White House press secretary Josh Earnest harshly criticized former Donald Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway during Thursday’s briefing. He defended his claim that President-elect Trump knew about Russia’s effort to hack into Democratic emails during the campaign, after a senior Trump transition official accused Earnest of making irresponsible statements.
The Washington Examiner reports,
Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that Trump was “obviously aware” of Russia’s meddling in the election but feigned ignorance in order to boost his campaign, a comment Kellyanne Conway called “remarkable” during a Thursday morning appearance on MSNBC.
“That is breathtaking. I guess he’s auditioning to be a political pundit after his job is over soon,” Conway said of Earnest. She said his comments were “incredibly disappointing to hear from the podium of the White House press secretary.”
But Earnest fired back by telling reporters his initial comment was “just a fact.”
“I made the observation yesterday that Mr. Trump was obviously aware of the fact that Russia was engaged in malicious cyberactivity and that that malicious cyberactivity was having a negative impact on his opponent’s campaign and was boosting his,” Earnest said. “I don’t know exactly what source he was using. He could have been relying on news reports. Maybe somebody on Capitol Hill who had been briefed about this matter had informed him or his team about it. It’s also possible that he consulted with one of his closest aides, Roger Stone, who back in July tweeted: ‘Of course the Russians hacked Hillary Clinton’s email.'”
“I don’t know if it was a staff meeting or he had access to a briefing or he was just basing his assessment on a large number of published reports, but Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyberactivity that was helping him and hurting Secretary Clinton’s campaign,” Earnest said. “These are just facts.”
Earnest also scolded Conway for defending a comment Trump made earlier this summer that many said encouraged Russia to hack his opponent’s email server to locate “the 33,000 emails that are missing.” Conway and others in Trump’s circle had characterized the remark as sarcasm.
“I don’t think anybody at the White House thinks it’s funny that an adversary of the U.S. engaged in malicious cyberactivity to destabilize our democracy,” Earnest said. “That’s not a joke. Nobody at the White House thought it was a joke. Nobody in the intelligence community thought it was a joke. I’m not aware of any members of Congress in either party, [who were] briefed on this matter multiple times dating back to the summer, who though it was a joke.”
“Sen. [Marco] Rubio, R-Fla., put out a comment shortly before the election indicating that he took it rather seriously. So I think that’s not a particularly persuasive defense that’s being mounted by the president-elect’s team,” he added.