TOWOIT #324: This is my little corner of this shit show, I guess

May 1, 2018

I am so sick of so many of the people in the briefing room since they kowtowed to Sarah Sanders and threw Michelle Wolf under the bus last week.

I have spent a lot of time studying, being part of, and/or being very skeptical of the press. But since Trump was elected, I started watching this briefing regularly in support of a free press, and because I believed that journalists did still have a bedrock of ethical ideals they were taught, however much they may smudge and drift when they are taken out into real life.

At any rate, their journalistic integrity more or less stood in contrast to Sarah Sanders and her lies, and I endured her visage and voice in order to hear what questions she would be asked, and how the reporters in the room would play off each other to follow up. I felt like the reporters’ questions themselves were telling, even if the answers were obfuscations and lies (that I didn’t and don’t want to give any additional platform to).

I shouldn’t have been surprised or disappointed by how namby-pamby so many of the reporters were after Michelle Wolf called out Sarah Sanders’s lies.

They chuckle at Sanders’s jokes, even when they are really stupid jokes that she’s interrupted their questions to deliver. They take their kids to the White House every time their kids are invited, which is the most shockingly bad faith thing I can think of in these abnormal times. How can I trust that you to see Trump for what he is and trust that you are committed to fulfilling your role in our democracy when you keep delivering your own children to Trump for photo ops?

Do not go to the fucking White House.

Anyway, here are the reporters’ questions at the first briefing since the Michelle Wolf kerfuffle:

  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, the President has had a suggested list of questions from the Office of the Special Counsel since somewhere near the beginning of March. We know that the Special Counsel wants to look into some 50 different areas of inquiry. Has the President had a chance to review those questions, digest them? And what does he think of the line of questioning?
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Sarah, can you tell us what the President’s level of confidence is in Chief of Staff Kelly? And is he under serious consideration to be the next nominee for the Veterans Affairs Administration?
  • Can I ask you about Iran, Sarah? You described — or the NSC last night described it as a clerical error. But it was a significant editing error that has policy implications. Can you state from the podium what this White House believes is the current state of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and if it’s in full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the IAEA has said it is?
  • But you assert what that says, that there is no current program in Iran, and that it is in compliance with the deal, at least as it’s negotiated. Right?
  • Can you specify?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox News Radio) Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the reprieve that the EU, Canada, and Mexico are receiving — this 30-day reprieve for the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. What is going to take place during this 30-day period? And what are the chances of that exemption being made permanent for the EU, Canada, and Mexico?
  • And if I may, I just wanted to ask you about something that took place last week involving the President’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He, in court documents, asserted that he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, which was filed against both him and the President.  And you may recall that in September of 2017, the President at a campaign rally, said, “The mob takes the Fifth.” And he also said, “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Do those ideas also apply to Michael Cohen?  Does the President stand by those comments?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah. On those list of 44 questions, the President said today that the leak was disgraceful, but a former assistant to Special Counsel Robert Mueller has suggested that the White House was behind the leak. Is he wrong?
  • Well, but that was a question about specifically the WHITE HOUSE being involved in it.
  • Okay, well, a question ABOUT the White House specifically then: Is the White House concerned, as Congressman Adam Schiff has said, that so many of the questions point to obstruction of justice?

MS. SANDERS:  We, here at the White House, try never to be concerned with anything dealing with Adam Schiff.

  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Thank you, Sarah. Let me point you back to what John had started on with the tariffs. Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, had said today — said earlier today, “If we’re going to impose it, we’re going to have to do it pretty soon, or else people will start gaming the system.” It sounds like you feel like this is moving along. But do you agree — does the White House agree with the Commerce Secretary that you’re going to have to move forward on this pretty soon? And if so, what exactly is “pretty soon”?
  • So won’t this be the last of the 30 days then?
  • (Woman in front row) Sarah, can you clarify Dr. Ronny Jackson’s status? If he’s no longer the President’s personal physician, why not?
  • Why is that, though? Why not bring him back in that role if the President was so happy with him before?
  • And did the President have any response to the defamation suit filed yesterday by Stormy Daniels?
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News) Two questions for you. Why did Keith Schiller, who was a White House employee at the time, go and take medical records from the President’s personal doctor last year?

MS. SANDERS:  As is standard operating procedure for a new President, the White House Medical Unit took possession of the President’s medical records.

  • It was characterized as a raid. Is that your understanding of what happened? The doctor seemed to be pretty upset about it.
  • And my second question, Sarah, just relates to —
  • The other one was a follow-up, but thank you. You talked about — you made very clear you don’t want to get into this list of questions from the New York Times, which is fine. But the President has tweeted about it. He’s talked about how none of these questions relate to collusion. But that’s not true; over a dozen of them do. We’ve talked about accuracy from the President in the past. Why is he mischaracterizing these reports?
  • That’s not a question involving the Special Counsel, that’s —
  • (Stephen Portnoy, CBS Radio News) Sarah, just to follow up on Hallie’s first question — there are some today who are essentially saying that what has happened with the President’s former personal doctor was a burglary, the way Keith Schiller busted in and essentially —
  • What’s your response to that characterization?
  • And if I could ask a second question. There are some allies of the President’s up on Capitol Hill who are apparently drafting articles of impeachment for the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Is it the President’s belief that Rod Rosenstein has either committed a high crime or a misdemeanor?
  • Does the White House then not endorse that drive? Would the White House call on these members not to pursue that?
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Sarah, there are two questions. There are questions percolating about James Shaw Jr. and the President. The President has — has he called him? Is he planning on meeting with him? He’s talking to heroes who have — the heroes of the Southwest flight in the Oval Office today. And you said something about James Shaw Jr., but is the President himself going to reach out to him? Will he come to the White House?
  • Okay. And second question: Payoffs, hush money, Russia trolls, Facebook, WikiLeaks, DNC hack, Comey email investigations on the eve of the election, allegations of collusion. Do these issues give support to those who say — who offer questions about the President’s legitimacy?
  • (Steve Holland, Reuters) Sarah, the Israeli announcement yesterday, how is that affecting the President’s thinking about what to do about the Iran nuclear deal?
  • And when did the President first hear about this? Was it in early March when he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu?
  • And last thing. Was this coordinated yesterday with the White House? Did Netanyahu say — give you a heads up and say this is coming?
  • (Another woman in front row) Sarah, back to the President’s tweet this morning. He said there is no question on collusion. But when you look at these specific questions about outreach by the campaign to Russia, aren’t these questions about collusion?
  • And just one more. Does this list factor at all into whether or not the President will or will not speak with the Special Counsel?
  • (Jeff Zeleny, CNN) But in terms of that, though, the President has said before, several times, he would like to sit down with the Special Counsel. Where is he on that? Do you believe he has made up his mind on that?
  • Will this impact it at all, do you think?
  • Let me try a different topic, if I can. On the NSC, the NSC says it was a clerical error. But how does a mistake like this get made? And do you believe that the White House has a credibility problem around the world with its statements like this? Do you take this seriously?
  • But the White House never sent out a corrected statement. They put it on their website, but they have never sent out a corrected statement. Why is that?
  • Sarah, the President yesterday talked about holding his meeting with Kim Jong-un in the DMZ. And he said there are some people that don’t like the look of it.  Has the location of this meeting and doing it in the DMZ been the subject of some debate internally? And what qualms might some members of the staff have about holding the meeting there?
  • Can I ask one more follow-up on Iran?
  • You said twice now that the Iranian nuclear deal was made under false pretenses. But as is clear from the historical record, the U.S. and its partners made this deal with Iran precisely because they knew Iran wasn’t truthful about its military nuclear program. So are you suggesting that back in 2014-15, we believed Iran?
  • (Noah Bierman, L.A.Times) Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. One is about the lawsuit filed today by California and 17 other states over their right to have EPA fuel standards in cars. They’re fighting the administration on this. I wanted to know what your response was to the lawsuit, and also the broader question that this administration seems to be on the other side of the traditional Republican argument on states’ rights on a number of cases. Is there any apprehension internally about having such a heavy hand with the states?
  • And the second question was about the NRA meeting this week. There are a lot of Americans who say this is an insensitive time to be speaking to the NRA given the epidemic of gun violence, which the President himself has talked about. What’s the administration’s response to that? Why make the decision to speak at the NRA now? As the President has said before, a lot of Presidents have not spoken before the NRA at their annual convention.
  • (Ayesha Rascoe, NPR) Thank you. You mentioned earlier — or you were asked about the VA Secretary. Where does the White House stand in that decision-making process? Are you guys talking to potential candidates now about that position?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. In his recent appearance on “Fox & Friends,” the President offered a vague criticism of the Electoral College and suggested reform was in order. Several pundits after interpreted this as support for the controversial National Popular Vote Plan, in which states give their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationally. Is that what the President meant? Could you offer a more perspicacious — (laughter) — definition of what he said in that interview?
  • Well, also, was he aware that the Republican National Committee, in May of 2011, had a resolution condemning that National Popular Vote Plan?
  • (Olivier Knox, Sirius XM) Thank you, Sarah. I’ve got a couple on foreign policy. You mentioned the Afghan attack. When Senator Rand Paul came out and said he was going to support Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State, he said that he was doing so because Mike Pompeo now agreed with the President that the time is now to withdraw from Afghanistan. Does the President agree with that characterization of his views?
  • And then on Iran, the question of what it means to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement has come up a couple times. In the President’s mind, does that mean immediately re-imposing sanctions, doing what’s called “snapback”? Or does he mean something else?
  • (Brian Bennett, Time magazine)  Thank you very much, Sarah. When the President spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, did the Israeli trove of documents about Iran’s nuclear program come up? And did the President encourage Israel to release those documents on Monday?
  • Was there desire by the White House to have Israel release these documents in order to influence the domestic debate here in the United States, in order to paint the deal in a different light?


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