WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again apologized for comments he made comparing the use of chemical weapons in Syria to the actions of Adolf Hitler, saying that he had “let the president down” with a mistake that proved a distraction.
“I made a mistake. There’s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn’t have and I screwed up,” Spicer said in a discussion Wednesday morning with MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren at the Newseum in Washington.
Spicer later tried to clarify his comments, but it triggered a further furor. Later in the day, he apologized in an interview on CNN.
“This was my mistake, my bad, that I needed to fix,” Spicer told Van Susteren, acknowledging that the comments were even worsened because it came during a period of Jewish and Christian holy holidays. “To make a gaffe and a mistake like this is inexcusable and reprehensible,” he said.
Spicer said that he had not talked about his comments with President Trump.
His appearance was part of a half-day long event at the Newseum on the press and its coverage of Trump.
Spicer said that there was “sort of a spectrum” of reporters with a varying set of relationships and sentiments toward the administration.
He said that the dynamics of the media and how it covers the White House have changed, noting that there is now an “element of being first” to “get into the ether on social media.”
He also said that there was an overuse of anonymous sources, and suggested that many of the sources were misinformed because they are several steps removed from what is actually happening. He said it was like “a game of telephone” and said that even posed a “danger of our country.”
Like past press secretaries, he also said that there was too much focus on process, including internal disputes among key White House figures. The latest has been a focus on the role of chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Spicer said that the reported feud between Jared Kushner and Bannon was “overblown” and said that there would be “spirited debate” in the White House.
In an interview with the New York Post on Wednesday, Trump did not give a rousing expression of confidence in Bannon, saying, “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late.”
“I’m my own strategist,” Trump said.
The interview got huge play on Wednesday morning, raising speculation about the future of Bannon in the White House.
“I understand there is always going to be palace intrigue, but I think the proportion of palace intrigue and policy is a little out of whack,” Spicer said.
Trump and the White House staff are not attending this year’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner, saying that “this is not the appropriate year to go.” He said that he didn’t think “just sitting there and watching celebrities walk by” is the way to celebrate the press and the First Amendment.
“I don’t think we should be faking it,” he said.
He did insist that he likes his job, despite the acrimonious nature of press briefings and having become a “Saturday Night Live” character. “I love it.”
Later, in a panel of correspondents covering the White House, The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush disputed that “process isn’t policy. It is policy.”
He did say that Trump should get credit for getting on the phone with reporters, and said that he was “much more willing to engage” people than his predecessor.
CNN’s Jim Acosta said that the issue wasn’t necessarily the access to Trump, but his attitude to the news media.
“The president has to understand he is doing real damage to what we do,” Acosta said, citing Trump’s reference to certain media outlets as the “enemy of the people.’
Trump’s Twitter claim that President Obama had wiretapped him has proven to be a distraction, consuming an inordinate amount of time as the White House staff has been “fumbling around in the dark in search of a justification for these tweets,” Acosta said.
Charlie Spiering of Breibart News Network, however, said that “there is a certain amount of truth that comes from his tweet.”
“Why can’t we just have the truth?” Acosta responded.
Spiering said that “the frustrating thing is when people read Breitbart and think it comes from the Steve Bannon dispatch.” Bannon led the media outlet before be joined the Trump campaign. In fact, Breibart is covering Trump and holding him accountable to what he said during the campaign, he said.