The White House quickly denied an explosive AP report published on Friday that said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was seeking to mobilize 100,000 National Guard troops to round up and deport undocumented immigrants across the country.
“It is false,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, according to a pool report. “It is irresponsible to be saying this. There is no effort at all to round up, to utilise the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants.”
“I wish you guys had asked before you tweeted,” Spicer added.
An AP reporter, however, replied that the wire service asked the White House for comment multiple times before publishing the report.
The incident reflects an emerging pattern noted by numerous high-level politics reporters in how the Trump administration handles its most controversial policy proposals:
1. Wait for a draft memo of a proposal to be leaked to the press.
2. Refuse to comment when asked about the draft.
3. Wait until story is published to deny that the report is accurate.
4. Allege that the press never sought comment to begin with.
Following the AP’s report and the White House’s denial on Friday, NBC News politics reporter Benjy Sarlin questioned on Twitter why the administration and DHS waited to deny the report until after it was published, despite reportedly being given the opportunity to comment.
New York Times political correspondent Maggie Haberman replied that it “almost seems like a pattern.”
“These are taxpayer-funded spokespeople,” Haberman wrote, referring to the White House and DHS press offices. “If memo is not under serious consideration, why not say it ahead of time?”
“Taxpayer press office that has hours to devote to focusing on palace intrigue stories and profiles does not respond to routine questions,” Haberman said.
Keith Ellison’s press secretary, Isaiah Breen, also noted the pattern on Friday.
“1. Get request for comment on a story. 2. Refuse to reply to request for comment. 3. Deny once article is up, and don’t mention comment request,” Breen tweeted in response to Spicer’s statements.
Official comments published after the initial AP report have done little to clear up the confusion.
A DHS spokesperson told Business Insider that the AP report was “incorrect,” and that the Department was “not considering mobilizing the National Guard for immigration enforcement.” But another DHS official told Cox Media producer Dorey Scheimer that the immigration memo was “a very early, pre decisional draft… and was never seriously considered by the Department.”
A memo published in full by Vox entitled “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies” appears to have been written by DHS Secretary John Kelly and dated to January 25, as the AP reported. But it does not mention the AP’s estimate that 100,000 National Guard troops would be deployed.
‘Not a White House document’
The general confusion stemming from leaked memos and subsequent denials from the administration is not new.
Draft memos outlining changes to the country’s “religious freedom” laws that would allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community were shot down by the administration shortly after they were leaked, as were memos detailing the possible reinstatement of overseas CIA “black sites.”
On both occasions, Sean Spicer said the memos were “not White House documents” and had not yet crossed the president’s desk.
On Friday, Spicer contended that the leaked immigration memo published by the AP was “not a White House document,” according to the pool report, but admitted he didn’t know if the draft memo had ever been considered by the DHS.
“I don’t know what could potentially be out there, but I know that there is no effort to do what is potentially suggested,” he said.
The leak of the LGBT memo, meanwhile, allowed Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner — Trump’s senior adviser — to take credit for “sinking” a plan the administration said “would never have reached the president’s desk for his signature” in the first place.
Similarly, Spicer denied that a draft memo leaked last month proposing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility remain open and the CIA’s secret overseas prisons be reinstated was a White House document.
Responding to the bipartisan backlash over the draft, however, the White House then circulated a revised document among National Security Council staff members that removed language about the black sites being reopened, according to the New York Times.
Washington Post reporters Radley Balko and Louisa Loveluck said on Friday that the leaks themselves appeared to be part of a strategy.
“Leak an abhorrent policy under consideration. Refuse comment when queried. After publication, declare policy absurd, scold media. Repeat,” Balko tweeted.
“1: Float outrageous draft plan. 2: Watch media explode. 3: Deny, pursue less bad option. 4: Tell base the discredited media did it again,” Loveluck said.
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