President Donald Trump has not held a wide-ranging press conference since February, instead choosing to keep his media interactions limited to handpicked interviews and short, four-question press conferences with foreign leaders.
But overnight as he flew from Washington to Paris, Trump sat with reporters and held a roughly hour-long conversation. The reporters on the plane had been told it was off the record, and that’s how it was conveyed to the larger White House press pool.
But during a photo spray with French President Emanuel Macron on Thursday, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman asked a question which had apparently been asked during the flight.
"POTUS asked your pooler why she didn’t use what he has said last night. Your pooler reminded him last night was off the record. POTUS asked if I had heard him say it could be on-record; your pooler replied truthfully no (co-poolers also were not under impression it was on-record, since [Deputy White House Press Secretary] Sarah Sanders had declared it off record),” Haberman wrote in her pool report.
Presidents will often hold conversations with reporters aboard Air Force One, and it’s not uncommon for them to be off the record. However, Trump is known to change his mind and make a previously off-the-record conversation on the record.
In an Oval Office meeting with POLITICO reporters in April, one aide said the chat was off-the-record, but Trump insisted, over objections from nervous-looking staffers, that he be quoted. At a reception for conservative media in April, Trump turned the evening into an impromptu press conference, leading to some complaints among some of the reporters who were not prepared.
As the pool was leaving the photo spray, Trump and economic adviser Gary Cohn called Haberman back to tell her the communications shop would put “most” of the off-the-record conversation on the record. But Sanders later told her that “excerpt’s" will be released.
Not all reporters were pleased with that explanation.
"If the president speaks to reporters off the record, and then puts parts of it on the record, we’re essentially giving him quote approval,” tweeted Gregory Korte, White House correspondent for USA Today. "I’ve never been a huge critic of quote approval. It’s better than ‘on background’ and ensures accuracy. I’m uncomfortable with it from POTUS. Even if 99% is on-the-record, I’d want to hear a pretty good argument about why the 1% can’t also be on the record.”
"If [White House] puts out excerpts, it means they’ve put it all on record. Up to those reporters attending to put entire report on record now," tweeted "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd.
A couple hours after Trump asked for the conversation to be put on-record, the White House released some excerpts.