TOWOIT #309: Brazen plot

March 20, 2018

Questions asked at the White House Daily Briefing:

  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, let me start by asking you what the President said about potentially meeting with Vladimir Putin “soon.” There’s nothing that will put them in the same city at the same time until November, at the earliest.  So what he’s talked about, in terms of “soon,” would that include either a visit of Putin to the White House or the President going to Russia?
  • And now that Putin has won yet another term as President, is President Trump concerned that he will continue his aggressive posture toward the rest of the world, and maybe even increase that posture?
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Let me get your reaction to a statement that Senator John McCain, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, just put out. And I’m quoting him directly here: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.” How do you respond?
  • Does the White House disagree with Senator McCain’s characterization of this as a “sham election”?
  • But since you brought it up in context of John’s question about timing — since you mentioned North Korea and Iran, is it the President’s intention to meet with Vladimir Putin before he sees Kim Jong-un or makes a decision on the Iran nuclear deal?
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thank you, Sarah. Neither the White House readout of that phone call with Putin nor the Kremlin’s readout says anything about election meddling. Did the President not raise the issue of Russian election meddling in that phone call?
  • And on the President’s new attorney, Joe diGenova, he says that there is this brazen plot by the FBI and the DOJ to frame the President. Does the White House share that view? Is there a plot to frame President Trump?
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thanks, Sarah. Two more questions on the Putin phone call. First, does the White House believe the election in Russia was free and fair?
  • Does the White House believe that the election in Russia was free and fair?
  • And you said election meddling didn’t come up in the call. I’m curious — did the recent poisoning in the United Kingdom come up in the call?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t believe that was discussed in today’s call.

  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Over the weekend, on one of the Sunday morning shows, Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, said when responding to the various tweets that the President had put out over the weekend regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he said, “When you’re innocent, act like it.” What is your response to what Trey Gowdy said over the weekend?
  • And another Republican over the weekend, Lindsey Graham, also a Republican from South Carolina, said that, “If the President were to fire” —

MS. SANDERS:  Maybe we need to work on our South Carolina members.

  • Yeah. He said that, “If the President tries to fire Robert Mueller, it would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.” What’s your response to what Lindsey Graham said?
  • Do you feel like you’re losing Republicans in —
  • Do you feel like you’re losing Republicans in some way? That these two prominent Republicans from South Carolina both spoke in this manner over the weekend?
  • (Pamela Brown, CNN) In January, the President told a room full of reporters that he would love to sit down and do an interview with Robert Mueller under oath and in “just a couple of weeks.” At the time, that’s what he said.  Obviously, that timeframe has passed. Does he still want to sit down and do an interview with Robert Mueller?
  • Can you just provide more clarity on the President’s tweets toward Robert Mueller over the weekend, calling him out by name? What was behind that?
  • So why doesn’t he push for the firing? Why doesn’t he push for the firing of Robert Mueller if he thinks the probe shouldn’t have begun in the first place, if he thinks the whole thing is a witch hunt? Why doesn’t he push for the firing?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. I want to follow up on the accusations of fraud in the Russian election. Why does the United States government not believe that it should criticize Russia for these accusations, which have been brought up by the OSCE and UK government directly in a statement? You know, they’re listing things like restrictions on fundamental freedoms and lack of access for opposition candidates. I mean, why doesn’t the President or the White House believe that’s something that they should be discussing with the Russian leader?
  • So when is an appropriate time to raise questions about, you know, political freedoms with Russia?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, we’ve discussed the President’s call to President Putin following his reelection. Did the President make a similar call to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has just formed a new government and assumed her fourth mandate in Berlin?
  • The other thing is that Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania is expected, if not today, sometime in the coming weeks, to announce he’s not running for reelection, making him the 38th Republican House member to announce retirement, resignation, or pursuit of another office — a post-World War II high in the exodus of Republican House members. Is this something the President is bothered about? And do members call him when they say they’ll make announcements like this?
  • (David) Sarah, did the topic of religious liberty come up at all with the Crown Prince today? Did the President bring that up at all?
  • (Trey Yingst, OAN) Thanks, Sarah. Two foreign policy questions for you. Human Rights Watch estimates that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible in 2017 for the deaths of 1,000 civilians, and took part in 85 unlawful airstrikes. Did the President bring up these concerns about high civilian casualties in his meeting with the Crown Prince today?
  • And if I ask you about the call between President Trump and Russian President Putin. The Russians said that Syria came up in the call. The readout that was released by the Trump administration did not include any mention of Syria. Did the President discuss the issue of Syria with Vladimir Putin? And did he discuss the high civilian casualties as a result of efforts by the Assad regime and the Russian government on the ground in Syria?
  • (This seems to be the Quebecois reporter Richard Latendresse of TVA Group) Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday, the Canadian Prime Minister noticed the signs of the pace of NAFTA talks is accelerating. And he said that the President — President Trump — is enthusiastic about getting a deal.  Is the President that enthusiastic?
  • There seems to be a end-of-April deadline. After that, the entire political process is going to get over the negotiations on NAFTA. Anything possible be that quick within six weeks?
  • (Jonathan Lemire, AP) Thank you, Sarah. The President frequently speaks about the need to improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Can you explain his opposition to the Gateway Project, which is to put a rail tunnel between New Jersey and his home state of New York, but has the support of many Republicans, and also, according to one study, is key to 20 percent of the nation’s gross national product?

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