia government effort to boost his father’s campaign. This largely left the official on-camera response to a curiously-credentialed White House adviser.
White House Deputy Assistant Sebastian Gorka, who focuses on national security issues, appeared for interviews on three cable networks on Monday night and Tuesday morning, fielding a number of difficult questions about Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.
Though Gorka attempted to focus on the Iraqi military’s liberation of Mosul from the terrorist group ISIS, he also had to field questions about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer, pointing out that a Democratic National Committee staffer met with Ukrainian officials to potentially acquire damning opposition information about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
In an interview that he booked himself on CNN’s “New Day,” Gorka brushed aside whether Trump Jr. or other Trump campaign officials should have disclosed the meetings and mocked CNN’s 9 p.m. programming for its ratings.
“They wanted dirt,” host Alisyn Camerota said, referring to Trump campaign officials who met with a Russian lawyer who allegedly promised damaging information on Clinton.
“Which is what political campaigns do,” Gorka responded.
“The amount of time you spend in desperation on a topic that has plummeted you to 13th place in viewership ranking across America, more people watch Nick at Nite cartoons than CNN today,” Gorka said.
“Our ratings are doing just fine,” Camerota responded.
Gorka also appeared in a heated 15-minute interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, in which the adviser declared that the Russia investigation was a “massive nothing-burger,” and attempted to argue that former President Bill Clinton committed a crime by accepting a speaking fee from Russia while Hillary Clinton was running for president (she was secretary of state at the time of the speech to a Russia finance corporation).
“If you want to make the argument that crimes were committed by Democrats, then if Donald Trump Jr. accepted a meeting like this and wanted this type of information with ties to a foreign government, would that also not be a crime?” Ruhle asked.
“I’m talking about the fact that you had a presidential candidate called Hillary Clinton running for the highest office in this country and the most powerful country in the world when her husband was getting half-a-million dollar speaking fees from the Russian government,” Gorka said.
“It’s standard political practice,” Gorka said as Ruhle continued to press about Trump Jr’s meeting.
“No sir, it is not standard political practice to seek information from a foreign government,” Ruhle replied.
Other surrogates were largely absent, save Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, who sat for one largely friendly interview on “Fox & Friends.”
Sekulow faced two questions on the New York Times report, but largely focused on leaks of classified information.
Gorka’s role and influence in the White House has been the subject of speculation for months.
Reports several months ago said the deputy assistant was potentially on the ropes, and hadn’t received full security clearance.