White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today turned off the briefing room lights to address reporters in an unusual off camera gaggle, taking some of the spotlight off the White House as its senior Middle East peace negotiator resigns and questions arise over whether too much information has come out about the SEAL 6 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
Beyond that, Carney may be a bit weary. He’s briefed on camera three times this week already, and he edgily noted as he departed today’s gaggle that he had to cut the 11:35 am session short because he had a “a 12 o’clock meeting with one of my many bosses.”
Carney would not confirm the then-breaking news that Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who was at the White House, was there to tender his resignation. But Carney didn’t deny it and said a written presidential statement would be released shortly.
The decision to hold the off-camera gaggle just before releasing news of the Mitchell resignation is consistent with a clear White House strategy to low-key the departure.
With the news not official, Carney didn’t have to answer questions about it, and he didn’t have to appear to be stonewalling on TV. Obama will not appear in public today with Mitchell to thank him, denying the TV cameras a platform for a cable news feast on the failure of Obama to secure peace in the Middle East after nearly two and a half years of trying.
The stakes in the Middle East are huge for Obama, who came into office disparaging George W. Bush for not placing sufficient emphasis on getting a deal and who appointed Mitchell to do just that. Mitchell’s departure is tantamount to an admission of failure.
Carney may also have wanted to avoid a public spat with Defense Secretary Gates, who yesterday appeared to be suggesting that White House officials broke an agreement to keep quiet about how the Bin Laden raid went down.
Frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday, the next day.
Gates added that Navy SEALs who performed the operation now have concerns for the safety of their families.
Oddly, the White House press corps bothered neither to ask about Gates nor to find out why the briefing was off camera.