Less than a week after President Donald Trump publicly attacked journalists for using anonymous sources in stories about his administration, it appears the president become one himself on Tuesday - at least briefly.
Three television anchors, shortly after attending from a White House lunch meeting with the president, emerged to report news on the president's belief that the time may be right for immigration reform. Fox News Channel's Bret Baier, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper, attributed the news to a “senior administration official.” ABC's George Stephanopoulos, in a tweet, sourced it to a “WH official.”
After being asked about the apparent contradiction, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in an email that “the president's comments on that subject are on the record.”
And minutes after that, ABC's David Muir, who was also in the meeting, posted a story on the network's website quoting Trump by name saying the president had told news anchors and correspondents at the White House lunch that “the time is right for an immigration bill, as long as there is compromise on both sides.”
The episode illustrated the administration's difficulties in squaring a longtime practice of anonymous sourcing in Washington politics and journalism with the president's anger at stories that displeased him. Trump has decried “fake news” and called journalists “enemies of the people.” Friday, in a speech before a conference of conservatives, he said that reporters “shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there.”
It's not unusual for presidents to invite journalists for private meetings like Tuesday's lunch before a major speech, like Trump's before Congress on Tuesday. In the past, they have been considered off the record - meaning nothing said at the meeting could be reported publicly.
Before Trump publicly became the source of the immigration news, a White House official acknowledged to The Associated Press that it came from the meeting with news anchors. The AP was not included in the meeting.
Fox News' Chris Wallace, who was also in the meeting, reported on Shepard Smith's afternoon show that he saw a “kinder, gentler Donald Trump” during the lunch.
“It was in this context that a senior administration official said that the president thinks that the time was right for immigration reform,” Wallace said. “That came as kind of a surprise.”
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
1/9 Trump and the media
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer takes questions during the daily press briefing
2/9 Trump and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Union leaders applaud US President Donald Trump for signing an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington DC. Mr Trump issued a presidential memorandum in January announcing that the US would withdraw from the trade deal
3/9 Trump and the Mexico wall
A US Border Patrol vehicle sits waiting for illegal immigrants at a fence opening near the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. The number of incoming immigrants has surged ahead of the upcoming Presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, who has pledged to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. A signature campaign promise, Mr Trump outlined his intention to build a border wall on the US-Mexico border days after taking office
4/9 Trump and abortion
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks on in the Oval Office of the White House. Mr Trump reinstated a ban on American financial aide being granted to non-governmental organizations that provide abortion counseling, provide abortion referrals, or advocate for abortion access outside of the United States
5/9 Trump and the Dakota Access pipeline
Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally as they protest US President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York. US President Donald Trump signed executive orders reviving the construction of two controversial oil pipelines, but said the projects would be subject to renegotiation
6/9 Trump and 'Obamacare'
Nancy Pelosi who is the minority leader of the House of Representatives speaks beside House Democrats at an event to protect the Affordable Care Act in Los Angeles, California. US President Donald Trump's effort to make good on his campaign promise to repeal and replace the healthcare law failed when Republicans failed to get enough votes. Mr Trump has promised to revisit the matter
7/9 Donald Trump and 'sanctuary cities'
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January threatening to pull funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" if they do not comply with federal immigration law
8/9 Trump and the travel ban
US President Donald Trump has attempted twice to restrict travel into the United States from several predominantly Muslim countries. The first attempt, in February, was met with swift opposition from protesters who flocked to airports around the country. That travel ban was later blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The second ban was blocked by a federal judge a day before it was scheduled to be implemented in mid-March
SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images
9/9 Trump and climate change
US President Donald Trump sought to dismantle several of his predecessor's actions on climate change in March. His order instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reevaluate the Clean Power Plan, which would cap power plant emissions
After some more discussion of nuggets from the “senior administration official,” Smith couldn't take it anymore.
“So they give us anonymous sources after they rail at us for using anonymous sources?” he said. “That is hilarious.”
Replied Wallace: “Don't shoot the messenger, Shep.”
Smith said that Trump “wants people to think there's a major war against people who report facts that he doesn't like. But when you're in the room with him, it's all good. When you're on TV, he vilifies you and treats you as if you're doing something wrong when you're actually doing everything right. That's annoying.”