The White House press secretary allegedly threatened to smear a critical reporter with a planted story just before an anonymous Trump administration official leaked the same tale to another journalist.
A spokesman for Politico, which published a story about a White House leak investigation that upset Sean Spicer, claims the press secretary threatened to share information seemingly intended to punish one of the website's reporters, according to the Washington Post.
Politico's Alex Isenstadt and Annie Karni published a story Sunday on a surprise meeting called by Spicer, who examined aides' phones and other electronic devices for evidence of leaks -- and then multiple sources leaked details of that meeting.
Hours after that report, the Washington Examiner cited anonymous “White House officials" to claim Isenstadt had laughed at a Trump aide’s emotional reaction to the death of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens.
The Post's Erik Wemple reported that Isenstadt admits to laughing during a call with Spicer, but Politico spokesman Brad Dayspring said the reporter had laughed at the press secretary's vehement denial that he'd made an aide cry by criticizing her work.
Spicer actually threatened to tell another media outlet about Isenstadt's laughter -- which the reporter disputed -- during the same call, the Post reported.
The press secretary and Isenstadt even discussed the threat by email after the story was published, Wemple reported.
Six and a half hours after the Politico report broke, the Examiner's Paul Bedard asked Isenstadt by email to comment on the anonymous claim by White House insiders.
Isenstadt has referred reporters to Dayspring, the Politico spokesman, who denied the Examiner's characterization of the laughter incident.
Politico's editor, Carrie Budoff Brown, accused the White House of planting a "false story" about her reporter as punishment for the leak report.