The request didn’t seem all that difficult: Could President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman say that he didn’t use the N word on tape?
Yet time after time during Tuesday’s briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders parried the question, refusing to give a simple “yes” or “no.” Rather than answer the question herself, she repeatedly directed reporters to the president’s tweet from Monday, in which he said that the Apprentice producer Mark Burnett “called to say that there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa. I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have.” Here’s the exchange:
Reporter: Sarah, have you asked the president if he ever used the N word?
Sanders: The president addressed that question directly via Twitter. I’d refer you back to him. And I can certainly say I’ve never heard him use that term or anything similar.
Reporter: You asked him directly?
Sanders: I didn’t have to, because he addressed it to the American people all at one time.
Reporter: Why haven’t you asked him directly?
Sanders: The president answered that question directly on Twitter today.
Reporter: Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people that they’ll never hear Donald Trump utter the N word in any context?
Sanders: I can’t guarantee anything, but I can tell you that the president addressed this question directly. I can tell you that I’ve never heard it.
Sanders’s unwillingness to state straightforwardly that no tape exists is striking. The existence of such a tape has been rumored since before the 2016 election, producing fevered searches by journalists and even the actor Tom Arnold. On the one hand, given Trump’s repeated race-baiting comments, it’s not impossible to imagine him using the word. On the other, one would expect such a tape, if real, to have emerged by now.
Omarosa Manigault-Newman’s new book has revitalized the rumors. In her book, out Tuesday, the former White House aide says she heard discussions about a tape. During her publicity tour, she claimed that she had actually heard the tape itself, after her book went to press. On Monday night, she released a recording in which Trump campaign staffers discuss something embarrassing the president had said.