TOWOIT #73

March 30, 2017… Day 70

Trump attacked the Freedom Caucus in a tweet this morning. I only look at his tweet-missives over on Facebook, where there are whole, thoughtful paragraphs in the comment threads and not just memes, bots, and snark-bundles. Skimming the first few dozen replies with the most likes, every single one of them was a concerned Trump supporter who felt he was going down a very bad path. They assigned different levels of culpability to Trump. But most seemed to be picking their words carefully, as though they just might have a chance to influence him before all hope was gone.

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Mike Flynn offered to testify in exchange for immunity. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. It sounds like that might be his way of pleading the fifth, meaning he won’t testify before the Senate Intelligence committee. Twitter is getting excited though, the way it does.

A panel of Russia experts testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee in the first day of hearings. There was a lot of context and history given, to try to anchor the Russia intervention as a large bipartisan national security issue that is ongoing. All of which is true. The Burr & Warren show is a sober affair while the Nunes & Schiff show still skitters around all willy nilly. Yesterday at a press conference, Burr & Warren basically said, “don’t even ask us about the House committee.” Anyway, the Russia experts casually said some chilling things like “Follow the trail of dead Russians,” and “Trump used Russia’s active measures.”

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So… the White House DID give Devin Nunes information, which he then vague-booked to the press before making a display of briefing the White House on the information the it had briefed him about the night before. Also, Nunes has never been certain what, like literally what, he was ever talking about. The New York Times found out and published the identities of the two men who gave the information to Nunes. Adam Schiff suggested it was a case of “laundering information through the House intelligence committee.” Also, Sean Spicer’s press briefing is worth looking into for some strange non-denials. I’ll post the reporter questions below as always.

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Stuff reporters asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Thanks, Sean. I’m trying to gauge the probability of a government shutdown at the end of April. Are your directions to the Capitol Hill to hold firm on the spending cuts that the President wants, or to try to wheel and deal and get a bill that can keep the government open?
  • You wouldn’t want pushback on Capitol Hill from some —
  • Thanks a lot, Sean. I wanted to ask about some news that the President made today with a tweet that he put out on Twitter. He seemed to be picking a fight with the Freedom Caucus; and the Freedom Caucus, as you know, has 30 members. Does the President realize how important this caucus is, this coalition is, in terms of passing a replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act and passing the rest of his legislative agenda?
  • Can he pass that agenda without the help of the Freedom Caucus?
  • He seemed to imply in that tweet that he would be in favor of primary-ing some individuals in the Freedom Caucus who oppose his agenda. Is that correct? Did I read that correctly?
  • Thanks, Sean. Two questions, if you don’t mind.
  • That’s what I’ll give you. (Laughter.) First, we know now —
  • No, I got it. (Laughter.) So two White House officials, according to New York Times reporting, provided Representative Nunes with the information that he spoke about last week. And according to the Times, the senior director for intelligence on the NSC, who was hired by Michael Flynn, started going through these documents after the President’s tweet — the wiretapping tweet. So I’m wondering if the White House thinks it’s appropriate for national security officials to be conducting what’s basically a political task, which is trying to find information that then validates something the President said.  
  • It does.
  • And then on a different topic, with Ms. Walsh’s departure today, are you expecting any more staffing shakeups in the West Wing?
  • Sean, are you saying that The New York Times reporting today is not correct on whoever was —
  • For days you haven’t been able to tell us who he met with, what the circumstances were.
  • So the White House did make materials available already?
  • And what kind of message do you think this sends to people watching this? Does it —
  • I want to read to you something you said here at the podium on March 23rd when you were originally asked if the White House might have had any role in providing information to Chairman Nunes. You first said it didn’t make any sense to you, and you went to say — and I’m quoting you here:  “I don’t know why he” — Chairman Nunes — “would brief the Speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. So I’m not aware of it, but it doesn’t really pass the smell test.” There is now reporting — which I can’t tell if you’re disputing or not — that identifies two people within this White House as the sources of this information. So I’m just trying to put these things together, where you said it “doesn’t pass the smell test” on March 23rd. Now there’s reporting that suggests that it is within the White House, that they were the sources of this. I’m just trying to put those two things together. 
  • Okay, so within that —
  • — I’m gathering that you’ve learned something new since then, so please tell us what you’ve learned.
  • But can’t the process, from your vantage point, validate the importance of the substance?
  • And you’ve told us that you’re willing to look into and ask questions about the process and provide us answers. That’s all I’m trying to —
  • And when you say “we have information,” are you disputing the reports in the New York Times?
  • But you’re saying “we.” So I’m just trying to find out, they’re naming some people that work for the NSC, who work at this White House —
  • — who have been named now publicly for the first time.
  • If it were wrong, would you tell us?
  • Thank you, Sean. I have two questions. The first, President Trump is pushing for a major tax cut, increases in defense and infrastructure spending, and the border wall.  Does he think this agenda has to be deficit-neutral, or is he open to plans that might initially add to the debt?
  • And then, just to clarify one thing with the New York Times story, I know you won’t identify Congressman Nunes’s “sources,” but isn’t it abundantly clear that at least some White House officials had to be involved in him getting information here because they would need to help them access the complex?
  • Right, but it was someone at the White House, right?
  • Thank you, Sean.  Thank you for announcing the visit of the Chinese President. I have a couple of questions about that visit, if you’d entertain me. Can you talk about the location and how it was chosen for this visit?
  • So how did you arrive at Mar-a-Lago as opposed to the White House?
  • So what is the goal for the White House to accomplish during the visit?
  • And lastly, the Chinese are expecting the White House to provide some sort of framework for the relationship to be viewed for. Are you prepared for that? And can you talk a little bit about what that framework might be?
  • Kind of put a floor under the relationship, looking for how to view the relationship. Obviously, you had the rebalance and the pivot in the prior administration. Is there a tagline or a vision for U.S.-China relations that you will roll out during this visit?
  • Thanks, Sean. Did the President direct anyone in this White House or in his national security team to try to find information or intelligence to back up his assertion about wiretapping?
  • So it’s possible.
  • And one more. Don’t sort of the daily questions about this make it necessary to have some type of outside independent investigation to lift any lingering cloud that there may be?
  • Why?
  • Do you think the House intelligence investigation is still valid given all of these questions?
  • There are all these questions about where Devin Nunes got his information from, was it politically motivated. To lift that cloud, would it not be smart to have an outside independent investigation?
  • Can you just quickly talk about the timing of inviting the leaders of this investigation to the White House now? Is it because of this report? Why not do that initially?
  • Eric Trump gave an interview a few days ago to Forbes Magazine in which he said that he would update his father regularly, perhaps quarterly, on the business, including giving profitability reports. So I had two questions about that. One is, have they spoken about the business since January? And two, how does this not violate what the President set out as the protocols for how he would deal with the business?
  • Just following up, I believe he said the he wasn’t going to talk to his children, his sons, about the business. So how is that —
  • I have two things I want to ask. The first is just to follow up on Major and ask about the substance. It’s sort of unclear what you guys are telling the chairman and the ranking members you have. Is it information that would validate the President’s claims about surveillance during the 2016 campaign? Or is it information about their broader Russia investigation?  I’m trying to —
  • But you’re not intending to imply that this is the information that Chairman Nunes has been talking about.
  • And then, Westinghouse Center filed for bankruptcy yesterday. I’m wondering if that’s prompted national security concerns in the administration, and if there is any effort within the administration to sort of help them navigate this bankruptcy, considering that the —
  • Sean, I just want to ask you to elaborate more on what you have so far told us. You said that in the ordinary course of business, the national security staff discovered documents. Can you explain how these documents were uncovered? What does it mean “in the course of business”?
  • So who in the national security staff, then, uncovered the documents?
  • Are you in a position right now to deny or rule out the possibility that members of the national security staff have already informed the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee?
  • A couple of things, Sean. First of all, on the Freedom Caucus, in response to the President’s tweet, Congressman Amash of Michigan responded on camera, saying, most people don’t like to be bullied — in response to the President — also saying that sending out such tweets is constructive in the 5th grade and it may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how government works. Could you take a moment to respond to Congressman Amash? Was the President trying to bully the Freedom Caucus?
  • Following on that, is this a divide-and-conquer strategy?
  • And then if I could, following on what Major said, you’ve accused people in this room several times of being more interested in the process than actually in substance of things. But when information is discovered by the Intelligence Committee Chairman in the House, at the White House, that is potentially exculpatory to what the President has tweeted out, and it’s reported that one of the people who was involved in uncovering that information is a White House staff member who was kept in his position over the request of the National Security Advisor by the political leadership here at the White House, does the process not then take on some relevance?
  • I’m not asking that question.
  • No, I’m not asking that question.
  • That’s not what I asked. What I asked was, when you have that connection of dots all the way along, does the process, the prominence of this information not become relevant to the overall investigation?
  • Sean, a quick follow up on that —
  • You mentioned a couple of times —
  • Thank you. Has the President already been briefed on this information —
  • Has the President been briefed on this information that you’re now inviting the congressional committee chairs to come in and view? And when was he briefed on it?
  • So then why would you brief — why would the White House brief congressional —
  • Sean, thanks. A couple on taxes. The timeline here had been healthcare first, tax reform second. There was a Fox poll out, released yesterday, that said 73 percent of Americans want tax reform to happen this year. With healthcare now at least being on hold, is healthcare the number-one priority for this administration — is tax reform the number-one priority for this administration at this point, or is healthcare still kind of taking up some of the oxygen?
  • And you described what was going on with the meeting today as the first phase. Can you lay out to us what is somewhat entailed with that first phase? Is the President being given detailed strategies? Or is it broad principles? What is involved in this first phase?
  • And you just mentioned a dual track between healthcare and tax reform, but then there’s also infrastructure hanging out there. So can all of those go together?
  • Thank you, Sean. Turning to the foreign front, yesterday, Vladimir Kara-Murza, the twice-poisoned Russian dissident and vice-chairman of the Open Russia Movement, testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, backing continued sanctions against Russia. He also called on Secretary of State Tillerson to meet with Russian Civil Society members –in other words, anti-Putin dissidents like himself — when he makes his trip to Moscow next month. Mr. Kara-Murza also said he was meeting with many members of Congress of both parties, but he would be very happy to meet with any administration officials. Are there any plans for the President or anyone in the White House to meet with Mr. Kara-Murza? And will Mr. Tillerson meet with the Russian Civil Society?
  • Sean, can I ask a question — but before I do, get some clarification on the answer that you gave to Hunter and to Major? I thought it was just yesterday that you said that when you were asked who cleared in Chairman Nunes, that you had asked some preliminary questions and not gotten answers, and that you would continue to ask.
  • So my question today is, you know the answers to that and you are saying you will not answer that question today? Or you don’t know?
  • So you’re — just to clarify again, you asked the questions? You were not given answers?
  • You said yesterday you asked that — wait, let me finish. You said yesterday that you asked, you didn’t get the answers. And so what you’re telling us today is you are never going to get the answer — you, yourself — you are never going to get the answer to who cleared in Chairman Nunes?
  • You’re not answering my question.
  • Wait, wait, wait, here’s my bigger question. The President has expressed his affirmation, his support for the finding that Russia interfered with the 2016 election.  That is the centerpiece of the investigation at the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee. My question is — can you update us, what is the President doing now in the administration to respond to Director Comey’s testimony that that interference is not just election-year-based but continuing?
  •  I just asked, what is the administration doing — can you update what is the administration doing to prevent that, to —
  • — to respond to that preliminary finding already, that we already know, that it is continuing?
  • That’s the sum total of the response so far?
  • Sean?
  • Wait, no.  I was just going to –
  • Sean?
  • Yes, Sean.
  • He called on someone else?  I’m sorry. Go ahead, and then come back to me.
  • She can go first, but I’ll just go after her.
  • Okay, thank you, Kaitlan. So, Sean, what is the ultimate goal of the leaders coming in to get this information? And will it be information that Nunes received plus? Or will it just be basically a synopsis of a synopsis of what Nunes received?
  • So, ultimately, in their questioning, they could actually wind up reviewing what Nunes received, possibly? If they do, even ask different questions, just sitting in the intelligence meetings like the President does — if he decides to give more he’ll give more?
  • Are they allowed to — the type of briefing, with their ranking and who they are — no matter if they may be head of the Intel Committee, are some of these other members allowed to see the same things that he sees? Even though they are not head of — I mean, are they allowed to see that?
  • Okay. And lastly, Sean, do you know who allowed him to come in?
  • You don’t know?
  • I have two questions for you. One is did anyone in the White House ever raise the possibility of a Cabinet position or a top intelligence post later on in the administration for Devin Nunes?
  • And secondly, will the President hold a press conference so he can answer questions on the surveillance claims and all these intelligence revelations himself?
  • Not that you’re not good enough, but he’s the one who made the claims. You didn’t make the claims, he made the claims.
  • Tomorrow?
  • That works.
  • I just want to clarify, do you believe — from what you know about these materials, do they validate the President’s wiretapped claim?
  • And why not just be more forthcoming about this entire process of who let Nunes in?  If this was enough — if the President of the United States could tweet this claim about wiretapping, doesn’t the American public have a right to know more?
  • Because you’re —
  • I’m sorry.
  • One hundred percent. (Laughter.)
  • In fact, I will cede the floor to Glenn.
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Glenn is Sean Spicer’s least-favorite pupil. He works for the dastardly New York Times, which published the story on the White House staffers this morning. Also, Sean Spicer is eventually going to make two reporters hug and kiss in front of him. 
  • Sean, thank you very much. I have two questions, one on Venezuela and another one on climate policy. With respect to Venezuela, because today the Supreme Court of Venezuela said they would take — try to take over the Congress powers and the opposition said a coup is underway. Do you consider there is a coup underway in Venezuela, and what can we expect the United States to do? And the other question is on climate change, because President Obama signed also the bilateral climate deals with Brazil, China and India. And what do you have to those?
  • Those are separate —
  • Thank you, Sean. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the Trump administration is proposing more modest changes to NAFTA. Like, for example, they’re leaving the arbitration panel that deals with trade disputes in place, et cetera, et cetera. Is the White House backing away from some of the more sweeping changes to NAFTA that the President proposed during the campaign?
  • Thank you. I’ve got one on foreign policy and one on domestic policy. First one is, many Republicans were very critical about how President Obama had handled the Iranian Green Revolution about six years ago. So my question is, if mass protests across Russia develop into a movement, is this something that — what does the administration feel its role should be regarding that?
  • No, it’s not —
  • And on the subject of partisanship and obstructionism, whose responsibility does the President feel it is to put an end to partisanship? And who needs to be reaching out to whom collectively?
  • Should it not be done from the President’s side to try to —

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