March 26, 2018
Today Raj Shah did a press conference and “senior administration officials” did a background teleconference on the expulsion of 60 Russian nationals. Usually I leave out the press secretary’s answers since they are just big balls of lying nothing, but because it was Raj and because he seems to have a harder time than Sarah Sanders being a liar who manages to say nothing, I included a few more pull quotes from his side of the podium than I usually do.
Here are the questions Raj Shah was asked:
- (Zeke Miller, AP) Thanks, Raj. Thanks for doing this. First, on Thursday, White House officials were up on the stage and they said the President would sign the omnibus legislation. On Friday morning, he threatened to veto it. Ultimately, he signed it. Ten days ago, Sarah said that H.R. McMaster had the President’s confidence and support and wouldn’t be leaving. Last Thursday, it was announced that he would be leaving the White House. And about two and a half weeks ago, the President expressed confidence in his attorneys. And then there was a bit of shake-up there last week. So can you talk — speak to the White House’s credibility, why should we, in this room, and more importantly, the American people, trust anything that this administration is telling them?
SHAH: Well, our job, as a press office and as an administration, is to give you the best information that we have available to us, the most accurate information in a timely fashion.
- Thanks, Raj. One more for you just on the Stormy Daniels incident. I’m sure my colleagues have more questions on that. Could you state, categorically, that the President, his campaign, and the Trump Organization did not violate federal law — specifically, election law — regarding that payment?
SHAH: Well, I can speak for only the White House, and I can say, categorically, and obviously, the White House didn’t engage in any wrongdoing. The campaign or Mr. Cohen —
- (Phil Rucker, Washington Post) Yeah, Raj. Regarding the Russia actions that were announced earlier today, the President has not personally said anything about the expulsion of these 60 diplomats. And in his phone call last week with President Putin, he decided not to confront Putin on the attack despite the advice he was given from his national security advisors. And he went on to congratulate Putin on that phone call. So how do you square the aggressive actions that the administration is taking with an entirely different approach from the President?
SHAH: Well, I think there was a statement coming out from the Press Secretary on this. And the last sentence basically outlined our approach to this, which is our relationship with Russia is, frankly, up to the Russian government and up to Vladimir Putin and others in senior leadership in Russia.
- But if the President believes it was a reckless and brazen action, why did he not say so to Putin, directly, when he spoke with him and had the opportunity to do that?
- (Kevin Corke, Fox News) Thank you, Raj. You mentioned that it was brazen and that it was reckless. Does that attack on the soil of a valued ally rise to the level of an act of war? Is that the administration’s policy, here?
- And if I could follow up very quickly —
- You mentioned that the President continues to maintain his consistent story that he did not do what has been alleged by Ms. Daniels. Did he, by chance, watch the interview last night? Did you ask him about that?
SHAH: You know, I’m not going to get into what the President may or may not have seen. I’ll just say that he’s consistently denied these allegations.
- (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Thank you. Was the President aware of a physical threat made against Ms. Daniels when she was with her daughter back in 2011? (Raj says there was no threat made)
- He doesn’t believe she was threatened?
- What’s his basis for that, Raj?
- And Raj, did he have dinner with Michael Cohen at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday?
- Can you give us a readout of that? Did they discuss the interview with Stormy Daniels?
- (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) So if he doesn’t believe her claims made in that TV interview, we can deduce he saw it from that? (Raj ran from Kristen, and Cecilia picked up the questioning as if she were the same person)
- So on the expulsions, three weeks passed between the attacks and the expulsions. What took so long?
- And a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Minister is now threatening retaliation against the U.S. and other countries involved in these expulsions. Your response to that?
- (Jim Acosta, CNN) If you listen to national security experts, diplomatic experts on what happened with Russia, they will say that you have to hit Russia where it hurts. You have to sanction them. Economically, you have to go after Putin’s cronies. You have to go after Putin himself, potentially. Would this President consider sanctioning Vladimir Putin or his cronies to punish him and the Russian government for what happened in the UK and also for meddling in the 2016 election?
- What about Putin himself?
- And one other question about this weekend: There was this massive march here in Washington, led by the students from Parkland, Florida. The President did not tweet about it, he hasn’t really said anything about this. What is the White House response to this? And are the actions of the President signed into law last week strengthening some of the, I guess, background check systems and whatnot we have in this country? Is that the end of it? Is the President going to do any more on the gun safety issue? And what about that question that he asked of the Republican lawmakers here — “Are you afraid of the NRA?”
- (Mike Bender, Wall Street Journal) Can you talk a little bit about David Shulkin? Is he going to be fired face-to-face or is it going to be through the media, on Twitter? Can you give us an update on that? (It’s really funny to me that Mike Bender asked the question like that because Raj had already said there were no personnel announcements. It was very “Senator, have you stopped beating your wife?” That being said, Shulkin’s ass is definitely grass.)
SHAH: I have no personnel announcements to make at this time.
- (Stephen Portnoy, CBS Radio) Raj, just to follow up on Stormy Daniels. Can you explain, Raj, why it has been the President’s practice, or the practice of those associated with the President, to offer compensation to people to keep them silent? Why would the President do that? And why has he done that or caused others to do that?
- But why would, in this case, $130,000 be paid to a woman in the days before the election? You’re saying that she made false claims, but why, then, would $130,000 be paid to her?
- Does the President have any intention of responding directly himself? You’ve said that he denies the claims. Why haven’t we heard from him?
SHAH: Well, that will be up to the President.
- (Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg) Thanks, Raj. On North Korea, Bloomberg has reported that Kim Jong-un is in China right now. Does the White House see that as a precursor to talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un? And has China offered to host that summit?
- (unidentified handsome bald black man—Raj didn’t say his name and I can’t tell which seat he is sitting in, but maybe Real Clear Politics) On Shulkin, does the White House believe that the nation’s veterans are best served by having David Shulkin serve as VA Secretary?
- How much longer should the Secretary expect to work in the administration? (Sanders fans complain about the similar questions from different angles, but it amuses me. It’s the rhythm and chiming that comes from talking to obfuscating liars is all.)
- How much longer should the Secretary expect to work in the administration?
- (Eliana Johnson, Politico) Thanks, Raj. The Israeli press is reporting that Prime Minister Netanyahu has begun informing French and German foreign ministers that the U.S. is very likely to pull out of the Iran deal in May. Can you confirm that?
- (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Raj. In light of these announced expulsions of these 60 Russian intelligence agents, is the President still going full steam ahead in meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
- But you still want to do it, right?
- But why give that gift of meeting with the President after they’ve done what the U.S. not just alleges — say they have done? They’ve poisoned a former Russian spy on British soil, and you’ve punished them for it. Why, at this point, also give them this gift of meeting with the President of the United States?
- (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Raj. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said this weekend that there might be some kind of workaround for a Supreme Court ruling that said line-item vetoes are unconstitutional. What is that workaround, and is that something that the White House is aggressively pursuing and is going to propose that Congress take care of? (This is funny because it was such an obvious gaffe on a Sunday show by Mnuchin, not knowing his stuff and then stumbling forward in the conversation to get beyond that point — but Jordan taking it at face value and then quasi-earnestly asking about it just makes it more embarrassing for Mnuchin.)
- On the line-item veto in particular, though, have you been able to find a workaround to that Supreme Court ruling that says it’s unconstitutional?
- (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Raj. Two questions. First, last week Senator Barrasso, the Republican Whip, made a very strong speech in which he denounced, as Marc Short did, the necessity to use cloture on all appointments, and he called for a new agreement similar to the bipartisan agreement Senator Schumer had with Republicans in 2013, allowing several votes on a nomination to come up and not requiring the cloture so much. Have you talked to Senator Barrasso about this, or has the President talked to him? And is that something the administration endorses?
- The other thing is that Egypt is having an election this week, and all signs are President Al Sisi will be reelected without much opposition. Does the President plan to call him? (John Gizzi, who works for a very conservative outlet, was also the reporter who asked last week whether Trump called Angela Merkel to congratulate her on forming a government)
SHAH: I don’t have any call plans to read out to you.
- (Trey Yingst, OAN) Thanks, Raj. The President spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. Today, we saw this major action by the United States to expel these 60 diplomats and, additionally, close the consulate in Seattle. Why did the President not bring up this poisoning of a former Russian spy with President Putin when he spoke with him on the phone? (Again, a very conservative outlet)
- And if I could ask you about Shulkin. I’m not looking for a personnel announcement here; I’d simply like to ask you, how would you describe the relationship between President Trump and VA Secretary Shulkin?
SHAH: Well, I haven’t asked the President about it directly, today. So I don’t want to comment on it too specifically.
- (a white guy, behind Jordan Fabian) Thanks very much, Raj. You said earlier that the only person who’s been inconsistent is the one making these claims, meaning Stormy Daniels. What has she said that’s inconsistent?
- (Sitting in the NYT seat, but I don’t know who she is) Thanks, Raj. There has a been cascade of expulsion announcements from around the globe today. I think some 130 diplomats across 18 countries. What was the U.S. role in this? And can you tell us a little bit more about the President’s role in what looks like a pretty coordinated effort?
- (Jericka Duncan, CBS)Raj, the President has come out strongly about the importance that law enforcement plays in this country. Has he commented at all about the shooting death of Stephon Clark? He was unarmed, shot by a police officer. A lot of protests happening across the country as a result.
SHAH: I’m not aware of any comments that he has. I haven’t asked him about that directly. Obviously, the President cares about any individual who would be harmed through no fault of their own. I don’t know the specifics in that case, and I don’t want to comment any further.
(Raj seemed to have never heard of Stephon until right at that moment)
Questions reporters asked earlier in the day on the teleconference:
- Hi, my name is Bill Gertz with the Washington Free Beacon. Thanks for having us. Can you give us the total number of people that have been expelled? And can you identify them as GRU, FSB, or SVR?
- This is Hunter Walker from Yahoo! News. First off, thanks so much for doing the call. I’m wondering, when this chemical attack first happened, we saw the Press Secretary not directly blame Russia for the attack. We then saw the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, fired only a day after strongly blaming Russia for the attack. Since then, we’ve also seen the President offer congratulations to Vladimir Putin on a reelection that some people think is undemocratic. Do you think, on the very least at the public front, the administration’s actions are sending mixed messages that are dulling the impact of these steps you’re announcing today?
- Good morning. Can you hear me? This is Dmitri (inaudible). I wanted to ask, how much time do those people have to leave the United States?
- So, by closing the consulate in Seattle, is the U.S. accusing Russia of spying on a U.S. Naval base? If so, how many other military bases is Russia spying on?
- Thank you. Jeff with (inaudible) again. So why are you closing the consulate, then?
- This is Lalit Jha from PTI-Press Trust of India. Thank you doing this call. Do you think this is the revival of the Cold War between U.S. and Russia? And also, are you hoping to (inaudible) that is China? And finally, what is the message you are sending to countries like India which has friendly relations with both U.S. and Russia? Thank you.
- Hi, thanks for having this call. This is Charlie Spiering from Breitbart News. I just had a question. Has the President spoken with the Russian President about this attack and about the United States response? Or is it simply on a, sort of, administrative level?
- But the President hasn’t spoken directly to the Russian President about these attacks through phone calls or any other — there’s been no direct communications about these attacks?
- Kris Anderson, AWPS News. I wanted to know what your thinking is on any potential response to this particular action on the part of Russia.
- Yes, this is Bill Jones from Executive Intelligence Review. Coming to this conclusion, had you received a sample of the material which was used in this attack and confirming that it is this Novichok? There was some controversy over whether this actually existed. And secondly, has the Russian government, as they requested, ever received samples of this to make a declaration with regard to it? There was pretty much — the Brits kept a lot close to the vest, and I’m just wondering how much has the U.S. independently been able to verify the accusations.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank for that question. Let me just say that we support the United Kingdom’s decision not to provide such samples. The UK has accepted an offer from OPCW, the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to assist in the investigation. Sharing samples with Russia would not provide further clarification on the origin of the agent used in the attack. And let me also say Russia has had nearly a month at this point, and instead of explaining, has engaged in the usual obfuscations that we’ve seen from them in the past.
So, basically, the Executive Intelligence Review is so nuts that they made the Trump administration look eminently reasonable about Russia. The EIR was founded by Lyndon LaRouche. From Wikipedia:
The magazine has published a number of controversial articles, including that Queen Elizabeth II is head of an international drug-smuggling cartel, that another member of the British royal family killed Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker who died in London in 1982, and that the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was the first strike in a British attempt to take over the United States.
- Hi, this is Adam Shapiro with Fox Business. Two quick questions for you. You said that Russia conducted an attack on the U.S.’s closest ally; that this was a reckless attempt by the government to murder a British citizen. One, why is that not an act of war? And two, why are we not — or are we — going to sanction Vladimir Putin? Is Treasury looking at that?
- But isn’t it an act of war? I mean, a government kills or attempts to kill a citizen of our closest ally. Do the NATO protocols require us for a stronger reaction to this?
- And no sanctions against Putin from Treasury? Or are those in the works?
And now the Trump administration looks bad again, thanks to Fox. Strange times.
- This is Bart Marcois from OpsLens.com. Can you characterize, please, the conversations the administration has had with leaders in the House and Senate? Have you briefed Republicans, Democrats, House and Senate on this already?
This outlet seems to be all about policing and soldiering. The big featured above-the-fold article on the 27th was this:
- Hello, it’s Michael Donhauser with German Press Agency in D.C. Just for clarification, all those 60 people which are going to be expelled are connected to the Russian intelligence community? There are no ordinary diplomats among them, right?
- This is Marty van Duyne with News Net News. I have a question concerning the time element involved here with taking action based on some of the other questions that have come through here. Was the time that it took — and understanding that it takes time to review all of the intelligence information — was this delay from the time of the action over in the UK to today based on you checking the background of these agents that you are expelling? Because it just seems like it’s been quite a bit of time here since the action in the UK and the U.S. now taking some action today.
- And to follow up on that, just briefly: In your coordination with the other countries, are they also taking some actions based on what took place in the UK?
- Jennifer Epstein from Bloomberg. I’ve seen some reports that some European allies are moving in the same direction as the UK, returning home some of their own diplomats who are in Russia. Are there any plans to pull any U.S. diplomats out of Russia?
- Hello, and thank you. This is Katrina Manson from the Financial Times. May I check, if you’re expelling the 60 intelligence officers, you had, if I understand correctly, said there are well over 100 Russian intelligence officers based in the U.S. Does this mean that after the expulsion, there will still be more than 40 Russian intelligence officers based in the U.S.? And how are you going to monitor and follow them? And what concerns do you have about them remaining in the U.S.?
- Good morning. Thank you. Yes, hi, good morning — sorry about that. Thank you for taking my question. This is Kyle Mazza from UNF News. I just wanted to ask if the UK Prime Minister has been briefed on this. And also, if you can reiterate the points that you made at the top, what subjects are President Trump taking action on. And also, has anyone else been briefed regarding these new actions from the United States in response to the attack? Thank you so much.
- Hi, this is Philippe Gelie with Le Figaro France here in D.C. I’d like to know how important was the coordination with U.S. allies in the deliberation of (inaudible). Would the U.S. have acted alone, or was it crucial that this would be a coordinated response? Thank you.