Accuracy in Media

According to a story in the Washington Post on Wednesday, President Trump is urging administration officials who appear before Congress to be belligerent and is doling out praise to those who make a scene in congressional testimony.

In “On Capitol Hill, some Trump officials are testifying for an audience of one,” Seung Min Kim of the Post opens with a vignette from last week when Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin was testifying before the House Financial Services Committee.

Battered by hostility from Chairman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who repeatedly has called for the public to harass Republicans and Trump administration officials wherever they encounter them, Mnuchin finally said that, in previous years, “they did not treat the secretary of the treasury this way … so if this is the way you want to treat me, then I’ll rethink whether I voluntarily come back here to testify.”

Kim then defends Waters, saying she “admonished him that past secretaries had not sought to limit their testimony and that ‘if you wish to leave, you may.’”

Mnuchin stayed throughout, Kim noted, “but the contentious exchange … was the type of testimony that has become commonplace during Donald Trump’s presidency – as Cabinet officials and other appointees upend normally staid congressional hearings with performances that, at times, appear to be designed for the viewer in chief.

“It’s another way those around Trump – or those seeking to influence him – are speaking to the president through television, as some Cabinet officials use the power of the president’s favorite medium to showcase their aggressive defense of the administration and the eagerness to challenge increasingly antagonistic Democratic lawmakers.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said, “They’re all putting on performances. They all feel like they’re more likely going to get an ‘attaboy’ if they appear more combative.”

Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last September also fell into this category, Kim wrote. The president had been “disappointed in Kavanaugh’s lackluster self-defense on Fox News earlier that week,” but he “was impressed by his confrontational testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as he alternated between teary-eyed and furious during his defense against accusations of sexual assault.”

She then misrepresents a moment in the meeting to further slam Kavanaugh, saying he was “at one point so aggressive that the nominee later apologized to a Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who had questioned him about his drinking.”

Kavanaugh did apologize to Klobuchar, but it wasn’t for being “so aggressive.” After she demanded an accounting of how many beers he drank in a week, he said he liked beer and asked her if she liked beer. She said she never drank. When he found out during a break that her father had been an alcoholic, he apologized.

Trump encourages this behavior, Kim wrote, by praising those who take on Congress aggressively, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and “undercutting” those who don’t fare as well, “particularly when it leads to negative media coverage,” such as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ ill-fated testimony on the decision to remove funding for Special Olympics – a decision the president later overruled.

White House officials “were thrilled at the combative approach” interim Attorney General Matt Whitaker took during a hearing shortly before William Barr was confirmed to the post.

How does Kim know White House officials were thrilled? How does she know who gets praised for their performances on Capitol Hill and who does not? How does she know the president watches and assesses these programs and, in fact, values confrontation in them?

It’s “according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.”

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