TOWOIT #325: Lying or in the dark

May 3, 2018

This was the briefing where pundits were afterward like “Oh wow, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has lost ALL credibility.” Right on the heels of acting like it was weird to call her a liar. Like mere days later. I don’t know, is everything unraveling faster? The reporters in the room flirted around The L Word more than usual today.


  • (Zeke Miller, AP) Thanks, Sarah. First, just a quick question. I don’t know if you saw the news out of Iran, but Foreign Minister Zarif put out a video statement saying that Iran would not renegotiate or add on to the JCPOA. How does that influence the President’s thinking? And do you have a response to that?
  • And secondly, on another topic in the news today. Can you explain why the President, when he spoke — when he answered questions from reporters a few weeks ago about the $130,000 payment from Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels, why the President was not truthful with the American people and with the people in this room?
  • (Jon Karl, ABC News) If I could take a broader view on this, because I know you can’t talk about the details. But can I ask you, when the President so often says things that turn out not to be true, when the President and the White House show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth, how are the American people to trust or believe what is said here and what is said by the President?
  • But the President — I mean, when the story first happened came out that Ty Cobb would be leaving and Emmet Flood would be coming in, the President said, “fake news,” said it was not true. When he talked about the prisoners in North Korea, he said the previous administration had failed to get them out. At least two of them were taken prisoner while Donald Trump was President. And obviously, the totally conflicting statements on the Stormy Daniels claim. I mean, these are statements that are just not true.
  • He started paying back Michael Cohen back in February of last year. I mean, the reimbursement was happening long before the President was asked about this.

SANDERS:  Is that a question or a statement?

  • But I’m saying, I mean, how could he not have known? He was paying him back. He was paying him back —
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) Just to follow up on that — the President did talk about monthly retainers in his tweet, and then Rudy Giuliani said that the President only knew about this 10 days to 2 weeks ago. How can you only be aware of something 10 days to 2 weeks ago, but at the same time be in the process of paying monthly retainers that apparently covered this reimbursement to Michael Cohen?
  • If I could just follow up on — you said, on March 7th, “There was no knowledge of any payments from the President, and he’s denied all of these allegations.” Were you lying to us at the time, or were you in the dark?
  • That réponse was–
  • But that statement — but, Sarah, that statement —
  • That statement was in reference to the reimbursement — the payment.
  • That means you were in the dark. You didn’t know. You didn’t know at the time.
  • Why can’t you just answer “yes” or “no” whether you were in the dark — I think, is a fairly simply question — whether you just didn’t have the information at the time —
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Sarah, can you give us an update on the three Americans held in North Korea? Rudy Giuliani said that they were going to be released today. Is that true?
  • In addition to being an attorney —
  • Sorry, Sarah, in addition to being an attorney for the President, does Mr. Giuliani — Mayor Giuliani have a wider remit to talk about things like foreign policy, as he did? (she says not that she’s aware of)
  • (Steve Herman, Voice of America) Yes, Sarah, I wanted to ask you about the these reports citing U.S. intelligence that the Chinese have installed new missile platforms on disputed islands in the South China Sea. And they also appear to now be basing fighter jets there. Meanwhile, pilots are being warned that the Chinese military personnel are pointing lasers at U.S. military aircraft in Djibouti in Africa, injuring American pilots. Does any of this cross a red line for the President? And how does the administration intend to respond?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox News Radio) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Were you caught off guard by Major Giuliani’s comments on Fox News last night?
  • So is the administration — is the President, is he pleased with the job that Major Giuliani is doing right now? It seems as if he has opened the President up to some sort of criminal liability as it relates to federal election campaign violations.
  • And so the President then is pleased with the job that Mr. Giuliani is doing
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online) Thank you, Sarah. When was the last time that the President talked to Michael Cohen? And is Michael Cohen still his attorney? And also, is the White House concerned or is the President concerned that any conversations he would have had with Michael Cohen would have been picked up by the wiretap that we learned about today? (Came out later that it was something called a pen register, which is different than a wire tap)
  • And just to clarify, when did you specifically know that the President repaid Mr. Cohen for the $130,000? You personally.
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Sarah, you said earlier that, when you’ve given answers around this general topic, you gave us the best information you had at the time. Now it appears that your position is you’re not going to comment because it’s ongoing litigation. Have you been advised not to wade into this to protect yourself from any potential legal exposure by giving either false information or information that proves later not to be able to be withstood in court?
  • But the point of Jonathan’s question earlier — when you say, before, that you gave the best information you had at the time, and —
  • but it turns out not to be correct, or accurate, are you then trying to limit the liability that you may encounter by not dealing with any of those questions now, and pushing them all off because you say it’s ongoing litigation?
  • Let me ask you something that the Mayor said last night, not related to the questions you’ve gotten so far. He said, he — being the President — “fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation.” Is that the White House position now, explaining why James Comey was fired?
  • So that was —
  • Is that the reason he was fired?
  • Is that one of them?
  • He also said —
  • He said that this is a completely tainted investigation. Do you agree with that?
  • He said it’s a completely tainted investigation. Do you agree with that? (Major asked this twice, stubbornly, which is not really his style, after Sarah had called on Shannon. Sarah refused to acknowledge this question was being asked. In general, she tried very hard throughout the briefing to not answer questions by either citing ongoing legislation or just simply ignoring follow ups and moving on. This is why I watch for reporters to honor the prior reporter’s question by insisting it be addressed–which still doesn’t happen too often in succession)
  • (Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg) Can you clear up this timeline a bit, back to Jim’s question, about when exactly did the President learn that the payments were going to Michael Cohen to cover the Stormy Daniels —
  • — ten to two weeks.
  • And did the President know that Mr. Giuliani would specifically be talking about these payments on Hannity last night? Was he aware of the time and the message —
  • (Andrew Beatty, Agence France Presse) Thank you very much A follow-up to Jeff’s question. Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani have both commented publicly on the North Korean hostages. Are they involved in any way in efforts to secure their release?
  • Why are they commenting on this, then?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) Sarah, thanks. Is the President concerned that his own Justice Department authorized a wiretap that may have gathered communications between him and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen?
  • Was the President concerned when he learned the reporting that Michael Cohen’s phones were wiretapped several days before the raid?
  • And just going back to the payments question, how many payments did the President make to Michael Cohen after the election?
  • But, Sarah, you’re standing here speaking for the President.
  • Can I just ask you about Rudy Giuliani’s comments? Rudy Giuliani said, this morning, “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton” — a reference to the payment. So does the White House now acknowledge that that payment was made with politics in mind?
  • (Sagaar Enjeti, The Daily Signal) Sarah, yesterday the President threatened to get involved in the Justice Department if memos were not turned over in a timely manner to the House Intelligence Committee. What actions is the President considering taking? And what does a “timely manner” mean to the President? How soon does he want the un-redacted version of the Special Counsel memo? (Friendly question from one of the far-right blogs that have press credentials now)
  • So what has he threatened to do?
  • (Olivier Knox, Sirius XM) Thank you, Sarah. On the Haspel nomination, would you remind us what the President’s position is regarding the potential use of interrogation tactics that meet international definitions of torture?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. A question on Russia. This morning, the Financial Times reported that Alexei Kudrin, a former close associate of President Putin, and a strong advocate of warmer relations with the United States, may well be rejoining his government. This raises another question. You said that the President would have a summit with Mr. Putin sometime in the near future. Can you give us any clues when that will be? Has anything been determined on a possible Trump-Putin summit?
  • So there will be no meetings — it’s likely that there’s no meetings with President Putin before the Kim-Trump summit?
  • (Emerald Robinson, OANN)  Thank you, Sarah. Following up on — question, in regards to those memos and the congressional oversight, Rod Rosenstein is saying this is extortion. What is the White House’s response to him calling it extortion? And does the President support the Freedom Caucus’s articles of impeachment for Rosenstein? (Another friendly, but good question) 
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) You just said that James Comey was fired for lying and leaking and politicizing. What did he lie about before he was fired? And what did he leak before he was fired?
  • Was Giuliani correct in saying that he was fired in part because he wouldn’t tell the President that he wasn’t part of the investigation?
  • (Julie Davis, New York Times) Sarah, did the President file a fraudulent personal financial disclosure last year when he filed a report that did not include a loan from Michael Cohen or any company affiliated with him? I mean, if there was no loan, then what would he have been reimbursing?
  • Thank you. Can you say why he was talking with Giuliani about the North Korean prisoners, given that he doesn’t have a high-level clearance?
  • Was he aware that Giuliani was going to be talking about them on TV during those negotiations?
  • (Brian Karem, I think, he’s on the sideline). So a couple of quick questions. Does the President believe he’s above the law?  (Brian Karem and Jim Acosta were the only two White House correspondents that I could find on Twitter saying it is important to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders out on lying after the whole Michelle Wolf thing. Everyone else either kowtowed, played footsie by retweeting subtweets that were more pro-Sanders, or artfully avoided the whole topic.)
  • And does he prefer to sit down with Kim Jong-un before or after —
  • Thank you. And then does he prefer to sit down with Kim Jong-un versus Bob Mueller?
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Okay, Sarah, really fast. Two questions. Can you — if you’re not ready — (laughter) — (Lalit didn’t answer when called upon, so Sarah jumped in, asking permission to ask a question)
  • So, Sarah, at this point, can you tell us definitively if the President plans to answer any questions from Bob Mueller? And if not, what is now in place here at the White House to go through that process of a subpoena, a possible indictment, a possible grand jury?
  • Okay.  Well, now, going to Rudy Giuliani — did Rudy Giuliani do harm to the President today and last night in his conversations to Fox?
  • And are you —
  • Why didn’t he talk to the White House Press Office about his impacting stellar statements about what was happening? Everyone was obviously (inaudible).
  • But you were blindsided — you said yourself, I was blindsided by what he said.
  • Well, I said it. (Laughter.) But you were blindsided, from what you said.

SANDERS:  Well, with all due respect, you actually don’t know much about me in terms of what I feel and what I don’t.

  • I’ve been here for 21 years, so I understand how this operates. Do not discredit me.
  • (Lalit Jha, Press Trust of India) Last week, there was a meeting between the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping in China. How does the White House see the meeting between the two leaders — India and China — trying to improve their relationship? And did President have a role in that?


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