James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:28 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Apologies for the delay. I’m very sorry for being late and making everyone wait.
Last week, while many around the country celebrated Valentine’s Day, a deranged killer murdered 17 people and injured at least 15 more at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
As you all saw, the President visited the hospital and sheriff’s department in Broward County last week. He and the First Lady spent time with some of the victims who are recovering, thanked the doctors for their work, and praised the bravery of law enforcement and first responders.
Here at the White House, the victims and families have constantly been in our thoughts and prayers. We’ve prayed for the recovery of those injured, and for peace and comfort for the families of those who were lost.
Our broken hearts are filled with gratitude, as we heard the stories of incredible heroism. Fifteen-year-old Anthony Borges was shot five times while he used his body as a human shield for his classmates. He remains in the hospital in recovery. Anthony, thank you for your courage. We are all rooting for you.
Assistant football coach Aaron Feis shielded students from a hail of gunfire, selflessly giving his own life to save others.
Teacher Scott Beigel was barricaded in his classroom, but chose to open his door to let students run into safety. That decision cost Scott his life, but saved the lives of so many others.
Numerous other teachers sheltered students in their classrooms.
Tomorrow, we will be hosting parents, teachers, and students here at the White House to discuss efforts to ensure safety at our schools. Members of the Parkland community will be attending this listening session, as will individuals who were impacted by past school shootings, including the Columbine and Sandy Hook tragedies.
On Thursday, we will be hosting local officials, including members of the law enforcement community, to continue that conversation.
As the President has said many times, it is the right of every American child to grow up in a safe community. That begins in America’s neighborhoods, where the brave men and women of law enforcement have the President’s full support. And it extends to our schools, where teachers across our nation invest their lives in their students. No parent should ever have to wonder if their child will return home from school at the end of the day.
The President has expressed his support for efforts to improve the federal background check system, and, in the coming days, we will continue to explore ways to ensure the safety and security of our schools.
As you are aware, later today — actually, right now — in the East Room, the President will award the Medal of Valor to 12 public safety officers. They include law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel, and firefighters. And the President looks forward to recognizing them for risking their lives to protect American citizens and communities.
The honorees are individuals who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, to save or protect human life.
And with that, I will take your questions. Mostly because we’re matching.
Q Yes, nice dress. (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: So I feel like she earns the right for the first question.
Q Yes, thank you. Does the President now acknowledge what the Special Counsel indictments made clear, which is that Russians not only tried to meddle, but interfere and influence the 2016 election?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. And the President has acknowledged that multiple times before. He acknowledged it during the transition, he acknowledged it during a press conference in Poland, and he acknowledged it for a third time at a press event in Poland.
He has stated several times — I think one of the places where you guys seem to get very confused, and it seems to happen regularly — the President hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle. What he is saying is it didn’t have an impact, and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign.
It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It’s also very clear that it didn’t have an impact on the election. And it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.
Q Sarah, if that’s the case, why hasn’t the President implemented the sanctions which Congress passed last year?
MS. SANDERS: Look, frankly, that’s not completely accurate. Look, this President has been tougher on Russia — far tougher —
Q But he hasn’t implemented the sanctions, has he?
MS. SANDERS: Well, there’s a process that has to take place, and we’re going through that process. That law also says that the countries have to violate something in order for those sanctions to go in place. And that hasn’t necessarily happened.
But what I can tell you — hold on — that the President has been extremely tough on Russia. He helped push through $700 billion to rebuild our military. I can assure you Russia is not excited about that.
He has helped export energy to Eastern Europe. I can assure you, Russia is not excited about that.
He has put and upheld sanctions that the Obama administration put in place. He has upheld those.
He has closed three diplomatic properties that were Russia’s, here in the United States.
He has taken a number of actions against Russia and put pressure on them. He has helped arm the Ukrainians. There are a number of places that Obama was too weak and refused to take and put pressure on Russia, where this President has.
Q But, Sarah, Democrats and Republicans have said the President could be much tougher. Why not implement the sanctions now?
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to keep moving. Jon. Sorry, I’m sure he’ll pick up where you left off. (Laughs.)
Q Yeah, I’ll pick up. First, a clarification from some of the President’s tweets over the weekend. The President doesn’t really think that the FBI failed to stop the Parkland shooter because it was too involved with the Russia investigation, does he?
MS. SANDERS: I think he was speaking — not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. That is the responsibility of the shooter, certainly not the responsibility of anybody else.
Q So did he mistweet when he said that? Because he’s pretty direct. He says, “This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion.”
MS. SANDERS: I think he’s making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax, in terms of investigating the Trump campaign and its involvement —
Q You just agreed that the evidence is there — that the Russians interfered with our election.
MS. SANDERS: I said that the Trump campaign interfered and colluded with it —
Q But this investigation is obviously about what Russia did, and raises the question — now that you’ve said the President agrees; the National Security Advisor says, the evidence is incontrovertible — what is the President going to do about it? What is he specifically doing about the fact that Russia interfered with our election and has every intention, we are told, of doing it again? What is he doing about it?
MS. SANDERS: Look, just last week, the Department of Homeland of Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, met with a number of relevant stakeholders. They’re discussing this process and going through and looking every single day at the best ways forward.
Everybody wants to blame this on the Trump administration. Let’s not forget that this happened under the Obama administration —
Q It happened over a year ago. What’s he done about it?
MS. SANDERS: We have spent a lot of time working on cybersecurity, focusing on protecting the fairness on our elections. And as I just said, the Department of Homeland Security —
MS. SANDERS: — met with state and local officials just over the last several weeks, along with election vendors, to make sure that our election system is secure. Last (inaudible), they met with state and private officials on how best to secure the election system from foreign interference.
We’re not the only targets of foreign interference and we’re working our allies, on a daily basis, to make sure that we’re following best practices. This has been a topic of conversation with multiple foreign heads of state.
President Trump and the administration have made it clear that interference in our elections will have consequences and we’re going to continue to impose consequences in response to Russian cyberattacks. Just last week, we called out Russia by name. It was one of the first times that you’ve seen something like that take place. We’re going to continue doing things like that.
Q But the President hasn’t even criticized Vladimir Putin about this. He hasn’t even called out Putin. He criticized Obama, he criticized the FBI; he didn’t even criticize Vladimir Putin.
MS. SANDERS: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He’s imposed sanctions; he’s taken away properties; he’s rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia. Just last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days, and another way that this President was tough on Russia.
Q Last week, the Florida governor, Rick Scott, called for the FBI Director’s resignation. The Governor and the President were together over the weekend, or last week. Did the — did Governor Scott talk to him about that? But more importantly, what does the President think? He obviously tweeted about this, but what does he think about the Director’s — should the Director go? What is the consequence of their missing the tip on the shooter?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if it came up in the private conversations between the Governor and the President. I would have to check and get back to you.
In terms of the action or the inaction of the FBI, that’s currently being reviewed and investigated, and I can’t speak to it at this point —
Q By the White House? Is the White House reviewing it?
MS. SANDERS: I believe it’s internally. And at this point there’s not a lot I can say. But I do feel, and I believe that we’re looking at what action could be taken, and certainly what actions can be taken to prevent that.
Q Does he have confidence in the Director?
MS. SANDERS: No changes in that. We’ve answered that questions a number of times and I don’t have anything new on that.
Q A quick clarification on what you said before about the event tomorrow. You mentioned who was coming. What is the topic exactly? Is it mental health? Is it guns? What are they going to be talking about with the parents and the students and the teachers?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s a wide range of issues. You have a number of people that have, unfortunately, been through horrific tragedy — like the one that we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week — as well as some that hope they never have to go through that. We’ll have a number of parents, and teachers, and students from schools in the local area, as well.
And this is a listening session to see what can be done better; what the actual concerns of the students are; what they would like to see. One of the things that the President wants to do is make sure that he sits down with a number of people from across all fronts.
Unfortunately, when horrific tragedies like this happen, everybody wants a quick and a simple answer, but there isn’t one. There’s not a quick and there’s not a simple answer. But we want to make sure that we’re addressing the problem. And we want to make sure that we’re meeting and talking with as many people that not only are affected, but that play in this process as possible.
That’s why he’s sitting down with the parents, the teachers, the students; and then he’s going to sit down with state and local law enforcement officials; and then he’s going to sit down with the nation’s governors, and bring all those conversations together and look for the best path forward, and make sure we’re doing everything we can within every capacity from a state, local, and federal level to make sure incidences like this don’t happen again.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President, in 2000, did support an assault weapons ban. What’s his position now?
MS. SANDERS: Look —
Q Is he open to reinstating the ban?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any specific announcements, but we haven’t closed the door on any front. Again, that’s the next several days and weeks will be — to have conversations and to see what this process looks like, and to see what areas we can help make changes to, and in what places that we can do better.
Specifically, I know background checks are something that the President is supportive of making more efficient and looking at better ways to improve that process. And we’re going to continue to look at a number of other factors as well.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. In the aftermath of the indictment, which was handed down by the Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s office on Friday, the President tweeted quite a bit and tweeted quite a bit over the weekend. He was critical of the FBI; he was critical of Democrats; critical of the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff; even critical of his predecessor.
But he was not critical of Russia. He was not critical of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. I didn’t get a sense of outrage in what the President put out there in his tweets — that he’s angered that another country, Russia, tried to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election, tried to interfere in our system–
MS. SANDERS: He actually called out Russia by name in his official statement that went out shortly after those indictments came down. He called them “bad actors,” and specifically called out Russia. It was the only individual in that statement; that was the first reaction of the President. So, I would disagree with the premise of your question.
He’s also, again, been extremely tough on Russia in a number of different ways and we’re going to continue to do that.
Q Sarah, is he angered by this or outraged by the fact that Russia tried to interfere in our system?
MS. SANDERS: I think he’s angered that anybody would try to meddle into our system. But again, I think it’s important to remember that we are looking forward, too, on figuring out the best ways to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Q Thanks Sarah, if I could indulge you with three questions — just, we have a lot of housekeeping to do. First, you mentioned the President’s support of background checks. The House passed a bill that includes concealed carry reciprocity. Is that a provision the President would consider after this tragedy?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t spoken to him about that specific procedure. I know he spoke with Senator Cornyn on Friday. The Senate version is a little bit different and he is generally supportive of that, but we’re going to continue those conversations.
Q Separately, last week, there was news made by Administrator Pruitt, as well as Secretary Shulkin. Do they both have the President’s — about their private travels and use of — whether it be first-class flights or inappropriate use of federal resources — do both of them still have the confidence of the President?
MS. SANDERS: I have no reason to believe otherwise. As we’ve said many times before, if somebody no longer has the confidence of the President, you guys will know.
Q And finally, the Chief of Staff, on Friday, issued that memo on security clearances — that those with interim security clearances, by the end of this week — that have been outstanding since June of last year — would lose their access to view classified information. One of those people, we know from his attorney, is Senior Advisor Jared Kushner. Can you talk about whether or not — how he’ll be able to do his very senior job in the White House if he does not have access to classified information?
MS. SANDERS: I can tell you that no decision within the memo will impact anything that Jared Kushner is working on.
In terms of specifics on security clearances, I can’t get into —
Q Does he not need classified information to do his job?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t answer whether someone has a security clearance or not, as we’ve addressed many times before, but I can tell you that nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work that Jared is doing. He continues, and will continue, to be a valued member of the team. And he’ll continue to do the important work that he’s been focused on with the last year.
Q Sarah, you mentioned a deranged individual took the lives of 17 people at Parkland. That’s after a deranged individual took dozens of lives in Las Vegas, in the wake of which the President offered some support for the idea of banning bump stocks, which then seem to have fallen by the wayside. And it was preceded by a deranged individual snuffing out the lives of nearly an entire classroom at Sandy Hook, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Other than supporting a bill that would encourage state and federal governments — government agencies — to do what they’re supposed to do, does the President have any ideas — any ideas at all — on how to address this? Or is he starting from scratch?
MS. SANDERS: I can tell you that the President supports not having the use of bump stocks and that we expect further action on that in the coming days. He ordered the Department of Justice and the ATF to review the regulation of bump stocks. My understanding is that review has been completed and movement will take place on that shortly.
But the President, when it comes to that, is committed to ensuring that those devices are — well, again, I’m not going to get ahead of the announcement, but I can tell you that the President doesn’t support the use of those accessories.
Q And on the broader problem of deranged individuals getting a hold of weapons and killing people indiscriminately, does he have any ideas on how to deal with this?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re having — again, that’s part of a lot of the conversations that we’re going to have over the next —
Q Which suggests he started from scratch here.
MS. SANDERS: — on mental illness.
Q If he has to listen to a bunch of people, and he doesn’t have any ideas of his own, that would suggest that he doesn’t have any ideas.
MS. SANDERS: That’s not what I said. You’re taking my words out of context.
Q Well, could you explain it?
MS. SANDERS: Well, I was trying to before you interrupted me.
Q Well, go ahead.
MS. SANDERS: But the President is very focused on mental illness, working with the Health and Human Services Department to determine the best path forward on that, and what is available and allowed under the law — certainly something that we take very seriously, and something that we want to address, and that we’re working hand-in-hand with both the federal government, as well as state and local law enforcement officials on what we legally can do.
Unfortunately, we can’t just flip a switch, but there is a process. We are a law and order country, and the President is trying to do everything that he can under his capacity to address these concerns, and certainly when it comes to mental illness.
Q Can I follow up on Jared Kushner? Would the President consider granting Mr. Kushner a full clearance, even if the red flags in his background check suggested otherwise?
MS. SANDERS: First of all, I’m not aware of any red flags, and I think it’s irresponsible to suggest that without having seen any individual’s file. And secondly, I haven’t spoken to the President about whether or not that would be necessary.
But again, as I said, Mr. Kushner’s work that he has done will not be impacted. And he’s going to continue to do the work that he’s done over the last year.
Q Has the President ever overruled the Personnel Security Office on a recommendation (inaudible)?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any time that’s happened.
Q Former Speaker Gingrich has put forward a proposal that he’s sort of promoting quite a bit about training more teachers and administrators to use firearms, and having more people with firearms in schools. I’m wondering if that’s in the range of ideas that the President is open to, and if you explain a little bit more about how the President, how the White House is going to run this process, in terms of taking in ideas from everybody, and having these listening sessions.
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t spoken with him about Speaker Gingrich’s plan, so I have to get back to you on that front.
Over the next several days and weeks, how we’ll run that process is take in a lot of information from individuals that have been affected, specifically by school shootings, as well as those that hope they never have to be in that same situation; and talking to state and local law enforcement officials, state and local elected officials, on what we’re legally allowed to do, and what areas that we feel like we can help move that forward.
Q What does the President think about Secretary Shulkin’s handling of his travel — the Wimbledon tickets and all that thing? What did Trump think about that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, this is still has the — I think there’s a 97-page inspector general report. And until that — there’s a secondary review that takes place — and until that’s completed, I can’t comment any further on it.
I’ll take one last question. Pamela.
Q Does the President believe there should be an age limit for those who buy an AR-15? As you know, the shooter in Florida was a teenager when he first bought an AR-15.
MS. SANDERS: I know there are currently laws in place in certain states that restrict that. In terms of whether or not we make that federal policy, that hasn’t yet been determined. But that’s something I —
Q But will he look at that? Is that something that he’s going to look at?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss, and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks.
Q And let me just ask you. Over the weekend, he tweeted about his National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, suggesting that he seemed to forget to say that Russia didn’t impact the outcome of the election. Has he spoken to him since? And does he still have confidence in him to do his job?
MS. SANDERS: He still has confidence in General McMaster. I spoke to him specifically about that answer. He said that he liked the General’s answer, but just thought that little addendum would be helpful to add.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a good day.
3:48 P.M. EST