Tuesday, May 1, 2018- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a press conference in the West Wing of the White House.
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Today, President Trump welcomed the heroic crew and passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 to the White House. While in route from New York to Dallas last month, an engine failure crippled the aircraft. Because of Captain Tammie Jo Shults, one of the first women ever to fly tactical fighter aircraft in the United States Navy, First Officer Darren Ellisor, and the three crewmembers, the plane was able to land safely in Philadelphia.
We continue to pray for the family of Jennifer Riordan who tragically passed away due to injuries she sustained. The President thanks all of these men and women for their bravery.
Lastly, we strongly condemn yesterday’s suicide bombing in Kabul. More than 35 people were killed, including at least 10 journalists. These journalists were in the area to cover a bomb blast when a second explosion occurred. Afghanistan’s press corps is a powerful illustration of how that country has transformed. There’s absolutely no justification for such a senseless and heinous act.
And with that, I will take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, the President has had a suggested list of questions from the Office of the Special Counsel since somewhere near the beginning of March. We know that the Special Counsel wants to look into some 50 different areas of inquiry. Has the President had a chance to review those questions, digest them? And what does he think of the line of questioning?
MS. SANDERS: As with all questions of this nature, I would refer you to the President’s outside personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani.
Q Sarah, can you tell us what the President’s level of confidence is in Chief of Staff Kelly? And is he under serious consideration to be the next nominee for the Veterans Affairs Administration?
MS. SANDERS: No, he is not being considered as the VA Secretary. Both the President and the Chief of Staff are very happy with his position that he currently holds, which is Chief of Staff to the President at the White House. And I would refer you back to General Kelly’s statement that he put out yesterday specific to the comments — the allegations about comments that he’d made:
“I spend more time with the President than anyone else, and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS. I’m committed to the President, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.”
Q Can I ask you about Iran, Sarah? You described — or the NSC last night described it as a clerical error. But it was a significant editing error that has policy implications. Can you state from the podium what this White House believes is the current state of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and if it’s in full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the IAEA has said it is?
MS. SANDERS: We think the biggest mistake that was made was under the Obama administration by ever entering the deal in the first place. The typo that you referenced was noticed and immediately corrected. And we are focused on moving forward on the safety and security of our country.
Q But you assert what that says, that there is no current program in Iran, and that it is in compliance with the deal, at least as it’s negotiated. Right?
MS. SANDERS: Well, the problem is that the deal was made on a completely false pretense. Iran lied on the front end. They were dishonest actors, and so the deal that was made was made on things that weren’t accurate. And we have a big problem with that.
Q Can you specify?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. Particularly the fact that Iran’s nuclear capability were far more advanced and far further along than they ever indicated, which if this nuclear deal maintains as it is right now, when the sunset provision hits in seven years, they will be much further along in the process and able to make a nuclear weapon much quicker than they’ve ever indicated before. And that’s a big problem.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the reprieve that the EU, Canada, and Mexico are receiving — this 30-day reprieve for the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. What is going to take place during this 30-day period? And what are the chances of that exemption being made permanent for the EU, Canada, and Mexico?
MS. SANDERS: We are extending those negotiations because we’ve seen some progress. I’m not going to get ahead of what that may look like, but we have 30 days to continue in those negotiations, and hopeful that we can get something that works for everybody.
Q And if I may, I just wanted to ask you about something that took place last week involving the President’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He, in court documents, asserted that he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, which was filed against both him and the President. And you may recall that in September of 2017, the President at a campaign rally, said, “The mob takes the Fifth.” And he also said, “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Do those ideas also apply to Michael Cohen? Does the President stand by those comments?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t speak on behalf of Michael Cohen. I’d refer you to him.
Q Thank you, Sarah. On those list of 44 questions, the President said today that the leak was disgraceful, but a former assistant to Special Counsel Robert Mueller has suggested that the White House was behind the leak. Is he wrong?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I can’t comment on anything regarding those questions, and I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q Well, that was a question about specifically the White House being involved in it.
MS. SANDERS: It was actually specific to the President, and that’s why I’m referencing and referring you to the President’s personal attorneys who can speak on that matter.
Q Okay, well, a question about the White House specifically then: Is the White House concerned, as Congressman Adam Schiff has said, that so many of the questions point to obstruction of justice?
MS. SANDERS: We, here at the White House, try never to be concerned with anything dealing with Adam Schiff.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Let me point you back to what John had started on with the tariffs. Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, had said today — said earlier today, “If we’re going to impose it, we’re going to have to do it pretty soon, or else people will start gaming the system.” It sounds like you feel like this is moving along. But do you agree — does the White House agree with the Commerce Secretary that you’re going to have to move forward on this pretty soon? And if so, what exactly is “pretty soon”?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly. It’s a 30-day extension, and we expect for the negotiations to be completed at the end of those 30 days.
Q So won’t this be the last of the 30 days then?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the process. But right now, we’re working on negotiating a deal during this 30-day time period, and we’ll keep you posted if there’s anything that changes.
Q Sarah, can you clarify Dr. Ronny Jackson’s status? If he’s no longer the President’s personal physician, why not?
MS. SANDERS: He’s still an active-duty Navy doctor assigned to the White House. But upon his nomination to the Veterans Affairs — Department of Veterans Affairs as the Secretary, an acting doctor was put in his place, and Dr. Conley will remain there.
Q Why is that, though? Why not bring him back in that role if the President was so happy with him before?
MS. SANDERS: Again, Dr. Conley had already assumed that role, but Dr. Jackson continues to be an active-duty Navy doctor that’s assigned here at the White House where there are a number of doctors that are part of the White House Medical Unit.
Q And did the President have any response to the defamation suit filed yesterday by Stormy Daniels?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q Two questions for you. Why did Keith Schiller, who was a White House employee at the time, go and take medical records from the President’s personal doctor last year?
MS. SANDERS: As is standard operating procedure for a new President, the White House Medical Unit took possession of the President’s medical records.
Q It was characterized as a raid. Is that your understanding of what happened? The doctor seemed to be pretty upset about it.
MS. SANDERS: No, that is not my understanding.
Q And my second question, Sarah, just relates to —
MS. SANDERS: Actually, this is your third.
Q The other one was a follow-up, but thank you. You talked about — you made very clear you don’t want to get into this list of questions from the New York Times, which is fine. But the President has tweeted about it. He’s talked about how none of these questions relate to collusion. But that’s not true; over a dozen of them do. We’ve talked about accuracy from the President in the past. Why is he mischaracterizing these reports?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth on matters involving the Special Counsel. And I would refer you —
Q That’s not a question involving the Special Counsel, that’s —
MS. SANDERS: It certainly has implications with the Special Counsel, and I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth on it. I refer you to the President’s personal attorney.
Q Sarah, just to follow up on Hallie’s first question — there are some today who are essentially saying that what has happened with the President’s former personal doctor was a burglary, the way Keith Schiller busted in and essentially —
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know it was “some.” I think there’s one, but not some.
Q What’s your response to that characterization?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, that it would be standard procedure for the President — a newly elected President’s records to be in possession by the White House Medical Unit. And that was what was taking place, is those records were being transferred over to the White House Medical Unit as requested.
Q And if I could ask a second question. There are some allies of the President’s up on Capitol Hill who are apparently drafting articles of impeachment for the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Is it the President’s belief that Rod Rosenstein has either committed a high crime or a misdemeanor?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any belief of that.
Q Does the White House then not endorse that drive? Would the White House call on these members not to pursue that?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t seen the specific document, but we don’t have any personnel announcements, and we’re continuing to move forward with the Department of Justice.
Q Sarah, there are two questions. There are questions percolating about James Shaw Jr. and the President. The President has — has he called him? Is he planning on meeting with him? He’s talking to heroes who have — the heroes of the Southwest flight in the Oval Office today. And you said something about James Shaw Jr., but is the President himself going to reach out to him? Will he come to the White House?
MS. SANDERS: My understanding is that there has been an outreach effort to bring him here to the White House, and I’ll keep you updated on that as I have more information.
Q Okay. And second question: Payoffs, hush money, Russia trolls, Facebook, WikiLeaks, DNC hack, Comey email investigations on the eve of the election, allegations of collusion. Do these issues give support to those who say — who offer questions about the President’s legitimacy?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure I follow the question, but I think the fact that millions of Americans came out and voted for and continue to support this presidency makes him pretty legitimate.
Q Sarah, the Israeli announcement yesterday, how is that affecting the President’s thinking about what to do about the Iran nuclear deal?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the fact that the deal was made under a false pretense is problematic. But the President has been very clear that he thinks the deal is one of the worst that we’ve ever seen, and we’ll keep you posted when he’s made a final decision on that front.
Q And when did the President first hear about this? Was it in early March when he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of the exact date that the President was made aware, but we were — the White House and the President were made aware prior to Israel’s announcement yesterday.
Q And last thing. Was this coordinated yesterday with the White House? Did Netanyahu say — give you a heads up and say this is coming?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, this was something that the Israelis did. However, they did give us a heads up that it was going to take place prior to the announcement.
Q Sarah, back to the President’s tweet this morning. He said there is no question on collusion. But when you look at these specific questions about outreach by the campaign to Russia, aren’t these questions about collusion?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth about questions leaked, or anything having to do with the Special Counsel. And I would refer you to the President’s attorneys.
Q And just one more. Does this list factor at all into whether or not the President will or will not speak with the Special Counsel?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel for that.
Q But in terms of that, though, the President has said before, several times, he would like to sit down with the Special Counsel. Where is he on that? Do you believe he has made up his mind on that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel to —
Q Will this impact it at all, do you think?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth on any matters related to the Special Counsel.
Q Let me try a different topic, if I can. On the NSC, the NSC says it was a clerical error. But how does a mistake like this get made? And do you believe that the White House has a credibility problem around the world with its statements like this? Do you take this seriously?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely — which is why we immediately corrected it. But again, I think the biggest mistake is the fact that the United States ever entered into the Iran deal in the first place. That, to me, seems to be the biggest mistake in this process; not a simple typo that was immediately corrected and notified individuals as soon as we knew that it had happened.
Q But the White House never sent out a corrected statement. They put it on their website, but they have never sent out a corrected statement. Why is that?
MS. SANDERS: We responded to every journalist inquiry that we received that we’re aware of, or to the best that we could, responded to each person that asked about that.
Q Sarah, the President yesterday talked about holding his meeting with Kim Jong-un in the DMZ. And he said there are some people that don’t like the look of it. Has the location of this meeting and doing it in the DMZ been the subject of some debate internally? And what qualms might some members of the staff have about holding the meeting there?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into the deliberations on this at this point, but the list has been narrowed, as the President said. And we expect to have an announcement on that soon.
Q Can I ask one more follow-up on Iran?
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q You said twice now that the Iranian nuclear deal was made under false pretenses. But as is clear from the historical record, the U.S. and its partners made this deal with Iran precisely because they knew Iran wasn’t truthful about its military nuclear program. So are you suggesting that back in 2014-15, we believed Iran?
MS. SANDERS: I’m suggesting that the deal never should have been made in the first place. And even the fact that they had been known to be bad actors to some degree, the degree to which they were not being honest was not fully known at the time the Iran deal was made. That is our understanding.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. One is about the lawsuit filed today by California and 17 other states over their right to have EPA fuel standards in cars. They’re fighting the administration on this. I wanted to know what your response was to the lawsuit, and also the broader question that this administration seems to be on the other side of the traditional Republican argument on states’ rights on a number of cases. Is there any apprehension internally about having such a heavy hand with the states?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, the administration supports state rights. In regards to the specific lawsuit, we’re reviewing that, and we’ll let you know when we have a statement out.
Q And the second question was about the NRA meeting this week. There are a lot of Americans who say this is an insensitive time to be speaking to the NRA given the epidemic of gun violence, which the President himself has talked about. What’s the administration’s response to that? Why make the decision to speak at the NRA now? As the President has said before, a lot of Presidents have not spoken before the NRA at their annual convention.
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, as we have indicated on many occasions, safety is a big priority. Security is a big priority for the administration. But we also support the Second Amendment, and strongly support it, and don’t see there to be a problem with speaking at the National Rifle Association’s meeting.
Q Thank you. You mentioned earlier — or you were asked about the VA Secretary. Where does the White House stand in that decision-making process? Are you guys talking to potential candidates now about that position?
MS. SANDERS: We are. And the President will be meeting with a number of individuals over the next couple of weeks. And we’ll keep you guys posted as we get further in that process.
Q Thank you, Sarah. In his recent appearance on “Fox & Friends,” the President offered a vague criticism of the Electoral College and suggested reform was in order. Several pundits after interpreted this as support for the controversial National Popular Vote Plan, in which states give their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationally. Is that what the President meant? Could you offer a more perspicacious — (laughter) — definition of what he said in that interview?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any policy announcements on that front or something that we’re looking to do. But certainly, we want to always look for the best way to preserve the integrity of our elections.
Q Well, also, was he aware that the Republican National Committee, in May of 2011, had a resolution condemning that National Popular Vote Plan?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if he was aware, but I am pretty sure that the President is more than happy, at times, to say what he thinks is right, whether or not that there was a statement made many years ago contrary to that.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I’ve got a couple on foreign policy. You mentioned the Afghan attack. When Senator Rand Paul came out and said he was going to support Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State, he said that he was doing so because Mike Pompeo now agreed with the President that the time is now to withdraw from Afghanistan. Does the President agree with that characterization of his views?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any updated policy guidance on that front. We laid out our Afghanistan strategy just a few months ago, and there’s no change to that policy at this point.
Q And then on Iran, the question of what it means to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement has come up a couple times. In the President’s mind, does that mean immediately re-imposing sanctions, doing what’s called “snapback”? Or does he mean something else?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of anything the President may or may not do. And once he makes the final decision, he’ll make that announcement.
Last question. Brian.
Q Thank you very much, Sarah. When the President spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, did the Israeli trove of documents about Iran’s nuclear program come up? And did the President encourage Israel to release those documents on Monday?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure beyond the readout of the call, but I do know that we had discussions with Israel about their rollout and we were notified prior to their announcement being made yesterday.Q Did the White House encourage Israel on the timing of the release?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of specific coordination on the timing, but we certainly supported their announcements and supported their efforts.
Q Was there desire by the White House to have Israel release these documents in order to influence the domestic debate here in the United States, in order to paint the deal in a different light?
MS. SANDERS: I think there was a desire to make sure people understood the truth and had all of the information that was out there.
Thanks so much, guys.
3:09 P.M. EDT