TOWOIT #285: —and he screamed with caps, all caps—

January 29, 2018

Andrew McCabe is stepping down or being forced out (one or the other), a hollow SOTU is scheduled, black people should be grateful to Trump, reporters are getting a runaround on the sanctions deadline, and the nationalized 5G network is going over like a lead balloon.

Here are the questions the White House press corps asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the 14 minutes she allotted for Q&A.

  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, the news came down in the last hour the Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, is stepping down. Can we get reaction from the White House? And as the President, back at the end of December, was tweeting about Andrew McCabe in a less-than-effusive-praise manner, what’s he thinking about him stepping down?
  • You say that the White House was not involved in the decision, but clearly the President seemed to be involved in a public relations campaign against McCabe.
  • (Jill Colvin, AP) So when you say that you’ve seen the reports, does that mean that the President was not informed by anyone at the FBI that this was happening? Has he had any conversation with anybody there?
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Sarah, can you say definitively, though, that the President did not play a role in Andrew McCabe stepping down?
  • And did the President at any time convey that he wanted to fire Robert Mueller to anyone on the staff here?
  • (Ayesha Rascoe, Reuters) Thank you. And just to, kind of, finish this loop — so no one at the White House contacted the FBI about McCabe? No one has put any directives or even had any discussions about his tenure at the FBI? Did anyone at the White House? The reporters are doing a nice job of tag-teaming, when SHS cuts off their follow-ups, they work as one.
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) Sarah, what would you say to critics who believe that this White House and this President have had almost, sort of, a steady pressure put on the Justice Department, put on the FBI, since the President came into office on this Special Counsel investigation — whether it be conversations with Jeff Sessions’s office about recusal, whether it be about this desire for Robert Mueller to go away, and now with Andrew McCabe?
  • There were even reports that Rod Rosenstein was also feeling pressure from the White House. It sounds like there are multiple officials at multiple levels who are being pressured by the White House, by the President. What would you say in response to that concern?
  • So what about this notion that the President has been applying pressure for months — steady pressure? He fired Jim Comey. He —
  • So no obstruction of justice, nothing improper, nothing inappropriate here at all, whatsoever, from the President since he came into office when it comes to this investigation?
  • (Stephen Portnoy, CBS News) Sarah, a question about the Nunes memo. But first, I want to ask if the President continues to have confidence in the man he appointed to be Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein.
  • All right. I hear that as a “yes.”
  • I do have another question about the memo. The House Intelligence Committee could vote as early as today to release this memo that Chairman Nunes has purportedly crafted. The House rules contemplate that the President would then get five days to determine whether he has any cause to object to its public release. What’s the current thinking? What’s the current level of White House involvement in this decision?  Can you shed any light on the process between this White House and Capitol Hill with this question? Reminder: Devin Nunes purportedly recused himself from the Russia Investigation after he was caught in strange shenanigans regarding a ginned-up unmasking controversy. 
  • (Margaret Brennan, CBS News) Sarah, two questions. Just following up on that, is the White House — I know you said you have to wait and see, but is the White House open to the idea of a release of this memo to the public? And can you say, in the State of the Union Address, whether the President will mention at all this ongoing Russia probe which you said, you know, is really “Russia fever” that the country needs to get out of its system? Will he address it in any way?
  • But he doesn’t feel a need to address it?
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Sarah, two topics. Back on the State of the Union. Typically, when the Presidents give their State of the Union Address, particularly his first, presidents normally are optimistic when they say, “The state of our union is…” What is the state of our union today?
  • On the second topic, I want to go to this issue of black unemployment. One, is the President going to start targeting black unemployment as he’s saying that unemployment has gone down over his watch? I’ve never heard of a targeted approach from this administration. And is this administration aware that the black unemployment rate from December is 6.8%, the white unemployment rate is 3.7%, the Asian unemployment rate is 2.5%, and the Hispanic unemployment rate is 4.9%? The black unemployment continues to be higher, and it’s actually two times that — more than two times that of the white unemployment rate. So is that something that this administration is touting or they’re trying to fix — make an active effort to fix in 2018?
  • So why did he take issue with Jay-Z then, when he was just talking in terms of black America? He took issue — has he seen my black — and he screamed with caps, all caps — has he seen my black unemployment numbers.
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thank you, Sarah.  The former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, described Andrew McCabe as a dedicated public servant who has served this country well. Would the President, would you, describe him in that same manner?
  • The President — based upon past tweets that he’s put out regarding Mr. McCabe — does not seem to be a big fan of Mr. McCabe. Is he disappointed that he’s leaving his post as the Deputy FBI Director?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah. In one of the President’s tweets in December, though, he did say that Andrew McCabe is “racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” So does the President believe that Andrew McCabe should be allowed to retire with full benefits? It fascinates me that the White House transcriptionist took it upon himself or herself to include the exact frantic punctuation that was in the tweet. Surely that was optional and it would have lent more dignity to the office to exclude it. I know there are at least two transcriptionists, because sometimes there are two spaces after periods and sometimes there is only one space. I think of these two as the older (typewriter age) and the younger. 
  • And then, I have a question about the State of the Union. You mentioned who is going to be in the First Lady’s Box at the State of the Union. You talked about a lot of the different guests but I didn’t hear anything about the President’s family. Can you say which of the President’s family members will be there? And can you also, potentially, preview for us some of the travel that the President might take? Usually, the President takes travel to push his agenda afterwards. The undercurrent of cynicism here is that this is not a normal president or a normal SOTU. There will be no policy agenda in the speech—the press office has already said so—and so there will be no reason for travel other than to hold more self-aggrandizing rallies.
  • (Margaret Talev, Bloomberg) Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you a question about the 5G network. But also, before I do that, Treasury is set — I believe the deadline is today — to release two Russia-related reports to Congress. Can you tell us whether that’s actually going to happen today, and whether the names on the oligarchs list will be public? And on the impact on sanctioning, will portions of that be public also? Today is the deadline for the President to be held accountable for the continued sanctions against Russia that were passed by Congress months ago. He has dragged his feet.
  • I think we’re waiting. So if that’s something you guys can coordinate, that would be really helpful.
  • I’ll email them again. I’ll let them know that you said they can tell us. (Laughter.) The reporters are all laughing or smirking, but it’s because they routinely get shunted back and forth between agencies and departments without getting answers. This is like a Soviet story I heard once as a kid, of the man who got stuck on a bridge with officials at checkpoints on either end, sending him back and forth and back and forth because his papers weren’t right.
  • On 5G, I know there’s a lot of speculation about what might happen and whether there is a security case to make for one secure network. But some experts, including the Republican FCC Chair, I guess, are a little concerned about the idea of one nationalized network. Can you bring us up to speed on whether that idea is dead or very much still alive, and where that stands?
  • Just one network, or multiple possibilities —
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times? Going off the first name and the direction she looked in when he was talking) Thanks, Sarah. Tomorrow night, will the President talk about an urban revitalization plan? In a separate release, the press secretary has already outlined today that there will be no new policy in the State of the Union Address. But in this press briefing she just acts coy about what will be in the speech.
  • (Hunter Walker, Yahoo! News) Thank you, Sarah. So, the President has repeatedly touted black unemployment when faced with allegations of racism. Given those numbers, the low black unemployment, why do you think so many in the African American community are still so uncomfortable with the President? In her litanous response, Sarah Sanders mentions again that the president “has Isis on the run” as a reason that black people should be happy with him. Every metaphor I can think of is too real-world and not metaphorical enough. For instance I wanted to say, a train conductor who says to an over-crowded, over-heated passenger car in which the bathroom doesn’t work: Sure, the people in the other cars are more comfortable, but we are keeping bandits from attacking the whole train so why are you complaining? 

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