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As the end of April arrived, the White House was moving toward two high-profile weekend events that could not have been more different—the raid on bin Laden’s compound, and the president’s scheduled Saturday night roast at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner.
Katie Johnson, personal secretary to the president, White House: My role was basically running the president’s day when he was in the White House. Especially as that week progressed, there are often meetings in the Sit Room that didn’t have a title—that wasn’t entirely uncommon—but there were huge blocks of time for that. He was also seeing a lot of John Brennan that week. It wasn’t that uncommon for him to see John all the time, but that was usually around a shooting or a terrorism incident or something like that. I could tell something was underway.
Jay Carney, press secretary, White House: It was right as I became press secretary in February 2011 that Donald Trump started doing the birther shit and when it got traction. It was just so appalling—all of it—but we were, including the president, a bit naive about it. We thought it was hard to take it seriously, because Trump was such—as I think Obama once referred to him—a carnival barker.
Dan Pfeiffer, communications director, White House: As far as I knew, that week had the very typical Correspondents Dinner rhythm to it—the draft of the speech goes in like a week in advance. There was a meeting where Obama reacts to the jokes, he gets pitched on some of the gags involving videos.
Jon Favreau, presidential speechwriter, White House: The birth certificate brouhaha loomed large. The reason that we went after Donald Trump is very simple: We always look at the guest list—who’s going to be at the Hilton? Who’s an easy target? And when we saw that Trump was attending, we just thought, “Oh, well, he’s been out there doing the birther shit. Great target.”
Jay Carney: We collectively, at the president’s direction, had treated it as not serious, because it wasn’t. Unfortunately, it got to the point where the president had to engage directly.