- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2017

The head of the journalists association covering the White House said Sunday that the group will object to any move by the incoming administration to “shield” Donald Trump from scrutiny, amid reports that Mr. Trump’s advisers are considering moving the press briefing room out of the West Wing.

White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said the group “would view it as unacceptable if the incoming administration sought to move White House reporters out of the press work space behind the press briefing room” in the West Wing.

“Access in the West Wing to senior administration officials, including the press secretary, is critical to transparency and to journalists’ ability to do their jobs,” Mr. Mason said after a two-hour meeting with incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

But Mr. Mason said they had a “constructive” conversation about the next administration’s desire to increase participation in White House press briefings, which has prompted the Trump team to consider moving daily briefings out of the current press briefing room in the West Wing to a larger facility elsewhere in the White House complex.

At Mr. Trump’s press conference in New York last week, about 250 journalists were in attendance. The press briefing room in the White House has 49 seats.

“The White House Correspondents’ Association has always advocated for increasing access and transparency for the benefit of all news outlets and the public,” Mr. Mason said. “I emphasized the importance of the White House press briefing room and noted that it is open to all journalists who seek access now.”

At Mr. Trump’s press conference, the president-elect got into a verbal sparring match with reporter Jim Acosta of CNN, who was trying to ask a question. Mr. Trump, who was angered by a CNN story about an intelligence dossier on alleged comprising information about him, refused to call on Mr. Acosta.

Mr. Mason said Mr. Spicer “expressed concern that journalists adhere to a high level of decorum at press briefings and press conferences.”

“I made clear that the WHCA would object, always, to a reporter being thrown out of a briefing or press conference,” Mr. Mason said.

The incoming administration is considering a change of location for the press briefing room to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. The massive 19th-century office building houses various White House departments, as well as an auditorium with a stage that is sometimes used for larger-scale press briefings and presidential events.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that the Trump administration simply wants to accommodate more reporters and isn’t looking to retaliate against a press corps that Mr. Trump has often attacked.

“What the team told me is there is such a tremendous amount of interest in this incoming administration that they’re giving some consideration to finding a larger venue on the 18 acres in the White House complex to accommodate the extraordinary interest,” Mr. Pence said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Priebus, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that moving reporters from the current press briefing room in the West Wing to another location in the White House complex could accommodate four times the number of reporters.

“What we’re talking about, and the only thing that was even discussed about this, was whether or not we want to take that room that only holds 50 people in that very small press room … and whether you want to go 50 feet to the [Eisenhower Executive Office Building] and have, for the first few weeks or the first month or so, the press conferences where you have three or four times the amount of people,” Mr. Priebus said. “It’s about more access.”

Esquire magazine, citing three senior Trump officials, reported Saturday that a bid to move reporters from the White House was “under serious consideration” by the new administration.

Mr. Pence said the new administration will be transparent, and that the discussions are focused on logistics.

“We’re working that out in a way that’ll reflect our commitment to transparency, to a free and independent press,” the vice president-elect said. “And we look forward to those days.”

Mr. Mason said his meeting with Mr. Spicer is an effort “to try to get more clarity on exactly what they are suggesting.”

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