A White House spokesman told The Huffington Post the administration “offered multiple guests for State of the Union and they declined.”
But Pence wasn’t one of them, according to a CNN spokeswoman. Instead, the White House offered presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, CNN said. The network declined that offer.
The Trump White House has notoriously bad relations with CNN already. And the decision to make Pence available to CNN’s Sunday show rivals, but not CNN itself, is likely an extension of what Politico recently reported as a “freezing out” of the network. The White House hasn’t provided any administration officials for “State of the Union” since Jan. 8, an absence the show’s host, Jake Tapper, has noted on the air.
The freeze doesn’t appear solid. On Wednesday, Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart News editor who’s now deputy assistant to the president, appeared on Tapper’s weekday afternoon show, “The Lead.” And the White House offer of Conway as a substitute guest shows CNN is no longer getting shunned on Sunday mornings.
But Pence’s unavailability suggests the animus remains. Tapper last sat down with Pence on Dec. 6 on “The Lead,” an interview in which the CNN host repeatedly pressed the vice president about why Trump’s transition team had sought security clearance for Michael G. Flynn, the son of national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.
The younger Flynn, who had served as a top aide to his father, had sparked controversy at the time by helping to fuel the bogus “pizzagate” conspiracy theory. A day before his interview with Pence, Tapper had privately tried to get Flynn Jr. to stop lending credence to the baseless story on Twitter.
On “The Lead,” Tapper said Pence was “downplaying” Flynn Jr.’s role in the transition and questioned the decision to seek a security clearance for him.
“I want to move on to other issues, but I’m afraid I just didn’t get an answer, which is: Were you aware that the transition had put in for a security clearance for Michael Flynn, Jr.?” Tapper asked.
Tapper again pressed the issue. “I’m sorry, it’s just that you’re not answering the question, which is: Were you aware that the transition team had put in for a security clearance?” he asked.
Since then, CNN has grown as a target of Trump’s routine attacks on the media. At a Jan. 11 news conference, Trump refused to take a question from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, a day after the network reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had briefed the then-president elect on an unverified dossier claiming he’d been compromised by Russian intelligence.
Trump called CNN ― which did not publish the contents of the 35-page dossier ― “fake news,” along with BuzzFeed, which did publish it. Trump has continued calling CNN “fake news,” including at a Wednesday event honoring Black History Month.
On Friday morning, Tapper tweeted that CNN hasn’t been hurt by Trump’s attacks.