TOWOIT #39

February 24, 2017…. Day 36

Muhammad Ali Jr. detained in an airport in Florida. A Puerto Rican man (a citizen!) detained.

A lot happened again today.

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vandalism spotted in my staid, Republican workplace. Not sure what they were going for with the last word– perhaps they felt caught in the act?

Cracks & Caveats:

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Darrell Issa told Bill Maher that Jeff Sessions needs to recuse himself, and we need a special prosecutor.

Today the New York Times, L.A. Times, Politico, The Hill, New York Daily News, CNN, and the BBC were blocked from a press briefing with Sean Spicer. The Washington Post was present at the time. AP and TIME boycotted the meeting in solidarity. The Wall Street Journal and McClatchy said afterward that they hadn’t realized that it was happening until well into the meeting, or they would have boycotted, and they will boycott in the future.

From the transcript below, it does seem that the reporters in the room saw what happened from looking at their phones, well into the briefing. One reporter says in a question, “from this CNN chyron I’m seeing…” Sean tries to say, “Oh there just wasn’t enough room,” and the reporter replies, “but there’s plenty of room” and is then cut off by Sean. In this press gaggle, Sean Spicer emphatically and defensively confirms the Reince Priebus conversation with the deputy director of the FBI.

Sean Spicer selective press gaggle, without Sean Spicer:

  • What will he talk to Kasich about?
  • Will the RNC come up?
  • The convention that he didn’t attend?
  • Hey Sean, housekeeping-wise, can you just say why you decided to do this today, off camera, and could you talk about some of the information that came out from the administration this morning–the pushback on the New York Times reporting that was background–
  • Can you talk about the pushback?
  • So clarification on that, on Meet the Press, when the chief of staff said that he had permission from senior intelligence officials, he was talking about McCabe, the deputy director?
  • So they had given him explicit permission?
  • Sean, do you have any idea–
  • –Sorry, I’m gonna follow up on this thread. The President said today that he doesn’t like the idea of unnamed sources. Obviously this administration briefs on background, meaning on the condition that you not be named–
  • –I didn’t get to the question–
  • –Go ahead you first–
  • The question was, do you plan to change that?
  • (inaudible) — what, I’m —
  • Can you explain the distinction that the administration has drawn between the conservative anger about the Loretta Lynch – Bill Clinton conversation versus the Reince Priebus – Deputy director conversation… the administration has said it’s different because the chief of staff was talking about a news report, not an investigation. But the report was about an investigation. So does the administration worry that the chief of staff has crossed a line? How do you make that distinction?
  • I’m not trying to rehash, but (inaudible)
  • Sean, is there–
  • So can we just–we talked about this six hours ago– could we just move ahead a little here. Do you have any idea what McCabe’s motivation was in coming forward. Because then he asked the chief of staff to call him back at the FBI, only to then be told from the FBI headquarters “there’s nothing we can do” and then there was a very small circle of people who knew about this, and yet it leaked.
  • Let me just get back to the leak. Because you’ve got three people in this room. You’ve got the chief of staff of the white house, you’ve got the deputy director and the director of the FBI. And yet this somehow leaks. If the President is pursuing leaks, it seems he wouldn’t have to look very far.
  • Will he fire somebody?
  • Pulling back a bit–this Russia narrative continues to dog this administration and it’s something America has been paying attention to. What’s your goal to end this narrative? Is there any way you could answer more questions, do more things, to finish this thing that started right after the election–that somehow the President has an improper relationship with Russia? Is he prepared to answer some of these questions, release some more details, to put an end to this? Or are we just going to continue to find out about his connections through these leaks?
  • Until another leak comes out.
  • Sean, but continuing with that though, are you then saying you would encourage, not interfere with, and not in any way encourage the attorney general to suppress the investigation? Putting the story aside, there is some suggestion that there is suppression.
  • No, actually it’s not.
  • I’m speaking specifically about the Department of Justice.
  • So, but, the question was — are you actually saying that if there’s any reason to investigate, the Department of Justice should go ahead? Because there is some suggestion at the Department of Justice that (inaudible).
  • I’m not speaking about this case. I’m talking about at the Department of Justice, writ large, investigating ties to Russia. Is that an investigation that should continue to proceed?
  • And is that a message that the president has delivered to the attorney general?
  • There are reports, and those are lines of questions–
  • That’s why I’m asking–
  • No, but there is — Sean — I’m trying to answer you.
  • There is a sort of boilerplate talking point to say, “We don’t want to impede an ongoing investigation, we hope that–“
  • About this? No!
  • There were plenty of questions about interference. Yes, there were plenty of questions about interference!
  • About whether the Justice Department was interfering in investigations?
  • Yes!
  • But to the point, there are people within–
  • I’m not! I’m actually trying to stay on the topic, which was the topic of the Russia investigation, not what you’re talking about. So on the topic of the Russia investigation, what you have said is that there’s no knowledge at the White House of ANY investigation into ties with Russia–
  • Sean, can you say why Mr. Priebus wanted the FBI to, on their own, bat the story down?
  • You just said that–
  • I would love you to tell — I’m just asking specifically — if there’s a sense on this subject matter, which is politically very loaded, where you feel you haven’t been treated very well, if it would be more useful for the administration, if the FBI–
  • I wasn’t suggesting that you asked under pressure, that wasn’t–
  • I’m not going to say what your response should have been. But do you see why I’m asking–?
  • Ok–
  • Do you think that the denial would be more credible coming from the FBI?
  • Why?
  • I guess what I’m aiming toward, do you guys feel like there have been background sources coming from the intelligence community, saying things that you dispute, that you don’t like — is this part of a broader effort to get the intelligence community —
  • — to go on record —
  • And I’m saying, is that a way to ask them to get their house in order–
  • But I would think that happens pretty regularly–the FBI tells you something and they’re not deciding what will go into the public sphere or not. That’s your job, right?
  • I was wondering why it’s so unusual for them to want the White House, the political arm, to be the ones to decide–
  • But I’m asking you the question–
  • Sean did you guys talk to White House counsel’s office after he talked to McCabe?
  • Just as a — this is a difficult situation, what do we do —
  • So he — not —
  • So that kind of “what could you do” — to your knowledge wasn’t after he’d spoken to counsel.
  • So you don’t know what McCabe went away and did? During those few hours? I mean, was he speaking to his own counsel?
  • Going forward with the FBI, do you have a fundamental, persisting dispute with them about them stepping in to such matters?
  • In terms of, if this situation arises again, where they have information where they could back down an untrue story–
  • So the administration still maintains there is no investigation?
  • No?
  • So you don’t know whether or not there is an investigation?
  • So you’re not aware of any investigation into Russia? Did I misunderstand that?
  • Is the administration?
  • Well–
  • More broadly then to this point, is there concern, or what does it say about the relationship between this administration and the FBI, given that you used words like “concerned,” “troubling,” talking about leaks–should Americans be concerned about fallout between the White House and the FBI?
  • But you called the potential leaks troubling and concerning–
  • But back to the President’s tweets when he said the FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers–are we to deduce that the President has lost confidence in the FBI?
  • On a semi-related note, this banner on CNN right now that said CNN and others have been blocked from media briefings. Is CNN not in here right now because you’re unhappy with their reporting? Why are they not in here?
  • But there’s enough room for a lot of —
  • The President said today at CPAC “We’re going to do something about it” —  in reference to these stories that he is saying are false — by the New York Times and CNN and others. What is he talking about there?
  • In terms of leaks, what’s the next step?
  • When he tweeted “FIND NOW” — who was he talking to?
  • Can I first ask about the shooting in Kansas of the two Indian-Americans and what is the President’s response to it –and also if there’s any concern that some of the rhetoric the the President or that has generally been out here recently contributed to —
  • Can I ask about the CEA? Politico is saying that Kevin Hassett is the President’s choice and I’m wondering if you can confirm that.
  • And then, more broadly, the CEA is not among the President’s cabinet positions anymore and I was wondering if you could explain–
  • I know it was under Obama–
  • Well, could you just explain–
  • On the shooting, what part of the question was “absurd” ?
  • I mean, the comment from the man was “Get out of my country.” Is it a question of, it’s too early to call it a hate crime?
  • I mean, I think that–I didn’t want to say that–this person did that–
  • Do you know if any other parts of the administration looking into this? The Department of Justice for example?
  • So today President Trump talked about how he’s going to build up the military, there’s going to be a funding request. Can you talk about how much money the President is going to ask for? And second, how will this be paid for?
  • And regarding the joint address, do you imagine that it will be a broad, over-head look at what the President plans to do, or will it be very specific?
  • I have one quick question on the budget–with so few cabinet positions confirmed right now, is the administration working with the agencies to ensure that their submissions are being–
  • And do you expect the budget to be thin because of the absence of cabinet secretaries?
  • On immigration–before the President was inaugurated, he said that approximately 2-3 million criminal illegal aliens will be deported during his first year in office. But according to the guidance that Secretary Kelly sent out earlier this week, they’re now saying law enforcement should also be looking at low level criminal illegal immigrants and anybody that DHS deems a public risk — number one, can we expect that number to expand now that the definition of criminal illegal aliens has expanded? And second, how are you going to ensure that someone who just got a traffic ticket doesn’t get deported?
  • Was that something that the White House had spoken with Secretary Kelly about? About expanding the definition–
  • Is the President hoping to have his executive order on immigration done before the joint session of Congress? And can you talk a little about the delay in it — the delay is related to more communication with agencies — what is the President hoping to get from these agencies?
  • On healthcare, there’s a new draft bill being circulated on the Hill, that for example shrinks Medicaid expansion, scales back subsidies. Is this something the President would support?
  • Real quick, yes or no? The President said this morning that we’re going to see the biggest build up of the military in American history. Can we take that to the bank? Is that a real promise?
  • About the idea that it seems you’re playing favorite with media outlets — no I’m asking — no, do you have a response to that though? Given that that’s a concern–
  • But why not those other outlets today?
  • But there are six out there that want to be in here right now.
  • There are six people listed in the White House Correspondents Association.

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