It was a rare sight on Thursday morning when a Trump administration official stood behind a podium and took questions from reporters. In the seven months since she succeeded Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham hasn’t done it once.
But there was Kellyanne Conway delivering a briefing that was intended to be primarily focused on the CDC’s recent report on a life expectancy increase in the U.S. and the administration’s preparations to combat the coronavirus and the opioid crisis.
After dubiously giving the president and First Lady Melania Trump credit for extending the average lifespan of Americans, Conway started to get testy when PBS NewsHour host Yamiche Alcindor asked her to comment on former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly saying he “believes” claims by former National Security Adviser John Bolton that President Donald Trump personally directed his quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“Well, I respect General Kelly enormously and like him personally,” Conway replied. “I don’t know what he was referring to so I can’t answer.” She explained that because she has not personally seen a copy of Bolton’s unpublished manuscript she could not verify that he made those allegations against Trump in his new book.
The two women continued to spar for several more minutes, with Conway asking, “Are you talking about a leak of an unpublished manuscript reported by The New York Times? Because I don’t know that to be true and neither do you.”
“You want me to answer a hypothetical wrapped up in a conundrum,” Conway added, saying she “doesn’t make anything of” Kelly’s belief in Bolton. She then proceeded to attack Alcindor’s other employer NBC News for prematurely reporting Kelly’s departure from the White House. “I am not going to comment, particularly from the podium in the press briefing room on a leaked, unpublished manuscript that I haven’t seen,” Conway said. “I hope it doesn’t include classified information.”
“And I know there’s always this rush to imbue credibility on whomever you think is against the president at that moment,” she continued before seeming to equate Bolton with figures like Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti, and Lev Parnas—all three charged with federal crimes.
When another reporter followed up by asking why the White House is dragging its feet on reviewing the chapter in Bolton’s book on Ukraine, Conway said “it has nothing to do with me” before deflecting the question by listing off unrelated accomplishment by the administration and boasting about Trump’s approval ratings.
“The idea that we should stop what we’re doing to review somebody’s book strikes me as not a big priority, in my view, for the president,” Conway said. When that reporter noted that the contents of the book could become quite important “if witnesses are called” in Trump’s impeachment trial, Conway shot back, “You would hope so, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m always happen to answer all of your questions, as you full well know,” Conway added. “But I gotta stick to reality, not hypotheticals. And frankly, wishful thinking.”