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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer: 'Our Intention Is Never to Lie to You'

White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to walk back his widely disputed inauguration crowd size claims during his first official briefing.
Image: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds first press briefing, Washington, USA - 23 Jan 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer responds to a question Monday during his first news briefing at in the White House.Shawn Thew / EPA

In his first official briefing as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer told reporters that "our intention is never to lie to you," but he refused to walk back his widely disputed claim that the inauguration was the most-watched ever "both in-person and around the globe."

"I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may ... we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you," he said.

Spicer's comments come two days after he issued multiple falsehoods in his first public appearance before reporters Saturday in a widely criticized statement relitigating news reports noting the relatively smaller size of President Donald Trump's inauguration crowd on Friday in comparison to President Barack Obama's.

Again and again, Spicer was repeatedly pressed about his comments on the crowd's size and whether the media could expect veracity from a Trump White House.

Spicer hit back, accusing the media of trying to undermine Trump's credibility and achievements.

"When you wake up and that's what you see every day ... yeah, it is disappointing. Some days we do the right thing. Some days we are successful, ... but it's not always wrong and negative," Spicer said during the briefing.

Spicer's first White House briefing came on a busy day for Trump, during which he signed three executive orders and met with business executives at the White House.

Monday's briefing went on for nearly 80 minutes, during which Spicer parried questions on everything from domestic policy to Trump's meetings with foreign leaders. The wide-ranging briefing spanned such topics as trade deals, cooperation with Russia to defeat ISIS and Cabinet positions, among other substantive topics.

A Change in Tradition

Spicer upended the traditional order in which reporters were called, opening the briefing with a question to the New York Post. Typically, the TV news networks and wires are given questions first.

But the biggest change is still to come.

Spicer announced Monday that the Trump administration would add four "Skype seats" that would open up the briefing to journalists who live beyond 50 miles of the Washington, D.C., area and to organizations that don't have credentials for the White House.

Eliminating NAFTA, Thoughts on DACA

Trump has spoken to the leaders of Canada and Mexico about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, Spicer said, adding that the president was open to renegotiating NAFTA within its current structure.

And although Trump pledged during the campaign to "immediately terminate" Obama's executive order protecting minors who are undocumented immigrants from deportation, Spicer told reporters that Trump would first look at those who are in the country illegally who have committed violent crimes.

"I think the president has been clear that he is going to prioritize the areas of dealing with the immigration system, both building the wall and making sure that we address people who are in this county illegally," Spicer said.

"First and foremost, the president's been very, very clear that we need to direct agencies to focus on those who are in this country illegally and have a record, a criminal record, or pose a threat to the American people. That's where the priority is going to be."

On the Unemployment Rate

But Spicer's pledge to "tell you the facts as I know them" was complicated just minutes later, when he was asked directly: "What is the national unemployment rate?" He didn't provide any figures.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said this month that the unemployment rate for December was 4.7 percent, up slightly from 4.6 percent the month before.

Spicer first said there were "several versions" of those figures.

Trump "sees people that are hurting" and "it's not just a number to him," Spicer said. He said the president was "not focused on statistics" but rather "if people are doing better off."

"I think that's where his head is at," he said, saying questions over unemployment previously have "been about what number we're looking at instead of what face we're looking at."

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly dismissed the declining unemployment rate, alleging that it was "fiction" and that the economic reality faced by many Americans was much worse.

U.S. Open to Working With Russia on Fighting ISIS

Spicer also said the United States was open to working with Russia to combat ISIS.

"I think if there's a way that we can combat ISIS with any country, whether its Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure, we'll take it," he said.

However, while the United States. has an open channel of communication with the Russian military on such matters as ensuring aircrew safety and operations in Syria, "the Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria," Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, told NBC News.

Spicer also weighed in on reports concerning the intelligence investigation into the Trump administration's alleged ties to Russia, telling reporters he didn't believe the president had spoken with any officials about the investigation and hadn't indicated that he would move to end it.

And he reacted to a Wall Street Journal report that the investigation was looking into phone calls that National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had made to the Russian ambassador in late December.

Spicer repeated his previous statement that there was only one call between the two, but he expanded upon its contents, saying they discussed a plane crash over the holiday, Christmas greetings, a potential conference in Syria on ISIS and setting up a conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump.