TOWOIT #347: “Red lights are blinking”

July 18, 2018. 

Today Sarah Sanders held the first White House Daily Briefing since July 2. It was 26 minutes long. On the White House Live stream, there were more viewers watching live than there have been for any briefing all year. It’s the top line in dashed light blue. The X-axis starts at the actual start time and continues out until the end of the briefing. Anyway, it was a shit show.


  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Earlier, Cecilia asked the President, “Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?” He said, “No.” Is that what the President actually believes?  Did he understand the question? And is his position that, no, Russia is not doing anything to interfere or meddle in the 2018 election? (Sanders says that Trump was just saying No as in No, he would not answer any questions)

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 5.32.05 PM

  • So he does believe it’s going on? (Her reply included the phrase “… we, uh, certainly believe that we are taking steps…”) 
  • Is there any distance between the President and the DNI Coats, who said that the red lights are blinking on this topic? Do they completely agree? (Sanders goes full Orwell and talks at length about how amazingly tough Trump and the administration have been on Russia. She reads from a statement.)
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thank you, Sarah. I just want to clarify what you just said. Dan Coats said, point blank, the threat is still ongoing from Russia. Does this White House believe that, currently, this threat is still ongoing?
  • (Zeke Miller, AP News) Since the President yesterday clarified his comments from his press conference Monday with Vladimir Putin, does the President stand by all of his other public comments on the trip, including his (inaudible) interview criticizing Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations? His comments that Russia — that Russia controlled Germany over that pipeline?  And other comments in that press conference Monday where he continued to doubt — cast doubt on the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Does he stand by all of those?
  • And, Sarah, does the White House have any response to the arrest and indictment of a Russian national who is accused of trying to infiltrate American political organizations — purely on the right — and to try to influence American politics?

SANDERS:  I think that this has gotten totally out of control, and you guys need to take a little bit of a step back, slow down, and quit going after the Trump administration on every single thing that takes place.

  • But, Sarah, you have no response to the indictment? You have no response to the indictment but you have a response to the media?
  • (Roberta Rampton, Reuters) The President, today, and the Secretary of State both spoke about progress being made in talks — trade talks with Mexico. And I’m wondering whether trilateral talks with Mexico and Canada, and also the bilateral talks with Canada, are effectively off the table for now. Is the administration choosing to go with Mexico, where they see if there’s progress, and forget about the trilateral track?
  • (Maggie Haberman, New York Times) Thank you, Sarah. Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question, who they claim were involved in Bill Browder’s “crimes,” in their terms, including a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia? (Good question, Maggie, sorry we all hate you so much on Twitter)

SANDERS:  The President is going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that.

H O L Y   F U C K

And I don’t appreciate sanguine white guys on Twitter telling me to “separate the signal from the noise” and “not get distracted.”

(For what it’s worth, State Dept. spokeswoman Heather Nauert, formerly of Fox, said today that the whole idea of this happening is absurd)

  • (Inaudible) for a second, is that a topic that came up in their conversation? Did President Putin raise this with President Trump?

SANDERS:  There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the President will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.


  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Thank you, Sarah. The President earlier today said that there could be “tremendous” retribution for the European Union if there’s not a deal struck on auto imports. In the past, he has talked about potentially putting a tariff of 20 percent. Is that what he meant today by tremendous retribution? Or is it possible he goes even beyond that?
  • Since you brought up the Fed, the Beige Book just came out, which is anecdotes from across the country of what’s happening with the economy. Here are some of the headlines: Manufacturers are concerned about tariffs; they’re dealing with higher prices because of trade; tariffs are increasing metal prices; and ag prices have fallen because of Chinese tariffs. It’s not necessarily a rosy picture with the tariff situation. Your response to those headlines would be what?
  • (Yamiche Alcindor, PBS News Hour) Hi, Sarah. Two questions. The first one: In Finland, President Trump, when talking about the stances of the U.S. intelligence community and of Russia, he said, quote, that both parties — “I have confidence in both parties.” After a young woman was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia after protesting neo-Nazis, he said, “I think there’s blame on both sides.” Some people see this as a President continuously making false equivalencies — equivalences. What do you say to that criticism?
  • And also, does the President see the interference in the 2016 election and possibly in the midterms as an attack on democracy — American democracy?  The Secretary for Homeland Security said that it was an attack on American democracy. But the President said that the Democrats are weak, that Republicans basically have better systems. Does he see it as an issue of American democracy, or just his opponents being attacked? (Sarah reminds everyone that this happened under OBAMA’s watch)
  • (Josh Dawsey, Washington Post) The President spent two hours and ten minutes with Vladimir Putin. Was there a deal made on Syria? Was there a deal made on anything? Can you give us any sense of what came out of that meeting? (In her response, Sanders sarcastically refers to election interference as “your favorite topic”)
  • One follow-up. On a number of issues, from the annexing of Crimea to election meddling, the president seems to have spent more time criticizing his predecessor, Barack Obama, for letting it happen under his time, than Vladimir Putin. Do you have any sense of why the President has not been more critical of Putin for some of these events that the entire world stage has really gone after him about? (Sanders says Trump has been tougher on Russia than anyone… pfffft)
  • So why is he critical of other world leaders by name far more often than Vladimir Putin? Why won’t he criticize Putin by name?
  • But he was beside him on Monday, though. Why wasn’t he critical of Vladimir Putin’s actions? (Sanders says 90% of the globe’s nuclear arsenal is controlled by Trump and Putin)
  • (Justin Sink, Bloomberg) Sarah, a minute ago, you described the negative impacts of the trade conflict with China, the short term.  But that’s only true if we’re able to strike a better deal. And from the outside, since the tariffs went on more than two weeks ago, it seems like those negotiations have broken down.  So I’m wondering if you could tell us what the status of them are, why the Treasury Secretary isn’t meeting one-on-one with China when he’s in Argentina for the G20, and what it would take from the Chinese or from the U.S. to restart those talks? (The business types reallllly don’t like these tariffs)
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News) I want to follow up on Maggie’s question (finally!) because she asked about the idea that Putin offered of essentially allowing Robert Mueller and his investigators to go to Russia to oversee or witness the interrogations of the Russian military intelligence officers if the U.S. would reciprocate and have Russian investigators come here to watch American citizens face questions about the crimes that they allegedly committed in Russia. The President called it an interesting idea. He said it was an incredible offer. Why we would he say that?
  • (Fox News guy, I’m too annoyed with his scornful use of the verb “drag” to look up his name–EDIT: For the third time, reader Tom has bailed me out on reporter identity. This was Peter Doocy, son of Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends) Sarah, some Democrats on Capitol Hill now are saying that they want to drag the translator, who was in the room with the President and Vladimir Putin, before congressional committees to find out exactly what was said in their private meeting. Is that something that the White House would ever support? (Sanders says the State Department handles that stuff)
  • (Sounds like Cecilia interjecting) But they report to YOU, Sarah
  • (Mike — which Mike? Mike Bender?) The list of subjects you went through as far as the — for that one-on-one meeting — unless I missed it, were sanctions discussed at all? Did the President bring it up, or did President Putin bring it up to President Trump?
  • Sarah, I just wanted to ask you, just one quick one. Yesterday, the President’s revision — it was kind of seen widely that he was leaving himself a little bit of room when he said there could have been others too who have meddled. Was he referring to any specific intelligence on that? Or was that his instinct
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News) Sarah, I have two questions for you. And I want to just clarify something you talked about at the beginning of the briefing. So despite the video that shows the President looking at Cecilia and answering “no” to this question about whether Russia is still targeting the U.S., and despite multiple people in the room understanding that the President was responding to that question, and despite the President having never before said the word “no, no” repeatedly to usher reporters out of the room, you’re saying it’s the reverse? You’re saying the President —
  • This is the second time —
  • And he looked and said, “No.”
  • She asked for a follow-up.
  • She asked for a follow-up.
  • So let me get to my question, Sarah, because I haven’t actually asked it yet, which is the President, now — this is second time in three days that the President or the White House has come out and reversed what the President has said to the opposite of what it was perceived.
  • But it was perceived in the opposite way. Why wasn’t the President —
  • But why should this President have any credibility to Americans in what he says if, in fact, 24 hours later — or, in this case, three hours later — the White House comes out and says “just kidding”?
  • I’m paraphrasing. It wasn’t a direct quote. You understand.
  • And a second question, to follow up on my second question
  • You told Josh — well, just to follow up on my second question, Sarah. You told Josh —
  • I have two. You told Josh the President has been publicly critical of Vladimir
  • You said —
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Sorry, Hallie, go ahead if you want to.
  • (Hallie) Thanks, Jordan. You said to Josh —

SANDERS:  Actually, I’m going to take a question from Jordan.

  • (Hallie) — that the President has been publicly critical of Vladimir Putin. I just want to know when. Because I don’t think any of us remember — at least I don’t remember a time when the President has publicly called out Vladimir Putin. (Sanders answers briefly and bullshittily. She is so mad)


  • (Jordan Fabian) Senators Rubio and Van Hollen have introduced legislation that would impose new sanctions on Russia if the intelligence agencies find that they meddle in the 2018 midterms or in the future. Would President Trump support a proposal like that? (Sanders doesn’t really answer but says they will protect the integrity of the elections and calls on Jon Decker) 
  • (She called on John Decker but she’s getting April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks instead!!)  Included with that, Sarah — is voter suppression —

SANDERS:  Jon, go ahead.

  • (April still) Sarah, is voter suppression included with that, please?

SANDERS:  Sorry, guys, if we could go on to the people that I have called on.

  • (April) I’m just asking you a question because you choose not to call on me. Is voter suppression part of that election process that the President is trying to look for?

SANDERS:  Jon, go ahead.

  • (April) Oh you’re not going to answer that?

SANDERS:  If I call on you, I’ll be happy to answer your question.

  • (April) Voter suppression is a huge issue that a community in America has asked about.

SANDERS:  Jon, go ahead.

  • (April) You’re not going to answer me?

SANDERS:  Jon, go ahead.

  • (April) That’s all right. Fine.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 7.29.15 PM

  • (Jon Decker, Fox News Radio) Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the immediate reaction to the President’s comments that he made at that joint press conference in Helsinki. It was immediate. Every cable channel — Fox, NBC, CNN — reacted immediately to the suggestion the President made that he did not believe that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election (I love that Fox News was not a safe harbor for her here). I got my inbox inundated with emails from Republican members of Congress with their reaction immediately.  And 24 hours — it took 24 hours for the President to correct the record. Why did it take so long for the President to clarify the comments that he made at that press conference?
  • It was 24 hours actually. It’s a pretty long time. And it was out there for quite a bit.  (Jon Decker being calm and lawyerly in tone)
  • Twenty-four hours (inaudible) comment on this to clarify his remarks, to change the “would” to “wouldn’t” — or the “wouldn’t” to “would.” And I think that a lot of people would argue that there was ample time for the President — he tweets all the time from Air Force One — for him to —
  • — to put out a statement which clarified what he meant to say during the joint news conference, and he didn’t do that. What took so long is my question?
  • He didn’t have that on Air Force One?

(Burst of cross-talk throughout the room after Sarah’s final non-answer to John. It sounds like Brian Karem’s voice saying “He’s on Twitter CONSTANTLY, Sarah!”)

  • (Saagar Enjeti, Daily Caller) There are currently efforts within Congress to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Is that something that the White House would support for lack of cooperation in turning over documents to Congress?
  • To follow up on that, would the White House denounce that effort then? Do they have the — do they have confidence within the Deputy Attorney General?
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) Sarah, on Friday, at the press conference with Prime Minister May, I asked the President, as he was leaving, whether or not he would tell Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections. As he was leaving with the Prime Minister, he said, “Yes.” Did the President tell Vladimir Putin, at their summit in Helsinki, to stay out of U.S. elections?
  • I understand that you’re saying that they discussed election meddling, but did the President of the United States tell the President of Russia to stay out of U.S. elections? Did that occur?
  • And let me ask you, if I may —
  • Well, if I may, it’s just a quick —
  • Was there a recording? Was there a recording made —
  • Was there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting? Does that exist? (She’s not aware of one, she says)
  • Okay.
  • (April Ryan, recognized by Sanders now) So, Sarah, since you keep saying that the President is very concerned about the election process — you talk about what he’s doing. You did not — you did not mention voter suppression in that.  Voter suppression has been an issue for decades, and particularly in these last few elections. Is voter suppression now on the table? When he was talking about voter fraud, people were talking about voter suppression as well.  Is voter suppression on the table as well? (Sarah gives ZERO acknowledgment to black people’s concerns or civil rights history, zero zero zero) 
  • (Some loud man over on the side of the room) Sarah, I want to change the topic a minute, if I may, and go south.
  • Thank you. So the incoming President of Mexico has made two very bold suggestions. Number one, he’s looking at giving amnesty to the drug cartels operating within there. Today, they come out and say they’re seriously looking at legalizing all drugs in Mexico. Now, if they do that, obviously it’s going to have a tremendous impact on the incoming amount of drugs into the United States. What is the President’s position on that? And are they going to do anything to stop that from happening in Mexico?

Sounds like Brian Karem calling out as she walks out: “Sarah, what’s the administration doing about foreign disinformation and social media in the elections?”

A few moments later another male reporter’s voice can be heard saying “FUN TIMES. GOOD TIMES!!” and then the C-Span video feed cuts off.



2 thoughts on “TOWOIT #347: “Red lights are blinking”

  1. Please don’t stop doing these recaps! I think you’re the only one doing anything like this. (The “Fox news guy” was Peter Doocy, son of Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends.

    1. Tom! Thank you. I appreciate this. I never actually watch television so I don’t have good background knowledge on who all these characters are! (I do binge netflix to a shameful degree, so I wasn’t trying to establish a moral high ground re: not watching TV, by the way)

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