TOWOIT #277: Fire and Fury

January 3, 2018

I made a picture of words that were in the press briefing today.


I isolated some of the more telling questions asked today.

  • Did the President’s son, Don Jr., commit treason?
  • Should the American people be concerned about the President’s mental fitness?
  • What led to this quite dramatic falling out?
  • Isn’t it dangerous for the President to be taunting [Kim Jong Un] on Twitter?
  • Will the press corps be in the room for [the Dishonest Media Awards]?
  • What does it say about the President’s priorities that he unleashed a four-paragraph statement about Steve Bannon and one tweet on North Korea?
  • By attacking critics and key institutions in our democracy, isn’t the President engaging in authoritarian behavior?
  • Is it possible that Americans like him more when he is out of the news and not tweeting?
  •  If the President says [Steve Bannon] lost his mind when he left, why did he continue to talk to him for so many months?

All the questions from today’s press briefing:

  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thank you, Sarah. The President says that when Steve Bannon was fired, “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Does he feel betrayed by Steve Bannon? Does he regret hiring him?
  • But is there regret there? I mean, he said a lot in this book. And they did have a long and close working relationship.  So is there a sense of betrayal?
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Sarah, when is the last time the President talked to Steve Bannon? And this is a serious question: Is the President now blocking Steve Bannon from calling his cell phone?
  • And what does this mean to the base that these two powerhouses are fighting in the Republican Party? What does this feud do to the President’s base?
  • Steve Bannon has a distinct following: the alt-right and some people who may not necessarily be for “the other”; people who are xenophobic. What happens there?
  • (Peter Alexander, NBC) A couple questions. I’ll try to make these simple. First, did the President —
  • Did the President’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., commit treason?
  • So to follow up on that, did the President meet any of Donald Trump, Jr.’s guests at that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting on that day?
  • Finally, quickly, if I can ask you about the tweet about nuclear threats — the nuclear button tweet. Should Americans be concerned about the President’s mental fitness that he appears to be speaking so lightly about threats regarding a nuclear button?
  • But, Sarah, isn’t it possible —
  • But isn’t it possible that he could misinterpret that? You said he’s unpredictable. So couldn’t he misinterpret a tweet like that if he’s so unpredictable?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. It’s a very harsh statement that the President put out today, and it’s not the first time that Steve Bannon has been topic A here at the White House briefing. The last time, as you made reference to, was after his interview on “60 Minutes.” And during that White House press briefing on September the 11th, and when a series of questions were asked of you at the time, you were pretty much hands-off in terms of going after Steve Bannon. The President didn’t really respond in any particular way to this “60 Minutes” interview. What’s changed? What’s changed between then and now, after the interview that he apparently did with Michael Wolff for his book?
  • (Francesca, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah. But to pick up on that, this is a pretty dramatic falling out between the President and someone who worked on his campaign, and also worked in this White House very close to him every day. And so I think everyone is wondering what led to this quite dramatic falling out. And was it the loss of Roy Moore in that Senate race that was mentioned in the statement? You mentioned that they had last talked in early December. Is this a direct response to Steve Bannon calling the President’s son “unpatriotic” and saying that he committed treason?
  • (Ashley Parker, Washington Post) Sarah, you mentioned the statement the President put out. It was very harsh, and it basically says the entire book is fiction. That said, a note explaining how the book came to be said that the author conducted interviews for 18 months, including many with the President, spoke to over 200 people, many of the President’s top aides and people that he spoke to.
  • He never? Well, two questions. Did they ever speak on the phone?
  • So the only thing was only a phone call between the author and the President?
  • My original question was just if you could reconcile the President’s statement with the author’s statement about how the book came to be.
  • (Darlene Superville, Associated Press) Does the White House have a copy of the book now?
  • (Jim– AP?) Sarah, the statement — the President’s statement suggests that Steve Bannon had very little influence in the White House. But the President himself elevated him to the same level as the Chief of Staff and put him on the National Security Council. How do you reconcile that?
  • (Margaret Brennan) Sarah, can you clarify? Because many of us here have seen Michael Wolff at the White House on multiple occasions. We’ve seen him firsthand. So we know he was here. Who gave him access to the White House? What was he here for? Can you explain any of that since we don’t have access to the logs?
  • So the compliance, really, you would just say came from Steve Bannon? Other White House officials were not working with him in helping to share information?
  • (Deborah) The President tweeted that he’ll be announcing “the most dishonest and corrupt media” award of the year Monday at 5:00 p.m.  Can we get some details on that? Where will he say it? Will it be televised? How many awards will he present?
  • Will there be an audience?
  • Will there be any other judges?
  • Will the press corps be there? Will the press corps be in the room for that?
  • (Justin) I have two policy ones. The first one is, there was some controversy over the weekend about a letter from the Department of Transportation suggesting that the administration doesn’t support the split federal/state framework for the Gateway Rail Tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey. Since it’s infrastructure week — (laughter) — I’m wondering if the President —
  • Is it infrastructure week?
  • When isn’t it?
  • — in principle, supports at least a 50-50 split on that. And if not, what’s changed from when he met with the bipartisan New York delegation earlier last year?
  • And then, you got some questions yesterday about the, sort of, shorter list of demands on immigration. I’m wondering if that’s something that Mick Mulvaney and Marc Short brought up to Capitol Hill today as a part of those discussions.
  • (Steven) Thank you, Sarah. Can you nail down some of the data points with respect to Steve Bannon? You said that the last time the President spoke with him was in the early part of December. Was that before or after the special election in Alabama?
  • Will you take us through the drafting of the statement that the President issued today? It’s rather lengthy. Did he write it in his own hand? Did he dictate it?
  • And one more thing. It’s been reported that he was furious when these reports first came out, what Bannon was quoted as saying. Is that an accurate depiction?
  • (Kevin, Fox News] Sarah, thanks. I wanted to ask you personally — and I know you speak on behalf of the President, on behalf of the American people — how surprised were you at what you read, these excerpts attributed to Mr. Bannon? Did that surprise you in any way? And if so, how?
  • And I want to follow up very quickly on North Korea. There’s been some folks in town who’ve said, listen, it doesn’t help, despite the idea being we’re going to be forceful, we’re going to push back. Some of have said it doesn’t help when the tweets come out the way they do. And yet, we know that the President has made clear, “I am who I am, I’m going to tweet the way I want to tweet.” Has there been any consideration that tweets like the one on North Korea actually don’t advance the agenda, meaning working with other partners in the region?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Sarah, thank you. You just said that people should question the mental fitness of Kim Jong-un. So, then, isn’t it dangerous for the President to be taunting him on Twitter?
  • But you acknowledge it’s a taunting tweet —
  • Sarah, it’s a taunting tweet to say that he has a larger nuclear button than Kim Jong-un.
  • Just one more. What does it say about the President’s priorities that he unleashed a four-paragraph statement about Steve Bannon and one tweet on North Korea?
  • The President knows that there’s no actual one nuclear button. You’re saying it is actually bigger. But the reality is —
  • (Tamara Keith, NPR) Two foreign policy questions. One, yesterday you said there would be more details on Pakistan in the next 24 to 48 hours.  We’re seeing some reports that the administration plans to announce as soon as Wednesday or Thursday that it plans to cut off security assistance to Pakistan. Is that accurate?
  • And then, regarding Jerusalem and Israel, the President tweeted last night that, “…We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.” First, taking it off the table — when the President announced that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, the administration policy was stated as that the borders were not being decided; this doesn’t affect negotiations. This tweet seems to contradict that.
  • And what is this “pay more” thing?
  • He said that Israel would have had to pay more.
Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 8.00.02 PM
Tamara Keith: “What is this ‘pay more’ thing?” (quoting a Trump tweet about Israel)
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. In light of this book and the back-and-forth over how much access Michael Wolff had to the White House, will the White House reconsider its decision to block public release of visitor logs? Will you release visitor logs to the public?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, during the campaign, the President said repeatedly entitlements were off the table and he would preserve Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare Part D as they were. Now with the passage of the tax reform legislation and the recent statements of House Speaker Paul Ryan that entitlements should be considered in the budget, has the President changed his position from the campaign?
  • My other question: Is it safe to say Steve Bannon is off the list of social invitations for the White House?  (Laughter.)
  • (Trey Yingst, One America News Network) Thank you, Sarah. A couple questions on Steve Bannon and one on North Korea. How would you describe Steve Bannon’s role in the White House when he was serving in this administration?
  • And if I could follow up: Is the President looking for an apology from Steve Bannon? What is he looking for, in the future, from Steve Bannon?
  • And if I could follow on North Korea. Discussing earlier the idea that Kim Jong-un would be the one who is mentally ill, is the President concerned that tweeting about nuclear war could cause someone like Kim Jong-un to act with military force?
  • (Anita Kumar, McClatchy) Two questions. First, three former DHS secretaries have said that the deadline for DACA really is this month; that there’s not enough time to put a new program in place by March if it’s not done this month. Do you all agree with that? I mean, does that make you feel like you have to get this done sooner? I know there’s been some talk here about not worrying about it until March.
  • Does it have to be done this month though?
  • Does it have to be done this month, as they are saying?
  • I said I had second question — a very quick one — which is, I just don’t understand the timing of something. Steve Bannon left in the summer, late summer. If the President says he lost his mind when he left, why did he continue to talk to him for so many months?
  • Thank you very much, Sarah. Your comments about Kim Jong-un and his mental stability, is that based on a U.S. government assessment, a psychological assessment, or is that your opinion?
  • (Andrew) The President enjoyed a slight bump in popularity when he was down in Florida golfing. I’m sure you saw this. Is it possible that Americans like him more when he is out of the news and not tweeting?
  • (Connor) In the past day or so, we’ve seen President Trump attack the press, the Justice Department, and now his former ally, Steve Bannon. By attacking critics and key institutions in our democracy, isn’t the President engaging in authoritarian behavior?
  • But we’ve seen both you and the President call for critics to be fired from their jobs. That’s not the President of North Korea.
  • We’ve seen both you and the President call for critics to be fired from their jobs. That’s —


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