After loud pushback, including from photojournalists who protested, Sanders allowed a single reporter in the pool for the dinner: Vivian Salama of the Wall Street Journal, who was serving as the print pooler and did not ask a question at the dinner. In addition, at least two members of the North Korean media contingent, a photographer and cameraman, were seen covering the dinner.
Reporters for the three wire services, as well as a second print pooler, were excluded. They included two journalists who had asked Trump questions in the earlier appearances: Jonathan Lemire of the AP and Jeff Mason of Reuters. Also excluded were Justin Sink of Bloomberg and Eli Stokols of the Los Angeles Times.
In a statement, Sanders said: «Due to the sensitive nature of the meetings we have limited the pool for the dinner to a smaller group, but ensured that representation of photographers, TV, radio and print Poolers are all in the room. We are continuing to negotiate aspects of this historic summit and will always work to make sure the US media has as much access as possible.»
Sanders did not specify whether the White House was retaliating against journalists who asked questions at the request of Trump or of Kim or the North Korean delegation. Asked by The Washington Post to clarify, Sanders referred to her written statement.
Journalists in the pool asked Sanders repeatedly whether North Korea was responsible for the White House’s decision to curb access, but she declined to give a direct answer. «I wouldn’t say that,» she said, according to two people present for the discussions.
Lauren Easton, a spokeswoman for the AP, said in a statement: «The Associated Press decries such efforts by the White House to restrict access to the president. It is critically important that any president uphold American press freedom standards, not only at home but especially while abroad.»
The move came a day after the US press corps was kicked out of its filing centre in Hanoi at the request of the North Korean entourage. The White House booked conference facilities at the Melia hotel as a press workspace, which was being paid for by news organisations, but the hotel in the heart of the city also happened to be where Kim and his delegation decided to stay. As Kim’s motorcade headed toward Hanoi on Tuesday, Vietnamese officials suddenly booted the US media from the hotel and relocated their operations at a separate site sharing space with the international press corps.
During Trump’s first visit with Kim on Wednesday night, American reporters asked Trump four questions during two brief photo opportunities, they asked Kim none. Eight North Korean reporters were also present for the summit — the entirely male contingent wore pins celebrating Kim Jong-un and were dressed alike — but they asked no questions.
When Trump and Kim first shook hands, Mason asked whether Trump had walked back his vow to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula. «No,» the President replied. And Lemire asked whether he would declare an end to the Korean War, to which Trump replied, «We’ll see».
A few minutes later, when Trump and Kim sat down for their one-on-one meeting, Lemire asked Trump whether he had a response to Cohen’s testimony. Trump shook his head and did not answer.
Trump has long complained about reporters asking him questions at photo opportunities, especially when he is in the presence of foreign leaders, which aides have said he views as disrespectful and lacking in decorum. The White House occasionally has punished reporters for their questioning, including CNN’s Jim Acosta and Kaitlan Collins.
This was not the first time Lemire and Mason asked uncomfortable questions of Trump on foreign soil. Both posed sharp questions to the president at his 2018 Helsinki news conference alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump later complained to aides about their questions, although he has since granted interviews to both reporters.
At Wednesday’s dinner with Kim, Trump made small talk with the press pool. «Everybody having a great time?» he asked.
After his press secretary kicked four reporters out of the pool, Trump joked to Kim that the «media make us look very good!» The President also pointed to photojournalist Doug Mills of the New York Times and told Kim he was «one of the great photographers of the world».