Outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended President Barack Obama's right to meet secretly with people of his choosing, blaming the lack of transparency about a lunch with Hillary Rodham Clinton Thursday in part on timing.
Just after the president announced Carney is stepping down from his post, Carney told reporters he understood the interest in the lunch, but declined to detail the internal deliberations on why it was kept off of the public schedule. His only admission was the lunch was put together late.
As I noted in Thursday's post on Obama's secret lunch with Hillary Clinton , the White House included a similar lunch with Clinton on the public schedule in 2013. "It wasn't something planned very far in advance. And that explains partly why it wasn't on his public schedule," Carney said.
Carney also defended the president's ability to keep his private meetings a secret.
"It simply can't be the case that a president can't have a lunch or a meeting that's not on his public schedule just because the fact of it might be of interest. I had a spirited email exchange with a reporter about this, and the focus was on the reason why this one should've been reported is because Secretary Clinton, according to you guys, and the polls that you read, is potentially or currently the leading contender to be the next president.
"Well, I mean, is that the criteria for newsworthy, or you know, how do you set that standard?" he asked.
Carney argued the standard should be what Obama's predecessors did.
"We endeavor to put as much as we can, as much as we feel is appropriate of the president's schedule out publicly. But not every meeting and not every lunch is going to be on that schedule, and again, this was kind of a specific circumstance in how it came together in the lateness of the lunch, and it reflects the fact that this is somebody the president worked very closely with for four years, and who is very close to," Carney said.
"It was an informal lunch. It wasn't ... like an official thing. It was just lunch."
Carney argued against total transparency.
"You know you can reduce this all the way to infinity, and simply say that you know, everything the president does and — you know, everything should be transparent and public, and I think that sounds great as an ideal, but it also would render a president incapable of functioning effectively."
Pressed again why the decision was made to keep the meeting off of the public schedule, Carney refused to explain further.
Presidents "can have like a last-minute decision to have lunch with somebody, just like you and me, and that — that was part of the reason behind it. I mean, I'm sure you guys will read more into it," he said. Of course, this is not the first time Clinton and Obama have snuck off without telling reporters. In 2008 at the very end of the bruising primary contest between them they met in secret at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's home in Washington. The move infuriated the press , prompting a near riot when the charter plane carrying the traveling campaign reporters flew back to Chicago — without Obama on board. (A letter from network bureau chiefs to campaign aides complaining was one of the last things Tim Russert did before dying suddenly that summer.)
As I reported Thursday , I was the pool reporter on duty during said secret lunch, and I complained to Carney via email about the lack of transparency. We realize that there are times when national security or other circumstances prevent full disclosure from the White House about the president’s schedule. But CQ Roll Call’s stance is for transparency. Especially if the leading contender to be the next president is meeting with the president. And even moreso from an administration that labels itself "transparent."
The idea that the president can't function without the public knowing he's having lunch with Hillary Clinton — or most of the other people the president has lunch with — is silly.
At any rate, Carney also declined to read out any details of what happened when the two former rivals sat down for the meal.