Thursday July 27, 2017- New White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds her second press briefing in the new position. The presser featured an egaging look at the battle to rid the U.S. of the MS-13 gang.
Transcript of the press briefing to follow
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:21 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Before we get started on some of the Q&A, I’d like to bring up Tom Homan, which some of you guys mays know and remember, the Acting Director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Rob Hur, the Principal Deputy Attorney General, to talk with you about what the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are doing to eradicate criminal organizations like MS-13.
Mr. Hur will speak to the Justice Department’s work first, then Mr. Homan will discuss the ICE component, and Tom will stay and answer your questions.
As always, I’d like to put out a friendly reminder for you guys to stay on topic. And after that, I’ll come back up to take your questions. Thanks, guys.
MR. HUR: Good afternoon. My name is Robert Hur. About five weeks ago, I was sworn in as the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice. In that role, I serve as the principal advisor to the Deputy Attorney General. I appreciate the chance to talk to you about the Justice Department’s aggressive efforts to achieve this administration’s goal of dismantling the gang, la Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.
As you all know, the President is traveling to Long Island tomorrow to talk about our fight to eradicate the violent threat of MS-13. And as we speak, the Attorney General is in El Salvador, where he will spend the next two days addressing the root of this problem, the San Salvadorian prisons that house the leaders of this dangerous gang.
While there, the Attorney General will meet with members of the Justice Department’s transnational anti-gang taskforce on the ground, in El Salvador, and the attorneys general from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to discuss joint efforts to disrupt and take down MS-13.
Earlier in my career, I served as a federal prosecutor in Maryland, where I personally prosecuted a number of MS-13 racketeering cases. These included capital cases in which the defendants’ crimes were so violent and so heinous that the government saw fit to pursue the death penalty.
Through these prosecutions I learned firsthand from the victims, their grieving and heartbroken families, and other members of terrorized communities just want a scourge this group of thugs really is.
This gang’s chilling motto is: “Mata, viola, controla” — which means “kill, rape, and control.” They seek to live up to this motto through truly shocking acts of violence designed to instill fear. Vicious machete attacks, execution-style gunshots, gang-rape, and human trafficking. They use whatever they can get their hands on — guns, knives, machetes, baseball bats, tire irons, or their fists and feet — not just to inflict violence. They use violence to shock, to send a message, and to control territory here in the U.S. and in Central America.
The Attorney General has answered the President’s call. And we at the Justice Department are moving forward aggressively against MS-13. Specifically, pursuant to the President’s direction and executive orders, the Attorney General has directed the department’s law enforcement agencies — ATF, DEA, FBI and the Marshals Service, as well as federal prosecutors across the country — to prioritize the prosecution of gang members, specifically MS-13.
The Attorney General has issued charging guidance regarding violent crime and criminal immigration enforcement, both of which directly target MS-13 members and their associates. In addition, the Department of Justice has requested funding for 300 more federal prosecutors to focus specifically on violent crime and criminal immigration enforcement.
We’ve also prioritize multi-agency and cross-border collaboration in order to attack MS-13 from all angles. The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are coordinating our anti-gang efforts to ensure that we bring both criminal and immigration laws to bear in the fight against transnational gangs.
We continue our critical partnerships with state and local law enforcement around the country whose brave men and women are truly on the front lines in the fight against MS-13. And we work, of course, hand in glove with our law enforcement partners in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. They are helping us take the fight to MS-13 on its home turf. It speaks volumes that the Attorney General himself has traveled to the nerve center of MS-13 and is standing in solidarity with our partners in Central America.
Indeed, earlier today, just hours ago, El Salvadorian prosecutors announced that they have filed charges against, and arrested, over the past 36 hours, hundreds of members of MS-13 in El Salvador. Many of the defendants are members of MS-13 Peajes Locos Salvatruchos clique who are centered in the La Paz department of El Salvador.
Earlier this year, members of this MS-13 clique committed several high-profile murders in El Salvador. The shooter in these murders fled to the United States and is now in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings. This prosecution showcases just how closely we are working with our partners in El Salvador to combat MS-13. Specifically, U.S. law enforcement agents with ICE, who are on the ground in El Salvador, are coordinating with their counterparts here in the U.S. to ensure that the shooter is removed from the United States as quickly as possible to face charges in El Salvador.
This investigation is being handled by Salvadorian gang prosecutors who are trained and mentored by embedded DOJ prosecutors in El Salvador and Salvadorian police officers who are trained and mentored by the FBI and advisors from the State Department.
At the request of Salvadorian prosecutors, the Justice Department has also arranged to have an essential witness to the murders transported to El Salvador for court proceedings.
The United States law enforcement and federal prosecutors recently targeted leaders and members of the same Peajes clique operating here in Maryland, charging 16 defendants with racketeering offenses involving murder and attempted murder, the last of whom was sentenced this year to life imprisonment. These are very significant blows to MS-13 and are made possible by our close cross-border coordination.
We’ve also revitalized the Institutional Hearing Program, which brings immigration judges to Bureau Prisons facilities to adjudicate the immigration status of federal criminal alien inmates while they’re incarcerated. This results in much quicker deportation after these criminals serve out their prison sentences here in the United States.
Finally, we are also holding sanctuary cities accountable for their lawless conduct. The Attorney General will not allow sanctuary cities to become sanctuaries for criminals. Earlier this week, the Attorney General announced new grant conditions. Cities and states may only receive JAG grants if they comply with federal law, allow federal immigration officials access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours’ notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.
Taking on MS-13 is a top priority of this administration and this Justice Department. We will not tire and we will not fail. I am humbled to once again be in a position to work to reduce and ultimately decimate this gang to make our communities safe for all Americans.
MR. HOMAN: Good afternoon. I’m Tom Homan. I’m the Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. Targeting, arresting, and removing members of violent street gangs, such as MS-13, sends a clear message to criminal enterprises around the world: You are not welcome in the United States, and you’ll find no harbor here.
President Trump made it a priority to get these criminals off our streets and, when possible, out of our country. And that’s exactly what the men and women of ICE are going to do every single day to help keep America safe.
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation, known as HSI National Gang Unit, leads our efforts along with our deportation officers to identify and arrest gang members while working to dismantle the organizational structure that supports them.
Gang members are involved in a broad range of criminal activity, including murder, extortion, narcotics trafficking, weapons trafficking, human smuggling, and other crimes with a nexus of border security.
Since the beginning of January of this year, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation has already arrested 3,311 gang members across the country, a — targeted operation. I’ll speak just about two.
Project New Dawn: A recent gang surge led by ICE HSI netted 1,378 gang arrests.
Operation Matador — up in New York State: Since May 9th has netted over 100 gang members and affiliates, the vast majority of MS-13 members.
Make no mistake, organized violent transnational gangs threaten the safety of our communities, not just in major metropolitan areas, but in our suburbs, like Suffolk County in New York, where I’ll be joining the President tomorrow to discuss this very issue.
Let me share just a couple of examples that demonstrate the violence of these criminals. Recently, two MS-13 members who were juveniles, arrested as part of Operation Matador, have been implicated in a quadruple homicide of four young adults in New York. An additional MS-13 arrest admitted to be complicit in homicides of two juvenile females. Multiple other Operation Matador MS-13 arrests have led to admissions on narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, and intelligence on other unsolved crimes in the region.
The proliferation of MS-13 remains an ongoing challenge for law enforcement everywhere. Our efforts to eradicate gangs such as this are much more effective in areas where our partnership with local law enforcement is the strongest.
As I said the last time I was here, I cannot stress enough: Our operations are more effective when there are strong local partnerships supporting them. Sanctuary city policies only make it more difficult, if not impossible, for ICE to remove known gang members and other criminal aliens who are removed from this country without the opportunity to commit additional crimes.
As I said when I was here at the podium a month ago: Cooperation is critical. It is often state and local law enforcement, not ICE, that first come into contact with transnational gang members. Together, through partnership, we can keep our streets safe. Together, our gang is bigger than theirs.
In addition to making our community safer, the intelligence gathered from operations targeting MS-13 helps our agents and investigators continue their efforts to fully dismantle these global criminal enterprises, from the command and control structure in El Salvador to the street members walking our communities, and everybody in between.
In closing I’ll say this: The progress we’re making would not be possible without the brave and dedicated men and women of ICE. These are professionals, American patriots, who leave the safety of their homes and their families every day to help keep us safe, to keep people safe they’ll never meet. And I am honored and proud to represent them here today.
With that, I’ll take questions.
Q Thank you. In Montgomery County there has been MS-13 activity. And when they have prosecuted MS-13 there, they have said that members of MS-13, some of them are citizens. And to get help from the immigrant community where they’re plaguing — you know, the plague is on the immigrant community — that they have not been successful because they’re afraid of being taken out of the country, that you’re going to deport them.
So for those in the immigrant community who are being taken advantage of, do you guys — are you going to offer any type of support for those who are not involved in MS-13, who come forward to assist law enforcement? Because local law enforcement says that’s the largest problem they have in getting people to come forward — they think they’re going to be deported.
MR. HOMAN: Well, you all can help with that message, right? I mean, the mis-messaging that ICE is out there doing neighborhood raids and roadblocks and things that we were being accused of doing. We got to get the message straight: ICE prioritizes arrests based on criminal threats, national security, those who violate immigration laws.
However, if they’re a victim or witness, we’re not out looking for victims or witnesses. I believe that these — especially MS-13 — they victimize the very communities in which they live. So if the immigrant community is being victimized, they don’t want them in the community either.
They should be safe to go to law enforcement, report the crime. Again, we do not target victims of crime. Matter of fact, there’s actually benefits to victims of crimes through the immigration process. So they should feel safe to go and report criminal activity. And we’re going target the most violent criminals — not the witness, not the victims — to remove them.
And we need their help. We need the community’s help but most importantly, we need local law enforcement’s help, especially county jails that will have an MS-13 booked in that county jail, but if that county jail is located in a sanctuary city, they get released back to the streets. That’s what we need to change. We need cooperation from local law enforcement.
Q But you’re saying — point blank, you’re not going to take advantage of the immigrant communities who are victims, right?
MR. HOMAN: Taking advantage of immigrant communities? Look, we’re —
Q If they’re victims, they’re not going to be deported.
MR. HOMAN: We need the immigrant community to assist us in identifying the most heinous criminals, and that’s MS-13. It’s the most violent gang out there.
So again, I’ll say this again: If there is a victim of crime and they come forward, we’re not looking to arrest a victim of crime. We’re looking to arrest the bad guy, all right?
Now, let me make this clear — now, there’s a population of illegal aliens are off the table? I’m not saying that. But victims of crime have certain protections, and they need to take full advantage of the protections.
Q Thank you. Do you have a count for how many people are actually a part of the MS-13 in cities across the country? And what has the reaction been from sanctuary cities to the new policy that was announced earlier this week by the Attorney General? And if you could speak broadly about — obviously the President has been very critical of the Attorney General recently. He has overseen everything that you’re talking about. Has that criticism in any way impacted your ability and federal law enforcement’s ability to do their jobs?
MR. HOMAN: That’s a lot of questions. I can tell you that thousands of MS-13 members in the country and that number changes every day depending on who you deport, who sneaks into the country.
As far as sanctuary cities, I don’t know how they feel about the recent legislation, the recent action taken by DOJ. But I’ll say it once again: Sanctuary cities are a criminal’s biggest friend. If you’re an alien smuggler and you’re smuggling people in this country for a living, that is one sales pitch — “we can get you to a sanctuary city where that city will help shield you from immigration.”
So, you know, I’ve said it every time I speak; I say, sanctuary cities need to help us keep their community safe. Sanctuary cities not only endanger public safety, they endanger my law enforcement officers, because when we can’t get a criminal alien — violent alien — out of a county jail, it means one of our officers will knock on the door — which anybody in law enforcement knows, that’s one of the most dangerous things to do. So rather than arresting a violent criminal in the safety, security, and privacy of a county jail, we got to go knock on a door. We got to arrest them in the community.
The community is put at risk, our officers are put at risk, and the alien himself is put at risk. We got to start thinking about public safety and the men and women of ICE and the men and women of the Border Patrol who we’ve lost many over the last few years at the hands of violent criminal aliens. We got to join forces with these cities. These cities have to come to us. They have to work with us to keep our communities safe.
Q And on the Attorney General — anything on the Attorney General?
MR. HOMAN: What was the question on the Attorney General?
Q The fact that the President has been criticizing him recently, has that in any way impacted your ability, federal law enforcement’s ability to do their job?
MR. HOMAN: ICE is going to do our job. We’re going to continue to enforce the law. The Attorney General is a strong supporter of immigration enforcement, and so is the President, and I’ll end it there.
But I can tell you, nothing is going to change the way we do our business. The men and women of ICE are professionals. We’re going to keep enforcing the law within the orders of the executive order.
Q The previous administration also told the country to prioritize criminal gangs. Are you telling the country now that it didn’t? And if you’re not, what is different about your approach as compared to the previous administration’s approach with MS-13 and those gangs like it?
MR. HOMAN: Well, I can tell you that the prior administration prioritized criminals and national security threats, but the difference is, for those that criminal aliens get booked in a county jail, on the prior administration they needed a conviction before we could put a detainer on them and put them in our custody.
That’s not necessary anymore. If you’ve been arrested for a serious crime, and you’re in a county jail, we’re going to drop a detainer, we’re going to take the person into custody.
Q And what does that mean, dropping the detainer?
MR. HOMAN: That means we’ll ask that the local jurisdiction hang on to them until we can get there to take custody of them when they’re with you.
Q Has that proven effective?
MR. HOMAN: Yes. I think we got more jurisdictions coming to the table now. You know, the story is — now we got sanctuary cities here and there, but more jurisdictions, more law enforcement comes to the table now. The 287(g) agreements — we’ve already doubled those agreements on this administration. I expect to triple those agreements by the end of the year.
Most law enforcement agrees with what I’m saying up here. The street cops — they want to work with us and they want to identify these threats to the community and get them out of their communities. These people are not welcome in their communities, and local law enforcement are teaming up with us. The operation I spoke about here in New York City — we work with Nassau County, Suffolk County, NYPD — all these jurisdictions want to get the criminal element out of their neighborhoods. The immigrant communities themselves, they don’t want these people in their communities. We all should be on the same page here.
But again, New York City — one of those places where, you know, we can’t get into Riker’s Island and put our hands on people that are here illegally and they’re criminal aliens. When it comes to gang members — gang members walk out of the county jails and sanctuary cities every day across this country. That’s what we need to change.
Q How are suspected gang members being identified for ICE enforcement? Is it just through local law enforcement? Are there databases that you’re using? Like, how do you know how to find these gang members?
MR. HOMAN: Local law enforcement, they’re usually the ones that — they have the most intelligence on gang members. As far as what we look for to find gang members, I’d rather not discuss that because I certainly don’t want to share that information with the gang members who may be watching and say, okay, well, we’ll just do this a little bit different.
There is a myriad of factors we look — it’s just not — we don’t arrest people for the way they look. I want to make that clear, because I’ve seen media accounts about people with tattoos and clothing. That is one of many, many factors we look at. So it’s really quite law enforcement-sensitive how we identify, target, and locate gang members.
So I can tell you that the men and women of ICE are well-trained. Other federal agencies — whether it’s the Bureau, or whether it’s the Suffolk County, Nassau County — they do this for a living. They’re professionals. They look at a lot of factors, including database checks. But I’d rather not share the factors we all consider to look at that, because I really don’t want to share that with the criminal element who may be watching this program.
Q Thank you. You said that victims of crimes who are immigrants will not be targeted. In February, your agency detained a woman in El Paso, Texas who was seeking a protective order against a domestic abuser. Can you say now that your agency will not be doing that again? And if it’s been done in the past, why should we believe that it won’t be done in the future?
MR. HOMAN: Okay, that case you’re talking about, you obviously don’t know all the facts that I do. That is not the way — there’s much more to that story than you’re presenting here today. I can tell you that was a solid arrest and it’s under litigation. I can’t give you all the information I have, but that was a good arrest, that was a public safety arrest, and I can’t say anything more because it’s in litigation.
MS. SANDERS: He’ll take one last question, guys.
Q You focused, and the President is going to focus tomorrow, on the most violent gangs, MS-13, and suggesting that that’s what ICE is focused on. I’m reading a story here from just last month that said the biggest number — that ICE arrests are up of illegal immigrants, and the sharpest spike is seen for non-criminals. I think that the other side of the issue would say that ICE and this administration really is going after non-criminals, and just using these moments to sort of suggest otherwise. What do you say about that?
MR. HOMAN: It’s ridiculous. I mean, under the prior administration, non-criminals were not a priority. So when you go from 0 to 100, of course you’re going to see the biggest rise in that. The executive orders are clear. Anybody who reads the executive orders — no population is off the table.
So non-criminals — yeah, those that get a court order from a judge that refuse to leave, we’re looking for them. Those who enter the country illegally, I’ve said it 100 times, that is a crime to enter this country illegally. And when they get their due process at great taxpayer expense — billions of dollars are spent on border security, immigration court, detention. So when they get their due process, and a federal judge orders them removed, that order needs to mean something or the whole system has no integrity.
Nowhere else in law enforcement has anybody asked a law enforcement agency to ignore a judge’s order from a bench. They’ve had their due process; our job is to enforce those orders and that that’s what we do.
And for the people that say that we concentrate too much on those that are not criminals, beyond them committing a crime entering the country illegally, they’ve not committed yet another crime — “You should ignore them. They’ve been here. Let them go” — that message drives what happened in San Antonio. That message drives what happened in Victoria, Texas that I investigated back in 2003.
If we send the message that if you get into the country, you get by the Border Patrol, and don’t get arrested by local law enforcement for another crime, and no one is looking for you — that is a magnet; that is a pull factor. We got to stop that messaging. We got to tell people it’s not okay to violate laws in this country. You can’t want to be a part of this country and not respect its laws. You can’t have it both ways.
So until we get that message clear that there is no safe haven here. And if you’re in sanctuary cities, that’s where we’ll send additional resources to look for you at your home, at place of employment. We’re going to enforce the law. We got to stop sending the message that people that don’t commit yet another crime should be forgotten. Don’t enforce the law.
Q If I could on a previous question, you said you needed cooperation of local communities. You hear that a lot from law enforcement, and including American immigrants, families that maybe have mixed situations. President Trump the other day called it, in a speech in Ohio, twice referred to criminal gang members as “animals.” I think there are some who would say, well, that’s another attempt to paint broader swaths of immigrants as criminal and violent. He wasn’t that specific about who he was talking about necessarily, and I’m wondering if you think that kind of rhetoric is appropriate or whether that could potentially set back some of your efforts in trying to convince community members to work with your department.
MR. HOMAN: As a criminal law enforcement officer, I can tell you that criminal aliens are a threat not only to public safety but to national security. We got to enforce the laws. The men and women of ICE are doing it in a professional manner. And I shared with you the last time I was here why it’s so important to let the folks know in Central America and in Mexico — let those that want to come to the United States to find themselves in a sanctuary city — why it’s so important to send a message they should not make that dangerous trek.
In my years of — 33 years of doing this job, these are criminal organizations that transport these people into the country. The same organizations, the same illicit pathways that smuggle drugs, smuggle weapons, and smuggle people that want to do harm to this country. And by continuing to ignore that segment of the illegal population, we are bankrolling these criminal organizations. As I said earlier, sanctuary cities — that’s the alien smuggler’s best friend. That’s their advertisement: “We’ll get you to sanctuary city.”
And I’m telling you, what I’ve seen in my career — I’ve seen people that were killed, could not pay their smuggling fee. We talked to women who have been raped. Children have been molested. People have been killed. You know, I shared with the media yesterday — in Phoenix, Arizona, during the hostage crisis several years ago, people couldn’t pay their fees. The fees will double once they got — they couldn’t pay their fees. We rescued one man who was duct-taped from head to toe, his whole face and head were duct-taped and he had a hole poked in the mouth with a straw so he could breathe for two days.
When I was in Victoria, Texas, I did stand in the back of a tractor trailer with 19 dead aliens with a five-year-old that suffered. What do you think that five-year-old went through the last 30 minutes of his life? What do you think his father went through the last 30 minutes of his life looking down at his child, knowing he couldn’t help him because they were locked in the back of a tractor trailer?
Q (Inaudible) people over 18, who are part of this gang, are animals?
MR. HOMAN: I’m not calling anybody an animal. I’m saying there are those who break the law and those who don’t break the law. You got to respect the laws of this country. There are millions of people that are members of this society that enter this country the right way. And what’s what we need to push. We need to push — enter this — there’s a legal way and an illegal way. We got to be pushing the legal message out there and stop sending this message that if you don’t commit yet another crime, beyond the crime you committed when you came to this country, that it’s okay to be here. It’s not okay to be here illegally. It’s not okay to violate the laws of this country. We’re going to enforce the law.
That is why — and with everything you’re reading right now, all these horrific events, that’s why we need more — we need the 10,000 officers that President Trump has promised so we can go after these gangs even harder in the criminal alien population. We need the border wall. The border wall is one more tool in the toolbox that might prevent some of the things from happening. That is why what President Trump is asking us to do, that is why what he’s proposing for border security makes sense for the law enforcement community — not just Tom Homan at ICE, but the 20,000 men and women that work at ICE, the 20,000 Border Patrol agents that wear the uniform and step on the front line every day. We need this help. We need these executive orders to make sense of what we do every day.
MS. SANDERS: Thanks so much, Tom. We really appreciate it.
Thank you, Tom, Rob. Just like the dedicated men and women of ICE and DOJ who are unquestionably producing results every day in these fights against vicious cartels, Senate Republicans now have an opportunity this evening to deliver on one of our biggest promises to the American people.
On the Hill, the Senate is gearing up for a series of votes on the Republican plans to finally repeal and replace Obamacare and replace it with the Freedom Health Care Bill. Congressional Republicans have been telling the American people that, given the chance, they would save them from this increasing damage of this disastrous law.
After seven years of skyrocketing premiums and dwindling healthcare options, now is there chance to act. The President looks forward to seeing the Senate fulfill that promise later tonight when they finally repeal Obamacare and end the nightmares it has caused for American families and businesses.
I hate to start the Q&A off on a low note, but I wanted to get ahead of some of the personnel-related questions and just let you guys know ahead of time that, no, I cannot confirm whether or not Sean Spicer will be on “Dancing with the Stars” upon leaving the White House. (Laughter.)
And with that, I will take your questions. Jonathan.
Q Sarah, does the President have confidence in his Chief of Staff?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think I’ve addressed this question when it comes to staffing and personnel many times, that if the President doesn’t, then he’ll make that decision. We all serve at the pleasure of the President, and if he gets to a place where that isn’t the case, he’ll let you know.
Q So you can’t say right now if the President has full confidence in Chief of Staff Reince Priebus?
MS. SANDERS: I think I just answered that. Look, I think what we have — this is a White House that has a lot of different perspectives, because the President hires the very best people. They’re not always going to agree. There are going to be a lot of different ideas. Unlike previous administration, this isn’t groupthink. We all come and have a chance to voice those ideas, voice those perspectives, and have a lot of healthy competition. And with that competition you usually get the best results. The President likes that type of competition and encourages it. The people that are here are here because they love the President, they love this country, and they want to see the best things happen. And sometimes you’re going to have different ideas come to the table. That’s all we’re talking about.
Q But we’re talking about public humiliation of both the Attorney General and now the Chief of Staff, left to kind of wonder about their own fate and their own status within this administration.
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that the President has spoken about that. Particularly on Attorney General Sessions — look, he’s been clear that he was disappointed with his decision to recuse himself. But at the same time, as I’ve said — look, Attorney General Sessions knows better than anybody that the President and his campaign had nothing to do with Russia, and his decision to recuse himself was disappointing to the President. At the same time, the President wants him to do his job, do it properly. He wants him to be tough on the intelligence leaks, and he wants him to move forward.
Q Lindsay Graham says there will be “holy hell to pay” if Attorney General Sessions is fired. What does the President say to that?
MS. SANDERS: You know, I haven’t asked him about Lindsay Graham’s comments.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The President — excuse me, the Pentagon has announced that the President’s statements via Twitter did not change the transgender policy in the military and that the White House actually has to issue a policy directive to the Secretary of Defense to make that change happen. So, two questions. Does the President plan to do so? And if so, how will that affect transgender troops that are currently serving?
MS. SANDERS: As I said yesterday, the White House will work with the Department of Defense and all of the relevant parties to make sure that we fully implement this policy moving forward and do so in a lawful manner.
Q But what is the policy? And was the President aware that he can’t make policy changes via statements on Twitter? Because the Pentagon is saying —
MS. SANDERS: I think he was making the announcement of the policy change. So that was —
Q So the policy hasn’t yet been formulated?
MS. SANDERS: Well, like I said, they are going to have to work out the details on how that all moves forward to lawfully implement that policy change from this point.
Q Sarah, thank you. Moving on to healthcare, you talked about how Senate Republicans have the chance tonight to really undo Obamacare. But it seems like the thing that’s most likely to get through is the skinny repeal, and that would just kind of — that would maybe get rid of the mandate and some other things. But it’s not the massive overhaul that had been promised. So would the White House support just a skinny repeal, that being signed into law?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly support progress moving forward, and that’s what we’re seeing taking place in the Senate right now.
And I think that that’s — the place where we’ve been since we started this is we’re looking for moving the ball forward down the field, repealing and replacing it with a better healthcare system. And this is one step within that process.
Q But does the White House believe that a skinny repeal on its own would be enough to address the issues of premiums — rising premiums and deductibles and things like that? Would the President sign just a skinny repeal?
MS. SANDERS: Well, we’ve got see what they get to tonight. We haven’t seen a final piece of legislation. We’re continuing to work with the Senate to make sure we get the best healthcare we can.
Q Yes, Sarah. I want to ask two questions — one about the President’s management style and one about immigration enforcement.
So on the President’s management style, is the President aware that occasionally — days like yesterday, when he had a big jobs announcement he wanted to roll out — that his seemingly impulsive decisions to make an announcement on transgender troops steps on his own message? Is the President aware of that dynamic? And is he interested in changing it at all?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President is aware that he can walk and chew gum at the same time. This is a White House that takes on a lot of different things every day, not just one. And we’re going to continue to do that moving forward.
Q On immigration — I had a question on immigration enforcement.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry.
Q So this week when the President spoke in Ohio, he spoke about MS-13 and he gave a litany of the violence that they’re capable of. And then he said, “Our guys are rougher than their guys.” What did the President mean by that?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President means that our guys are going to do whatever it takes to protect Americans, protect American lives, protect our borders.
Q Is that a license for the use of more force when it comes to making arrests against MS-13?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President wants people to do their jobs — not go beyond the scope of what they should do. But he wants to protect our country. He wants to protect American people, and he’s asked the law enforcement agencies to step up and help be part of that process as I think we would all expect for them to.
Q Does he want the law enforcement agencies to change the rules of the use of force when it comes to making arrests against MS-13?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any specific changes.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Anthony Scaramucci was on CNN today talking about Reince Priebus. He said, “If he wants to prove he’s not a leaker, let him do it.” I can’t imagine that you would speak on Anthony’s behalf, but if you would, does he think that Reince Priebus is a leaker? Or does the White House, does the President think that Reince is leaking?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to comment on Anthony’s suggestion. I’ll let him answer for himself. I think I made pretty clear where the President is, and I don’t have anything to add beyond that.
Q I had a tax question, too, please. Does the President believe that tax overhaul should increase the budget deficit? Or should it be revenue neutral?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re continuing to make announcements on the details of the tax reform plan. As I’m sure you all saw, there was a joint statement that came out earlier today. And we’re making a lot of progress on this front. As we get closer to lining out the final details, we’ll certainly be putting those out in front of all of you.
The big pieces are simplification and helping take off the relief for the middle class. Those are big places that we’re really focused, and we’re going to continue to do that.
As you saw from the statement, the border adjustment tax was taken off the table, and that’s another big step forward in the process.
Q Sarah, can I ask you quickly about Anthony Scaramucci? A little bit of housekeeping. One —
MS. SANDERS: Only if you do it quickly.
Q Fine. Has he taken an oath of office?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Has Anthony Scaramucci taken an oath of office?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Have his security clearances gone through yet?
MS. SANDERS: As always, we do not discuss security clearances by staff at the White House.
Q Is he an official member of the White House staff now? Initially it was announced that it would be in mid-August.
MS. SANDERS: He is working at the White House, but on your other questions, I can’t answer that.
Q So let me follow up on —
Q Thank you, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: We’re going to go with one-question Thursday because we’re kind of tight on time. As you guys know, the President has got an open-press event.
Q Let me ask you about the Boy Scouts then, if I can very quickly —
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to actually go to, John. Sorry, Peter.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I do have to ask you about the healthcare bill. Many who are in the Freedom Caucus say that they would oppose the skinny repeal that was referred to earlier; that if a measure came out with just, oh, ending the mandates and ending the tax on medical devices, that that would — and not addressing anything else, they’d vote against it. Is the President aware of this? And is he making any calls for specific parts of the repeal effort?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the administration has been working hand-in-hand on pushing repeal and replace of Obamacare. We actually like the term “freedom bill” a lot better because we think it addresses what this bill actually is — it removes a lot of those mandates that allow people to have the type of freedom, have states have the freedom that they want. And that was one of the big priorities for this administration. We’re happy about that progress.
And we’re going to wait and see where this bill ends up later this evening.
Q Thanks, a lot, Sarah. Is the President — just to follow up on what John Gizzi just asked you; I don’t think you got to that particular part of the question.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry.
Q Is the President picking up the phone? Is he calling those seven or eight Republican senators, making the case for them that this may be their last best hope for repealing and replacing Obamacare? And if he is, what’s his message to those particular senators?
MS. SANDERS: The same one he’s been making all along: Let’s get the job done. Let’s replace a terrible healthcare system with a better one. And he’s going to be engaged, and I’ll keep you posted on any specifics and people that he talks to.
Q He had all of those Republican senators here at the White House last week, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry. Guys, we’re real tight on time. I’m really going to try to keep you to one question. Let’s be polite to your colleagues.
MS. SANDERS: Go ahead, Peter.
Q Anthony Scaramucci said this morning that the President might veto the Russia sanctions bill, even though Senator Corker has now withdrawn his objection and that the same version that we’ve already seen from the House is going to be up for the Senate vote. Is that, in fact, possible? Would he veto that passed with just three negative votes in the House and two negative votes in the Senate?
MS. SANDERS: As I said yesterday, the President and the administration support sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. We continue to support strong sanctions against those three countries, and we’re going to wait and see what that final legislation looks like and make a decision at that point.
MS. SANDERS: As soon as we have a final piece of legislation, we’ll let you know.
Q In terms of working with the DOD on this new policy, how long is it going to be before you find out what the details are? Weeks, months?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have a specific timeline, but I believe they’re going to start moving on it quickly. But we’ll keep you posted as those details come out.
Q Will it be this year?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I don’t have a specific timeline on what that looks like, but I know that they’re ready to start moving and work on that implementation.
Q Sarah, thanks. Several Senate Republicans have sent signals to this White House: One, don’t make a recess appointment because we’re not going to allow it; two, there’s not going to be a confirmation if there’s a new Attorney General nominated. There is a signal being sent: Don’t do what we fear you might be contemplating.
Can you, for the betterment of the Senate Republicans who are working with this White House on a lot of issues, put to rest once and for all the status of the Attorney General — that he’s not going to be fired, there’s not going to be a need for a recess appointment, and this issue can be laid to rest, for the country and for Senate Republicans who appear, based on their public statements, to be anxious about this prospect?
MS. SANDERS: I guess I’m not sure how many times you have to lay an issue to rest. I’ve tried many times.
Q But when you don’t say the President has confidence, and the President says “time will tell,” as he said earlier this week, I’m only telling you what Senate Republicans, who are in a position that have to deal with this, are saying.
MS. SANDERS: And I’ve answered your question. And yesterday you probably saw a statement come out from here that that was more fake news from The Washington Post on the fact that we were considering a recess appointment. I think that sums it up pretty clearly.
Q Thanks, Sarah. This is a little — maybe just a little bit off topic. I want to run it by you anyway. Is the President aware of this story —
MS. SANDERS: It’s probably good if we mix it up a little bit.
Q Yeah, why not — right? Is the President aware of the story of the IT staff — of the congressional IT staffer who most recently worked for Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Imran Awan, who was recently arrested attempting to leave the country, although he said he was not trying to flee the country? Is the President aware of that particular circumstance? And is he satisfied with the pace of the investigation?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had a conversation with him specifically about that, but I do think that is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation on that.
Q Since we only have one question, I’m going to ask you about the Boy Scouts —
MS. SANDERS: Make it count.
Q — their chief wrote this to family members who were at the President’s event earlier this week: “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those that are Scouting family who are offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.” Does the President owe the Boy Scouts an apology?
MS. SANDERS: I was at that event, and I saw nothing but roughly 40,000 to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the President on throughout his remarks, and I think they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them.
Q But the head of the Boy Scouts has acknowledged that there was a problem. A lot of parents have expressed frustration in the wake of those comments and felt the need to actually write a letter about it. So does the President owe them an apology?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I was at that event and heard nothing but a lot of cheering and probably one of the most energetic crowds I’ve seen in front of the President. And so I don’t have anything to add. I haven’t seen the statement from the Boy Scouts, so I can’t comment any further than what I saw firsthand, and that was a lot of individuals, roughly 40,000 to 45,000, as reported, cheering the President on.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I have two for you real quick, if you don’t mind.
MS. SANDERS: You get one. Remember there’s a rule today.
Q I’m going to be quick. First on Anthony Scaramucci on CNN this morning, he said he had a conversation with Attorney General Jeff Sessions about these supposed leaks. That would appear to violate DOJ guidelines. So I was hoping you could provide some clarity on that front.
And secondly, out of Alaska today, the local paper there is reporting the Senator Murkowski received a phone call from the Secretary of Interior Zinke, threatening the people of — essentially threatening the services and federal dollars that were spent — that the administration (inaudible) toward the people of Alaska if she voted a certain way on the healthcare bill. I was hoping if you could confirm that and discuss whether that sort of conversation, if it happened, would be appropriate.
MS. SANDERS: I’ll answer both of your questions with one answer so that it keeps it somewhat fair since you kind of broke the rules. But I’m not going to speak about conversations between Cabinet members and other individuals that I wasn’t a part of and haven’t had a chance to talk to either individual about.
Q Thank you, Sarah. You suggested that the President continues to have confidence in Reince Priebus based on the fact that he’s still in the position, and he’s a friend of Anthony Scaramucci who’s coming into the administration. At this point, based on what we’ve seen quite publicly playing out, though, does he think they at least need to sit down and talk, as House Speaker Paul Ryan said, and get whatever this is out of their system so that they can start off the one right foot here?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know if he has an opinion on what they should do between the two of them. I think the President, as always, enjoys healthy competition and conversation, and he sees that as such.
I’ve got to wrap up here because the President is getting ready to do an event, which I know you all probably want to attend. And I want to leave you with just one last thing, because I close out, on an important development. You guys love to talk about Russia, and there’s been nonstop coverage. And the one day that there might have been a question on Russia, there wasn’t. Often, we have a lot of media with Russia first, but today there was public testimony that further discredited the phony dossier that’s been the source of so much of the fake news and conspiracy theories. And we learned that the firm that produced it was also being paid by the Russians. This is yet the latest piece of evidence that vindicates what the President has said, that this is a witch hunt and a hoax. And it’s a shame that the President and the country have had to go through this charade continually. And hopefully this will help us move forward in that process.
And with that, thank you, guys, so much. And we’ll see you tomorrow.
3:05 P.M. EDT