The Day Before the Mass Exodus at White House, Jay Carney Got Grilled on VA Scandal

On Thursday, the day before a double resignation at the White House, ABC's Jon Karl grilled Jay Carney over Barack Obama's confidence in Eric Shinseki. Less than 24 hours later, the press secretary and Veterans Administration head had both quit. During the back-and-forth, Karl pressed, "But does the President right now have confidence in Sec. Shinseki, yes or no? It's a very simple yes or no question. You told us last week he did have confidence, does he have confidence now?" [See video below.]

Carney dodged and responded, "Jon, the President addressed this question from the podium." The journalist pointed out, " But he wasn't asked directly if he had confidence in him." The now-ex-press secretary dismissed this as "word play." Karl continued to push, insisting, "It's a basic question. It's not wordplay. Its a central question: Does he have confidence in a member of his cabinet?" 

Thursday's World News played a brief clip of the exchange. Karl followed it by predicting to anchor Diane Sawyer: "That, Diane, is what it sounds like, usually right before somebody is about to get fired." 

More than once, Karl has tangled with Carney. But World News and Good Morning America on May 21 simply ignored the tough questions on Shinseki. This also happened on May 15. On that day, Karl demanded: 

JON KARL: On the VA, I've heard you and I've heard others at the White House talk about the V.A. as having a good record on dealing with the backlog of claims – and actually praising the V.A. on this issue. In light of the way this – as we learn more about problems not just in the Arizona office, but in – but in other parts of the country, are you still saying you think that the Veterans Administration has done a good job in dealing with the backlog of claims? Are you still going to say that?

On Friday, Carney and Obama hugged as the President announced his resignation. This was hours after Shinseki quit. 

A transcript of the May 29 World News segment and the full press briefing transcript can be found below: 

5/29/14

6:35

DIANE SAWYER: And now, there is growing outrage tonight over the VA hospitals and the breakdown of care for American veterans. Right now, a growing chorus calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down. So, let's bring in ABC's chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl. So, Jon, is he out and where does he stand at this moment? 

JON KARL: Well, Diane, there are well over 100 members of Congress, many of them Democrats who are saying it's time for Shinseki to resign. And I am telling you, there's a growing sense here at the White House that Secretary Shinseki's days are numbered. Just look what happened today when I tried to get a straight answer here about where Shinseki stands with President. Very simple yes or no question, does the president have confidence in Secretary Shinseki? Yes or no?   

JAY CARNEY: Jon, the President addressed this question from the podium. 

KARL: No, he wasn't asked directly. Does he have confidence in Secretary Shinseki?  

CARNEY: The president believes, and is confident, that Secretary Shinseki has served his nation admirably.

KARL: That, Diane, is what it sounds like, usually right before somebody is about to get fired. That said, Secretary Shinseki, I am told, told veterans' groups today that he has no intention to leave. Then again, that may not be his choice to make. 

Full transcript Jon Karl's May 29 press briefing question: 

JON KARL: Does the president have confidence in Secretary Shinseki?

JAY CARNEY: Jon, the president addressed this question from the podium.

KARL: He wasn't asked directly does he have 'confidence' in Sec. Shinseki.

CARNEY: The president believes that -- and is confident that Sec. Shinseki has served his nation admirably, heroically as a soldier, as a general, and that he has accomplished some very important things as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and I listed them, but they include extending education benefits, reducing veteran homelessness, and reducing the size of the backlog for disability claims while expanding vastly the number of veterans who can make a claim.

KARL: But does the president right now have confidence in Sec. Shinseki, yes or no? It's a very simple yes or no question. You told us last week he did have confidence, does he have confidence now?

CARNEY: What I would point you to is what the president said--

KARL: But he wasn't asked directly if he was confident.

CARNEY: And I don't have – I'm not going to improve upon his words. He talked about accountability.

KARL: But he wasn't asked directly if he had confidence in him. 

CARNEY: I understand that, the word play here. What I think is more important – 

KARL: It's a basic question. It's not wordplay. Its a central question: Does he have confidence in a member of his cabinet?

CARNEY: On the issue you are referring to when it comes to the revelations that have come to light about Phoenix and other veterans health centers, the President was deeply troubled by what we saw in the interim report from the inspector general, and he awaits the preliminary report from Sec. Shinseki from the internal audit that the secretary is conducting.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org