James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:26 P.M. EDT
SANDERS: Good afternoon. As you’ve all seen, Hurricane Lane is a Category 4 storm that is expected to have a significant impact on the State of Hawaii. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen briefed the President on this hurricane this morning.
We encourage all those in the path of the storm to listen to the instruction of state and local authorities as it relates to evacuation orders and shelter locations.
The President is deeply concerned for the wellbeing of all Hawaiians, and has directed FEMA and administration officials to remain in close coordination with the State of Hawaii and stand ready to support them in whatever they need.
Also this morning, the President had a phone call with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. The two leaders committed to maintaining strong sanctions on North Korea. The two also expressed that they look forward to seeing each other later this year at UNGA, and to continue these important conversations with allies.
Lastly, on behalf of our entire administration, I want to extend prayers to the family, friends, and loved ones of Mollie Tibbetts. The nation has watched for over 30 days as local, state, and federal officials have searched for Mollie, a rising sophomore at the University of Iowa.
Sadly, the individual believed to be responsible for the murder is an illegal immigrant, making this an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our immigration laws.
The Bible tells us in Psalms that “[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The Tibbetts family is hurting, and they’re on the hearts of all Americans, and we are grieving with them.
With that, I’ll take your questions. Cecilia.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Michael Cohen, under oath, pleaded guilty to — among things — paying Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during the campaign. And he says he did it at the direction of the President of the United States. Did President Trump commit a crime?
SANDERS: As the President said, and we’ve stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. And we’ve commented on this extensively.
Q Then why not report these payments?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth details. I can tell you, as the President has stated on numerous occasions, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him in this. And just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that that implicates the President on anything.
Q Can you stand here today and say the President has never lied to the American people? Because so many people now look back at that tape of him on Air Force One, saying he knew nothing about these payments, when, in fact, we now know he knew everything about these payments. So has he lied?
SANDERS: Look, again, I think that’s a ridiculous accusation. The President, in this matter, has done nothing wrong. And there are no charges against him.
Q The President has said to Fox News, in an interview with Ainsley Earhardt this morning, that this could not have been an illegal campaign contribution because he paid the money. He put more than $60 million of his own money into the campaign. So how do you draw the line between — I mean, maybe this didn’t flow through the campaign, but how do you draw the line between what was a campaign contribution and what might have been a payment to somebody for other purposes?
SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to get into the back-and-forths of the legal part of this. I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel on that. As I told Cecilia, what I can tell you is what the President has stated a number of times: He did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. Just because Michael Cohen has made a deal doesn’t mean anything with regards to the President.
Q Sarah, the President tweeted this morning a frustration that Michael Cohen wrote. Perhaps you can shed a little bit more light on that. Because the implication is that Michael Cohen gave up something that the President would rather stay secret. Is that what we should read into this, or is there another explanation?
SANDERS: The President has expressed his views on that. I don’t have anything further to add.
Q Can I ask you one other question? Is the President now planning on, or intent on, pardoning Paul Manafort?
SANDERS: The Manafort case doesn’t have anything to do with the President, doesn’t have anything to do with his campaign, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the White House.
Q Sarah, I actually was going to ask about Manafort, but let me ask in a slightly different way. Even if it has nothing to do with the President, he still could have the power to pardon Mr. Manafort. Is that something that he’s begun discussing with the team? Have you ruled it out? Has it come up? And the —
SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations regarding that at all.
Q Thanks. The question that I also have —
SANDERS: Other than, actually, when he was asked by a news outlet earlier this week, and he said that he hadn’t been thinking about that at all.
Q Thanks. In times like this — not that there are that many times like this — the White House has often tried to figure out whether there needs to be any internal adjustments to deal with some of the political issues you’re going to have now with the Hill, with voters, with — internally, with lawmakers.
Is the White House making any adjustments in terms of responsibilities of Chiefs of Staff, of communications to donors, communications to supporters, how you intend to kind of respond both protectively and offensively to the crisis that you’re now in?
SANDERS: I wouldn’t view it that way, at all, and would disagree with the premise of your question. The White House is focused on the same things that we were focused on the first day that we got here. And that is growing the economy, which is doing extremely well; protecting our borders; strengthening the safety and security of all Americans. Those are the things that were focused on day one, January 20th. And those are the same things that we’re focused on right now.
Q Thank you, Sarah. First, I’d like to start off by congratulating you. This is your 100th briefing, and there’s no way what you do every day is easy.
Q I got two real questions. First of all, our colleague, Jonathan Swan, over at Axios, recently wrote — and I quote, “Several top Republican operatives working on the midterm elections told me Trump’s fanciful ‘red wave’ predictions could depress Republican turnout and ironically serve to make any blue wave even bigger.” So are you familiar with any Republican operatives who would concur with this statement?
SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. I think that the thing that’s going to encourage people is the lack of a message by Democrats. They have nothing to run on other than attacking this President. And not only is the President and the record that Republicans have had over the last year and a half, under his leadership, is a great one to run on. We have an incredible story to tell. The economy is booming. Record numbers just today. We’re going to continue focusing on the things that Americans care about, and I think that will be certainly what encourages them, and certainly what will help push Republicans to do well in November.
Q And yesterday — yesterday, the President stated that, quote, “Israel will pay a price for the Jerusalem Embassy.” I’m not sure if that’s an exact quote, though. Should Israel be concerned that the price they may have to pay would be one that they’re not prepared or willing to pay at this point?
SANDERS: We think that the President’s decision was the right one to move the embassy — something that other Presidents had promised and failed to do. This is a President who’s been delivering on the promises that he’s made.
Q Sure. But about the price —
Q What price are we talking about? What price might Israel have to pay?
SANDERS: I don’t have anything further for you.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since those guilty verdicts yesterday in the Paul Manafort trial, the President has said some kind things about Mr. Manafort. He’s called him a “good man,” a “good person.” He said he feels badly for what has happened to him. He tweeted today, “…unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.'” He tweeted, “Such respect for a brave man!” Is Mr. Manafort a simple candidate for a presidential pardon?
SANDERS: Once again, that’s not something that has been up for discussion. I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q Can I ask you about the Kavanaugh nomination? There’s some Democrats that are saying that the nomination should be put on hold because of the legal developments yesterday. Hawaiian Senator Mazie Hirono put out a statement. She said: This President, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal manner, does not deserve the courtesy of a meeting his nominee. What is your reaction to that, Sarah?
SANDERS: This is a desperate and pathetic attempt by Democrats to obstruct a very highly qualified nominee. The hearing date has been set for September 4th, and Judge Kavanaugh will be there.
Q Yes, Sarah. Trade talks between the United States and China are resuming. The President, earlier this week, expressed quite low expectations for those talks. I’m wondering if that has changed, and what you would like to see come out of these discussions.
SANDERS: As you said, these conversations are continuing. I don’t have any announcements on them. They’re ongoing. Certainly, what we’d like to see is better trade deals for the United States. The President wants to see free, fair, and more reciprocal trade between other countries, particularly with China, and we’re going to continue in those conversations.
Q Sarah, does the President feel betrayed by Michael Cohen? And is he concerned about what he might say to Robert Mueller?
SANDERS: I don’t think the President is concerned at all. He knows that he did nothing wrong and that there was no collusion. And we’re going to continue focusing on the things that Americans care about and that we can have an impact on.
Q And one more question on trade: Do you anticipate a deal between Mexico and the United States on NAFTA this week?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of any potential announcement. For decades, NAFTA has harmed American workers and cost the U.S. billions of dollars. We’re focused on making sure we deal with and address those problems, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement.
Q Thanks, Sarah. In his interview today, the President said he found out about those payments that Michael Cohen made later on. But he’s on tape discussing how to make one of the payments with Michael Cohen — so before the payment was made. So how do you explain that?
SANDERS: Once again, I’ve commented on this pretty extensively. What I can tell you about this is that the President did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion for anything beyond that. I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q Rudy Giuliani is not a taxpayer-funded spokesperson for the President. You are.
SANDERS: I’m aware of that.
Q So how can you not explain something the President said today, on the grounds of the White House, that seems to contradict an audio that has been confirmed that it is of the President saying that?
SANDERS: Once again, I have addressed this a number of times. Just because you continue to ask the same questions over and over, I’m not going to give you a different answer. The President has done nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion. That’s what I can tell you about this. If you want something further, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Julie. Oh, sorry, I called on Francesca. I’ll come back to you, Julie.
Q Does the White House maintain the President did not have affairs with Karen McDougal or Stephanie Clifford?
SANDERS: We’ve addressed this a number of times.
Francesca, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. First, you said that there have been no discussions about a potential pardon for Paul Manafort. So you’re not ruling it out entirely. I mean, if there’s no discussions about it at this point, the President hasn’t said he won’t do it, it’s possible that there could be a pardon for him in the future. Is that correct?
SANDERS: The only comment that the President has made on this was when he was asked by a news outlet earlier this week, and he said, no, he was not considering that.
Q Well, that was at the time —
SANDERS: Beyond that, there have been no other discussions.
Q That was before Paul Manafort was convicted on 8 of the 18 counts, at the time when the President was asked that. So I’m asking now — now that he’s been convicted on those counts, is this something that —
SANDERS: And I’m answering you now that there have been no discussions at the White House on that matter.
Q All right. Okay, on a different point: Last time that we were in here, you read off some ex-officials and one current official who the President was considering taking away their security clearance. I wanted to follow up on that and ask you, who was — first of all, who was conducting that review to determine whether or not those security clearances would be pulled?
And second of all, I wanted to ask you about a tweet that the President said, saying that he thought that potentially James Clapper is being “nice” to him so that he doesn’t lose his security clearance. Is that a threat — that if James Clapper isn’t nice to him, that he’ll lose his security clearance?
SANDERS: No, I don’t have any other announcements on that front. We’re continuing to review. When we have an announcement, I’ll let you know.
Julie, go ahead.
Q (Inaudible) who was doing the review?
SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Who was doing the review? That was my other question.
SANDERS: A number of people involved here at the White House.
Julie, go ahead.
Q Sarah, in his tweet about Paul Manafort this morning, the President seemed to be praising him for essentially refusing to cooperate with federal prosecutors in a way that could implicate him, the President. Is that what he meant to suggest? And doesn’t that seem to indicate that he thinks that loyalty to him personally is more important with abiding by the law or cooperating with this government in an investigation?
SANDERS: Not at all. The Manafort case doesn’t involve the President, doesn’t involve his campaign, and has nothing to do with the White House. The President has expressed his views.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Michael Cohen’s lawyer has suggested publicly that there is new evidence that they would like to present about foreknowledge of election hacking. So does the President — does the White House maintain there was no foreknowledge of any election hacking during the 2016 campaign?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of anything, no.
Q Sarah, two questions, as well, for you. Given that five convicted felons are now linked to the President or his campaign, and given that the President promised to hire the “best people,” did he fail to live up to that promise?
SANDERS: Look, the President has employed thousands of people in his lifetime, and had incredible successes, both in business and in the public service. He’s the President of the United States, so I think he’s doing quite well.
Q And can I just follow up? My second question, Sarah, just to follow on Cecilia. Because I understand that you don’t want to answer the same question a million times, and you said the President did nothing illegal, but I didn’t hear a response to the question: Did he lie to the American people when he talked about this on Air Force One?
SANDERS: No. And the President has addressed this a number of times.
Q Sarah, thank you. I have a couple questions. President Trump says he feels badly for Cohen and Manafort. One of the men pleaded guilty to crimes. The other was found guilty of crimes, including tax fraud, which robbed the American public of tax dollars they were owed. Why does he feel bad for either of these men?
SANDERS: Once again, the President has expressed his views on this matter, and I have nothing else to add on that.
Q Just to follow up on that, does he believe that there is an intrinsic problem with the Justice Department? Or does he only believe if someone who was close to him is a victim of the Justice Department?
SANDERS: No — I think we’ve certainly seen a lot of concerns come out of some of the activities of people that worked at the Department of Justice, whether it’s Peter Strzok or Lisa Page or James Comey. We’ve walked through those a number of times, and certainly I think it’s given cause for a lot of Americans — some of the activities those individuals engaged in.
Q No, but when the person in question is someone who’s close to him, the President paints them as a victim, as if his own Justice Department is not doing its job, or has done it unfairly.
SANDERS: Again, certainly the President has expressed his views on this matter, and he’s raised concerns about a number of other problems that he has seen within the Department of Justice.
Q Thank you. I wanted to follow up about the earlier question about the President’s comments on Fox News, with regard to the payments to Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal. When exactly did he learn about them? And also, are there any other payments he has now become aware of? Or are those the only two women who have received money for agreeing not to repeat their stories of alleged affairs with the President?
SANDERS: Once again, I’ve addressed all that I’m going to say on the Cohen issue. For those specific questions, with more details, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q If we’re going to refer such crucial matters to the outside counsel, can’t we bring them in here for the briefing?
SANDERS: They don’t work here —
Q Or even better, have a press conference with the President.
SANDERS: They don’t work here at the White House, but I would certainly encourage you to reach out to them.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Going back to the security clearances, all signs are this is the first time a President personally has been handling the removal of security clearances; it’s usually been done by superiors. Even in the last two big espionage cases of the Cold War — the Irvin Scarbeck case of 1961, and Felix Bloch of 1990 — the Secretary of State pulled the security clearances of people accused of espionage.
You said the President — that “others are reviewing it.” Who are these others reviewing it? And does the President take a personal role in the potential removal of security clearances?
SANDERS: Certainly, the President has the constitutional authority to do so. I know this will come as a shock to you, but I’m not aware of the details of those specific cases that you outlined. But the President has the authority to make that decision.
SANDERS: He’s also consulting with members of his national security team and members of his legal team here at the White House to make those decisions.
Q Is he also considering a policy of just simply having all security passes turned in when someone leaves government service?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of that. As a policy, certainly we would like the ability, if needed, to be able to consult with individuals on national security matters. But they do feel — the team here — that we should look at the security clearance process as whole. My understanding is that there are roughly 5 million people that have security clearances here in the United States, and we’d like to take a look at the overall process of who has and who maintains those security clearances.
Q Top Secret?
Q Yeah. You’re right about the President having constitutional authority, as far as I understand, about security clearances, as well as pardons. So I guess the question I have is: Even though he has that authority, has anybody in the White House thought about putting together boards that would look at security clearances for former personnel? And pardons as well? Because the President doesn’t seem to be consulting the pardon attorney in the AG’s office much. Is he consulting people? Has he thought of doing something that would be more transparent perhaps?
SANDERS: Certainly, as the review of the security clearances, there is a working group that is looking at the overall security clearance process and who maintains those, and whether or not those are needed across the board within government.
In terms of the pardon process, again, the President has the authority to carry out those decisions. He takes input and looks at them on a case-by-case basis.
Q Thank you, Sarah.
SANDERS: Kristen, go ahead.
Q Go ahead.
Q Come back to me, please?
Q Just on that — you said that there are people who are looking at security clearances. Can you tell us who they are?
SANDERS: There are a number of members on the national security team. I’d have to get back to you. I know that the Chief of Staff is involved in that process.
Q Sarah, thank you. Earlier this week, the President told our colleagues at Reuters that —
SANDERS: Can you speak up? I’m sorry.
Q Sorry. The President said earlier this week to Reuters that he could “run it,” in reference to the Mueller investigation. What did he mean by that?
SANDERS: The President has said many times that he’s chosen to remain uninvolved in this process, and that’s where we are right now. If you have anything further —
Q But is that an indication that he’s thinking about taking some type of action against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, like revoking his security clearances?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversation around that.
Q Is it an indication that the President sees himself as above the law?
SANDERS: Not at all.
Raquel, go ahead.
Q Hi. Thank you, Sarah, very much. Some legal experts and lawmakers are saying the President is corrupt and there are ground for an impeachment case. Is the White House concerned about that, that could have an effect in the mid-elections –the midterm elections? And also, does the White House take these allegations seriously?
SANDERS: Certainly, we take allegations seriously. The idea of an impeachment is, frankly, a sad attempt by Democrats. It’s the only message they seem to have going into the midterms. And I think it’s another great reminder of why Americans should support other like-minded candidates, like the President, that are actually focused on continuing to grow the economy, continuing to secure our borders, continuing to focus on the safety and security of all Americans.
I think that the biggest contrast you could possibly make is the message of the Democrats, which is nothing more than attacking the President and looking at cheap political stunts while this White House and Republicans in the House and Senate are focused on actually doing good things for the American people.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Earlier this week, the President had some tough words of criticism for Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman. Can you tell us when the last time the President and Powell met face-to-face, and whether or not the President brought up that criticism with Powell directly?
SANDERS: I believe the last time they met — I’d have to double-check — was right around the time that Jerome Powell took his place on the Federal Reserve board.
Q So has he spoken to him directly about his concerns about raising interest rates?
SANDERS: I’m not aware that they’ve spoken about that at all.
One last question — sorry, go ahead, Emerald.
Q Thank you, Sarah. On Venezuela, is the President involved — planning on getting involved there at all? There’s millions fleeing the country now. What is the U.S. stance on Venezuela at this point?
SANDERS: The United States continues to support Venezuela’s neighbors, and provide emergency aid and shelter to Venezuela, and also continues to stand with the people of Venezuela. And we’re going to keep all options on the table. And we’ll keep you posted if we have any further announcements.
Thank you so much. And we’re going to wrap up here so that we can all join the President for the Medal of Honor ceremony. Thanks, guys.
2:48 P.M. EDT