TOWOIT #353: “In times like this — not that there are that many times like this — “

August 22, 2018.

Today’s briefing was the first in a week. It only started 13 minutes late. Sarah Sanders looked tired and had very puffy ruffled sleeves on.

I’m never sure who self-selects to watch the briefing on the official White House live-streaming channel like I do. Is it mostly people who like and trust the White House? That would explain why the thumb’s up to thumb’s down ratio is always about 10 to 1. I watched the viewer count thinking SURELY it would be higher than usual.


The red line was today’s briefing and the blue line was that briefing on July 18 right after Trump came back from Russia and everyone was freaking out about his equivocating and submissiveness to Putin. (X-axis is minutes, Y-axis is number of viewers. The red line starts 30 minutes before the scheduled start time).

The briefing started with Sarah Sanders using Mollie Tibbet’s death — a very sad typical random snuffed-by-man college girl sort of death — using her death to bludgeon undocumented immigrants with. It was a classic white supremacy move and when she was done it just hung in the air in a gross way for a few seconds.

It didn’t erase it, but it was just the smallest bit of salve to have the first question go to Cecilia Vega in the front row who launched into a Michael Cohen question in a very businesslike manner.

  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thank you, Sarah.  Michael Cohen, under oath, pleaded guilty to — among things — paying Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during the campaign. And he says he did it at the direction of the President of the United States.  Did President Trump commit a crime? (Sarah says these same words over and over throughout the briefing: “The president did nothing wrong and there are no charges against him.”)
  • Then why not report these payments?
  • Can you stand here today and say the President has never lied to the American people? Because so many people now look back at that tape of him on Air Force One, saying he knew nothing about these payments, when, in fact, we now know he knew everything about these payments. So has he lied? (Sarah says this is “a ridiculous accusation” and employs her phrase for the day for the third time)
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) The President has said to Fox News, in an interview with Ainsley Earhardt this morning, that this could not have been an illegal campaign contribution because he paid the money. He put more than $60 million of his own money into the campaign. So how do you draw the line between — I mean, maybe this didn’t flow through the campaign, but how do you draw the line between what was a campaign contribution and what might have been a payment to somebody for other purposes? (#4: “He did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him.” Now in two sentences instead of one)
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News) Sarah, the President tweeted this morning a frustration that Michael Cohen broke. (White House transcriptionist used “wrote” but Steven said “broke”) Perhaps you can shed a little bit more light on that. Because the implication is that Michael Cohen gave up something that the President would rather stay secret. Is that what we should read into this, or is there another explanation?
  • Can I ask you one other question? Is the President now planning on, or intent on, pardoning Paul Manafort? (Sanders: The Manafort case doesn’t have anything to do with the president, his campaign, or this White House.)
  • (Margaret Talev, Bloomberg) Sarah, I actually was going to ask about Manafort, but let me ask in a slightly different way. Even if it has nothing to do with the president, he still could have the power to pardon Mr. Manafort. Is that something that he’s begun discussing with the team? Have you ruled it out?  Has it come up? And the —
  • Thanks. The question that I also have —
  • Thanks. In times like this — not that there are that many times like this — the White House has often tried to figure out whether there needs to be any internal adjustments to deal with some of the political issues you’re going to have now with the Hill, with voters, with — internally, with lawmakers. Is the White House making any adjustments in terms of responsibilities of Chiefs of Staff, of communications to donors, communications to supporters, how you intend to kind of respond both protectively and offensively to the crisis that you’re now in? (Sanders: there’s no crisis, disagree with the premise)
  • (Jake Turx, Ami) Thank you, Sarah. First, I’d like to start off by congratulating you. This is your 100th briefing, and there’s no way what you do every day is easy.
  • I got two real questions. First of all, our colleague, Jonathan Swan, over at Axios, recently wrote — and I quote, “Several top Republican operatives working on the midterm elections told me Trump’s fanciful ‘red wave’ predictions could depress Republican turnout and ironically serve to make any blue wave even bigger.” So are you familiar with any Republican operatives who would concur with this statement?
  • And yesterday — yesterday, the President stated that, quote, “Israel will pay a price for the Jerusalem Embassy.” I’m not sure if that’s an exact quote, though. Should Israel be concerned that the price they may have to pay would be one that they’re not prepared or willing to pay at this point?
  • Sure. But about the price —
  • What price are we talking about? What price might Israel have to pay?

SANDERS:  I don’t have anything further for you.

  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since those guilty verdicts yesterday in the Paul Manafort trial, the President has said some kind things about Mr. Manafort. He’s called him a “good man,” a “good person.” He said he feels badly for what has happened to him. He tweeted today, “…unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’”  He tweeted, “Such respect for a brave man!” Is Mr. Manafort a simple candidate for a presidential pardon?
  • Can I ask you about the Kavanaugh nomination?  There’s some Democrats that are saying that the nomination should be put on hold because of the legal developments yesterday. Hawaiian Senator Mazie Hirono put out a statement.  She said: This President, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal matter, does not deserve the courtesy of a meeting his nominee.  What is your reaction to that, Sarah?
  • (Steve Herman, Voice of America) Yes, Sarah. Trade talks between the United States and China are resuming. The President, earlier this week, expressed quite low expectations for those talks. I’m wondering if that has changed, and what you would like to see come out of these discussions.
  • (Jeff Mason, Reuters) Sarah, does the President feel betrayed by Michael Cohen?  And is he concerned about what he might say to Robert Mueller?
  • And one more question on trade: Do you anticipate a deal between Mexico and the United States on NAFTA this week?
  • (Kaitlan Collins, CNN) Thanks, Sarah. In his interview today, the President said he found out about those payments that Michael Cohen made later on. But he’s on tape discussing how to make one of the payments with Michael Cohen — so before the payment was made. So how do you explain that? (Say it with me boys & girls: “…the president did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him.” — #5)
  • Rudy Giuliani is not a taxpayer-funded spokesperson for the President. You are.
  • So how can you not explain something the President said today, on the grounds of the White House, that seems to contradict an audio that has been confirmed that it is of the President saying that? (Ok, today I learned that Kaitlan got her start at The Daily Caller. You know what that means–there’s hope for our young Saagar)

SANDERS:  Once again, I have addressed this a number of times. Just because you continue to ask the same questions over and over, I’m not going to give you a different answer. The President has done nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion. That’s what I can tell you about this.

  • Does the White House maintain the President did not have affairs with Karen McDougal or Stephanie Clifford?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Daily Mail) Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. First, you said that there have been no discussions about a potential pardon for Paul Manafort. So you’re not ruling it out entirely. I mean, if there’s no discussions about it at this point, the President hasn’t said he won’t do it, it’s possible that there could be a pardon for him in the future. Is that correct?
  • Well, that was at the time —
  • That was before Paul Manafort was convicted on 8 of the 18 counts, at the time when the President was asked that. So I’m asking now — now that he’s been convicted on those counts, is this something that —
  • All right. Okay, on a different point: Last time that we were in here, you read off some ex-officials and one current official who the President was considering taking away their security clearance. I wanted to follow up on that and ask you, who was — first of all, who was conducting that review to determine whether or not those security clearances would be pulled? And second of all, I wanted to ask you about a tweet that the President said, saying that he thought that potentially James Clapper is being “nice” to him so that he doesn’t lose his security clearance. Is that a threat — that if James Clapper isn’t nice to him, that he’ll lose his security clearance?
  • Who was doing the review?
  • Who was doing the review? That was my other question. (Answer: “a number of people”)
  • (Julie Davis, New York Times) Sarah, in his tweet about Paul Manafort this morning, the President seemed to be praising him for essentially refusing to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a way that could implicate him, the President.  Is that what he meant to suggest? And doesn’t that seem to indicate that he thinks that loyalty to him personally is more important with abiding by the law or cooperating with this government in an investigation?
  • (Saagar Enjeti, Daily Caller) Thanks, Sarah. Michael Cohen’s lawyer has suggested publicly that there is new evidence that they would like to present about foreknowledge of election hacking. So does the President — does the White House maintain there was no foreknowledge of any election hacking during the 2016 campaign? (Definitely hope for Saagar)
  • (Hallie Jackson, msNBC) Sarah, two questions, as well, for you. Given that five convicted felons are now linked to the president or his campaign, and given that the president promised to hire the “best people,” did he fail to live up to that promise?
  • And can I just follow up? My second question, Sarah, just to follow on Cecilia.  Because I understand that you don’t want to answer the same question a million times, and you said the President did nothing illegal (actually no, Hallie, she never quite said that–she was careful to just say nothing wrong, no charges)  but I didn’t hear a response to the question: Did he lie to the American people when he talked about this on Air Force One?
  • (Weijia Jiang, CBS) Sarah, thank you. I have a couple questions. President Trump says he feels badly for Cohen and Manafort. One of the men pleaded guilty to crimes. The other was found guilty of crimes, including tax fraud, which robbed the American public of tax dollars they were owed. Why does he feel bad for either of these men?
  • Just to follow up on that, does he believe that there is an intrinsic problem with the Justice Department? Or does he only believe if someone who was close to him is a victim of the Justice Department?
  • No, but when the person in question is someone who’s close to him, the President paints them as a victim, as if his own Justice Department is not doing its job, or has done it unfairly.
  • (Hunter Walker, Yahoo! News) Thank you. I wanted to follow up about the earlier question about the President’s comments on Fox News, with regard to the payments to Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal. When exactly did he learn about them? And also, are there any other payments he has now become aware of? Or are those the only two women who have received money for agreeing not to repeat their stories of alleged affairs with the President?
  • If you’re going to refer such crucial matters to the outside counsel, can’t we bring them in here for the briefing?
  • Or even better, have a press conference with the president.
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Going back to the security clearances, all signs are this is the first time a President personally has been handling the removal of security clearances; it’s usually been done by superiors.  Even in the last two big espionage cases of the Cold War — the Irvin Scarbeck case of 1961, and Felix Bloch of 1990 — the Secretary of State pulled the security clearances of people accused of espionage. You said the President — that “others are reviewing it.” Who are these others reviewing it? And does the President take a personal role in the potential removal of security clearances?
  • Is he also considering a policy of just simply having all security passes turned in when someone leaves government service?
  • Top Secret?
  • (Debra Saunders, Las Vegas Review Journal) Yeah. You’re right about the President having constitutional authority, as far as I understand, about security clearances, as well as pardons. So I guess the question I have is: Even though he has that authority, has anybody in the White House thought about putting together boards that would look at security clearances for former personnel?  And pardons as well? Because the President doesn’t seem to be consulting the pardon attorney in the AG’s office much. Is he consulting people?  Has he thought of doing something that would be more transparent perhaps?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC) Thank you, Sarah.
  • (Debra) Come back to me, please?
  • (Kristen to Debra) Go ahead.
  • (Debra) Just on that — you said that there are people who are looking at security clearances. Can you tell us who they are? (Sarah’s answer again: “a number of people”)
  • (Kristen) Sarah, thank you.  Earlier this week, the President told our colleagues at Reuters that —
  • Sorry. The president said earlier this week to Reuters that he could “run it,” in reference to the Mueller investigation. What did he mean by that?
  • But is that an indication that he’s thinking about taking some type of action against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, like revoking his security clearances?
  • Is it an indication that the President sees himself as above the law?
  • (Raquel Krähenbühl, Globonews) Hi. Thank you, Sarah, very much. Some legal experts and lawmakers are saying the President is corrupt and there are ground for an impeachment case. Is the White House concerned about that, that could have an effect in the mid-elections –the midterm elections? And also, does the White House take these allegations seriously?
  • (Eamon Javers, CNBC) Thank you, Sarah. Earlier this week, the President had some tough words of criticism for Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman.  Can you tell us when the last time the President and Powell met face-to-face, and whether or not the President brought up that criticism with Powell directly?
  • So has he spoken to him directly about his concerns about raising interest rates?
  • (Emerald Robinson, OANN) Thank you, Sarah.  On Venezuela, is the President involved — planning on getting involved there at all?  There’s millions fleeing the country now.  What is the U.S. stance on Venezuela at this point?

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