WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday defended its decision to bar a CNN correspondent from attending an open press event but contended it had nothing to do with the questions she asked.
Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Kaitlan Collins was denied access to Trump's Rose Garden event with the European Commission president on Wednesday because of her refusal to leave the Oval Office during a previous availability with the president. She and her employer, CNN, said she was barred because White House officials found her questions "inappropriate," which Gidley disputed.
"It had nothing to do with the content of the question," Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Donald Trump headed back to Washington from Iowa and Illinois.
Collins had served as a representative of the television networks during an earlier "pool spray" availability in the Oval Office. She and a handful of other reporters peppered the president with questions, including many focused on his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. A day earlier, CNN had obtained and aired a secret audio recording that captured Trump and Cohen discussing a potential payment to a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump.
Gidley said Collins "was told repeatedly to leave the Oval Office." She refused and stayed "despite staff, Secret Service, everyone trying to usher everyone out of the room," Gidley said. "And that can't happen."
Other journalists who were in the room disputed the White House account.
Numerous reporters, including many from the European Union delegation, had been shouting questions, and, as usual, it took some time for the pack of journalists to file out the doors. Trump frequently answers reporters' questions even as staffers try to usher them out of the room, creating sometimes-chaotic scenes where low-level press officers shout at reporters as the president tries to speak.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said the White House had made clear that other CNN journalists were welcome at the Rose Garden event, just not Collins.
"To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the presidency and guests at the White House," she said.
Earlier Thursday, White House communications chief Bill Shine quibbled with the use of the word "ban" in describing the action taken against Collins.
"Would you ask her if we ever used the word 'ban'?" Shine told reporters.
And Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said the incident showed the need broadly for more "civility" between reporters and the White House.
"I think it should start here at the White House and just show a little bit more respect," she said.
Asked whether Trump had directed the decision, Gidley replied: "The president does feel strongly about this."
CNN, in a statement Wednesday, objected to the White House decision, calling it "retaliatory in nature" and "not indicative of an open and free press."
"Just because the White House is uncomfortable with a question regarding the news of the day doesn't mean the question isn't relevant and shouldn't be asked," the network said.
The White House Correspondents' Association also issued a harshly worded statement condemning "the White House's misguided and inappropriate decision ... to bar one of our members from an open press event after she asked questions they did not like."