TOWOIT #288: “He cried out eleven times”

February 6, 2018

To start Tuesday’s press briefing, Acting Assistant AG John Cronan came in and spoke very slowly and dramatically about MS-13, a “brutal gang of savages.”

Reporters’ questions for Cronan:

  • (Can’t see who asked this question) I had a question, yeah. Given the threat that you’re discussing here, why has Attorney General Sessions renewed a, sort of, increase in the enforcement against marijuana, even though a lot of states have tried to decriminalize or make it legal?
  • But you do have finite resources, correct? So why put a priority, again, in an area that had been deprioritized and had not been considered nearly the threat that this kind of violence you’re talking about is?
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) John, people in this community have been reading about MS-13 since 2006. Is it your position that the previous two administrations, Bush and Obama, simply did not prioritize this? Or is it much worse now than it was then, and therefore it is justified to have the focus you’re describing here today?
  • Did the previous two administrations not appreciate this, let this grow, let this become a bigger problem? Two questions. Last year, President Trump talked about MS-13. We saw some graphic detail about MS-13. Now you’ve given the President an update. What, beyond an immigration issue, will the Justice Department be doing to break the back of MS-13? That’s the first question.
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Two questions. Last year, President Trump talked about MS-13. We saw some graphic detail about MS-13. Now you’ve given the President an update. What, beyond an immigration issue, will the Justice Department be doing to break the back of MS-13? That’s the first question.
  • And for my second question — yeah, and on my second question, on another issue. And I’m glad you’re here today. The Eric Garner case — it’s still out there, and there are people waiting for an indictment. His mother is looking for justice. He cried out 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” What’s new? What’s happening? What should we expect on that case? (This is an example where I feel like April is reading these facts back into the record by asking)
  • But it’s in the criminal — we understand that it is in the criminal department — the criminal portion of Justice. So, I mean, is there any movement at all? Because I’m hearing that there should have been an indictment here.
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Jonathan, in the Cabinet Room, where you gave your first presentation, the whole MS-13 issue was wrapped up in the need to increase border enforcement, to change our immigration laws. Do you have any idea how many of the 10,000 gang members of MS-13 in this country are here legally and how many are here illegally?
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Isn’t it true that MS-13 makes up just a small fraction of gang members in this country, though?
  • Few people would certainly argue with that characterization that MS-13 targets communities in this country. But what would you say to critics who say you’re using this gang to basically paint a very broad brushstroke against immigrants and scare people here?

There’s a scrum here where the reporters are shouting over each other — this feels unusual, but then it’s been a crazy news week with no briefings — and then you hear a woman’s voice say “I’m going to ask, I’m going to ask” and a man saying “OK” and quieting down.

  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News) You talked about the Attorney General’s leadership here, Jeff Sessions’s, what he’s been doing in fighting this gang problem. And I want to ask about somebody else who’s a leader of the DOJ, Rod Rosenstein. Are you comfortable with his leadership? Do you believe the rank-and-file are comfortable? Do you believe he’s being unfairly maligned by the President?

Cronan says, a bit doltishly, “I’m here to talk about MS-13.”

  • (Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers) So my question, if you — really quick. May we — look, local law enforcement — one of the biggest problems local law enforcement has is that they believe that your particular rules and what you’re doing now are actually causing more problems, because people in the immigrant communities are afraid to come forward and testify against MS-13 because they believe they’re going to be deported if they do so. Can you at least give them any assurance that the immigrant communities, particularly in Gaithersburg, Maryland — you brought that one up and people had — the police in Montgomery County had a difficult time getting people to come forward as witnesses because they were afraid they would be deported if they did so. So your own rules, your own — what you’re doing is scaring people away. Can you address that?
  • No, well, but they’re afraid that you’re going to ship them out and deport them if they do. That’s a real fear. They’ve expressed that fear.
  • You see where that might be a problem, though, in prosecuting the case?

That was it for Cronan.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 5.03.56 PM
The podium changeover from Cronan to Sanders. Brian Karem is still wrapping up a point about immigrants who are afraid to talk to the authorities about MS-13. We also have Saagar Enjeti with his haircut, and a lackey in a mint-green tie, and the top half of Hallie jackson’s birdlike head, and Sarah Sanders smiling calmly because she doesn’t give a shit. 

Cutesy Sarah Huckabee Sanders is so sinister to me. The idea of keeping the briefings SO short and then holding a roomful of reporters hostage while you slowly smarm your way through a child’s letter (This one ended with “P.S. Our pop-pop says that you’re doing a great job. Thank you for keeping us safe.”) — it’s just unconscionable to me. Every day it gets harder and harder not to use gendered insults against her.

  • (AP) Sarah, on the President’s shutdown comments a few minutes ago, a few weeks ago he said that a shutdown would be devastating to the military. Does he now feel that a shutdown would be worth it even if members of the U.S. military were negatively impacted?
  • But isn’t the President encouraging a shutdown here?
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Can you then clarify, would the President rather see a shutdown, or a short-term spending fix this week?
  • And then I’m hoping you can clarify one other thing. Chief of Staff John Kelly said today that some DREAMers were, “Too lazy to get off their asses” to register for DACA protections. Is that the position of this White House that DREAMers are lazy? Who thinks this?
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Sarah, what did the President make of the stock market’s volatility yesterday and today? And does he have any regrets about taking responsibility or credit for the stock market’s rise?
  • Does he have any second thoughts about taking credit for when the stock market goes up?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. Has the President had a chance to review the memo from the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee? And is he inclined to release it?
  • Before the review concluded last time, the President had made it clear to lawmakers that he was inclined to release the Republican memo. Has he made any kind of similar comments to you guys about the Democratic memo?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. The President, on the Republican memo, says that it completely vindicates him. And this weekend we heard from Trey Gowdy, who is on the Intelligence Committee, who had a large part in writing that memo. In what way does the President believe that the Republican memo vindicates him? (A good place to remember that Jon Decker is trained as a lawyer)
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Sarah, I would think it’s fair to say that many members of the Senate, including Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, were surprised by the President’s comments. So I’d like to see if I could figure out exactly what he was driving at. Is the President saying that unless there is an immigration compromise that he’s satisfied with, he will not sign the emerging budget compromise on a two-year budget deal that McConnell and Schumer are working out? Or will he deal with that separately from the budget talks that are going on now? And both of those represent — are making substantial progress. (People just literally can’t figure out what the President of the United States is trying to say)
  • Does immigration have to be included in that?
  • But do they have to be together?
  • Will he sign a budget deal that does not include immigration policy reforms?
  • So let me ask one other thing about — Senator Flake said something on the Senate floor just a minute ago. I want to give you a chance to respond. He said, and I quote —

MS. SANDERS: I’m sure this will be eventful.

  • “I have seen the President’s most ardent defenders use the now weary argument that the President’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue-in-cheek. But treason is not a punchline.” Can you say for the sake of the future that you agree with Senator Flake on that, that treason, or treasonous, is not a punchline, is not a joking matter?

MS. SANDERS: Look, honestly I’m not going to respond directly to Senator Flake’s comments. I don’t really care what Senator Flake has to say. I don’t think his constituents do either, and I think that’s why his numbers are in the tank.

  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS News) Sarah, I want to ask you a question about —
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Sarah, thank you. Sarah, you did call on me.
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS News) Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you a question about stocks. On the positive economic news, there is a school of thought among economists that, given the current growth in the economy, to inject the economy with stimulus and the tax cuts could actually spark inflation. So — which means is, when these people have more money to spend, prices necessarily go up, and the prices that people pay, go up. And that’s not a good thing. So how keenly focused is this President on inflation fears? And ahead of next month’s Fed meeting, has the President spoken to Chairman Powell about whether he thinks interest rates should go up or not?
  • Any thought on interest rates, one way or the other?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Sarah, as it related to the Republican memo, the President and this White House argued it was important to release it for the sake of transparency. So, therefore, can the American people expect to see the Democratic memo in the sake of transparency?
  • (Unintelligible) determination prior to releasing the Republican memo. So why not the same, as it relates to transparency and —
  • He said, “100 percent.” He said, “100 percent”
  • One question about John Kelly and his comments calling DREAMers — indicating some of them are lazy. Does that type of rhetoric help get a bipartisan deal done?
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, also up on Capitol Hill today, Chief of Staff Kelly said that he didn’t think the President would be likely to extend the DACA deadline from March 5th. But twice in Davos, the President said, “If we need a little more time, we’ll take a little more time,” on DACA. And then in a gaggle, when asked if he would extend the deadline, he said, “Yeah, I might do that. I might do that…not guaranteeing it…but I certainly have the right do that if I want [to].” So, which is it? Is he is still open to the idea of extending the deadline, or is it closed? (Again, not even Fox News can tell what the President means when he speaks)
  • Sarah, can you clarify, is he open to extending the deadline, or has that door closed? (John Roberts looks annoyed)
  • (Jennifer Jacobs) Sarah. Thank you so much, Sarah. So on North Korea and the Vice President, when we’ve asked in recent days whether the Vice President — we’ve asked Secretary Rex Tillerson and the Vice President himself — whether he would be interested in meeting with North Korean officials while he is traveling in South Korea for the Olympics, and they both have said, “We’ll see.” Is the administration trying to signal some interest in talks with North Korean officials? Or what is that about?
  • Will the administration rule out that the Vice President will speak with North Koreans while he’s there?
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) Can I get back to the Chief of Staff saying that some of the DREAMers may just have been too lazy to get off their asses? Just on the face of it, isn’t that just a wildly offensive comment about these undocumented immigrants who are waiting for some kind of solution to come out of this city?
  • On the surface of that, Sarah, though, isn’t it just a — it’s just an offensive comment, though, isn’t it? Just on its surface.

MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something you would have to decide for yourself.

(Uh yeah… we decided.)

  • (David) Sarah, have the President’s lawyers advised him not to testify before Robert Mueller?
  • It’s possible he won’t testify?
  • Sarah, two things. On the economy and the shutdown, how is a shutdown that the President wants to basically show Democrats that they’re wrong — how is a shutdown going to help the economy and help those who this administration is saying we want to lift out of the situation, the plight that they’re in?
  • And then — okay, and then on the next piece, you said treasonous was a joke. But what about “un-American”? In Washington, over the years with the State of the Union, one side — be it if it’s a Democratic President, the Republicans sit. If it’s a Democratic President — well, whatever, you get it. If it’s a Democratic President, the Republicans sit. If there’s a Republican President, the Democrats sit. What is so un-American about this, this year, after this has been going on for all of these years?
  • But he was specifically talking about the black unemployment rate. But he was specifically, at that moment when he was in Cincinnati, talking about the black unemployment rate.

MS. SANDERS: And that’s something everybody should be excited about.

  • But it’s jumped up from 6.8 to 7.7.
  • It’s still higher.
  • But it’s still higher than it was.
  • But it’s still higher —

(She decides to take one last question after saying April was the last. She calls on John Gizzi who is usually very safe. Before John asks his question a man calls out “What’s unAmerican about disagreeing!?”)

  • Thank you, Sarah. Quick question. There have been numerous published reports that Dave Bowdich, number three in the FBI, would be moved up to be deputy director, under Director Wray. He received both his present appointment and his previous position as head of the Los Angeles office of the FBI under former Director Comey. Given the administration’s almost contumacious criticism of Mr. Comey — (laughter) — is there going to be any objection to Mr. Bowdich moving up to the number-two spot under Director Wray?

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 8.02.18 PM

(This was just the diversion she wanted — laughter and jokiness ensued)

As Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked out, something happened that upset me. A man on the side of the room shouted, in a very urgent way, a joke question that was not funny, and was not necessary, and made a mockery out of what the reporters in the room try to do, and he brought April Ryan’s name into it, digging up some beef between April Ryan and Sarah Huckabee Sanders from months ago. April Ryan said “What? I didn’t say anything about that!” And then a few seconds later she just said, “Don’t do that.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 5.08.07 PM
I like to think that NPR’s Tamara Keith has gone to the French Riviera in her mind

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