James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:36 P.M. EDT
SANDERS: Good afternoon. As you know, the President welcomed the Emir of Qatar to the White House today. The two leaders discussed the strategic relationship and our cooperation on a wide range of security and economic issues. This includes efforts to bolster their military capabilities and to advance new commercial deals that would create tens of thousands of American jobs.
The Emir reiterated his commitment to counter terrorist financing and violent extremism. As you may recall, just a few weeks ago, Qatar publicly designated 20 terrorist financiers and 6 entities. This is the latest in a series of important steps, but the President and Emir agreed that there is more progress to be made. We are committed to partnering in that effort.
Finally, the two leaders discussed the urgent need to resolve the Gulf dispute. The United States must be able to work jointly with a united Gulf Cooperation Council to promote regional security and stability, and to stand against Iran’s dangerous activities.
Also, as you may have seen, the President spoke this morning with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Both leaders condemned Syrian President Assad’s vicious disregard for human life and agreed not to allow the use of chemical weapons to continue.
To that end, the President will not attend the Summit of the Americas or travel to Colombia, as originally scheduled.
The Vice President will travel to the summit in his place and will meet with the Colombian President while he’s there in Peru. President Trump will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world.
Looking ahead to this afternoon, the President is pleased to welcome the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team to the White House, in celebration of their 17th National Championship. Pretty sure that was written by somebody from Alabama. (Laughter.)
Coach Saban, UA President Bell, and the team captains will meet with President Trump in the Oval Office, and the group will then join the rest of the team and hundreds of Tide fans out on the South Lawn. And that event will, of course, be open to the press.
And with that, I will take your questions. And because it is her birthday — Nadia, I’m going to go with you. And happy birthday.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Sarah. The President authorized the use of military force last year after President Assad used chemical weapons. But this didn’t seem to deter him. The President talked yesterday of a very strong and serious response now. How is he going to hold President Assad accountable?
SANDERS: I’m sorry, could you repeat the last part of the question?
Q How he’s going to hold President Assad accountable now?
SANDERS: The President has been clear. We’re working with our partners and allies and our national security team to look at all options. And as we’ve said, all options are on the table, but I’m not going to get ahead of anything the President or may not do in response to what’s taken place in Syria.
Q Sarah, talking about the raid on Michael Cohen’s office, the President said, “It’s an attack on our country…It’s an attack on what we all stand for.” In what way is an FBI raid on Michael Cohen’s office an attack on our country?
SANDERS: I think that the President has been clear that he thinks that this has gone too far. And beyond that, I don’t have anything to add, but I’d refer you back to the President’s comments.
Q But that accounts to an attack on our country?
SANDERS: Again, I think the President has been clear what his position is. I don’t have anything else to add at this point.
Q Does the President believe he has the power to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Does he believe that’s within his power?
SANDERS: Certainly believes he has the power to do so.
Q If I could, you have said several times from the podium that the President has neither the intention nor is thinking about firing Robert Mueller. Does that remain the case today?
SANDERS: The President was asked this question directly last night, and I’d refer you back to his comments.
Q Can I also ask: What about Rod Rosenstein? What’s the President’s thinking about Rosenstein, in terms of his tenure at the Department of Justice? He did not appear to be very happy with him last night. And can you confirm that Rosenstein was the high-level DOJ official that signed off on the FBI raid of Cohen’s office?
SANDERS: I’d refer you to the Department of Justice in terms of their process. Certainly, the President has voiced his frustrations, but beyond that, I don’t have anything else.
Q Is the President still open to talking to Mueller? Is he still open to an interview?
SANDERS: That’s something that I would direct you to the President’s personal attorneys to answer that question.
Q And we asked about Rosenstein. What about FBI Director Wray? He was the one who signed off, supposedly, on this FBI raid. Does the President still have confidence in him?
SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to the Department of Justice on the process, and who did or did not sign off. That’s not something that we were a part of here.
Q But specifically on the President’s feelings about the FBI Director, does he have concerns about the FBI Director?
SANDERS: The President has voiced his frustration with the situation. I haven’t spoken with him directly about Direct Wray.
Q Two things. Just to follow up on that, has the President spoken with either Jeff Sessions or Rosenstein since the raid yesterday?
SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Okay. And then I wanted to ask you about the decision to cancel the trip. Can you walk us through a little bit more of the decision-making and why the President felt like he couldn’t make a decision — he couldn’t execute on whatever he decides to do while he’s traveling, considering that the missile strike last year was actually launched while the President was in Mar-a-Lago?
SANDERS: Mar-a-Lago happens to be within the United States, something I’m sure you’re very well aware of. The President would like to stay in the country while there are a lot of developments going on around the world.
Q What does being in the country — how does that benefit him?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into specifics on intel matters and things that we may or may not do. But the President and his national security team felt it was best that he stay in the United States while all of these developments are taking place.
Q Does Michael Cohen still represent the President?
SANDERS: I’m not sure. I would refer you to Michael Cohen on that.
Q And when did the President first learn of the payment from Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels and their nondisclosure agreement?
SANDERS: I’m not sure on the exact timing.
Q And did the President –SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving because we’re tight on time.
Q Just one more question, Sarah. If the President denies having an affair with Stormy Daniels —
SANDERS: Sorry, Jackie, I’m going to keep moving.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q — then why did he instruct —
SANDERS: Jackie, I’m going to move on to Kristen. Sorry, we’re tight on time with the visit of the Alabama team coming up soon.
Q Well, just, can you follow up on that question?
SANDERS: I didn’t hear the question.
Q Does he continue to deny having an affair with Stormy –
Q Then why doesn’t he just instruct Mr. Cohen to —
SANDERS: The President has been clear. He has addressed this several times. I don’t have anything else to add.
Q I’d like to follow up —
Q Sarah, let me just ask my other question. Can you just say definitively, has the President had any conversations about firing Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, or Robert Mueller in the last 24 hours?
SANDERS: I haven’t had any conversations with him on that. I can’t speak beyond that.
Q And can you clarify — can you just clarify his tweet?
SANDERS: Sorry, Kristen. We got to keep going, guys.
Q He called it a “witch hunt,” but Rod Rosenstein, who he appointed, signed off on the probe.
SANDERS: Go ahead.
Q Well, answer her if — go ahead, Kristen.
Q Can you just answer the question: If the President appointed Rod Rosenstein, and so how can he call the raid yesterday, a “witch hunt” when it was approved by the Deputy Attorney General he appointed?
SANDERS: Once again, I’m not aware of what the process is and who signs off on those specific types of things. The President certainly has been very clear about what his position is when it comes to matters of collusion, and that’s what his reference is. He thinks this entire thing is a witch hunt. I think we’ve spoken about this at length, ad nauseam.
And frankly, I think it’s a big distraction that the media has spent every single day, for the last year, focused on this instead of some of the biggest issues of our day and some of the biggest issues that the President is dealing with, like Syria, like North Korea, like deregulation, tax cuts, defeating ISIS. Those are the — that’s the focus of this administration, and frankly, that’s what you guys should spend a little bit more time on.
Q My follow-up — So, Sarah, my follow-up question —
SANDERS: Hey, guys — time out. We’re going to take — you yielded your time to Kristen. I’m going to go to John.
Q No, no, wait a minute. I had a follow-up question. Please, if I may, just a follow-up.
SANDERS: Sorry. All right, I’ll come back to you, Brian, for one.
Q Thanks. You had said that it is a little —
SANDERS: I’m feeling generous today.
Q Thank you. Thank you.
SANDERS: For Nadia’s birthday. (Laughter.)
Q Just two quick ones. So you said that it’s a witch hunt and you’ve continued to characterize it as that, but not so much as this administration also has leveled sanctions against the 13 Russians that were indicted by the Mueller investigation. In some point, are you a party to this witch hunt, or is some of it, at least, a legitimate effort?
SANDERS: Just because there many have been involvement by Russia doesn’t mean there was involvement by the Trump campaign.
Q No, no, no —
SANDERS: And to try to conflate the two is insane.
Q No — no, that’s not the question. The question is: In some ways, aren’t you at least supporting what they’ve done? Because they’ve indicted some of the people that you have leveled sanctions against. So you’re in agreement with Mueller in at least some regards, right?
SANDERS: We’ve been outspoken on a number of occasions that we think that Russia was involved in election meddling and we’ve taken actions because of that. But that has nothing to do with whether or not the President and his campaign had anything to do with that.
Q That wasn’t my — and then my quick —
SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.
Q And my quick follow-up —
SANDERS: John. Guys, one at a time. Go ahead, John.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah.
SANDERS: Sorry, right here.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. What is the —
SANDERS: Kind of crazy today. (Laughter.)
Q What is the nature of the President’s relationship right now with Attorney General Jeff Sessions? He really voiced his displeasure with him last evening in his remarks. Is it a good relationship? Does he risk being fired right now?
SANDERS: I think the President was pretty clear about his frustrations when he spoke about that last night.
Q Another one. Real quick, Sarah, if you don’t mind. It’s about the EPA Administrator, Mr. Pruitt. If it turns out that he lied in the interview that he gave with Fox News — my colleague Ed Henry — would that be problematic for him in terms of holding onto his job?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get into hypothetical situations, but certainly the President would expect all members of his Cabinet to be honest and certainly open with the public.
Q So the President last night seemed to combine his reaction to the Russia investigation — which we’ve heard him say before — and this new investigation that has grown out of the raids in New York of his attorney. Does he view that as one in the same investigation? In other words, does he think that’s all, kind of, under the umbrella of the Special Counsel? Or does he view the Russia investigation as separate from the probe into the payments by these women that is apparently being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York?
SANDERS: I think certainly that they are separate investigation, but I think that publicly they have been conflated quite a bit.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Does the United States expect that, in a response to the Syria chemical weapons attack, that other nations will join in? Specifically, we’re seeing indications from France and the Saudis that they may also take military action.
SANDERS: We’ve had a number of conversations, both the President with President Macron and Prime Minister May, and at various other levels — not just with those countries, but others, at an administration level. And we’re going to continue to work with a number of our partners and allies as we determine what the next best steps are.
Q Sarah, two questions. The President said yesterday he was compliant; that he turned over a million documents. If he was compliant with these investigation, why was there a search warrant needed?
SANDERS: This doesn’t have anything to do with the President, and I would refer you to Michael Cohen and his attorney. When it comes to matters of the Special Counsel and dealings with the President, we’ve been fully cooperative.
Q Okay, and the next question. With all of this turmoil, particularly this last week, has the President at any time thought about stepping down before or now?
SANDERS: No. And I think that’s an absolutely ridiculous question.
Q No, it’s not ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous.
SANDERS: I gave you two questions, April. We’re moving on.
Jordan, go ahead.
Q It is a legitimate question. It’s not ridiculous.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Did the National Security Advisor, John Bolton, force Tom Bossert out of his job?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get into specific details about the ongoings of personnel. But I can tell you that he resigned. The President feels he’s done a great job and wishes him the best as he moves forward.
Q Sarah, the President tweeted favorably today about some of the promises that President Xi has made toward instituting some market reforms in China, but he said this before. Is it going to be enough to avert some of the tariffs that the President has been talking about instituting?
SANDERS: Certainly, we are encouraged by President Xi’s words and his kind words. But at the same time, we want to see concrete actions from China, and we’re going to continue moving forward in the process and in the negotiations until those happen.
Q Has the President spoken with Michael Cohen since the raids?
SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And can I just ask you — you said that he believes, he views this as sort of crossing the line. Can you explain a little bit more why these raids on his personal attorney is viewed by the President as crossing the line?
SANDERS: I don’t have anything else to add on that front right now.
Right here, in the front.
Q I just want to clarify something you said earlier. You said the President believes he has the power to fire Robert Mueller, because usually, most legal experts believe that he would have to order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and Rosenstein could, of course, refuse.
SANDERS: I know a number of individuals in the legal community, and including at the Department of Justice, that he has the power to do so. But I don’t have any further announcements on —
Q They’ve consistently said that it is. They’ve told me; I’ve asked. They’ve said it’s Rod Rosenstein oversees the Special Counsel, and only he has the power to fire the Special Counsel.
SANDERS: Again, we’ve been advised that the President certainly has the power to make that decision. I can’t go anything beyond that.
Q Sarah, thanks. The British government said they’re still looking for confirmation that Assad used chemical weapons last weekend. Is the President still looking for confirmation of that?
SANDERS: I can’t get into specific classified information. But I can tell you we feel confident in the comments that we’ve made up until this point.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, with brevity, on Ambassador Bolton. (Laughter.) With the resignations —
SANDERS: We’ll believe when we see it, right? (Laughter.)
Q With the resignations of Michael Anton and now Tom Bossert, can we expect any other changes of personnel in his family?
SANDERS: I don’t have any other personnel announcements to make at this time –
Q The other question–
SANDERS: — but we’ll certainly keep you guys posted.
Q Right. A year ago, Ambassador Bolton was highly critical in the op-ed pages about U.S. involvement with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. With the World Bank-IMF meeting coming up within a matter of two weeks, is his position going to affect U.S. support for either institution?
SANDERS: I don’t have any policy changes on that front at this time, and don’t expect any on that front.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday, President Trump said something very interesting about Syria. He said that, “Because of the power of the United States and because of the power of our country, we’re able to stop it.” Now, with bringing in Ambassador John Bolton as well — which is sort of a signal of a more hawkish stance, potentially — I want to know if the President has changed his calculus in any way on Syria and on whether or not he wants to pull out those troops very soon, as he previously said.
SANDERS: I addressed the troops yesterday. I don’t have anything new on that front. In terms of things that the President may or may not do, we’re not going to broadcast. And I don’t have any announcements on that front.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Yeah, this week, Senator McConnell said they’re taking up six nominations and that they’re going to continue taking up six nominating per week. Do you consider that a major breakthrough for the administration considering there’s been so many blocking —
SANDERS: We’d like to see them take on a lot more than six, but we’re certainly glad to see those six move forward. But we’d like to see them move forward in a much bigger fashion than just the single digits right now.
Q And one other question. On U.S. Attorney Berman, he’s in an interim position now in New York. Reports have been that the President was going to nominate him for full-time. Is that still the case? Will the President nominate him?
SANDERS: I don’t have any personnel announcements on that front.
Q Thanks, Sarah. So all of the evidence so far in the Syrian chemical attack points to the use of chlorine gas. The Assad regime has been suspected of using chlorine multiple times on the battlefield. What makes this particular attack different and warrant the international response and the potential use of lethal force that we’re seeing from this President?
SANDERS: I can’t address specific intelligence matters, but I think everyone around the world can see why these recent attacks are so horrific. Beyond that, I can’t get into any other details.
Q Yeah, thanks, Sarah. To clarify your comment here on Xi Jinping’s speech last night, it was seen as rhetoric around trade openness. Are you saying that the President didn’t see anything in that speech that would encourage him to back off on his threat to impose tariffs on the Chinese?
SANDERS: We certainly think it’s a step in the right direction and we’re encouraged by the words, but we want to see concrete steps and concrete action by the Chinese. In the meantime, we’re going to continue moving forward.
Q What specific actions do you want to see from the Chinese? What could they do here to stave off those tariffs at this point?
SANDERS: This is going to be something that’s part of private negotiations that we have with the Chinese. But certainly, we want to see more than just the rhetoric, but we think that’s a very good sign in moving in the right direction.
We got time for one last question. Blake.
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
Q And to pick up on it I guess — I missed that, I don’t know.
SANDERS: I didn’t hear it, so — I think they were saying they thought you were great. I’m pretty sure that was it.
Q To pick up and end off where Eamon just — what he was just talking about. You said you want to see concrete actions from the Chinese as it relates to trade. Do you feel that there will actually be, at some point, concrete actions? Or is all of this right now hope and talk and —
SANDERS: Again, we certainly hope so. We think this is an encouraging step in the right direction. But at the same time, we’re going to continue moving forward in the actions that the President has announced, and hopeful that we see something come out of the Chinese government.
Q I ask because it feels almost today like it’s been somewhat of a lukewarm reception. Is that accurate?
SANDERS: No. As the President himself said, he appreciates President Xi’s kind words, but we want to see more than just words. We want to see action, and that’s what we’re focused on pushing forward, is making sure that we stop the unfair trade practices. That’s been what the President is committed to — not just rhetoric, but actual action.
Thanks so much. And we’ll see you guys out on the South Lawn as we welcome the Crimson Tide.
2:54 P.M. EDT