James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:32 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Later today, at 1:35 p.m. Hawaii Time, Vice President Mike Pence, at the request of President Trump, will participate in an Honorable Carry Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor.
The leader of North Korea has followed through on his commitment to return the first set of remains of Americans to our homeland. These brave souls deserve nothing but our honor and respect.
The families of these soldiers have been waiting for more than 60 years for their loved ones to come home.
We hope that as remains are identified, families like those of Commander John C. Micheel can find peace.
John was assigned to Navy Squadron 125 and was killed while leading a dive-bombing mission into North Korea.
John’s nephew, Doug, who lives in Minnesota, recently wrote the President a letter explaining how his uncle was a special person who grew up in the Great Depression and wanted to serve his country.
Another letter from Mary, in Pennsylvania, tells the President of her uncle, Corporal Andrew Boyer, who has been missing in action in Korea since September of 1951. Mary has a picture of her uncle hanging in her living room as a reminder of his commitment and service to our country.
Both of these men and their families represent thousands of proud, patriotic American families. The President is committed to them and will work to bring them the closure they deserve.
On another matter, we have seen all of the alarming images of the wildfires causing severe damage out west. The White House and FEMA have been actively monitoring the wildfires to ensure that federal assistance is provided as quickly as possible.
On Saturday, the President declared that an emergency exists for the California wildfires. As a result, FEMA has placed resources from eight different federal departments and agencies to support the efforts of local firefighters and relief organizations.
The President will continue to monitor this ongoing emergency and make sure the people of California receive the assistance they need to keep them safe and recover. Our prayers are with the firefighters who recently lost their lives battling these fires and their grieving families.
Lastly, the President has been closely following the ongoing situation in Turkey involving Pastor Andrew Brunson.
We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong, and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey.
At the President’s direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey’s Minister of Justice and Minister of Interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of Pastor Brunson.
As a result, any property, or interest in property, of both ministers within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. For anything further, I would refer you to Treasury Department on that front.
And with that, I will take your questions. Zeke.
Q Thank you, Sarah. First, just a quick note on behalf the press corps. Last month, there were only three briefings with you, totaling under an hour. If at some point, over the next month or two — obviously there’s travel concerns — but we’d appreciate if you were — if we’d have some more time. There are lot of issues we’d like to cover.
One of those, first off, is the President’s tweet this morning about the Russian probe. His direction to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to end the Mueller probe right now.
The President said a few weeks ago that he did — or a few months ago, sorry, that he was not going to intervene with the Department of Justice’s handling of that investigation. Does that tweet this morning mark a change in posture by the President?
MS. SANDERS: It’s not an order. It’s the President’s opinion. And it’s ridiculous that — all of the corruption and dishonesty that’s gone on with the launching of the witch hunt. The President wants to — has watched this process play out, but he also wants to see it come to an end, as he stated many times. And we look forward to that happening.
Q And on a different topic, Sarah. You mentioned that the transfer of these remains marked a North Korea — the North Korean leader fulfilling his commitment to the President, as agreed in Singapore. There was a report yesterday that North Korea is still assembling ICBMs and — as well as, the Pentagon says it’s not yet possible to verify that the remains that have been transferred back are, in fact, human or American.
How does that meet, sort of, the test of North Korea fulfilling its commitment that it agreed to in Singapore?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to comment on the first part of your question on any potential intelligence matter. In terms of the remains, we have the best of the best that have been working over the last several weeks on this process. We’ll keep you updated on it. But we feel comfortable in the assessment that they’ve made up until this point.
Q Sarah, on the next proposed tranche of tariffs against China, the figure initially for tariffs was 10 percent. But it’s our understanding that the President now wants to take that up to 25 percent. What’s the reason behind increasing it from 10 to 25? And in a tit-for-tat — if you want to call it trade war or something else — who has more bullets? China or the United States?
MS. SANDERS: The President firmly believes that the United States certainly does. We’ll have an update later today. And there will be a call at 3:30 this afternoon to walk through the details of that update in regards to the question you asked about 10 to 25.
Look, the bottom line is the President is going to continue to hold China responsible for their unfair trade practices. This has gone on for long enough, and he’s going to do something about it.
Q Does the President believe that —
MS. SANDERS: Back here. Sorry. Go ahead, John.
Q I was just going to say, the President has made some headway with the EU in terms of lowering trade barriers, taking steps toward leveling the playing field. Does the President and his team believe that that is possible with China, without taking some real punitive measures?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we’d like to see the playing field level. The President, as both he and, I think, about 15 members of his administration have said repeatedly, we’d like to see the unfair trade practices stop. But until that happens, the President is going to hold their feet to the fire. He’s going to continue to put pressure on China. And he’s not going to sit back and allow American industries and American workers to be taken advantage of.
Q Sarah, churches around the country, synagogues, some evangelical leaders have been up in arms in the last few weeks about last year’s tax cut law. They say there’s a provision in there that’s going to force them to pay a new 21 percent of federal income tax on the benefits that they give to certain employees. Can you assure churches, from the podium there, that they’re not going to have to pay a new tax?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to make a blanket generalization about every church in America. But certainly the goal of the tax cuts and reforms package was to provide the greatest amount of relief to the greatest number of Americans, and we feel that it’s done that. And we feel that the other policies that the President has put forward when it comes to the economy have certainly moved the ball forward, made our economy infinitely stronger than it has been in decades. And I think you can see that by all of the numbers that have come out over the last year and a half.
Q These are traditionally tax-exempt groups. What is the President prepared to do to make sure they keep their tax-exempt status?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly something that we’re looking into. But I don’t have anything specific for you on that front.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Federal law says that, quote, “Any threatening letter or communication aimed at impeding a criminal investigation constitutes obstruction of justice.” Rudy Giuliani issued a statement saying he doesn’t think this morning’s tweet is obstruction because the President said Sessions “should” stop the Mueller probe, rather than ordering him to halt it. You just echoed that reasoning before.
What I want to know is, is Rudy Giuliani the one giving the President legal advice on his tweets? And does that statement reflect the opinion of the President’s legal team?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is not obstructing; he’s fighting back. The President is stating his opinion. He’s stating it clearly. And he’s certainly expressing the frustration that he has with the level of corruption that we’ve seen from people like Jim Comey, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe. There’s a reason that the President is angry. And, frankly, most of America is angry, as well. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to voice that opinion.
Q (Inaudible.) Isn’t he putting —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, we’re going to keep going. Margaret, go ahead.
Q Sorry, will you just — okay. Tesla plans to spend $5 billion to build a plant in China. They’re saying it’s not going to affect Tesla operations in the U.S. But I’m wondering whether the administration has any concerns about Tesla’s plans.
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we’d love to see all American companies investing here. I don’t have anything specific on Tesla, but we would encourage all companies to build their plants in America, put their investments here, and certainly not engage and help bolster a country like China that has continued to be part of a very unfair process and very unfair trading practices.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. There was reaction to the President’s tweets today from some of his allies on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator Hatch said, “I don’t fully get what he’s trying to do.” And another Republican senator, Senator Thune, said the Mueller investigation needs to move forward. He said they ought to let them complete their work. Do you agree with that sentiment expressed by Senator Thune that this investigation by Mr. Mueller ought to be completed and not be sort of cut off at its (inaudible)?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly think it should be completed. We’d like it to be completed sooner rather than later. It’s gone on for an extensive amount of time. They’ve still come up with nothing in regards to the President. We’d like to see it come to a close. We’ve said that a number of times.
So, sure, we actually agree on that front.
Q If I may —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, just because we’re tight on time because the President is going to be speaking.
Q The Attorney General said —
MS. SANDERS: Cecilia, go ahead.
Q — recused himself from the Mueller investigation.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Jon, just because we’re tight on time, I’ll try to get to as many people as possible.
Cecilia, go ahead.
Q Does the President still believe that millions of people are voting illegally in this country? Is that the basis for this push for requiring voter IDs?
MS. SANDERS: Even if there are 10 people that are voting illegally, it shouldn’t happen. The President wants to see the integrity of our election systems upheld, and that’s the purpose of his comments. He wants to make sure that anybody that’s voting is somebody that should be voting. And I think that’s something that, frankly, should be celebrated, not discriminated.
Q When was the last time the President went to a grocery store?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure. I’m not sure why that matters, either.
Major, go ahead.
Q Well, because of what he said last night. Because he said you need an —
Q He said last night that you need an ID to buy —
Q You go to the grocery store; I go to a grocery store. I’ve never had to show an ID to buy my groceries.
MS. SANDERS: I’ve been a lot lately, actually.
Q I’ve never had to show an ID when I go to buy groceries. Most people don’t.
MS. SANDERS: Certainly if you go to a grocery store and you buy beer and wine, you’re certainly going to show your ID. I don’t think that —
Q Is that what the President, who doesn’t drink, meant?
MS. SANDERS: He’s not saying every time he went in. He said when “you” go to the grocery story. I’m pretty sure that everybody in here who’s been to a grocery store and has purchased beer or wine has probably had to show their ID. If they didn’t, then that’s probably a problem with the grocery store.
Major, go ahead.
Q Sarah, to follow up on Jon Decker’s question. You want the investigation to end. You want it to end, I presume, also without any obstruction, meaning without any interference. Many have described the President’s tweet this morning as blowing off steam. Is that a fair characterization? It’s just an opinion he’s throwing out there; it has nothing to do with his actual governmental control of, or supervision of, this investigation?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, as I said earlier, the President is stating his opinion. It’s not an order. But he’s been, I think, crystal clear about how he feels about this investigation from the beginning.
Q Can I follow up on that? Because you had said a moment ago that the investigation itself is corrupt, the Mueller investigation. And then you mentioned Comey and McCabe and Strzok. They’re not — Strzok certainly isn’t anymore. He was for a time.
MS. SANDERS: The entire investigation is based off a dirty, discredited dossier that was paid for by an opposing campaign and had a lot of corruption within the entity which was overseeing it, which was Peter Strzok, James Comey, Andrew McCabe. We’ve laid this out a number of times. I don’t think that we have to go into it every single time we’re in here.
Q If it is corrupt, why doesn’t the President just end it, or use the powers he has to end it?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, the President has allowed this —
Q If he believes that, why doesn’t he follow through on that?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, the President has allowed this process to play out, but he think it’s time for it to come to an end.
Sara, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I’m just wondering if you can clarify what — this tweet from this morning. Is it the President’s desire for, first, Sessions to un-recuse himself from the probe? And is it also his desire for the Special Counsel to be fired?
MS. SANDERS: I think I’ve clarified this about 10 times now. It’s the President’s opinion. I don’t have anything further.
Q Yes, Sarah. Last night, at the Tampa rally, the President again pushed for creation of a Space Force as a new military branch. The Defense Department today missed the deadline to submit a report to Congress about how this Space Force is to be structured. And we’re told that the White House has now twice rejected drafts because the Defense Department doesn’t want a Space Force. It would rather create a Space Command under the existing military structure.
In view of this, how is the President going to force the creation of a Space Force?
MS. SANDERS: We’re continuing to work with the Department of Defense to figure out and determine the best way forward — something the President feels strongly about. And we’re going to work with our team there and figure out the best solution.
Q I have a question about — the President is meeting with inner-city pastors today. Secretary Carson has pushed policies that would raise the rent on many poor people. He’s also pushed policies that would slow anti-immigration initiatives. What is the President going to say to these inner-city pastors whose areas might be hurt by some of these policies?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly that’s the reason to sit down with these individuals, to hear their feedback, hear their concerns. I know the primary point of discussion for today is to discuss prison reform, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they raised those issues, and that’s why the President has invited them here, so that he can have those ongoing conversations and determine how best to help them in a number of different situations.
Q (Inaudible) in inner cities —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Are those policies that are raising rents on poor people and that are slowing anti-segregation initiatives, are they helping inner cities, in the President’s opinion?
MS. SANDERS: I would have to look at the specific policies you’re referencing. I’d be happy to do — I’d be happy to do that after the briefing.
Q Sarah, members of this administration are apparently talking about big cuts to the Refugee Resettlement Program, which is currently capped at 45,000, but I’m told it’s under discussion for cuts as low as 25,000 next year. Does the President feel that this country admits too many refugees? What does he think the proper level is? And what would the rationale be for scaling it back that dramatically for a second year in a row?
MS. SANDERS: This is part of an ongoing discussion. And no policy decisions have been made, but we’ll keep you posted as they are.
Q Sarah, you —
Q Does the President think the program is too big?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Does the President think there are too many refugees coming into this country?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to make sure that whoever comes into the country, we know who they are, why they’re coming, and that they pose no danger or threat to Americans. That’s the number-one priority. And we want to make sure that we have the processes in place and the ability to vet any individual that would come into this country. If the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that they would work in coordination with determine that they don’t have the ability to vet a certain number, then certainly the President would have concerns with that.
Again, the number-one priority is national security and making sure we have the ability to properly vet and process any individual that comes into this country.
Q Sarah, you said the President wants this investigation to be completed, but he’s not yet made the decision if he will sit down with Bob Mueller. Isn’t he part of dragging this out a bit? And also, when he tells you something personally, do you take it is a directive or do you take it as his opinion?
MS. SANDERS: On the first part, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel on specific negotiations with the Special Counsel. And the second part? I’m sorry.
Q You said that his tweet this morning was his opinion. When he tells you something, as a member of his staff, how do you know if it’s a directive from the President or if it’s simply his opinion?
MS. SANDERS: The President makes it pretty clear when I’m having those conversations with him.
David, go ahead.
Q This morning, though, it seemed pretty clear. His tweet this morning said that he wanted to — it was time for the investigation to be stopped. Does the President know that Jeff Sessions can’t stop the investigation? Has he directed Rod Rosenstein to?
MS. SANDERS: The President is very well aware of how the process works. Once again, he’s stating his opinion.
David, go ahead.
Q What does the President plan to do specifically about 3D plastic guns? And has he spoken to the NRA about this issue?
MS. SANDERS: The Department of Justice made a deal without the President’s approval. On those regards, the President is glad this effort was delayed to give more time to review the issue. And this administration supports the decades-old legislation already on the books that prohibits the ownership of a wholly plastic gun.
Q The case of the pastor in Turkey: Has the President raised this directly with President Erdoğan?
MS. SANDERS: Are you talking about the imprisonment of Pastor Brunson? Yes, they’ve discussed it on several occasions.
Q And is he upset about it or what?
MS. SANDERS: I think you can see in the actions that the President has made today that he’s not happy with Turkey’s decision not to release Pastor Erdoğan [Brunson].
Q Sarah, thank you. I wanted to ask you one on taxes and one on the possibility of a shutdown. On taxes: Does the President support possibly restructuring the way capital gains are taxed? And on the possibility of a shutdown: Is the President talking about potentially endorsing a government shutdown before November’s elections? After November’s elections? Or both?
MS. SANDERS: On the first of your question, this is something that has a lot of support from various people. No administration policy has been determined but the President has asked the Treasury Department to take a look into it.
On the second part of your question in regards to the shutdown, the President isn’t focused on the timing of before or after the election. He’s focused on the results. He’s been talking about this for a year and a half. Our immigration system is completely broken, and he’s begging, and has been, for Congress, particularly Democrats in Congress, to step up, do their jobs, stop kicking the ball down the field, and actually work with him to fix our system. It’s that simple.
Q Does the President, though, have a personal opinion as to whether or not the current system works or that it should be changed?
MS. SANDERS: Again, he’s asked the Treasury Department to look into it.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two quickies about last night in Tampa. First of all, does the President encourage the support of people who showed up last night in these “QAnon” and “Blacks for Trump” fringe groups?
And secondly, is the White House willing to say right now, in view of what happened with one of our TV colleagues last night, that it is wrong for his most vocal supporters to be menacing toward journalists doing their jobs in a situation like that or any situation?
MS. SANDERS: On the first part, the President condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual, and certainly doesn’t support groups that would promote that type of behavior. We’ve been clear about that a number of times since the beginning of the administration.
On the second part of your question, the President, as I just said, does not support violence against anyone and/or anything. And we’ve been very clear every single time we’ve been asked about that.
When it comes to the media, the President does think that the media holds a responsibility — we fully support a free press, but there also comes a high level of responsibility with that. The media routinely reports on classified information and government secrets that put lives in danger and risk valuable national security tools. This has happened both in our administration and in past administrations.
One of the worst cases was the reporting on the U.S. ability to listen to Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in the late ’90s. Because of that reporting, he stopped using that phone and the country lost valuable intelligence. Unfortunately, it’s now standard to abandon commonsense ethical practices. This is a two-way street. We certainly support a free press. We certainly condemn violence against anybody. But we also ask that people act responsibly and report accurately and fairly.
Q Sarah, nobody was being violent last night. They were trying to prevent a broadcaster from getting his broadcast out and yelling that his network sucks. Is that right or wrong?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, what was the first part of your question?
Q I said, no one was being violent last night in terms of hitting anybody. And no broadcaster was broadcasting state secrets. They were trying to do stand-ups at a public rally, and you had people trying to yell over them, preventing them from doing their jobs, and yelling that their network sucks on live TV. Does the White House support that or not?
MS. SANDERS: While we certainly support freedom of the press, we also support freedom of speech, and we think that those things go hand in hand.
Q Thank you. So you talked a little bit about the tweets earlier. But he also — President Trump also tweeted about Paul Manafort and comparing his treatment to that of Al Capone. And he seems to say that he felt he was being treated unfairly.
I guess, first of all, why does — or does the President feel like Paul Manafort is being treated unfairly? And when he talked about this issue of solitary confinement and the fact that Manafort hasn’t been convicted yet, does this administration have larger concerns about solitary confinement being used for people who haven’t been convicted, outside of Paul Manafort?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of a specific policy position that the administration holds on that front. Certainly, the President has been clear. He thinks Paul Manafort has been treated unfairly.
Q You got me.
MS. SANDERS: Goyal.
Q Thank you. Two questions, please. One India, one is Pakistan. Sarah, can you confirm if the President has accepted the invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the special guest on the India’s — Republic Day of India next year, on January 26?
MS. SANDERS: I know that the invitation has been extended, but I don’t believe a final decision has been made. I do know that both Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo will be traveling to India — I believe it’s next month — and will begin the dialogue and the process and potential discussion for a presidential visit later in the year.
Q And Sarah, Pakistan is concerned that with the historic election and Mr. Khan, he ran on a corruption election in Pakistan. He had very little to say — good things — about India, U.S., and Israel, but still, he’s the Prime Minister of Pakistan today. How are you going to deal with him?
MS. SANDERS: The United States —
Q (Inaudible) the U.S.-Pakistan relation?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, the United States and India have a deep and abiding strategic partnership, and we’re going to continue to build on that partnership and advance cooperation. And I think you’ll see that at the meeting that will take place with Secretaries Pompeo and Mattis next month.
Q I’ll make them quick. Does the President believe that Paul Manafort is innocent of the charges he faces?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t believe that that’s the President’s role to play. He believes he’s being treated unfairly. Beyond that, I can’t say.
Q Sarah, may I ask then, to follow up on the views of the President expressed on Twitter today saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch hunt right now — has the President said that directly to Jeff Sessions at any point?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware. Again, the President is stating his opinion.
We got time for one last question.
Q Has he said it at any point to Rod Rosenstein?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Last question. Mike.
Q Just to follow on that. So the President — it’s the President’s opinion that Sessions should end the Mueller probe, but it’s also his opinion that the Mueller probe should play itself out?
MS. SANDERS: The President believes that he’s watched this process, frankly, play out. He’d like to see it come to a conclusion since it’s been going on for the better part of a year and a half. And they’ve found no collusion between the President as he’s said many, many times before.
The President has got an event here starting in a couple minutes.
Q Just one last follow-up on that.
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q The President — you’ve also said the President believes he can fire Mueller. Doesn’t it look weak on Twitter for him to say Sessions should end this probe, when it’s Rosenstein that can end the probe and the President believes he can end the probe?
MS. SANDERS: It’s not weak for the President of the United States to state his opinion. Thanks so much guys.
1:56 P.M. EDT