James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:05 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Sorry I’m late, wrapping up some business. Good afternoon. The President this morning met with General McMaster. As you know, General McMaster is helping lead the team that’s organizing the President’s upcoming foreign trip, and this week the President has been focused on meeting with the team, getting ready for the various stops that he’ll be making and meetings that he’s going to be having.
During his many conversations with world leaders, the President has seen a great desire for America to reengage and be a leader once again in helping solve the world’s complex problems. And he’s already made moves, both behind the scenes with leaders and in his public statements, to show them that America is reasserting its leadership on the world stage.
These visits are another important part of this American resurgence. While on the trip, the President will further our strategic objectives in the region, creating new opportunities that will strengthen the United States and our allies while weakening our enemies. I know many of you are interested in the logistical aspects of this trip, and we’ll be trying to have further briefings throughout the week on those aspects of the trip as soon as we can, so stay tuned.
Also on the subject of foreign visits, I’d like to announce that the President has invited the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates to visit the White House on May 15th, and the Crown Prince has accepted. We look forward to welcoming the Crown Prince and see the visit as an opportunity to deepen cooperation with a key partner in the Middle East.
Moving on to domestic matters, the Vice President spent his morning today on Capitol Hill. He met privately with Majority Leader McConnell and also had individual meetings with other senators. The discussions focused primarily on the path forward for the American Health Care Act in the Senate, and how the administration can work with Congress to craft a tax reform bill that follows the President’s priorities — simplification, providing tax relief to the American families and individuals, and stimulating the economy.
The Vice President also attended the weekly Senate Republican policy lunch. Later this afternoon, the Vice President will be joined by Second Lady Karen Pence, General McMaster, and Ivanka Trump to welcome more than 150 military families of all branches of service for a reception at the White House. The event recognizes National Military Appreciation Month and National Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which takes place this Friday.
The President’s Cabinet is busy inside and out of the beltway speaking on the administration’s agenda with local officials and key stakeholders. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Tom Price is in Michigan and West Virginia today, where he will hear from those on the front lines of the fight against the opioid epidemic.
Also today, the Justice Department announced that the Attorney General will be speaking on opioids on Thursday at a Drug Enforcement Administration 360 Heroin and Opioid Response Summit in Charleston, South Carolina. The DEA’s 360 strategy is designed to help cities and surrounding regions deal with the heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic and the violent crime associated with it. This day-long event, sponsored by the DEA, Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, and the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy, will bring together stakeholders and professionals working in law enforcement, prevention, education, treatment, recovery, healthcare, and emergency response.
In Washington, Secretary of Commerce Ross is speaking this afternoon at the 47th Conference of the Americas, which is taking place at the State Department. The event brings together administration officials, distinguished leaders from across the region to focus on major policy issues affecting the hemisphere. Also at the State Department this morning, Secretary Tillerson participated in a signing ceremony for the United States-Georgia General Security of Information Agreement with the Prime Minister of Georgia, a major milestone in security cooperation between our two countries.
The President was also pleased to see several top administration officials recently move through the Senate. Last night, Heather Wilson was confirmed to be Secretary of the Air Force, and Governor Branstad was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be ambassador to China and is moving on for a vote on the floor of the Senate. The President also looks forward to seeing Dr. Scott Gottlieb serve as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration later today.
Finally, with regard to the Paris Climate Agreement, the President has been meeting with his team for quite a while on this matter, and he will not be making an announcement regarding that agreement until after he returns from the G7.
With that, I’d be glad to take your questions.
Q Thank you, Sean. I’ve got two questions for you today. First one is, why did the President wait 18 days to fire Mike Flynn after the White House was informed of his conduct and warned that he was a potential target for Russian blackmail? Because you realize, the timing of this makes a lot of people think that he wouldn’t have been fired if the story had not come out in the media.
MR. SPICER: Well, I think, first of all, let’s look at the timeline. Sally Yates came here on the 26th of January. Then she informed the Counsel’s Office that there were materials that were relevant to the situation. It wasn’t until about seven days later that they had access to those documents. After that time, they did what you should do, frankly, it’s an element of due process, reviewing the situation. They informed the President right away after they were informed of her giving us a head’s up. And ultimately, the President made the right decision.
But I guess the question — or the point that I would put back on you is, somebody came over, gave us a head’s up on a situation, told us there were materials. We were provided those materials seven days later, reviewed those materials, underwent a process of reviewing the situation, and ultimately the President made a decision and it was the right one.
So I think that the process worked, frankly, when you think of the time in which we had the information to make the decision that the President made.
Q Well, you’re saying the President stands by that decision, he made the right decision, but why does he continue to defend Mike Flynn?
MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t think — it’s not a question of defending Mike Flynn or not.
Q He was defending him. He said it was a “witch hunt” and he “should seek immunity.”
MR. SPICER: Right. I think Mike Flynn is somebody who honorably served our country in uniform for over 30 years. And I think, as he’s noted, Lieutenant General Flynn was asked for his resignation because he misled the Vice President.
But beyond that, I think he did have an honorable career. He served with distinction in uniform for over 30 years. And the President does not want to smear a good man.
Q What was his role at the White House in those 18 days? Was he still fulfilling his role and National Security Advisor duties?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I’m not going to get back into it. I will say, as I mentioned, the time —
Q But don’t you think it’s worrisome that he was still doing that when he was a potential target of Russian blackmail?
MR. SPICER: Can I just — one thing that I think is important to note is, let’s look at, again how this came down. Someone who is not exactly a supporter of the President’s agenda who, a couple days after this first conversation took place, refused to uphold a lawful order of the President’s who is not exactly someone that was excited about President Trump taking office or his agenda — she had been —
Q So you think that affected her decision on Mike Flynn?
MR. SPICER: Hold on — Kaitlyn, hold on, no — Kaitlyn, let me answer the question. She had come here, given a head’s up, told us there were materials. And at the same time, we did what we should do. Just because someone comes in and gives you a head’s up about something and says, I want to share some information, doesn’t mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action.
I think if you flip this scenario and say, what if we had just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the President had made an utterance, you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act from that manner. We did what we were supposed to do. The President made, ultimately, the right decision. And I think he was proven — that —
Q How is she a political opponent of the President? She was acting attorney general that he —
MR. SPICER: Appointed by the Obama administration and a strong supporter of Clinton. So that’s now, I think, number four.
Q Thank you, Sean. Are the cancelled meetings a sign the President is vacillating on the Paris accord and undecided whether to remain in the agreement or withdraw from it?
MR. SPICER: I think it’s simply a sign that the President wants to continue to meet with his team, develop a — meet with not just the national — the economic piece, but his environmental team and come to a decision on what’s the best interest of the United States using the expertise that surrounds him.
Q Sean, does the President want a win the war in Afghanistan?
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q What would winning mean to him?
MR. SPICER: I think reducing the threat, especially when it comes to ISIS and the Taliban.
Q Reducing the threat?
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, minimizing, eliminating. But obviously, in the best case scenario we want —
Q You do realize there’s a difference.
MR. SPICER: Major, I’m going to answer Mara’s question. I think the answer is, is that we want to eliminate the threats that are against our national security and pose a threat to our citizens, our allies. So we need to fully eliminate any threat around the globe, frankly, not just in Afghanistan, that poses a threat to our people and our allies.
Q I just have a question as he considers what to do next and if he wants to commit more troops. At one point we had 100,000 troops there and we didn’t eliminate the threat. Why would 15,000 do the trick if 100,000 didn’t before?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that’s a very Washington question, meaning just because you spend more, throw more people, doesn’t mean you’re doing it in the most effective way. I think one of the things that he has asked his national security team to do is to actually think the — rethink the strategy. What are we doing to achieve the goals that you are asking about, how do we actually — how do we win? How do we eliminate the threat?
And I think doing that isn’t just a question of throwing money or people, but looking at the mission and the strategy. And that’s what the team has been doing holistically, not just in Afghanistan, but the total — beyond Afghanistan it’s also the way that he’s asking them to look at the threat that ISIS poses.
Q And when he makes his final decision will he explain this to the American people, or will it be just something coming out —
MR. SPICER: We’ll see. I mean, I don’t want to get in front of — I don’t know how he’s going to do that, but we’ll wait and see and go from there.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean. A question about the President’s policy concerning Syria. This morning we learned from the Pentagon that the President has approved the plan to directly arm Syrian Kurds against ISIS. Has the President discussed this plan with the leader of Turkey? And what was the reaction from Turkey?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know if he’s addressed this to the President yet. I do know that yesterday the President authorized the Department of Defense to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future. We’re keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partners in Turkey. We want to reassure the people and the government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.
The U.S. continues to prioritize support for Arab elements of the SDF. Raqqa and all liberated territories should return to the governance of local Syrian Arabs. The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but ultimately yet another defeat for ISIS and another step towards eliminating the ISIS threat that threatens peace and security in the region and the world.
Q The Secretary of State is meeting today with his counterpart from Russia today, the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov. Are you expecting any deliverables from that particular meeting?
MR. SPICER: I think we’ll have a readout when that’s done.
Q Thank you, Sean. I’ve got two for you. First, do you expect the Afghan review and the ISIS review to be done by the time the President heads to Saudi Arabia?
MR. SPICER: I don’t want to — that’s a question that I’m going to leave up to the national security team. I’m not going to — the President is not putting a deadline on that. We’re making sure that he — this is obviously — what we announced today is part of that. It is not entirely it, and we will have more as we go forward. I just don’t want to pin down a timeline on that.
Q One more. In this briefing you’ve talked about the President’s desire to “fully eliminate any threat around the globe to U.S. interests.” You’ve talked about the United States wanting to “reengage and be a leader once again,” and “reasserting its leadership on the world stage.” Some of the President’s supporters are going to hear in those comments maybe a bad omen about the President changing his mind and becoming more interventionist. Not saying he wasn’t going to be an interventionist, because he talked about ISIS a fair amount, but what would you tell them about, uh oh, is he going to embark now on nation-building, is he going to deepen American involvement in conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan and elsewhere?
MR. SPICER: No. I appreciate that. I think that his priorities remain the same, but he’s going to do what he can to make sure that he protects the country and our people — and threats that directly affect the United States.
Q Just following up, and correct me if I’m wrong — I know you will — but the day after it was announced that he was under investigation, Flynn, he met with, if I’m correct, with Pence and the Russians on a phone call. So while he’s under investigation, why is he being allowed to participate as the national security advisor?
MR. SPICER: I really don’t recall the schedule from that day, Brian. But the point is, again, I think this is — look, I answered the question a moment ago. But I think — as I went through the timeline, Sally Yates came over here, gave us a head’s up, provided us the opportunity to — made it very clear the materials were available for the Counsel to review, but — and we followed that process. And within 11 days after that, we accepted General Flynn’s resignation that the President had asked for.
Q But the point being, while he’s under investigation, what is —
MR. SPICER: I understand. But, look, we’re not going to re-litigate the past on this. I think we’ve been very clear as to what happened and why it happened. I think the President made the right decision and we’ve moved on.
Q Thanks, Sean. Can you confirm that the meeting today between Ivanka Trump and Mr. Pruitt cancelled, and if so, why?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I’d be glad to get back to you on that. I’m not sure.
Q And secondly, as it relates to the G7, you said the decision on the Paris Climate Agreement will be made after the G7. So does the President feel that he can extract any concessions while he’s there? Does he feel like he can renegotiate it? Or does he just want more time? Why until after the G7?
MR. SPICER: I think the President wants to make sure that he has an opportunity to continue to meet with his team to create the best strategy for this country going forward.
Sara Murry, welcome back. Mrs. —
Q Just Mrs. Sara Murray.
MR. SPICER: Just Mrs. Sara Murray. Congratulations.
Q Thank you very much. I just want to get back to Olivier’s point. Why shouldn’t President Trump supporters, if he does decide to add more troops in Afghanistan, see that as running counter to what he campaigned on for so long, the notion of America first, the notion of — the fact that we’re too involved in foreign entanglements abroad? He campaigned on that, and the way he’s governed, I think from what we’ve seen in Syria and Afghanistan, he’s sent a very different message.
MR. SPICER: I just want to be clear — the one thing that — there is a difference between Afghanistan proper and our effort to defeat ISIS. And that’s one thing that he was also very clear on in the campaign, that — and as President that he is going to do everything he can to fight radical Islamic terrorism, to root out and destroy ISIS.
In some cases, if ISIS — where he has to go into Afghanistan, that’s — they may be synonymous at that point. But they are not always the same, right? You can be in — the goal is always going to be defeat ISIS, which is something that he’s been very clear on with the American people from the get go.
But that all being said, let’s be clear, with the exception of the piece that we announced today, that the President authorized yesterday, no decision has been made. So let’s not get ahead of what that ultimate policy will be.
Q One other question. Can you just give us a better sense of what the President has been doing with his time the last few days? We haven’t had very detailed schedules, we haven’t been seeing him publicly. He’s only had one or two meetings. So what is he actually doing all day long?
MR. SPICER: Thanks. I mean, as I said at the top, the President is going on a nine-day — eight-day trip. He’s going to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Rome, the G7, NATO. This is an opportunity next week, as I mentioned — he’s going to have the Crown Prince here, he’s got a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy.
Part of the use of this week is to be meeting with the principals the head of — the directorates of the countries that we’re going to ahead of the meetings where he’s — receiving extensive briefings throughout the week with his team. He’s had several meeting with General McMaster over the last couple weeks. He was one of the leaders in the effort for this trip. He’s met with the chief of staff, his legislative team. He was just meeting when I walked out of the Oval Office with the — part of his economic team.
So this is an opportunity for him to get ahead of this first really long foreign trip to make sure that he is, on a whole host of issues — whether it’s ISIS, whether it’s our economic issues or trade issues — to make sure that go in there, strengthen our relationships, but also make sure that we put America’s priorities first.
Q President Trump tweeted yesterday that the story of possible collusion between his campaign and Russia is a hoax, and he questioned whether this “taxpayer funded charade” would end. Is the administration trying to set parameters on what Congress and the FBI should investigate?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q And if that is the case — so what was — what did the President mean by “when will this [taxpayer funded] charade end”?
MR. SPICER: I think — even Director Clapper said yesterday when asked if there was any evidence that he had seen of collusion, he said no. And I think that at some point — I said it before in this briefing room — but we have to take no for an answer. He said that — the Director of National Intelligence asked, has there been anything that you’ve seen additionally that shows collusion. He answered very clearly — the answer is no. And it continues to be no. And I think that there is a point at which all of the things that the President is doing economically and national security-wise to move the country forward is this needs to — we need to take no for an answer and move on to the issues.
Q But is it the role of Congress and the FBI to say when a matter should be concluded and not the White House?
And then also, following up on that, Senator Lindsey Graham has said that he wants to look into President Trump’s business dealings to see if there are any connections to Russia. Would the White House cooperate with that?
MR. SPICER: So the President obviously was aware of Senator Graham’s suggestion after he made it, and he’s fine with that. He has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia, so he welcomes that. In fact, he has already charged a leading law firm in Washington, D.C. to send a certified letter to Senator Graham to that point, that he has no connections to Russia. So that should be a really easy look.
Q Thanks, Sean. Two questions on two different topics. First, you said that Sally Yates was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. What is that based on?
MR. SPICER: I think she’s made — I think she — it was widely rumored to play a large role in the Justice Department if Hillary Clinton had won.
Q So on a different topic, I have a question about that fired usher Angella Reid. It was reported that she received a generous severance package. I’m wondering how do you give a substantial severance package to a government employee?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I’d be glad to get back you on that.
Q Yesterday, we learned that — or Sally Yates had said that she learned of the first immigration order, the travel ban by reading the newspaper. And I’m wondering why the Acting Attorney General wasn’t privy to that? Was that because she was a Clinton-Obama — Obama appointee, Clinton supporter? Why was the Acting Attorney General not notified? She had just met that same day that he signed the document, so he could have mentioned, it as well.
MR. SPICER: I don’t know why she wasn’t. Again, I think if we want to re-litigate the first executive order at the time, we talked about all of the proper individuals that needed to be made aware of were made aware of at the time.
Q Is it not unusual that the Attorney General —
MR. SPICER: Again, I — also just to be clear, again, remember this is someone who ultimately didn’t even want to enforce it. So to suggest that somehow —
Q She wanted to enforce it until she knew about it —
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But I think ultimately we were proven right about who needed to be in the loop on that because she ultimately chose to disregard the President’s lawful order.
Q It was on purpose, though, is what —
MR. SPICER: No, I didn’t say that. Please don’t put — I did not say that. What I’m saying is that we discussed at the time of the executive order being signed back in January the process by which that was followed. The appropriate people then were in the loop on that.
Q Thanks, Sean. Yesterday in her testimony, Sally Yates said that she arranged for White House Counsel to view the evidence against General Flynn at the DOJ, but she wasn’t around to see if that happened. You said that that took place seven days after her initial meeting. Was the evidence against Flynn relayed to the President at that time, or did the President learn about the allegations against Flynn through the media 18 days later?
MR. SPICER: So following the meeting, the White House Counsel immediately informed the President and senior White House personnel when she first came here. Late on Friday, the 27th, Yates and the White House Counsel met again to discuss certain issues that she had left unclear at the time. And then those — the President, as you know, fired her on the 30th of January after she refused to enforce the President’s legal executive order. Contrary to the advice of career DOJ officials at the time, who had given — told her that this was legal, she overrode them, didn’t do this.
The White House didn’t get access to that underlying evidence described by Ms. Yates until Thursday, February 2nd, which is a week after Ms. Yates first met with the White House Counsel. And then that’s when I think the full sort of review began once they had access to that information.
Q Was the President informed at that time?
MR. SPICER: I know he was informed at the front end of what she had told him, and the Counsel had informed them that they were going to then seek the information that she said was available to them.
Q Sean, two different topics for you. I want to follow up on what a couple of folks have already mentioned here. You’ve described in this briefing what Sally Yates did as a heads-up with Don McGahn. She has testified she came to the White House twice, in-person, to meet with Don McGahn, on the 26th and the 27th, to do more, she says, than simply offer to provide materials. She said she encouraged the White House to act and expressed real concern about Mike Flynn being compromised by the Russians. On the 28th, Saturday, Mike Flynn sat in on that Oval Office phone call with President Putin. Was that the right call?
MR. SPICER: Again, I think what you have is somebody who was an Obama appointee coming in and saying, I’m giving — I get it, but —
Q Was that the right call?
MR. SPICER: But at that moment, sure. You have someone who you have to wonder whether — why they’re telling you something to the point where they had to come back a second time because what they were saying was unclear.
Q So let me raise a second topic. You said it was widely rumored that she wanted to be a part of the Clinton White House potentially, and so that makes you negate her coming to —
MR. SPICER: No, I’m not — again — I guess my point is that somebody who is not — who clearly showed by the fact that career DOJ attorneys told her that the President’s lawful order
— that she should sign the President’s lawful order, and then chose not to do it was —
Q After —
MR. SPICER: I get it, but that vindicates the President’s point that this was not somebody who was looking out — I think my point is, is that we were correct in the assumptions that we made at the time.
Q You stand by — and my second topic for you, though, is just on healthcare.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q Is the White House asking Senate leadership to put more women on the working group?
MR. SPICER: I’m not aware of that.
Q Would the White House like to see that?
MR. SPICER: I think the more voices that we can put on a panel to help get this done, the better. So to the extent — I’m not going to tell Leader McConnell — or the White House is not going to tell him how to conduct a panel, but at the same time, I think that any voices that can be constructive in getting a patient-centric healthcare system put together would be welcome. But that’s not our call to make.
Q Thanks, Sean. There’s been a number of conversations in Washington this week about the relationship between H.R. McMaster and the President. How does President Trump characterize his relationship with his National Security Advisor?
MR. SPICER: Excellent.
Q Another follow-up question very quickly on Flynn. You’ve spoken from the podium before about the President asking Michael Flynn to resign as a result of him misleading the Vice President. We’ve learned a lot about Michael Flynn this week, a potential investigation, and we know of actual investigations into his actions before coming here to the White House. Was this at all considered in the President’s decision to ask him to resign?
MR. SPICER: I think you can only — you can only accept someone’s resignation once. So he asked for it, he got it. And so to go back and re-litigate isn’t really something that makes a ton of sense. He got it. He asked for it. He got it the first time. I don’t think you go back and continue to say would I have asked for it here, here, and here. He did what he did the first time. He was right, and he got.
Q Thanks, Sean. Can you just be clear on the 18 days? Did the White House put any security restrictions on Mike Flynn at all during that period of time? Was he limited in terms of his access to classified information, national secrets, or decision-making in any way?
MR. SPICER: I’m not aware of any.
Q Was that a mistake in retrospect?
MR. SPICER: It doesn’t — the decision that we made was the right one. The President made a decision. He stands by it.
Q So I just want to go over this timeline again. You have Yates coming to the White House on January 26th and the 27th. You then have McGahn going to the DOJ on February 2nd to see those documents. But it’s not until February 13th that Flynn actually resigns. Tell us what happened between — you got this warning. You then saw documents that backed up that warning, and then you have 11 days that pass. What was happening in those 11 days?
MR. SPICER: I think if you go back in time and look at what we talked about at the time, there were several conversations that occurred with General Flynn between the Chief of Staff, the General Counsel, the Vice President — that all occurred then.
Look, we took — when you think about the scope of time that actually occurred, those 11 days, to make sure that we did the right thing is important. And we ultimately did. And that’s what’s important when you think of this. And when you look at this compared to other instances, the idea that in 11 days a review was conducted, the President acted decisively, I think that’s actually — shows that the system worked properly.
Q Are you guys disputing at all how Yates describes those conversations on the 26th and 27th? She’s saying that she came here with great urgency, that she made clear that he had been compromised, that she had evidence that he had been compromised, that this was something that she felt like the White House was going to take action on.
MR. SPICER: Look, I’m not going to — I don’t think that there’s 100 percent agreement about how she describes everything. But I think generally as far as the timeline goes, we’re fine with it. But again, I’m not going to nitpick the fact that her — what her tone was like. I would suggest that the reason that she was asked to come back the second day was because it wasn’t
— it clearly wasn’t that clear on the first day.
So if it — I think logic dictates you don’t ask someone to come back and explain themselves a second time if they have done an effective job the first time. But, again, I’m not going to get into needling every little point about what happened.
Q Thank you, Sean. I have two questions on —
MR. SPICER: Of course.
Q — diverse areas. First, the citizens group known as United Against a Nuclear Iran released a list of 16 American companies a few days ago — among them Volvo, Honeywell, and Schlumberger — all of which are cutting back on jobs employing Americans, but all of which expressed a desire to do business in Iran under the terms of the deal that was made with Tehran. My question is this: What is the administration’s response to businesses who say they want to do business in Iran under a deal the President described as “the worst ever?”
MR. SPICER: I think that speaks for itself. The President was very clear on what he thinks of the Iran deal, and companies need to abide by the law.
Q All right. My other question is this: Two weeks ago Monday, when the President met with some of us, he said — it was on the record — he would have an answer on the administration’s policy toward the International Monetary Fund in a few days. It’s been two weeks. Can we expect any time an announcement on what the administration will do regarding the IMF?
MR. SPICER: I would be glad to follow up on that one and get back to you.
Q Sean, the Governor Texas on Sunday signed a law that essentially outlaws sanctuary cities in the state of Texas. Do you view this as a positive step? And would you encourage other states to do the same?
MR. SPICER: Obviously it’s a positive step. I think it shows that, as we’ve discussed here, both from an economic and a security standpoint, that makes sense for the citizens of our country. Each governor, each mayor is going to have to make their own decisions, but I think the President’s position is very clear when it comes to sanctuary cities and how we’re going to try to address them going forward. Because it’s not just an economic issue, it’s not just a jobs issue, but it’s a security issue for our country.
And so I think ultimately, every elected official from the local level all the way up to President needs to feel comfortable with the laws that they’re passing to make sure that they’re protecting the people. I mean, ultimately that’s what every government, first and foremost, responsibility is to its people.
Q What does this mean for the administration’s position that these sanctuary cities should not be existing nationally? Will you still take action that denies funding to cities nationwide?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I think it’s a positive sign. I hope more follow the governor’s lead. But we’re going to do exactly what the President said and follow through on the executive orders he’s made.
Q So, Sean, you’ve mentioned Director Clapper’s testimony yesterday, said no evidence of collusion. But then he was also asked if he was aware of the FBI counterintelligence investigation, he said he was not. Therefore, he left the impression before the panel he could not give a definitive answer about the question of collusion. Do you accept that as a valid representation of his knowledge and the fact that this remains an open question?
MR. SPICER: Sure, I mean, in the sense that I’m not going to question. But I think the interesting thing is on all the other issues that he testifies about everybody takes it as whole cloth, that if he says anything he must — he was the DNI. So when you guys want him to speak for the entire 17 agencies, you sort of assume that that’s what he’s doing.
In this case, when he’s been asked similar questions before and said, well, I can’t speak to this case, generally speaking, I’ve seen nothing, the presumption is, therefore, he’s got to be — in this case, he’s saying I have not and continue to — do not see anything that shows an effort of collusion. As the DNI, I would ask you the same question, which is, at some point, given all that he was seeing and all that he was given access to, when at some point are you guys going to accept this idea that there was no collusion?
Q I’m asking you if you accept that he testified.
MR. SPICER: Sure.
Q That they have equal weight; that, yes, at the time he said — and the agencies said they found no evidence, that this
— a representative fact that you take as valid, and it’s also representative of the fact that you take as valid he was not aware of an FBI counterintelligence investigation and, therefore, at this time cannot say conclusively there was no collusion. You give them equal weight, correct?
MR. SPICER: Sure.
Q Okay, fine. On Afghanistan, because I think it’s important what the President is thinking about — you’ve been implying that ISIS is a part of the Afghanistan equation. And what I want to ask you about is, as the President looks on Afghanistan, as a team presents him options, are those options primarily about whatever ISIS component is in Afghanistan, or the larger, more malignant issue in Afghanistan, which has always been the Taliban?
MR. SPICER: Okay, so there’s as you know, multiple missions going on to confront those multiple things. The U.S. currently has about 8,400 forces in Afghanistan doing a counterterrorism operation, which is Operation Freedom Sentinel, and then the NATO mission, which is to train, advise and assist under Operation Resolute Support.
The main objective of us being in Afghanistan from being used as a safe haven for terrorists who attack the United States and our allies. That is the main objective. We remain very focused on the defeat of al Qaeda, its associates, as well as the defeat of ISIS-K, which is the ISIS affiliate there in Afghanistan. But that is, simply put, what the mission is going forward.
Q Okay. And when you suggest that it’s a “Washington question” to ask if 15,000 can do a better job than 100,000, are you suggesting that the ideas the President is being presented with are so original and so out of the box that 15,000 troops can achieve what 100,000 deployed very shortly after 9/11 could not achieve?
MR. SPICER: No, I’m just suggesting that I think fully refining the mission, what we’re seeking to achieve — and that goes back to what Mara was saying — what is the exact objective, how far away are we doing it, what’s the time level that we have to have, can we grow the Afghan force, is there — I mean, there are several things that go into a strategy.
And I think the idea of just saying, can we throw X number at it is not the way that the President is looking at these options. He’s trying to figure out — walk back from a goal of eliminating this threat and then tell me how we get there, as opposed to, tell me how many troops we need and then what you’re going to do with them.
I think that there has been in the past, some instances of just figuring, okay, if we add more troops that will help solve the problem. The President is asking to re-look at the entire strategy, and then figure out what the footprint is in a variety of ways to get there. That is a different look at what the strategy is versus what it had been.
Q And one last thing. You suggested that when Sally Yates refused to enforce the executive order that vindicated the assumption you had that she might not have been a purely well-motivated government servant bringing over this evidence about Michal Flynn. On the other side of that, after Don McGahn looked at the evidence on February 2nd, was in fact Sally Yates’ warning vindicated?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I don’t know what Don saw. So I’m not privy to that —
Q But that led — you told us that led to his firing, so it had to have some legitimacy, right?
MR. SPICER: No, what led to his firing was that he misled the Vice President.
Q But wasn’t that information about those conversations?
MR. SPICER: Again, I can’t get into — I cannot get into, and I don’t know, frankly, what was in those —
Q Should the country not assume that she was vindicated by that review of the evidence?
MR. SPICER: No, I don’t think that they should assume anything. I think facts should guide it. And the bottom line is the President fired him for misleading the Vice President and he was —
MR. SPICER: I just said to you, Major, multiple times, and I said it at the time. So to go back — at the time that it happened and right now, we continue to say that the Vice President was misled by General Flynn and the President asked for his resignation. Full stop.
Q Sean, if I could come back to Paris.
MR. SPICER: You can.
Q It’s my understanding that the —
MR. SPICER: Let’s all go.
Q And one other one. It’s my understanding that the President’s initial inclination was to pull out of the Paris agreement. He suggested as much on the campaign trail. But the situation has become a little bit more complicated. The knock against the Paris Agreement is that it would have a detrimental effect on the U.S. economy if fully implemented. Does the President believe that there is a way to stay in the Paris Agreement — maybe renegotiate the standards? Because he’s under a tremendous amount of pressure from many of his own advisors, other countries, to stay in this agreement to some degree. Does he think he can make changes and still stay in it?
MR. SPICER: I think the reason that he is seeking the advice of his team is to get options, and then he’ll pursue the best one. But I’m not going to tell you which one that he’s going to do. That’s why he’s continuing to meet with the team and to get advice. That’s it, plain and simple.
Q Well, hang on. I got one other. Also, in the omnibus spending bill that the President signed was a provision to extend the EB5 visa program, and it’s been pointed out that the company that Jared Kushner was recently in charge of has been aggressively reaching out to people in China to say invest in our property in Jersey City, remember the EB5 program — that people that invest a certain amount in this country get the sort of golden visa program. Does the President see any potential conflict of interest there?
MR. SPICER: I think Jared has no affiliation with that company anymore. He recused himself from it, sold his interest in it. So that’s a question more for the company itself to ask.
Q So the President doesn’t see any potential conflicts here?
MR. SPICER: No. I mean, Jared did everything that was required to make sure that he recused himself and took all the steps necessary.
Q Just before the briefing, you put out a statement, Sean, that congratulates —
MR. SPICER: Thank you for bringing that up. Yes.
Q Moon — the liberal who ran in South Korea. He had actively campaigned, suggesting that the President’s idea that South Korea pay its fair share of the THAAD missile system is a bad idea. He wants warmer relations with the North. Do you hope to convince him to change his mind?
MR. SPICER: I think the President looks forward to meeting with him and talking about shared interests. So I’ll wait for that conversation, and I’m sure we’ll have a readout for you.
Q Second question: You did say that the President has an excellent relationship with his National Security Advisor, but there’s been a widely circulating column written by Eli Lake that quotes the President — two sources — saying that his National Security Advisor — is the General undermining my policy? Did the President say that?
MR. SPICER: No, I don’t believe he has. I haven’t seen him. I was with — I mean, I think when you look at the President’s schedule this week, as I just noted to Sarah a little while ago, there’s probably no one, aside from family member,s that are spending more time with the President this week than General McMaster. He values his counsel, he continues to be extremely pleased with his pick and his performance as National Security Advisor, and he has the utmost confidence in him.
Q Thank you, Sean. Just a couple more questions on General Flynn. You keep saying that the White House was given a heads up by Sally Yates about what General Flynn had said to the Russians. She describes it differently, saying that she told the White House that General Flynn had been compromised by the Russians and was blackmailed by the Russians. Is that the position of the White House now, after seeing all the same evidence that Sally Yates saw — that General Flynn was compromised and potentially blackmailed by the Russians?
MR. SPICER: I think, look, we’ve commented on this. We made a decision based on actions that he took. The President asked for and accepted his resignation. We’re not looking to re-litigate this.
Q Don’t the American people deserve to know whether or not their National Security Advisor was —
MR. SPICER: They need to know that the President took decisive action in this country’s best interests and — back to Steve’s question — made an excellent choice for National Security Advisor.
Q — by a foreign adversary?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know that you’ll know. I mean, that’s up for —
Q Well, Sally Yates came to that conclusion, so I’m asking you —
MR. SPICER: No, she didn’t. I think that’s — I don’t know that that’s — for her to come to that conclusion without any investigatory method seems a little premature, don’t you — I mean, to say that —
MR. SPICER: Hold on. No, no, no, but what I’m saying it —
Q Did the White House investigate whether or not their National Security Advisor was compromised by the Russians?
MR. SPICER: As I’ve said multiple times, we looked into the situation, the President made a decision, and it was the right decision.
Q Sean, a follow-up on that one. But first I wanted to ask you about FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate, which now, apparently it looks like the FBI Director gave inaccurate testimony to the Senate. Is the White House concerned that he greatly exaggerated or misstated what kind of contact Huma Abedin had in terms of her emails and sending them to Anthony Weiner?
MR. SPICER: I have not asked the President or the staff about that. But I mean, I think there’s — the one issue is I don’t think there’s any question by any account that there was classified information inappropriately shared on an unclassified system to an unclear person. I mean, that’s, to me, I think, what continues to be the takeaway.
Q But is the White House concerned that the FBI Director apparently gave inaccurate testimony?
MR. SPICER: At this point, I have not asked and I’m not fully aware of this. I mean, I’m aware of the testimony that occurred and the inquiries, but I have yet to follow up on that, and I’d be glad to follow up.
Q Does the President still have confidence — full confidence — in FBI Director James Comey?
MR. SPICER: I have no reason to believe — I haven’t asked him. So I don’t — I have not asked the President since the last time we spoke about this.
Q And the last time you spoke about it, you said he did have confidence, but you’re not sure to say that again now?
MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t — in light of what you’re telling me, I don’t want to start speaking on behalf of the President without speaking to him first.
Q And then one follow-up on Flynn. The President, of course, had said that Flynn should ask for immunity before agreeing to testify. Does he still believe that?
MR. SPICER: I think General Flynn should seek the advice of counsel and take their advice with respect to his investigation and the inquiries into his background, but that’s a decision for him and his counsel.
Thank you guys very much. Have a great day.
2:48 P.M. EDT