Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a Cornell alumnus all walk into a bar.
The July encounter was one of several inside stories Jordan Fabian ’09 — a White House correspondent for The Hill — recounted to Cornellians on Thursday evening in Goldwin Smith Hall.
“I’ve never been more excited to be in Ithaca in February,” Fabian said, reminiscing about attending lectures as a history major in the same auditorium he spoke in on Thursday.
Fabian said the Trump administration’s travel ban in January and its chaotic rollout took members of the press corps by surprise and was one of five defining moments he shared with the audience.
“It was a stunning development for everyone,” he said.“I remember sitting in the press room and they weren’t even able to tell us what countries were on the list.”
That moment taught White House reporters “how the place operates” under Donald Trump, he said, and hampered Trump’s later initiatives.
“Trump soon discovered that his bellicose rhetoric has real-world consequences,” Fabian said. “The election was over. Calling for a Muslim ban on the campaign trail caught up to him.”
Another defining moment of Trump’s White House, Fabian said, was the president’s firing of James Comey, then the FBI director. Fabian said the firing was the beginning of what he called Trump’s pattern of undermining the FBI and the Department of Justice.
“As I was leaving the White House, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket, and sure enough, President Trump dismissed the man leading the Russia investigation,” Fabian said. I promptly turned around and went back to work.”
“I covered the Obama administration and this is completely different than anything I’ve seen,” he continued.
Fabian pointed to the Republican memo released by Trump earlier this month as the most recent example of Trump’s “attempt to undercut our intelligence agencies, no matter the danger it poses to national security.”
Fabian said “The Mooch Era” — the brief tenure of Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s director of communications for 10 days — included what may be the craziest day of Trump’s term so far.
When Fabian sat in the Washington, D.C. bar with Spicer, who at that time was still press secretary, and Sanders, at that point his deputy, Spicer stepped out to answer a phone call.
Shortly thereafter, news broke that Anthony Scaramucci was taking over as the communications director.
“That was likely the wildest day yet,” Fabian said.
Fabian said the “lowest point of the Trump presidency” was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s response.
“There’s a lot to choose from, but this stands out as being among the worst events of the year,” Fabian said. “Trump’s initial remarks, his attempted clean-up, and finally his 20-minute, ‘both sides’ rant at Trump Tower, left aides in shock.”
The role of a president is often to console the American people following a national crisis, Fabian said.
“In fact, it might be the most important job of a president, and frankly, this is not what this president does,” he said.