WHDB on August 2, 2018.
This briefing was longer than usual at 45 minutes. Sarah Sanders had five departments in to talk about election security. It’s a briefing that might have been more reassuring in another context. It should have happened in February 2017 and been headed by the President. The President was not there and contradicted the main points of the briefing that evening at one of his eerie self-rallies. He said again it’s all a hoax, all a witch hunt.
This briefing was also notable because at the end, after her special guests left, Sarah Sanders refused to say that the media is not the enemy of the people. She was given three chances to say something, anything—and she wouldn’t. Again, people on Twitter said all the reporters should stop going to the briefings. But like Brian Karem tweeted, the children don’t get to chase the adults away. And like someone else tweeted, there will still be propaganda news outlets there no matter what. So the reporters show up. They tether their questions to reality. They read their reality-tethered questions into the record.
Here are the questions asked by reporters at the August 2 briefing:
- (John Roberts, Fox News) Thank you, Sarah. Director Coats, if I could direct a question to you? Let me take you back, if I could, to Helsinki. The President seemed to indicate that he may believe Vladimir Putin, when he says he doesn’t — didn’t have any influence in the 2016 election. What is your belief about the Russian government involvement in meddling in 2016? And if, as you say, Russia continues to try to influence our electoral process, does that mean that nothing much came of the meeting with Putin? Or is it other-than-government actors who are involved here?
- If I could just clarify, because both you and Director Wray said that Russia continues to try and meddle in our elections and influence voters. Are we talking about rogue Russian individuals or are we talking about the Kremlin? (Dan Coats says it’s both).
- (Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg) Thank you. I have a question for Director Wray. Thank you. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted more than 20 Russian officials based on work by the FBI for meddling in the 2016 elections. Now the President has tweeted that that investigation by the Special Counsel is a hoax and should be shut down. I know you’ve said that you don’t believe it is a hoax. But why would the American people believe what you’re saying about the FBI when the President says that the investigation by the Special Counsel is a hoax, and when the Press Secretary, yesterday, said that there was a lot of corruption within the FBI? Do you have any response to those statements coming from the White House?
- (Saagar Enjeti, Daily Caller) Thank you, Sarah. I have a question for Director Coats. Director Coats, how would you characterize the current efforts — Russian efforts — to meddle in the 2018 election relative to 2016? Is it more intense? Do you see those efforts focused on a particular party? And, in general, is the pace of those operations in any way relative to 2014, 2012? Or is it more intense? (Coats says effort isn’t as robust as 2016, as far as they can tell)
- To follow up sir, do you see it directed to any particular party? In its current 2018 efforts, is there any particular party that is benefitting from current 2018 Russian efforts? (Coats says Russia is just doing whatever it can to undermine our basic values)
- (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Thank you, Sarah. Also for Director Coats. In the run-up to the — (Coats jokes that he’s trying to get away from the podium and gets a laugh) — and perhaps Ambassador Bolton could weigh in this as well. But in the run-up to the Helsinki Summit, U.S. officials, ambassadors to NATO, ambassadors to Russia said that the President would raise the issue of malign activity with President Putin. But he didn’t discuss that, at least, at the press conference.
- You’re saying, today, that the President has directed you to make the issue of election meddling a priority. How do you explain the disconnect between what you are saying — his advisors — and what the President has said about this issue? (Coats says he’s not in a position to understand what happened in Helsinki and he calls over Bolton to answer the question)
- I guess the question is, at the press conference, the President didn’t highlight any of the malign activities that you have and that his advisors have. And so, should Americans believe that he is listening to your advice, or that he is going his own way when he’s having meetings like he did with the President of Russia?
- (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Thank you, Sarah. I believe this is either for Director Coats or Director Wray. I’ll let either of you choose. Since social media was brought up, there is a recent case with Facebook, how they just shut down some 32 accounts believed, potentially, to be from Russia. Can you give us an idea, is that a large amount? Is that a — just kind of the tip of the iceberg? And then, generally speaking, with these social media companies — Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram — how much have they progressed, or have they not progressed, and what you would like to see in terms of progression from 2016 and identifying the threat?
- (Debra Saunders, Las Vegas Review Journal) Ambassador Bolton, in your letter you talk about ordering the closure of the consulates in San Francisco and Seattle; these are two tech hubs. What happened there that led you to do that?
- (Michael D. Shear, New York Times) This, I guess, would be for maybe Secretary Nielsen or Mr. Wray. These meddling campaigns seem to fall into two broad categories: the, sort of, information campaigns, which challenge the information upon which American use to make their determinations, and then the more physical interferences into the machinery of voting; the tabulation of voting, the voter roles, the machinery that the states run. Can you guys describe what you’re seeing specifically in the run-up to this coming election? In both of those areas, do you worry more about one than the other? Do you have — are there specific threats that maybe you can’t even talk about but that you can say there have been specific threats in both of those categories? And how should Americans process that where we’re going to go to the polls in a few months? Should people be confident that when they pull the lever, they’re secure.
- Secretary Nielsen, would a government shutdown on October 1st affect any of these efforts?
- (Ed O’Keefe, CBS News) Sarah, this is for the Director and for the General. Can you unpack a little bit more about what you said there? You said there was — a question for the Director and a question for the General, separately. Can you give us a better sense of who specifically has been targeted? We know at least two senators have said that they’ve been targeted by hacking or by people impersonating government officials. Is it members of the Senate, members of the House? Is it Democratic and Republican campaigns? And then a separate question for the General.
- And would you support legislation imposing sanctions on Russia now that you’re saying they have, in fact, interfered, or attempted to interfere?
- General, have you been ordered at all to — or authorized to conduct any offensive cyber operations in response to this?
Someone calls out to Director Coats as he leaves, “Can you explain why you still don’t know what happened in Helsinki?”
Now it’s just Sarah Sanders and the reporter in the room.
- (Jill Colvin, Associated Press) Thank you. I want to ask about the President’s tweet on North Korea. He was addressing Kim Jong Un. And he said, quote, “I look forward to seeing you soon.” Are there plans in place right now, any discussion, about a second meeting? And also, he said he received a letter from Kim. What did the letter say? And did it address any of the reports that appear to show that Kim is not actually working towards denuclearization?
- Can you say whether he addressed the concerns about potentially building new nuclear sites?
- Did the President’s letter specifically address that?
- (Sarah McCammon, NPR) Ivanka Trump made two statements this morning at odds with positions of her father. She said the media are not the enemy of the people, and also called family separation at the border a low point. But what does the President think of the statements?
- And on the press being an enemy of the people or not being? (Insert here, Sarah Sanders’s 235-word rant about how reporters suck)
- (Jon Decker, Fox News Radio) Thanks a lot, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the conference call that took place yesterday, involving U.S.-China trade relations. Is there a timeline as to when, or if, the President may pull the trigger and impose harsher sanctions on China, harsher tariffs on China?
- Is the goal at the end of the day —
- Really quickly. Is the goal at the end of the day to get China back to the negotiating table the way they were at the negotiating table with American trade officials just a few months ago?
- (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) Returning to the question of election security, the President has said other people also may have been involved in the efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. To any of the people that we saw up here, has there been any evidence from the intelligence community that there were others, besides Russia, that were involved in election meddling?
- But who were the others that were involved in interference in 2016?
- And he also said that they’re trying to help Democrats. He suggested that the Russians would be trying to help Democrats in the midterm elections. Has there been any evidence whatsoever that Democrats are — that Russians are trying to help Democrats in the 2018 election?
- (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) I wanted you to respond, if you could, to the CAFE Standards rule that was proposed by the administration today. The 20 states’ attorneys general have already said that they would sue this administration, and this is part of their complaint. They say, “Freezing or weakening these standards put the health of our children, seniors, and communities at risk.” It also “increases the rising cost of climate change for our states.” The administration’s response would be what?
- (Inaudible) 10 to 25 percent?
- On the move on tariffs, potentially, from 10 to 25 percent, what was the thing that made the President say this is why I want to do it?
- (Jim Acosta, CNN) Sarah, since you attacked our news organization, can I get a question from you before this —
- Okay, thank you.
- (Emerald Robinson, OANN) Going back to election security, the other night in Tampa, the President mentioned voter IDs for elections. Moving forward with election security, is the administration looking at proposing a voter ID law, or ID law, or pushing a voter ID law? (Very right-wing outlet)
- Sorry. Is the administration, as part of this election security push, also looking to do a voter ID law to try to push something like that through Congress?
- (Jim Acosta, CNN) I just wanted to follow up on Sara’s question from NPR. She asked you about Ivanka Trump’s statement that the press is not the enemy of the people. And she asked you whether or not the press is the enemy of the people. You read off a laundry list of your concerns about the press, and things that you feel like are misreported, but you did not say that the press is not the enemy of the people. And I think it would be a good thing if you were to say, right here, at this briefing, that the press, the people who are gathered in this room right now, doing their jobs every day, asking questions of officials like the ones you brought forward earlier, are not the enemy of the people. I think we deserve that.
- Would you mind telling us, Sarah, if you don’t —
- Well, you attacked our news organization —
- — which is why I interrupted.
- But if you finish, if you would not mind letting me have a follow-up, that would be fine.
- We didn’t try to do that, Sarah.
- (Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers) Tell that to the five dead people in Annapolis.
- (Jim Acosta, CNN) Brian, let her finish.
- And, Sarah, if you don’t mind — hold on, if I may follow up. If I may follow up —
- — excuse me. You did not say, in the course of those remarks that you just made, that the press is not the enemy of the people. Are we to take it, from what you just said — we all get put through the wringer, we all get put in the meat grinder in this town, and you’re no exception. And I’m sorry that that happened to you. I wish that that had not happened. But for the sake of this room, the people who are in this room, this democracy, this country, all the people around the world are watching what you’re saying, Sarah. And the White House, for the United States of America, the President of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people. His own daughter acknowledges that, and all I’m asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here.
- (Ed O’Keefe, CBS News) On another matter — the National Archives told the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman today that they probably aren’t going to be able to finish up the document collection regarding Brett Kavanaugh until October. That’s obviously later than the timetable I know you guys and Senate Republicans are hoping for. Any comment on that, or any potential assistance that the White House can give the Archives in accelerating that? (Um, kind of a milquetoast move at this moment in time, Ed)
- (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks. Thanks, Sarah. I want to follow up on the third part of Jill’s questions from earlier on North Korea. We’re nearing now the two-month mark from the Singapore summit. So is the President satisfied with the progress North Korea is making towards denuclearization?
From a couple days later, August 4:
Welcome back, Francesca.