TOWOIT #172

July 11, 2017… Day 173

Each morning (most days), the White House Press Briefing used to appear on C-Span’s daily schedule of events around 7:30 or 8:00 my time — two or three hours before it was slated to begin. Now there’s no mention of it whatsoever beforehand. It’s just at some point later in the day, after the fact, after the audio embargo has been lifted, something like this will appear:

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From the (conservative) National Review:

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Breitbart London editor-in-chief:

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Questions they asked SHS today:

  • Thanks, Sarah. At what point did the President discuss with Donald Trump, Jr. that meeting? Have you had a chance to get a sense of what he feels about this entire story as it continues to unfold? What’s your sense on that? And then a follow-up?
  • That’s your words, at the end?
  • And if I could follow up really quickly about the accident. How soon afterward did the President learn about what happened? What was the tick-tock, in terms of that? Did he get immediate word or did it sort of go through a certain chain of events?
  • Sarah, given these emails, you had somebody who was identified as a Russian government lawyer; Don Jr. agreeing to meet with him, being told in those emails that the Russian government was trying to help the President win the election. Do you stand by a statement you made yesterday when you said that “Our position is that no one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election”?
  • And when was the last time the two of them spoke, Don Jr. and the President?
  • Do you know the last time the President spoke with Don Jr.?
  • Thanks. So the White House hasn’t disputed any of the following, which is that the President’s son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law had this meeting with the express purpose of receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton and with knowledge of the Russian government supporting Trump’s campaign.  How is that not collusion?  
  • But you’re not disputing any of the facts?
  • Sarah, in January the President said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians, and the White House stood by that statement. Was the President misled or was he not truthful?
  • Sarah, can we ask you, why weren’t you interested in answering the question yesterday, and why the President is not answering the questions himself either through you or directly today? What changed between yesterday and today?
  • Is the President still of a mind that he would like the investigation under the special counsel and committees on Capitol Hill to work as expeditiously as possible, and he wants to cooperate, and wants his family members and his top aides here at the White House to cooperate?
  • So, Sarah, let me follow up. So by not answering the questions directly himself, or through you, is that in his mind expediting the investigation or is it blocking the investigation?
  • Sarah, when the White House says there was no collusion, what does the White House mean? What is the definition of collusion?
  •  Sarah, the words “collusion” have been used, other words have been used, “obstruction of justice.” They’re saying now that’s not even half of it. It could be treason or perjury. What does the White House have to say? There are new terms brought into this; new serious — more serious terms brought into this.
  •  I’m not asking about Don Jr.  I’m asking about these words being brought into this equation that you want — this White House wants this whole investigation to be gone. There are new words now brought in.
  • Thanks, Sarah. I have two questions for you. First, asking specifically about actions taken by White House staff in the last 72 hours —
  • By White House staff recently, something that should not require you deferring to special counsel. Can you talk about who inside the White House has been involved in your response on this? Has the President been kept in the loop, the Chief of Staff and others in the administration? Are you looking into potential communications by others on the White House staff in regards to this matter or similar matters?
  • Jared Kushner was apparently forwarded this same email. Is he still — is his security clearance still valid right now?
  • And, Sarah, just one more. Yesterday you said you’d check back to us on the status of how the President views the U.S.-Russia relationship. So can you update us? Is Russia a friend or foe?
  • A policy question on Afghanistan and then something about the statement you just read. So has the President, through H.R. McMaster, notified the Pentagon that he is reasserting the cap of 3,900 additional troops to Afghanistan?  Initially, it was reported that he had given the Pentagon, General Mattis, authority to increase the troop numbers in accordance with the strategy. It’s now subsequently been reported that memos from H.R. McMaster said it’s now limited at 3,900 and no more troops, regardless of the strategy. Can you tell us if that’s true?
  • Can you tell us how seriously the President considered the idea of using private contractors to augment U.S. personnel on the ground in Afghanistan as opposed to U.S. military personnel?
  • When you say the right people, does that include Erik Prince?
  • Can you confirm if Erik Prince part of the conversations about the contract?
  •  All right. And on the President’s statement — because you can talk about that, I would assume, since you read it to us — what transparency is the President applauding?
  • But it’s about Don Jr., right?
  • The statement is about Don Jr.
  • Sarah, is the President aware, as he speaks about the transparency of his son, that he only released those emails after being informed that The New York Times was about to publish them?
  • Let me ask you more broadly about what we spoke about yesterday on the topic of appropriateness in terms of campaigns. Explain to Americans, who are asking this question today, why it’s appropriate for a presidential campaign to accept a meeting with a Russian national after being promised high-level and sensitive information presented as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump. Explain to Americans why that would be appropriate.
  • Do you stand by your statement that it was —
  • The Vice President, through his spokesman, said today that Mr. Pence is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket. That’s been taken by many people in this town to suggest that there is a distance between the President and the Vice President on this. Is there such a distance?
  • Do you know if the President has spoken to the Vice President about this?
  • One more question. There are lots of people who would like to know why this briefing was off-camera today. Do you have a rationale for it?
  •  I’m going to take two bites out of this apple as well. The first is with the stock market.
  • The stock market sharply declined today on the release of the emails by Don Jr.  And so I’m wondering if you’re concerned that these revelations are going to impact the U.S. economy and if you want to offer any assurances to investors that see this news and they’re obviously responding.
  • And then, to go back to the statement that you read, the President says that he applauds Don Jr.’s transparency. I’m wondering if you guys would (inaudible) now that he’s disclosed any other meetings that happened between Russian nationals and members of the Trump campaign towards that transparency.
  • Yesterday, you compared the meeting to Hillary Clinton’s campaign coordination with Ukraine. Do you feel like coordinating with any — all countries in the world are pretty much the same? That there’s no difference between Ukraine or Russia or any other country?
  • Okay. Well, just take Ukraine and Russia. Do you feel that they’re equivalent?
  • Do you consider them both allies, partners of the United States, or adversaries?  I mean, in what way are they similar? Because you compared them yesterday.
  • Okay, but I thought you were saying if it was okay for Hillary to coordinate with Ukraine, then it should be okay — or to meet with Ukraine about possible information that might be relevant on the campaign, it would be equally okay to meet with Russians about information they may have.
  •  You still think it was okay — put aside the issue of collusion. Is it appropriate to meet with Russians about information they might have during that campaign?
  •  Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions for you. Have you spoken with the President in the past 24 hours?
  • What was his general reaction to this story? Without getting into an official White House response to some of the questions earlier, did you speak with him about this story?
  • Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions as well. Senator Rubio said this morning that the entire matter involving Donald Trump, Jr. is, and I quote, “Mueller territory.” In other words, it should be left solely up to the special prosecutor. What’s the White House reaction to that?
  • So you have no reaction to what Senator Rubio said?
  • My other question is about personnel. The President has — and you pointed this out yesterday in the form you handed out — numerous judicial vacancies to fill, including four on the controversial 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In an effort to speed this up, will the administration waive the blue slip process from senators or the opinion of the American Bar Association?
  • Thanks. I have three, but I’ll try to be quick.
  • Secretary Mattis said a month ago that you guys would be rolling out the new Afghanistan strategy by mid-July. Does that still hold?
  • Okay. Be that as it may, what role does the President see for himself in terms of explaining the strategy to the American people? Does he plan a primetime address, does he plan a press conference, does he plan a national tour? How implicated do you think he will be in selling the new strategy to the public?
  • Last one. Whose decision was it to provide relatively limited answers today to the Don Jr. question? Is it a lawyer, or did White House Counsel instruct you not to do this? Is it a communications decision? Who made that decision?
  • Thanks, Sarah. The administration missed its deadline to make a decision on steel tariffs. Can you give us an update on where that decision stands? Can we expect a decision this week?
  • Sarah, is there a reason that the deadline wasn’t met?
  • Thanks a lot, Sarah. In the conversation that you had with the President, did he give an indication to you that these stories that we see come out day after day, in The New York Times specifically, are in any way self-inflicted? After all, it’s the meeting that Don Jr. had with this Russian lawyer that has precipitated all of this.
  • When you have that conversation with the President, do you ask him — just so you can speak with us and inform us — do you say, what was the nature, from your understanding, Mr. President, about the conversation your son and these other two individuals had with this Russian lawyer?
  • On sanctions, I wanted to ask:  Is the White House suggesting or asking for new language to insert kind of a tweak to give the President the waivers — the national security waivers — that you’re seeking? Or is the White House wanting to see the bill cancelled all together and killed all together?
  • With Mosul now in Iraqi hands, does the President have a strategy for the future of Iraq or U.S. involvement in Iraq?
  • Is President Trump now aware of the Russian government effort to influence the campaign in his favor?  
  • Is the President now aware of the Russian government effort to influence the campaign in his favor?
  • And a follow-up on that. Yesterday, you were asked when the President learned of the Donald Jr. meeting, and your response was, “I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.” Is there any reason that we should think that answer would change today? Have you learned anything new that would change your response there?

 

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