TOWOIT #74

March 31, 2017… Day 71

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C-Span is mildly amusing and I’m easily amused, so it’s perfect. The actual title of the video was White House NOT Worried.
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The Mike Pence thing made me take a long hard look at myself and my culturally conservative streak. 
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Vanity Fair

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I got a bad case of the Fridays. Here’s the questions they asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean, a couple of questions, if I could, about Chairman Nunes’s visit to the White House. Fox News has been told by intelligence officials that Chairman Nunes is aware of who did the unmasking of certain individuals in the transition and may be aware of who ordered the unmasking of those individuals. Is the White House aware of that information?
  • I wasn’t expecting to tap quite such a deep well with that question. (Laughter.)
  • Intelligence officials also tell us that Chairman Nunes knew about the documents that he viewed at the White House back in January, but ended up looking at them at the NSC SCIF only because he could not get access to those same documents through some of the other intelligence agencies. Basically it was a last resort to come here to the White House to view them. Do you know if that is the case?
  • And just one more thing to clear up on process, if I could. We’re also being told by intelligence officials that the two individuals who were identified yesterday — Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis — were not the source for the information, for the intelligence chairman. They did play an ancillary role in terms of finding some extra evidence here at the White House and helping to sign him in so that he could view the intelligence. Do you know if that’s true?
  • Sean, we heard from the President this morning saying that Mike Flynn should ask for immunity. We also know the President has longstanding views on what immunity means. Back in September he said, “If you aren’t guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?”  So does the President think that Mike Flynn is guilty of a crime?
  • With or without immunity?
  • But the President gave legal advice from his Twitter account. He said Mike Flynn should ask for immunity.
  • And he has said in the past that the only reason you ask for immunity if you committed a crime.
  • Thanks, Sean. One on taxes and one on trade, if I could. Back on February 9th, the President said the he would be presenting a phenomenal tax plan in the next two or three weeks. Tomorrow is April 1st; we haven’t seen that tax plan. Can you tell us when the President is going to present his plan?
  • Is the White House going to write its own proposal here, or is this going to be like the healthcare debate where we thought we were going to see a proposal from the White House, but in the end the President sort of signed on to Paul Ryan’s plan?  
  • And on trade, the President, during the campaign — he’s now gearing up for this meeting with the Chinese President at Mar-a-Lago. During the campaign, he suggested that on day one, he would declare China a currency manipulator. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t the President followed through on that campaign promise?
  • Thanks, Sean.  Two, if I may.  One on China, one on the Middle East.  Does the administration plan to order a review into China’s status as a nonmarket economy?
  • And then can you clear up where the President stands on whether Bashar Assad is the legitimate President of Syria?
  • It sounds like you’re saying whether or not he’s legitimate — if you were to declare him illegitimate there’s nothing the United States could do about that, so there’s no point in —
  • Thank you. What’s really the end game for Mr. Assad when the President speaks to his allies, his NATO partners? Obviously Assad is not going to retire somewhere in the south of France. Something has got to give. What is the thought there? What is the disposition, the conversation in terms of Assad, who is very close to Mr. Putin and would like to have a warm water port in the Mediterranean?
  • During the presidential campaign the President said he was with the state on North Carolina’s law banning transgender people from using certain restrooms.  The Democratic governor yesterday signed a deal to replace that law with a measure that civil rights groups still say is discriminatory. Does the President support this law?
  • — different issue, but what is the President’s personal view on bathrooms for transgender people and the way states should approach it?
  • Thanks, Sean.  Given that it’s financial disclosure day, why will the White House not be releasing —
  • Why won’t the White House not be releasing the President’s 2016 tax returns, given, conceivably, those can’t be under audit yet while the audit has obviously been the reason for why you haven’t released those past returns?
  • So then why not make this step —
  •  Sure, I just was using that as a jumping-off point for the tax returns question.
  • If the audit is not the reason for the returns —
  • — because there can’t be an audit of —
  • So can we expect them on the 15th of April?
  • Are you going to release them?
  • General Flynn’s attorney said that his client has a “story to tell.” Is the White House concerned that General Flynn has damaging information about the President, his aides, his associates about what occurred during the campaign with respect to Russia?
  • Okay. The other thing I wanted to ask you, to follow up on that, is, you were just saying a few moments ago that some of this information that would be helpful to the committee — you were talking about Evelyn Farkas and so forth — that seems to be something that pertains to during the transition. But the President’s tweets time and again talked about “tapping my phones” in October just prior to the election. “Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.” I’m just kind of — I want to get something clear about the timeframe. Does the White House have any information — is it providing any information to these Intelligence Committees that would draw these members to the conclusion that there was some kind of surveillance going on before the election as the President originally alleged?
  • The President’s allegations —
  • Then —
  • But you started off as allegations —
  •  — surveillance and —
  • — not that the dates are changing.
  • And to follow up on that, I think we are concerned about the substance just as much as the process. But the details matter. But I just want to make sure — you clearly — because it seems like you’re going farther than what we’ve heard in previous briefings. It sounds like you are, just as the President is, alleging that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and Trump transition team.
  • Do you have evidence of that?
  • Can I go back to China for a second? The President yesterday said that the meeting next week with China will be a difficult one, and he referred to massive trade deficits. Now what sort of tone is he hoping to set for this meeting?  
  • Why is it going to be so difficult?
  • Why is it going to be so difficult, as he says?
  • In Philadelphia. It’s Randall Jefferson. The question is:  President Trump signed an executive order that he intends to not fund cities that refuse to share immigration status information. Attorney General Sessions recently suggested that cities could not only lose future funds but that the federal government may require them to pay back grants. Will there be a — when and will — when will this take place? And will that money be reallocated to other departments like the Department of Education or HBCUs?
  • Two things, Sean. First, just to follow up on something you said before. You said that Hillary Clinton had personal contact with Vladimir Putin, and the suggestion was that wasn’t necessarily appropriate. Can you just elaborate what you were —
  • I mean, as a private citizen or as a —
  • So you think that her pattern of behavior is more suspicious than President Trump’s pattern of behavior?
  • So, Sean, in terms of the Nunes chronology, just to clarify, when we’re asking questions about process like gates and people, we’re not attempting to ascertain the geography of the executive complex, we want to know who knew what and when.
  • So my question is — so I will ask that directly, forget about the technical questions. Mr. Nunes was on the campus. You say we don’t know who let him in the gate, so apparently it is — and you described that, I believe, this is a normal process, right? Tell me if it is normal the way that I’m describing it. Mr. Nunes, the head of an investigatory committee, is allowed to roam around the executive complex — we don’t know who let him in — to speak to two deputy-level members of the National Security Council. He is then allowed to see information. He then obtains an appointment, from my understanding of the chronology, with the President of the United States to disgorge that information. He then goes public with that information. Then seven or so days later, you say it would be appropriate for everybody to come down here and look at it. Is that a normal process?
  • Well, you won’t tell us who let him in, so we don’t know.
  • — several times prejudged the investigation as clearing the White House. You said it twice at the podium today.
  • So we’re not prejudging —
  • Well, what —
  • Did the Chief of Staff, who is, at my understanding, an exceptionally attentive gatekeeper to who comes in and out of the Oval Office, did the Chief of Staff know that he was on the campus? Did he approve his —
  • But just to be clear, Mr. Preibus, Mr. Kushner, Mr. Bannon did not have knowledge of his being on the campus, having this interaction with —
  • My understanding is that Dr. Farkas left the administration in 2015. So why is what she said in 2017 relevant to something that allegedly happened in 2016?
  • No, you’re the one telling us to — from you right now.
  • I don’t believe everything I see on TV.  (Laughter.)
  • Former.
  • Former, in 2015.
  • No, but she wasn’t there in 2016.
  • Yeah, one other question, which is, are you more concerned about that or Russian interference in the presidential election?
  • So the Russian interference —
  • My question is which is worse?
  • Can I just ask three basic kind of follow-up to questions. You’ve used two phrases here today. One is really pretty sensitive information and the other is classified information when you’re talking about what the President believes was released. Because you said yesterday that you, yourself, had not seen the information — and that’s my understanding of today — are those terms interchangeable, or are they different in terms of what you know from the podium was released?
  • But it’s your understanding — you’ve been told that the material that the President is sharing with the committees includes classified information as well as politically sensitive information — that’s your understanding?
  • All right. Next question — you said Congressman Schiff is coming today?
  • And can you share with us who will be responsible for escorting him to the proper place, showing him the materials, walking him through it, letting him absorb it? Is he bringing staff? Can you just explain the —
  • The two that the President has wanted to share with the House and the Senate committees — has it already been shared with the FBI or does the FBI already have the material?
  • Can you get the answer to that?
  • What I’m asking is, the executive branch — the FBI has a separate investigation.  I’m asking — the President believes he has evidence that is germane to that investigation, as broad as Director Comey has described.
  •  I misunderstood. I thought that the FBI also had broadened the investigation beyond just simply Russia.
  • If you could just find out —
  • I’m asking you a separate question. Does the President believe that it is important for the FBI to have the information that he finds to be so egregiously offensive, that politically sensitive information was shared by the previous administration? I’m asking you a really simple question.
  • This morning, the Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, took issue with the President’s tweet. He said he does not believe that the Russian investigation that’s being conducted by the FBI, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the House Intelligence Committee is a witch hunt. Why does the President believe it’s a witch hunt? He also said — before I get your answer to that — he also said that he doesn’t think it’s proper for the President to sort of tweet out or comment on ongoing investigations. Can you also touch on that as well?
  • Commenting on an ongoing investigation, is that proper by the President?
  • Well, there’s an investigation that’s ongoing by the FBI right now. There’s an ongoing investigation that’s ongoing by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • Should he be commenting on that?
  • The “witch hunt.”
  • You take issue with Jason Chaffetz’s —
  • Actually, it’s Derrick Blakley at WBBM in Chicago. Thank you. I have a question, and if at all possible, a follow-up as well. Chicago gets about $12 million a year in law enforcement assistance from the federal government. Would President Trump cut off those funds due to the sanctuary city status even though it would greatly hamper the police fight against street violence, something the President has repeatedly said troubles him greatly?
  • Can I follow up? Does that mean the President is more interested in deporting illegal immigrants than he is with putting shooters and killers in jail?
  • Let me ask you about the two executive orders that are about to be signed. Peter Navarro said this morning that they have nothing to do with the China trip next week. So is it just purely coincidence that it’s happening now and the President is set to meet with his counterpart in China next week? Or is this somewhat setting the table for what might come next week?
  • You mentioned that the President has signaled his intention to withdraw from TPP, you’ve got Keystone, you’ve got these executive orders, a whole host of others. The second executive order that’s coming today talks about a — or the first one — a 90-day review.
  • The one that’s still outstanding is NAFTA and what the President wants to do with that. So does that move the NAFTA timeline potentially back 90 days?  Does he want to see this 90-day review first before getting to NAFTA?
  • Do you have a timeline?
  • You frequently tell us to take the President’s tweets at face value and they speak for themselves. So when the President says Mike Flynn should get immunity, is he suggesting to Congress that it grant immunity? 
  • Right, but that is — they cannot obtain immunity. It must be granted —
  • — by Congress.
  •  You have the President recommending either to the FBI or to Congress that it grant immunity. Because that’s the only way it can happen.
  • That’s what I’m asking. What does he mean by that?
  • Right. But he could have just said “and testify.” He said he should be immunity.
  • And I’m asking you because it’s an important — 
  • Every lawyer who works on this tells you it’s extremely important to seek it and then obtain it. And there’s only one way you can seek it, by it being granted either by the FBI or by Congress. And for the President of the United States to even lightly indicate that he is in favor of that it seems to is a significant development. And I’m trying to find out if that’s what the President was trying to accomplish.
  • You have?
  • Even if he doesn’t obtain immunity?
  • And since you’ve talked to the President about this, he was not trying to suggest to the FBI or the Justice Department that it grant immunity to Mike Flynn?
  • — any other venue —
  • It would be different.
  • He’s not instructing his Justice Department to do this?
  • You talked about — one more thing. You said Congressman Schiff is coming over here, the Senate Intelligence —
  • He said he was —
  • He put out a press release.
  • You just cleared up a lot of —
  •  The Senate Intelligence Committee put out a statement yesterday that I just want to read to you — or part of it.
  • The committee has asked the White House to direct the agencies that own the intelligence documents in question to immediately provide them directly to the committee. Does the White House have any problem with that, or believe they’re —
  • Do you see any problem with this procedure?
  • It’s not an illegitimate request.
  • Schiff is asking the same thing, too?
  • Is this an illegitimate request?  That’s all I’m trying to figure out.
  •  — you said we don’t know who owns it.
  •  (Inaudible.)
  • I’m just asking, as the representative of the President, because it is his decision –
  • So really quick just to follow up. You said that the U.S. is giving up $2.8 billion a year in countervailing —
  • Peter Navarro was up here last night and said that sum applied to a 16-year period. I was hoping you could clarify the facts on that.
  • Peter Navarro had it as a far smaller sum over a larger —
  • Thanks. The second thing, follow-up on Alexis’s question. You’ve made some serious allegations about civil liberties and potentially mishandling of classified information. Why wouldn’t the White House, if it believed — hand it over to the federal agency tasked with investigating crimes —
  • And one final one. Earlier in the briefing you said we don’t track every — we don’t track every person who is on the 18 acres —
  • So — but when it comes to that, do you have any information about how the Chairman did get onto the campus, who WAVEd him in?
  • Will you release — sorry, the WAVES records?

 

 

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