James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:00 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Today, I had the opportunity to visit the National Safety Council’s Opioid Memorial on the Ellipse. It’s a moving experience. President Trump and the First Lady encourage you all to visit the memorial before it leaves Washington, D.C. on April 18th.
Today at the Summit of Americas in Lima, Peru, Assistant to the President and Advisor Ivanka Trump, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Acting U.S. Secretary of State announced OPIC’s 2X Americas Latin American women’s initiative — say that fast — which will mobilize $500 million in private capital to invest in projects that empower women in Latin America. This new initiative will help break down barriers that limit women’s full participation in the economy and reaffirms the Trump administration’s commitment to empowering women in Latin America and around the globe.
As you all saw, yesterday’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State-designee Mike Pompeo went very well. From his years in the Army, to his time as a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, to his successful tenure as CIA Director, Secretary-designee Pompeo has excelled as one of the nation’s key leaders in national security and foreign policy. As a result of Mike Pompeo’s leadership, America has been safer, more secure, and more prosperous.
There is absolutely no legitimate reason that Secretary-designee Pompeo’s confirmation process should not be done in a speedy and bipartisan manner. Even the Washington Post editorial board — hardly a cheerleader for this administration — published an editorial yesterday with a simple, straight-to-the-point headline: “Confirm Mike Pompeo.”
Democrats and Republicans should do exactly that by coming together and doing what is, without question, the right thing for our country.
And with that, I will take your questions. Cecilia.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President came out swinging today, calling James Comey a “liar,” a “leaker,” a “slime ball.” Is he worried about what he’s saying?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. The American people see right through the blatant lies of a self-admitted leaker. This is nothing more than a poorly executed PR stunt by Comey to desperately rehabilitate his tattered reputation and enrich his own bank account by peddling a book that belongs on the bargain bin of the fiction section.
Instead of being remembered as a dedicated servant in the pursuit of justice like so many of his other colleagues at the FBI, Comey will be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack that broke his sacred trust with the President of the United States, the dedicated agents of the FBI, and the American people he vowed to faithfully serve. One of the President’s greatest achievements will go down as firing Director James Comey.
Q And another topic, quickly, if I may. The Deputy Attorney General was here yesterday. Is the President going to fire Rod Rosenstein?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any announcements at this time. The President has voiced some frustrations, but beyond that, I don’t have anything to add.
Q Sarah, the President, a short time ago, issued a pardon of Scooter Libby, the former Vice President’s Chief of Staff. There are many people who believe that Scooter Libby was the victim of a Special Counsel investigation run amuck. The recent statements that we have heard from the White House would seem to indicate that you feel much the same thing about the Mueller investigation.
Was the President sending some sort of signal to the Mueller investigation or about the Mueller investigation by pardoning Scooter Libby?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. One thing has nothing to do with the other, and every case should be reviewed on their own merits. Pardoning Libby was the right thing to do, after the principal witness recanted her testimony. The D.C. Court of Appeals panel unanimously voted to restore Mr. Libby’s bar membership after being presented credible evidence in support of his version of events. And it appears that that key prosecution witness, Judith Miller, changed her recollection of the events in question.
Q In the statement, the pardoning statement today, the President acknowledges he doesn’t know Scooter Libby. What was it that convinced him that Scooter Libby deserved a pardon?
MS. SANDERS: The President thought it was the right thing to do.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I have two questions. I wanted to ask about the first — The President, at the beginning of the week, said he expected a decision —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, can you speak up a little?
Q Sure. The President, at the beginning of the week, said he expected a decision within 24 to 48 hours on Syria. On Tuesday, he said a decision would probably come that night. But here we are on Friday, and in a statement last night, you said that no final decision had been reached. So I’m wondering if you could walk through why the President hasn’t met his own timeline there, and specifically, if it had anything to do with the, sort of, Syrian troop movement that we saw after his tweet on Wednesday, sort of threatening a missile strike.
MS. SANDERS: No, we’re continuing to have ongoing conversations with our partners and allies. The President spoke with President Macron of France, again, earlier today. We’re continuing to have ongoing meetings and conversations here at the White House. And when we have any further developments, we’ll let you know.
Q And then, because it’s Friday, I’m wondering if —
MS. SANDERS: Friday the 13th.
Q Yeah. (Laughter.) You could walk us through exactly what the President has —
MS. SANDERS: You guys all groan like that’s a bad thing.
Q — committed to Senator Gardner in terms of both what the Justice Department would do and what the White House would do in terms of supporting legislation on states that legalize marijuana.
MS. SANDERS: I can confirm the President did speak with Senator Gardner yesterday and again today. We’re always consulting Congress about issues, including states’ rights, of which the President is a firm believer. And the statement that the Senator put out earlier today is accurate.
Q You mentioned he’s spoken to President Macron. How big a coalition does he have for this expected action in Syria?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I can’t talk about anything that may or may not happen, but I can tell you that the President and a number of individuals within his administration have spoken to a number of our partners and allies at various levels across the world.
Q And is he satisfied now that Syria was responsible for the chemical weapons attack?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. We’re, again, confident that both Syria had responsibility in this chemical weapons attack, but we also hold Russia responsible for their failure to stop chemical weapons attacks from taking place.
Q It was reported today that Michael Cohen, the President’s personal attorney, helped negotiate a $1.6 million settlement to a Playboy playmate. It also emerged, today, that Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation by the Southern District of New York. Is the President still associated with Michael Cohen? Does he continue to consider Michael Cohen someone he holds in confidence?
MS. SANDERS: I know that the President has worked with him as a personal attorney. Beyond that, I don’t have anything else to add about their relationship.
Q Is he concerned about these developments? Would the President like to say anything about them?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has been clear that he has a deep concern about the direction the Special Counsel has taken. The investigation started as Russia collusion, of which there was none. The President has spoken on this topic at length, and I’d refer you back to those comments.
Q What about Michael Cohen’s actions, though? Does the President have any concern with those?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to Michael Cohen’s personal attorney. That’s simply reports right now, but I can’t get anything beyond that.
Q Just a follow-up on that and then another topic. Is Cohen still the President’s personal attorney?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure, Jill. I’d have to check.
Q And I wanted to ask –
MS. SANDERS: I can only speak about White House staff.
Q It looks like Paul Ryan just endorsed Kevin McCarthy for Speaker in an appearance, or an interview, with “Meet the Press”. Does the President believe that McCarthy should be the next Speaker?
MS. SANDERS: The President has a great relationship with Kevin McCarthy. But in terms of an announcement about who he wants to see as the next Speaker, I don’t have any announcements on that front.
Q On the James Comey book, some excerpts came out today. He speaks of the President — writes about the President in very personal terms. Were you surprised by that? Was the President surprised by that?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think we’re surprised by the fact that James Comey continues to spread false information. The guy is known to be a liar and a leaker, and so there’s not a lot about James Comey that we would find to be very surprising.
Q And just really quickly on the pardon that came out today for Scooter Libby. The President, so far in his time in office, has issued three presidential pardons. One of those was to Joe Arpaio. Is there a commonality, in terms of what the President looks for when he pardons individuals?
MS. SANDERS: Again, every case should be reviewed on their own merits, and that’s what the President has done in each of those.
Q Yes, Sarah. I’m wondering if the administration has reacted with any message to Moscow after officials there today said that the chemical attack in Douma was faked and staged with Britain’s direct involvement.
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, our intelligence tells us otherwise. I can’t go beyond that. But again, we have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible. And once again, Russia’s failure to stop them and their continued disaction on this front has been part of the problem.
Q Sarah, what part does the President bringing Russia into the Syria equation now cause for the delay in the strike timeline?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we are continuing to have ongoing conversations with partners and allies, assess the information. And once a decision is made, we’ll let you know.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The Justice Department Inspector General came out with his long awaited report this afternoon on former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, saying that he improperly leaked information about the Clinton Foundation investigation to a reporter, and then lied to James Comey about it and, under oath, to two FBI investigators. Do you have a reaction to that? And does that, in your mind, validate the decision to fire McCabe?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t seen the full report, but sounds like two peas in a pod with McCabe and Comey. McCabe was fired in disgrace for misconduct and lying about it. Beyond that, I don’t have anything at this point.
Q Thank you, Sarah. You said that James Comey was a liar, that he’s a leaker, that he made false representations or claims. Other than what the President tweeted this morning about lying under oath to Senator Grassley, what exactly has he said that’s false or a lie?
MS. SANDERS: Comey claimed reopening the Clinton investigation when he did was based on merit. Now he says it was based because of poll numbers.
Comey claimed the President told him to stop investigating Flynn, after he previously testified that no one told him to stop investigations.
He also — even the media has reported that officials have determined that Comey leaked four memos — at least four that we know about — with classified information. I think it’s very clear that Comey has a credibility problem.
The other thing is clear, this is one of the few issues in Washington that both Democrats and Republicans agree on. He’s been criticized by the legal community for leaking sensitive information and organizations promoting good government found Comey’s leaking grounds for firing.
Multiple Democrats, including some of the biggest leaders in the Democrat party have also attacked Comey. Minority Leader Pelosi said Comey, was “maybe not in the right job.” Senator Schumer said he was, “appalled by what Comey did” and “did not have confidence in him any longer.” Senator Bernie Sanders said Comey “acted in an outrageous way.” Clinton’s running mate, Senator Kaine, said Comey is, “responsible for the lowest moment in the history of the FBI.” Even Congresswoman Maxine Waters said Comey has “no credibility.” The FBI should be independent and not led by a political hack. Comey’s higher loyalty is pretty clear that it’s only to himself. If you can get this group of people and others like Mark Meadows and a number of others to agree on something, I think that you’d have to be right.
Q Sarah, what about the dossier, though? Sarah, what about the dossier? Did he also lie about the dossier in his conversation with President Trump about that?
MS. SANDERS: The dossier is false opposition research that was funded by the Clinton campaign to attack the President. It was used illegally to justify spying on Americans. And I think that’s quite the problem.
Q Sarah, what about the content of the President’s attacks on Jim Comey, your attacks on Jim Comey? Isn’t all of that a bit unbecoming of the Presidency of this White House to go after him in such a personal way like that?
MS. SANDERS: I think it —
Q Calling him a “slime ball” and a “liar” and a “leaker”?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s unbecoming for the person that is supposed to be the top law enforcement official in the United States, the person that is supposed to protect the people of this country, to lie and leak classified information, certainly to falsify documents. I think that’s a very big problem, and somebody who has created this problem for himself.
I didn’t encourage Jim Comey to go out and do a PR campaign. Congress has asked Jim Comey to come and testify multiple times, of which he’s denied being able to do. Yet he found time to sit down with George Stephanopoulos for five hours.
I think if anybody has created this problem, it’s Jim Comey and he should be the one held responsible.
Q Sarah, if I could just follow up —
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to keep moving, for the second time.
Q Other folks had two questions. If I could just —
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q — ask a second follow-up question because —
MS. SANDERS: Because it’s Friday.
Q Well, it’s Friday, yeah. And you’ve —
MS. SANDERS: And you’d probably get really upset, and I don’t need that if I did.
Q No, no, no. Not at all. Not at all. (Laughter.) No, but you’ve probably seen this tweet. It was a tweet that you posted before the election in 2016: “When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing.” What do you make of that now? Isn’t that —
MS. SANDERS: The rank-and-file FBI are some of the greatest people in this country. We’ve repeated that time and time again, and certainly have the full support of this administration. I think that we’ve been very clear, though, how we feel about some of the leadership at the FBI, particularly James Comey.
Q But when you go after Comey and Rosenstein and Mueller, doesn’t that mean you’re losing?
MS. SANDERS: I did give you two, Jim. I’m going to keep moving. Go ahead.
Q Following up with that, I mean, one of the themes of Comey’s book is the President’s “disdain” for the rule of the law and his continued efforts to publicly undermine federal law enforcement officials. So how would you characterize the President’s attitude towards the rule of law and things that he said publicly about many of his top federal law enforcement officials?
MS. SANDERS: The President has a great deal of respect for the rule of law, but the President does not have a lot of respect for people whose sole job is to carry out the law and they leak classified information and they lie to the American public about it.
Q But it’s not just leakers; it’s his own Attorney General, it’s his own Deputy Attorney General, it’s Special Counsel, it’s the FBI, it’s judges who make decisions that he doesn’t like.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, I’m not — what was the question?
Q There’s a whole list of federal law enforcement officials that he has undermined. It’s not just people who have proven to leak information.
MS. SANDERS: The President hasn’t undermined them in any capacity. Just because he calls out things that he finds to be problematic or concerning, I think that he should do that. If members of the FBI are leaking classified information, the President should absolutely call that to question.
You guys spend hours upon hours every single day praising Jim Comey, propping him up, giving him the biggest platform. We shouldn’t be praising him; we should be putting him down, we should be taking him off of air, instead of giving him minute after minute.
This country has a lot of real problems. We should be talking about the economy. We should talk about Syria. We should talk about the drug crisis. But instead, we’re going to talk about Jim Comey. You guys will cover it endlessly, all day today, all day tomorrow, and my guess is every day next week with very little time given to the issues that people care about.
So the President has every right to call out that individual that you guys are propping up, and say that there are problems and that we should be concerned about it.
Q Thank you, Sarah. This morning, James Comey admitted that he didn’t tell the President about the political source —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry. Can you speak up?
Q This morning, James Comey said that he didn’t inform the President of the political source of the dossier. Was the President surprised to hear that? Did Director Comey ever tell him about the sourcing of the political dossier against him?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure about that specific conversation, but I know that it’s been documented many times over now that the dossier is false opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign and used to attack the President. I think —
Q And a second question, because it’s Friday. Did the President speak to former Vice President Dick Cheney about the Scooter Libby pardon either before or after it —
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations on that.
Q Yeah. Thank you, Sarah. Three Republican state senators from Missouri wrote the President yesterday saying that the embattled Governor Eric Greitens should resign from office. He has serious charges of sexual abuse against him, faces impeachment, and refuses to resign. They concluded that, as a former Navy SEAL, he would salute and resign if his Commander-in-Chief asked him to. Did the President receive the letter? What is his response? And will he ask Governor Greitens to step down?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have an official response at this time, but it’s certainly something that is very concerning and something that we’re taking very seriously. And I’ll keep you updated as we have something.
Q Thank you, Sarah. So, concerning the summit with Prime Minister Abe next week in Florida, does the President plan to push for a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s conversations with Prime Minister Abe, but trade will certainly be something that is discussed, as well as the ongoing conversations around North Korea.
Q Sarah, does the President have another NSC meeting today on Syria?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Will the President be having another NSC meeting today on Syria?
MS. SANDERS: There is another national security meeting later this afternoon at the deputies’ level.
Q Thanks. I wanted to ask about the pardoning process. It seems like we’ve had these three pardons; they all were somewhat high-profile or had gotten media attention. How is the President deciding when to take action on a case? I mean, with Arpaio, he hadn’t been sentenced yet; the Scooter Libby case was very old. So how are you deciding when to take action on these cases? And can a normal person who feels like they’ve been unjustly convicted, can they get their case to the White House? I mean, there’s a Justice Department process, but it seems like the President is taking special interest in certain cases.
MS. SANDERS: Again, the President has exercised constitutional authority, and he determines when and how he’s going to use that when it comes to the pardon process. He looks at each one individually, and makes a decision, and we make that announcement.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The OPCW is sending inspectors to Syria. Do you think this is a futile exercise, since you already have the evidence that actually they have chemical weapons?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we are confident in the intelligence that we have and in the fact that we know that Syria is responsible for these actions.
I’ll take one last question. Brian.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I’ll do two. One on Syria and one on the Department of Justice. On Syria, the President has publicly said that he wants to get out of Syria. Has this strike changed his mind on that? And is he considering other options, other than a plan to pull out U.S. forces from Syria? And if you could just —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, what was the last part?
Q Is he considering other options other than a long-term strategy to get U.S. forces out of Syria?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any additional changes to policy in Syria at this time. And in terms of options, all of our options are on the table, and we’re continuing to look at those and we’ll make an announcement then.
Q And so I have a question about the Department of Justice. What does the President have to say to Republican lawmakers who believe that firing Mueller would be “suicide,” as Grassley has said, or firing Rosenstein could be the end of the presidency for Donald Trump, as Lindsey Graham has said?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into hypothetical situations. The President has taken no action on that front, and I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth on hypotheticals.
Q Does he have any response for Republican lawmakers who are counseling him not to take an action like that?
MS. SANDERS: As with a number of issues, the President talks to a lot of different lawmakers on a number of topics. He’s going to continue consulting with them, not just on this, but on some very big issues that our country is facing, and that’s what his focus is actually on.
Thanks so much, guys. Happy Friday.
END 3:21 P.M. EDT