Trump denounces media as White House goes quiet on Comey

The White House has been unusually quiet since it became public knowledge that former FBI Director James Comey has a paper trail of his conversations with President Trump.

In the last 24 hours, the president has not used his Twitter account to comment on news of a memo accusing him of trying to quash Comey’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and White House surrogates did not rush to television to defend him.

The only defense so far has been an unsigned statement saying Comey’s allegations are false, which white House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated off-camera on Wednesday.

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Spicer said Trump is eager to the “get to the bottom” of the controversy surrounding his February conversation with Comey, which has shaken the White House to its foundation.

“The president is confident in the events he’s maintained and that he wants the truth and these investigations to get to the bottom of this situation,” Spicer told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One.

Trump has not commented directly on his talks with Comey, but he did deliver a fiery denunciation of the media that was widely seen as referencing its coverage of the firestorm.

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” he said during a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

During his brief, seven-minute session with reporters, Spicer refused to answer direct questions about whether the president wants to see Comey testify before Congress or whether he would waive executive privilege to allow both men to freely recount their version of the events.

Spicer also dodged questions about comparisons being made to the Watergate scandal that took down President Richard Nixon and why officials have been so quiet about the allegations.

The spokesman said on at least seven different occasions the White House has been “very clear” about its version of the events.

The White House appears to have muzzled its top surrogates at a critical juncture, an unusual posture for a president who has made a point to vociferously defend himself against his critics.

The low-key approach prompted Fox News anchor Bret Baier to muse about how difficult it was to find any Republican to go on the airwaves and defend the administration. “CBS This Morning” host Charlie Rose said he could find no White House officials to go on his show Wednesday morning.

One former campaign and transition official told The Hill that was a deliberate strategy, saying the White House had chosen not to make media appearances that might give more oxygen to the controversy with a misstatement or remark that might result in legal trouble.

“You don’t want to put someone out there if there is a risk they’ll extend the news cycle,” the source said. “You expose yourself to a lot of unknowns and give the media more to cover when, in the end, they’re going to knife you anyway.”

The White House found itself in that exact situation after Trump’s surprise firing of Comey last week and after reports emerged that he revealed highly classified info during an Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats.

Each time, White House staff offered carefully crafted, official explanations of the events only to have Trump undercut them hours later in television interviews and Twitter posts.

The stakes are even higher now for the White House to get its story straight.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed exasperation with the growing number of controversies circling the White House, and two congressional committees have demanded to hear directly from Comey about his account of the meeting.

Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashHouse votes to crack down on undocumented immigrants with gang ties GOP lawmaker taunts House conservatives: Trump’s base is not ‘small faction of obstructionists’ Overnight Finance: GOP plans to unveil tax framework in late September | Critical stretch for Trump tax team | Equifax CEO called to testify | Sanders unveils single-payer bill MORE (Mich.) and Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) became the first GOP lawmakers to publicly muse that Trump may have committed an impeachable offense if he sought to pressure Comey to abandon an investigation into Flynn.

With the walls seemingly beginning to close around his presidency, Trump turned to the best person he believes capable of defending him: himself.

In his defiant speech to Coast Guard cadets, he painted himself as a victim of unfair media coverage and criticisms while expressing confidence he could overcome it.

“You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted,” he said. “But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.”

In a fundraising appeal with the headline “Sabotage,” the Trump campaign sought to raise money off the notion that career bureaucrats and the media were colluding to undermine the White House.

“You already knew the media was out to get us,” the email said. “But sadly it’s not just the fake news. … There are people within our own unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump and our entire America First movement."

Outside the White House, Trump loyalists ran with that message, raising the alarm over what they view as a coordinated effort between rogue “deep state” actors and the media to sink the administration through leaks.

“There has been deliberate effort since Trump won to bring him down,” said one former senior Justice Department official. “The systematic leaks are incredible and mendacious. It’s essentially an attempted coup.”

The president has long been at odds with the intelligence community but now has a powerful new enemy at the FBI.

There are worries in Trump World that such an enemy could produce a steady stream of leaks that keep the White House in crisis mode for the foreseeable future.

“Clearly they feel besieged and they have a right to, the enemy is in the building,” said Barry Bennett, a former transition adviser and contributor to The Hill. “Until the deep state fears they’ll get caught, they’ll continue with the leaks. They are armed with motive and when the media runs with anything, irrespective of the facts, that’s a powerful combination.”