TOWOIT #319: “You think a wave is coming?”

April 11, 2018 (yesterday) 

Questions from the WH Press Briefing:

  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, the Russian military has come out and said that there was no poison gas attack. That was Sergey Lavrov the other day who said they got no evidence of it. Today, a Russian military official says, oh, there was an attack but it was staged by the White Helmets brigade component of the rebels in Syria. What do you say to the Russian statement that this thing was staged by the White Helmets? (she says the White House holds Syria and Russia responsible) 
  • I have an unrelated question on the Cohen raids the other day. It now looks as though prosecutors were looking for some sort of documentation that might have been connected with the Access Hollywood tape, as you know came out during the campaign, which you were a part of. And that is an effort to connect the dots between subsequent payments that were made to keep people quiet, which may constitute some sort of FEC violation for an illegal campaign contribution. If the Mueller investigation has now morphed from looking at Russian collusion to an illegal campaign contribution by the President’s personal attorney, would the President consider that to be the Mueller investigation has strayed outside of its initial mandate?
  • (Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour) A source, today, told me that President Trump is concerned that Paul Ryan’s retiring and not seeking reelection might encourage other Republicans to also not seek reelection. What do you say about that?
  • And Representative Scalise told me today — he said that there’s a tough political climate in that Republicans were already facing a lot of challenges and a lot of problems going forward. There are some people, though, that think that President Trump is part of the problem that Republicans have — that his rhetoric, his actions have made it harder for Republicans to win midterm elections. What does the President think about that? And does he actually plan to campaign with people? And does he think at all that he could hurt the chances of some Republicans if he goes out in the field?
  • (Michelle — not sure who this is but she’s in the back) Thanks, Sarah. With Syria set to chair the U.N. Conference on Disarmament next month, will the President consider, or does he have any plans to pull the U.S. out for the duration of Syria presiding over that group?
  • And is the White House concerned with Facebook’s efforts to silence conservatives? It’s been a topic on the Hill today and yesterday.
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio) Two questions about the President’s statement this morning. What does “Get ready Russia” mean? Is the United States planning to target Russian assets, personnel in Syria as part of the attack that the President himself said is coming — the missiles are coming? What does it mean?
  • So does it mean anything at all? What does it mean?
  • If I might follow up with a separate question about another one of the President’s tweets this morning: Can you explain how the Special Counsel investigation has made for “bad blood” with Russia?
  • (Mike Bender, Wall Street Journal) Two quick questions. You said that the final decision on Syria hasn’t been made yet. Does the President’s emoting on Twitter complicate the planning on this or present a national security risk?

MS. SANDERS:  Not at all.

  • And on Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal and others have reported that Rosenstein signed off on the search warrant here. Does the White House believe this was a wrong decision from Mr. Rosenstein? And do they think he should step down?
  • (Hallie Jackson, MSNBC) Sarah, two on Syria. Given your comments given here at the podium, given the President’s tweets this morning, is the White House prepared for the possibility of direct military engagement with Russia?
  • That sounds like a yes. Just — I want to be clear.
  • And then let me ask that follow-up, too. The President, as you know, back in 2013, talked about why, when it comes to Syria, we can’t just, in his words, “be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise.” Obviously, the President didn’t talk about a date or a time for any kind of attack on Syria, but he did talk about, as Steven points out, “get ready” for something. Why this time is the President not taking his own advice and being “quiet,” as he put it?
  • So that 48-hour timetable is out the window that he talked about Monday? We should disregard that?
  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) But, Sarah, the President was direct in talking about missiles. He said, “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” Why is the President telegraphing military intentions on Twitter; announcing, effectively, an attack on Twitter?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, the President has not laid out a timetable and still leaving a number of other options on the table. And we’re still considering a number of those, and a final decision on that front hasn’t been made.

  • And if I could ask — another one of the tweets, which Steven asked about, is also pretty direct here. He says, “…bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation.” Isn’t it Russia’s support for what the President himself calls a “Gas Killing Animal,” or its meddling in our elections, or its military intervention in Ukraine —  aren’t those the actions that have cause bad blood? And not Robert Mueller?
  • So Robert Mueller’s actions are similar to — I mean, another —

MS. SANDERS:  I didn’t say that.  You’re certainly putting words into my mouth.

  • Well, he’s the one that said it. He’s the one that —
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Sarah, Russia responded to the President’s tweet by saying, “Smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, and not towards the lawful government…” What’s the White House’s reaction to that?
  • Is the White House or the State Department in any kind of backchannel discussions with Russia to defuse the tension? And does the President still hope to meet with President Putin sometime soon?
  • (David) Jim Mattis and Mike Pompeo were spotted today. Did the President meet with them to talk about Syria? And if so, what came out of that meeting?
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Sarah, you just said that the intelligence provided certainly paints a different picture, and that the President holds Syria and Russia responsible for the attack. However, earlier this morning, the Defense Secretary said, “We’re still assessing the intelligence — ourselves…We’re still working on this.” So what has changed over the last handful of hours from when the Defense Secretary said, “We’re still assessing the intelligence,” and now, to where you clearly point the finger at Russia and Syria?
  • So then you still are assessing the intelligence then as the Defense Secretary stated before?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah. You said all these things about Russia and that they’ve been bad actors, they voted against the United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well. And this morning, the President, on Twitter, said that Russia is supported a “Gas Killing Animal.” So does the President now believe that Russia has firmly established itself as an enemy of America, especially since Russia has said that it will shoot down U.S. missiles if the President fires upon Syria?
  • What about an enemy, though?Are they an enemy, though, of America at this point?

MS. SANDERS:  That’s something that Russia needs to play a role in determining.  We hope that they will continue — or not continue, I’m sorry, to be a bad actor, and make some changes in their behavior. But that’s something that Russia will have to play a role in determining.

This thing she keeps saying — she’s been saying it for months —  is so chicken shit.

  • And one separate — just really quick.
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Sarah, as you say, “All options are on the table” when it comes to Syria and Russia. Has diplomacy been exhausted? That’s an option, as well.
  • So it has not — is there — are you saying —
  • So diplomacy could still be in play?
  • (Another guy, I think in the AP seat) Sarah, four senators — two Dems, two Republicans — have a bill to ensure that a Special Counsel isn’t fired for political reasons. Does the White House support that bill?  oes the White House think a bill like that is necessary?

MS. SANDERS:  We don’t have an administrative policy on that right now.

  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Yeah, thank you, Sarah. Two questions. On Monday I asked you if the President had contacted President Macron and Prime Minister May about an alliance with France and England, not unlike that that President Obama tried to forge in 2013. He has had two conversations with both of them. Have there been any new developments? I mean, has he spoken with any other world leaders, especially those in Central Europe, about a larger coalition instead of the U.S. going it alone in Syria?
  • What about Central Europe?
  • And the other thing I wanted to ask: The President has a good relationship with Congressman Scalise, a good, personal relationship with his family. What does he think about the reports that Congressman Scalise will run for Speaker soon?
  • (Tamara Keith, NPR) Yeah. Is the President considering firing or in other ways pushing out Rosenstein?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t have any personnel announcements on this front.

  • Just one other thing. Paul Ryan today said that he’s been given assurances by the White House that the President isn’t planning to fire Rosenstein or Mueller.  Do you know where he’s getting those assurances? Is it coming from the President? Is it coming from others? Where is it coming from?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I don’t have any announcements on that front.

Holy fucking yikes

  • (Steve) Sarah, Senator Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said today that the President must come to Congress for authorization prior to another military strike on Syria. And there are others who are also saying that.  Does the administration intend to do that? And if not, why not?
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) It sounds like the President hasn’t really left a lot of wiggle room. You said that all options are on the table, but when the President says, “Get ready Russia…they will be coming,” the missiles are coming, how is that anything but an announcement of a pending airstrike?

MS. SANDERS:  That’s certainly one option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option or the only thing that the President may or may not do. Just because he does one thing doesn’t mean he can’t do a number of other actions as well.

  • Isn’t that telegraphing?
  • One other quick thing on Speaker Ryan’s announcement. There are some fears up on Capitol Hill, and we understand some in the White House, that a Democratic wave is coming; it could sweep the Republicans out of power in the House and that could potentially lead to impeachment proceedings that the Democrats could bring forward. What is the President’s thinking on that? What is your thinking on that?
  • Do you think a wave is coming? You think a wave is coming?
  • (Andrew) Just to follow up on Jeff and April’s question, is there anything that Syria or Russia could do at this point to avoid military action?

 

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