TOWOIT #317: “No one found the death threats”

April 9, 2018

Today’s White House briefing came before news broke that the FBI had raided the home, office, and hotel room of Michael Cohen (personal lawyer and fixer to Trump). It’s a real developing situation and Trump is sounding even less hinged than usual. Good thing this is all happening at a time when international conflicts are boiling over.

We’ll see if they send Raj out to do a quick uninformative press briefing tomorrow — it seems like they trot him out on the worst days. Or if there is no press briefing, which seems more likely.

Today’s press briefing was 19 minutes long. Nobody asked about the fire at Trump Tower or whether the smoke alarms were working.

Here’s what reporters asked Sarah Sanders today (4/9/2018):

  • (John Roberts, Fox News) The President was pretty definitive today in saying that this was an attack with banned chemical weapons. Yet, there hasn’t been any concrete proof of that. Russia insists that there is no evidence of chemical weapons. What makes the President so sure that he is willing to make such a declarative statement?
  • Do we have any proof at this point that it was, in fact, a chemical weapons attack?
  • (Stephen Portnoy, CBS Radio News) Sarah, just a couple weeks ago, the President was talking about wanting to leave Syria very quickly. Now you’re saying that there is a price that has to be paid. Does the President believe that there are some things that are so atrocious — which is the phrase he used this morning — that the United States is, in fact, the world’s policeman and it demands response and demands the presence of the United States government in the region?
  • (Mike Bender, Wall Street Journal) Has the President been briefed that his comments about wanting to leave Syria could have played a part — emboldened Assad and played a part in these attacks?
  • Well, the President has criticized others for signaling military plans. It seems to be what he’s doing here. Does he regret those comments that he made last week?
  • (Zeke Miller, AP News) Thanks, Sarah. First, the news out of Syria this morning about apparent strikes carried out overnight. Does the United States believe that Israel was behind those strikes, as a number of reports claimed? And was the United States given a heads up by the Israeli government?
  • So from the White House perspective, did the White House get a heads up from any foreign government about conducting strikes in Syria?
  • And back on the deterrence for a second. For a moment, you said the President wants to ensure that there’s — the Assad regime can’t conduct attacks like this in the future. Last year, when the President launched those cruise missiles, he had said that there was a deterrent, obviously. What has changed between, sort of, months ago, when the Assad regime wasn’t using chemical weapons, and then this strike now?  It seemed to be — the timing coming so soon after the President making that determination on wanting to pull U.S. troops out of Syria that there was — you can see why we’re drawing the timing there. So why, in the President’s estimation, did his deterrence — did his attempt to establish a deterrent effect on the Assad regime now failing? (Zeke sounded unusually emotional and flustered as he asked this question, even stuttering a little bit) 
  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) But, Sarah, didn’t the President, by saying that he wants to get out of Syria, essentially give a green light to Assad to do this, as John McCain had suggested?  That the United States was leaving — was, kind of, pulling up and leaving it to the Syrians —
  • Well, John McCain said that that emboldened Assad; that this was sending a message to Assad. Is that still his position? Does he still want to leave Syria?
  • (Roberta Rampton, Reuters) Has the President’s attitude toward Vladimir Putin changed because of what’s happened?

SANDERS:  The President has always been tough on Russia, as he said last week, as I echoed again when asked about it.  This administration and this President have been tougher on Russia than previous administrations.  I think you can see that both through the actions that we’ve taken and in the comments over the last several days.

  • But he singled out Vladimir Putin in the tweet yesterday. Does he feel that he can still, sort of, find some common ground and work with him on various things?
  • (John  Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Two questions on the foreign policy front.  Given the situation in Syria, and your statement today, could the President be in the process of forming an alliance with President Macron in France and Prime Minister May in Britain, not unlike that envisioned by the previous administration with France and Britain, when the first reports of chemical weapons came out?
  • And the other thing is, Prime Minister Orbán, an admirer of the President who has said many kind things about him, won a landslide reelection. Will the President call him? And are there any plans to extend an invitation for a state visit or a working visit to Prime Minister Orbán? (Orbán is Hungary’s leader and a nationalist) 
  • (Jon Decker, News Radio) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Today is the first day on the job for John Bolton as the National Security Advisor. Perhaps you can bring him out here one time and he can take our questions.
  • Please do. I wanted to ask you about some comments that he made about Syria back in 2013 on “Fox and Friends.” He said, “I think if I were a member of Congress, I would vote against an authorization to use force [in Syria].” He continued, “I don’t think it is in America’s interest. I don’t think we should, in effect, take sides in the Syrian conflict.” Is that a point of view that Ambassador Bolton is bringing to the table now as National Security Advisor?
  • (Josh Dawsey, Washington Post) Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator, often flew first -class, had a 50-dollar-a-night rental on Capitol Hill, and tripled the size of his security detail. Can you explain what the President meant when he said, “Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK,” security spending somewhat more but it was okay. Why did he say that?
  • Fifty-dollar-a-night on Capitol Hill, with a lobbyist, that was of market value, according to the EPA?
  • And with travel spending okay, is the President okay with Cabinet Secretaries taking first-class travel and tripling the size of their security detail? Is that okay?
  • Were those security issues or were those included in police reports? Because there’s been a reporting that across the country no one found the death threats or police reports that jeopardized his life or safety. What are you talking about when you talk about threats? (Sarah is still trying to refer people back to the EPA on this)
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Sarah, two questions on Syria. With all that’s happened with Russia, with the sanctions last week and now these strong words associating Russia with the Syrian attack, is there an expectation or feeling that relations — diplomatic relations with Russia — with this administration, with our country with Russia — are eroding?

SANDERS:  We’ve been very tough on Russia for quite some time.  I think the only people maybe that didn’t understand that or see that were members of the press who continually questioned that. Now, I guess, people are concerned that we’re being tough on Russia. I guess I’m confused on which way you want to have it.

  • And second question. The items on the table, beyond strikes, is there a thought or on-the-table regime change with Assad? And also, where does diplomacy play in this, even with the strikes and all of this that you’re saying is on the table?
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times) Thanks, Sarah. At the Cabinet meeting this morning, the President was talking about the potential impact of Chinese tariffs on American farmers, and he said the farmers are patriots for being willing to take a hit. And then he said, “We’ll make it up to them.” What did he mean?
  • Would he consider extra crop insurance subsidies that are often put in the farm bill for market fluctuations?
  • (Hallie Jackson, MSNBC News) Thanks, Sarah. I’ve got two for you. First, on Syria.  You talked about the idea of a possible military option being a deterrent. Last year, we heard something very similar from the President, who called that chemical attack last year an “affront to humanity.” He said it “cannot be tolerated.” Is the White House worried that Assad is now making a mockery of President Trump’s threats?
  • And then I wanted to follow up on something from last week, just because we didn’t get a chance to, and specifically your comments on citing the LA Times article when asked, I think by Jon here, about the President’s rape remarks at that event last week, that didn’t actually back up the President’s claims. You actually, last fall, admonished reporters to make sure that we hold ourselves to a high standard of accuracy. Does the President also need to be held to that same standard of accuracy?
  • And what about the voter fraud claim that the President made last week as well, also not backed up by evidence?

SANDERS:  I’m sorry, can you be specific?

  • Yeah. The President talked about those claims of voter fraud again. It’s something he’s repeatedly brought up. It’s just getting the idea of when words matter, particularly in moments of a lot of international pressure, like this moment right now, what his standard of accuracy is when he’s speaking to the American public.

SANDERS:  Certainly, the President still strongly feels that there was a large amount of voter fraud … (etc) 

  • (Tamara Keith, NPR News) Two questions regarding Scott Pruitt. How long is the review going to take that the White House is conducting?
  • Will it be quick or years?
  • Okay. And did Chief of Staff John Kelly recommend that Pruitt be fired?

SANDERS:  I’m not going to get into any private conversations.

  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. (Blake is back from paternity leave I think) I want to ask you about Mark Zuckerberg — headed to the Hill to testify. This administration has often talked about deregulation and the deregulatory effort that the President and this administration has undergone. But there’s a question of whether or not Facebook should be regulated. Does the White House have a stance on whether or not Facebook should be regulated? And if so, what is that position?
  • What does the President make of Mark Zuckerberg? Does he have an opinion of him? Larry Kudlow was fairly critical of him, both on Fox News Sunday, yesterday, and when I asked him about Zuckerberg this morning. Does the President have any sort of opinion on Mark Zuckerberg?
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) Is there anything that the Syrians can do at this point to prevent military action from being taken?
  • And if I could follow up, just because, you know, you’ve been saying this over the last couple of weeks, that nobody has been tougher on Russia and Vladimir Putin than this President. Isn’t there some hyperbole in that, when you say that?  I mean, obviously, Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall”; John Kennedy put up a blockade around Cuba; Carter boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Obviously, there have been Presidents over the course of the last several decades who have been tougher on this President. Also given the fact that this President, up until just recently wasn’t really willing to criticize Vladimir Putin by name. We all saw that over the weekend, and took that as a new development.

SANDERS:  Yeah, you cite, like, one example for each of those individuals.  Let me list off just a few of the actions that the President has taken that previous administrations haven’t —

(This is amazing of her. Shamelessness truly does set you free.)

  • So if the President says that Vladimir Putin may pay a price for what’s happening in Syria right now — after all, the Russians were supposed to be responsible for helping the Syrians remove the chemical weapons from Syria. When the President says that they may “pay a price,” we should take that to the bank?

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