James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EST
SANDERS: Good afternoon. Today we are marking President Donald Trump’s 500th day in office and his unprecedented success on behalf of all Americans at home and abroad.
Since taking office, the President has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity, and accountability. And as we saw from Friday’s jobs report, our economy is stronger, Americans are optimistic, and business is booming.
When the President predicted 3 percent economic growth, a number of economists didn’t take him seriously, including President Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council and Moody’s chief economist.
The economy has now grown by 2.8 percent during the first four full quarters of this administration. And we believe we are well on our way to reaching the level of growth the President has predicted.
The American people do not believe this strong economy is fantasy or unrealistic. Just as he promised, President Trump believes in the American people and is putting them first in every decision.
On North Korea, we are actively preparing for the June 12 summit between the President and the North Korean leader. The advance team in Singapore is finalizing logistical preparations and will remain in place until the summit begins.
In the DMZ, the U.S. Ambassador’s delegation continues diplomatic negotiations with the North Korean delegation. Discussions have been very positive, and significant progress has been made.
Lastly, and most importantly — and speaking of great accomplishments — today is my husband’s birthday. So Happy Birthday, Bryan, and for putting up with me for all of this time.
And with that, I will take your questions. Jonathan.
Q Sarah, just a short time ago, the President said that, “I have an [sic] absolute right to pardon myself.” Why does he think that? And does he also agree with Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, that a pardon for himself would be unthinkable and would lead to immediate impeachment?
SANDERS: Thankfully, the President hasn’t done anything wrong and wouldn’t have any need for a pardon.
Q But does he absolutely rule out doing that? I mean, does he rule out ever issuing a pardon for himself?
SANDERS: Once again, thankfully the President hasn’t done anything wrong and therefore wouldn’t need one.
Q How does the President respond to this criticism from Republicans about these tariffs against the EU, Canada, and Mexico? How do you reassure these senators and various people who were complaining about this?
SANDERS: Imposing the 232 tariffs protect the steel and aluminum industries because they’re very critical to our national security. And for months, the United States has had discussions with Canada, Mexico, and the EU to find an alternative. Without an alternative solution, tariffs are the only measures appropriate to safeguard the country.
We have strong relations with Mexico, Canada, and the EU, and will continue — and those will continue, even though the tariffs are there.
Q Sarah, what was the contents of Kim Jong Un’s letter to the President that he received last week? And what did the President take away from that? Is he more encouraged, based on receiving that letter?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get into the specifics of the letter. But as the President said, they were interesting, and we feel like things are continuing to move forward and good progress has been made. And we’re continuing to prepare for the President’s summit.
I can tell you the President has been receiving daily briefings on North Korea from his national security team. And I can also tell you the schedule, tentatively, for that first meeting will be on June 12 at 9:00 a.m. Singapore time, and take place on June 11th, 9:00 p.m. East Coast time.
Q There’s a separate report that Vladimir Putin has reached out to Kim Jong Un and wants to meet with him. Is that a meeting that the President thinks would be constructive to this process? Does the President support Vladimir Putin meeting with Kim Jong Un as well?
SANDERS: Our focus is on the President’s meeting with Kim Jong Un. And the President will make his views known directly to him when we’re in Singapore. And our focus will continue to be on denuclearization.
Q Sarah, the President tweeted that the Special Counsel law was totally unconstitutional. If that’s the case, why is he allowing his own Justice Department to abide by it?
SANDERS: Look, scholars have raised a number of questions about the legality of the Special Counsel process. The President has made his views about the Special Counsel very clear. And the President knows that the Special Counsel isn’t needed, because once again, he hasn’t done anything wrong. There was no obstruction, no collusion, and no wrongdoing. However, we continue to cooperate.
Q This is something new. He’s never said the law itself was unconstitutional. How can he allow his own Justice Department to participate in something that’s unconstitutional?
SANDERS: Once again, I addressed this. The scholars have raised a number of questions on it. And the President has made his views clear.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I did want to follow up on that and try and figure out what exactly the basis was for the President’s claim that it is unconstitutional. But I wanted to ask you about something else, as well.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been accused of enlisting a taxpayer-funded staffer to not only shop for apartments around Washington, D.C. but also to shop for a used mattress from the President’s hotel just around the corner. And I wanted to know if any of that gives the President pause at this point, or causes his confidence in Scott Pruitt to waver.
SANDERS: Certainly looking into the matter. I couldn’t comment on the specifics of the furniture used in his apartment. (Laughter.)
John. And certainly would not attempt to. John, go ahead.
Q Can we just dwell on that for second, and let it sink in?
SANDERS: I’d prefer not to, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q You said that significant progress is being made in the diplomatic talks at the DMZ between U.S. and North Korean officials. The big question here is denuclearization. The President would like it to happen all at once — he said that before — but that it could also be a phased-in process. I know that the meeting has yet to take place, but certainly they’re trying to iron out some details here. Does it look like it will be an all-at-once, or is the phase-in more likely?
SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to go ahead and predict a meeting that hasn’t even taken place yet, and I can’t get into the ongoing diplomatic talks. But I can tell you that they’ve been positive, and we’re looking forward to the meeting in Singapore.
Q Sarah, no matter what you call it, is maximum pressure still the policy of the United States toward North Korea?
SANDERS: Our policy hasn’t changed, and as the President stated, we have sanctions on, they’re very powerful, and we would not take those sanctions off unless North Korea denuclearized.
Q Sarah, let me ask you, if I can: Does the President believe that he is above the law?
SANDERS: Certainly not. The President hasn’t done anything wrong.
Q The question isn’t if he’s done anything wrong. I guess, the question is, does the President believe the Framers envisioned a system where the President can pardon himself, where the President could be above the law?
SANDERS: Certainly, the Constitution very clearly lays out the law. And, once again, the President hasn’t done anything wrong, and we feel very comfortable in that front.
Q But you, just a moment ago, said it’s not that clear. So I guess, simply put, does the President believe he is above the law?
SANDERS: Certainly no one is above the law.
Q Let me ask you a question, if I can follow. Just because I haven’t been here in a while.
SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep going. Right here.
Q I just want to ask, and this is an important one because it’s about —
SANDERS: Sorry, Peter. We’re going to keep moving.
Q I’ll just keep asking, if I can. The President —
SANDERS: Peter. No, you can’t actually —
Q Well, Sarah — I’m going to, Sarah. I think this is important. I haven’t had a chance to ask this question —
SANDERS: I’m going to continue to move on.
Q Sarah, what’s the status of the tariffs on China? Does the administration still plan to move ahead with the June 15th deadline, as they stated?
SANDERS: President Trump is taking steps to continue to reform the dysfunctional trade system that currently harms American workers and businesses. And the President is taking steps to protect U.S. technology and intellectual property from China’s discriminatory and burdensome trade practices. We’re going to continue in those negotiations. As you know, I put out a statement earlier this morning that those conversations continue.
Brian. We’re going to keep moving. Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thank you. Two quick questions. One, I’ve asked this before: Is there any chance we could ever see the President come out here and take some questions from us in this briefing room?
And secondly, has anyone in this administration ever asked the President — last week, you had, on your agenda — you had an agenda where you have more jobs coming out — I mean, lower unemployment coming, and you also had — the Second Chance Act, I think it was. And instead of those, we had to respond to presidential tweets. Has anybody ever in this administration asked him to back away from Twitter just for a day?
SANDERS: On the first question, certainly you guys would be the first to know if the President comes out here. But thankfully, he does address the press in a number of ways and in a number of venues. And we’ll see if it happens here. We’ll certainly let you know.
Q Extend him our invitation.
SANDERS: In terms of Twitter, the President uses Twitter to communicate directly to the American people. Frankly, you have the ability to choose what you want to write about, and you guys choose to write about things that the American people don’t care about —
Q But we don’t have the ability to ask him a question in regards to that.
SANDERS: — day in and day out. And that’s a decision that you make, and frankly, I think it’s the wrong one.
Q We do not have the opportunity to ask him a question about that, though, Sarah.
Q Can we at least get an opportunity to ask him a question about what he tweets?
SANDERS: Jordan, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you about the lawyer’s letter to the Special Counsel. You said, last August, that the President did not dictate a statement about the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign. But the lawyers wrote to the Special Counsel that the President did dictate that statement. What’s the reason for that discrepancy?
SANDERS: Like you said, this is from a letter from the outside counsel, and I direct you to them to answer that question.
SANDERS: Once again, you’re referencing a letter that came directly from outside counsel, and I would refer you to them to directly answer that question.
Q After Kim Kardashian’s visit, is President Trump considering a commutation for Alice Johnson, who already has served 21 years of a life-without-parole sentence?
SANDERS: The President is considering a number of different pardons and commutations, and when we have an announcement on that, we’ll certainly let you guys know.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since Robert Mueller was named the Special Counsel over a year ago, the President’s team, his legal team, the Justice Department has never challenged the constitutionality of the Special Counsel. Yet, the President today is doing just that. Why hasn’t either the Justice Department or the President’s legal team challenged the constitutionality? They have the right to do so in federal court, and yet they haven’t done so.
SANDERS: Again, scholars have raised a number of questions about the legality —
Q (Inaudible) but specifically those two entities have not done it. The President’s own lawyers have not done it, Sarah, and they can do so. Why haven’t —
SANDERS: You would have to ask them. I’m not here to speak on behalf of the outside counsel.
Q What about the Justice Department? Can you speak on behalf of the Justice Department?
SANDERS: I would refer you to the Justice Department. They have a pretty large comms teams. They’d be happy to answer those questions.
Q Yes, Sarah, I’m wondering if the White House stands by the comments that were made by the U.S. ambassador to Germany, who said that he was backing anti-establishment conservatives to take power in Europe. Seems like a very unusual thing for a U.S. diplomat to say towards friendly countries.
SANDERS: I don’t have any updates on that front at this point.
Q Sarah, let me ask you — turn your attention back to trade. For the farmers out there who could care less about the politics, who have to run a business every day, there was a farmer in Iowa who told one of our crews out there this morning — he said, “It’s hard to know which way to jump right now.” As in, they don’t know what decisions they should make for their businesses because of what is playing out here in Washington, here in China, NAFTA negotiations as well. What would you tell those folks out there who are trying to run these businesses, who are trying to make a decision on which way to jump right now?
SANDERS: Certainly, the President is trying to do everything he can to protect American farmers, American businesses, and he is negotiating with a number of countries. But also, the President wants to make sure that we’re ending unfair trade practices. The President has said that he wants to help protect farmers, and we’re looking at a number of different ways to do that. And we’re going to continue that throughout this process.
Q On the political front —
SANDERS: Sorry, Blake, I’m going to keep going. Peter.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I just want to come back to — in August, you said he certainly didn’t dictate the statement. I wonder if you could tell us the basis of your comment when you made that in August. And do you think that still stands? Is that still an operative statement? Or do you retract that?
SANDERS: Once again, this is a reference back to a letter from the outside counsel.
Q But in August, you said it.
SANDERS: I understand. But it’s also pertaining to a letter from the President’s outside counsel. And therefore, I can’t answer, and I will direct you to them.
Q What was your basis for saying it in August, though?
SANDERS: Once again, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth, and I would encourage you to reach out to the outside counsel.
Q Sarah, Rudy Giuliani, the President’s outside lawyer, said to the Huffington Post, “In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted. I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is. If he shot James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to [do to] him.” Is that appropriate language coming from the President’s outside lawyer to be talking about the President shooting Jim Comey in that fashion?
SANDERS: You would have to ask Rudy Giuliani about his specific comments. But thankfully, the President hasn’t done anything wrong, and so we feel very comfortable in that.
Q If I could ask a follow-up question.
SANDERS: Josh. Go ahead, Josh.
Q Sarah, if I could ask a follow-up question.
SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep going. Josh.
Q If I could ask a follow-up question. Who —
SANDERS: Not today, Jim. Go ahead, Josh.
Q Well, others have had follow-up questions, Sarah. If I could ask —
SANDERS: They haven’t, actually. Go ahead, Josh.
Q They have had follow-up questions. If I could ask who these legal scholars are that you are citing, that would be great.
SANDERS: I’m going to direct a question to Josh. Go ahead.
Q If you say, though, one thing from the podium — that it wasn’t dictated by the President — and his lawyers are saying something entirely different, contradicting, how are we supposed to know what to believe? How can we believe what you’re saying from the podium if his lawyers are saying it’s entirely inaccurate?
SANDERS: Once again, I can’t comment on a letter from the President’s outside counsel, and I direct you to them to answer it.
Q But, Sarah, the words are literally — you said he did not dictate. The lawyer said he did. What is it? It’s either one or the other.
SANDERS: I’m not going to respond to a letter from the President’s outside counsel. We’ve purposefully walled off, and I would refer you to them for comment.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A question about pardons. Eleven days ago, the President issued the posthumous pardon for boxing great Jack Johnson. The leading proponents of this for more than a decade have been Congressman Pete King in the House and Senator John McCain in the Senate, both big boxing fans. Senator McCain tweeted his support for the pardon. Will the President use this opportunity to call Senator McCain and try and patch things up with him at this moment of his life?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of a scheduled call, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.
Q Sarah, thank you. I just wanted to check something with you. What in tariffs that were imposed against Canada reinforce the U.S. national security?
SANDERS: I’m sorry, what was the last part of the question?
Q What — you know the tariffs that were imposed against Canada — aluminum and steel. What in that reinforce the U.S. national security? In what form the U.S. feels more secure now that Canada has been targeted by tariffs?
SANDERS: The President feels strongly that the steel and aluminum industries are critical to our national security and our ability to protect ourselves. And that would be that reference point in the 232.
Q Sarah, thanks. The Special Counsel didn’t seem so unconstitutional when the President was calling on one to investigate his political opponent during the campaign. So is it only unconstitutional if the President doesn’t like it?
SANDERS: Once again, the President has made his views on this point clear. I don’t have anything else to add.
Q A trade question for you, Sarah. Thank you. The President, on Friday, said that he’s open to bilateral deals with Mexico and Canada. Is he still leaning towards bilateral deals as he heads up to Canada at the end of this week? Or is he thinking that he’d like to save NAFTA and just renegotiate it?
SANDERS: As the President said, he’s open to it. But we’re in ongoing negotiations.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Last week, Missouri Governor Greitens stepped down. Did President Trump or anyone at the White House ever reach out to encourage him to step down?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations directly with the President or with anyone here at the White House.
Q And if so, why not, considering he’s the leader of the party?
SANDERS: Certainly, we were aware of the issue and felt that this was a decision to be made by the people of Missouri, and a local issue.
Q Sarah, you said the President hasn’t done anything wrong and wouldn’t need a pardon. But he said in his tweet that he has the absolute right to pardon himself. Does he assume that the Special Counsel will find him guilty of something?
SANDERS: No, because he hasn’t done anything wrong.
Q But he said in his tweet that he could pardon himself. So there seems to be an assumption that Mueller will find him wrong for something. And if so, what would it be?
SANDERS: It seems like it would be a completely wrong assumption. The President hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m not sure how else I can answer that question.
Q I have two questions on the Justice Department and pardons. For example, the Office of Legal Counsel has said that the President can’t actually pardon himself. Has the President requested a new opinion that may inform his tweet today? And also, there are some concerns about whether the President is still fielding those traditional pardon recommendations from the Justice Department. Some people are concerned that instead of relying on the Justice Department, he’s relying on sort of rich and famous people to recommend pardons.
SANDERS: The President looks at each case individually to see if something wrong has been done or whether mercy should be given. That’s what he’s done and that’s what he’ll continue to do in the future. He has the authority to make that decision, and has.
Q On OLC, has he asked for a new OLC opinion?
SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Has he asked for a new OLC opinion on the pardon power?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of an ask or a recommendation, but certainly would reiterate the fact that the President hasn’t done anything wrong.
Q Thank you. What does the President think is his top foreign policy achievement in the first 500 days?
SANDERS: I think that there have been a number of major foreign policy achievements. Certainly, I think the strengthening of relationships with a number of foreign leaders. I think that the conversation that we’re looking forward to having here in the next couple of weeks is certainly a step in the right direction. Moving the embassy in Israel would certainly be on that list. Being tough on Russia. Being tough on trade and making sure that countries that have engaged in unfair trade practices are held accountable. Those are just a few. But certainly, I think the list is quite lengthy. And we’d be happy to provide some more details.
Q Sarah, can you give us a little bit more background on the pardon process? Is there a process in place at this White House to review pardons? And how did the pardon ideas of Rod Blagojevich and Martha Stewart come up? Is it simply a matter of who can gain the President’s ear in order to get a pardon process? Or is there an attorney here in the White House through which these requests are funneled through, which eventually make their way up to the President?
SANDERS: Certainly there are a number of attorneys here at the White House, and they review these matters. But ultimately, the President looks at each of these cases individually and makes that decision, as he has the right to do so.
I’ll take one last question. Eamon.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the President’s call today with Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, who said that the President’s tariffs on the EU were, quote, “unjustified and deeply disappointing,” according to the British readout of their phone call today. That’s what she said to the President. How did the President respond to that?
SANDERS: The President feels very confident in his decision, and we’ll continue to make sure that the unfair trade practices that have gone on for decades do not continue, and that he’s protecting the interest of American workers and American businesses.
Thanks, guys. We’ll see you tomorrow.
3:01 P.M. EDT