1:38 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Hey, guys. You saw the President signed an executive order today, another important step towards eliminating job-crushing regulations and keeping the government agencies accountable by getting America back to work, just as he promised to do. This afternoon, he’s meeting with Governor Kasich. The President of Peru, as I mentioned yesterday, will be swinging by. Over the weekend, the President is going to be continuing to work on his joint address. He’s hosting a dinner in the State Dining Room of our nation’s governors. And the First Lady has a bunch of activities planned. There’s a ball Sunday night that the First Lady is hosting for the governors and their spouses.
And as I mentioned yesterday — and I think that’s kind of it. So with that, let me —
Q What is he going to talk to Kasich about?
MR. SPICER: This is something that they wanted to get together after the election and catch up, and discuss sort of the issues and agenda that the President is implementing, and hopefully how some of these things — I think coal will probably come up. But we’ll try and see if we can get a readout of that afterwards. We generally don’t provide readouts of that, but let me see what I can do.
Q Will the RNC come up?
MR. SPICER: Will the RNC? What about the RNC?
Q About the convention that he didn’t attend.
MR. SPICER: Oh, I don’t know. I doubt it. My guess is that we’re talking about things going forward. It’s obviously not for me to decide what the President discusses or what Governor Kasich decides to talk about.
Q Hey, Sean, just housekeeping-wise, can you just say why you decided to do this today off camera? And then can you talk about some of the information that has come out from senior administration officials this morning regarding some of the pushback on The New York Times reporting that was on background?
MR. SPICER: I literally have said since day one that we would have some sort of gathering every day. The President spoke today. As you know, we don’t generally do — we haven’t done briefings when the President has had a major event or an event with a world leader. And we put it on the schedule yesterday that we were just going to gaggle. I don’t — I mean, this is something that we’ve talked about with the Correspondents’ Association about making sure that we had daily contact with you guys.
And I think — obviously the President gave a very powerful speech today, and our job is to make sure that we’re responsive to folks in the media. We’re here all day. We’ve got a big staff. And we want to make sure we answer your questions. We don’t need to do everything on camera every day. I think the President did a good job of making sure that — today at CPAC, on camera, for a long time. And I wanted to make sure that the President’s message carried.
Oh, and then with respect to —
Q Can you talk about — exactly, the pushback from this morning?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I think — we gathered with a small group this morning. And I think part of this is to make sure that, especially in the case of CNN in particular, it was — you were — I think several media outlets, who, a majority, frankly, carried it very responsibly in terms of how the events unfolded. But it’s a pretty serious accusation. And when you see the chyrons on CNN and the headlines and their story making it appear as though we did something wrong or nefarious, we wanted to make sure that we set the record straight.
And I think that this morning was an opportunity to push back on what actually happened and why it happened. And I think with respect to the events, just to be clear — and I know we’ve gone over some of it — that the deputy director of the FBI was at the White House for a 7:30 meeting, or whenever it was, the morning that the story came out. He asked to see the chief of staff after the meeting privately, and said, in very colorful terms, that The New York Times story was not accurate. As would anyone, frankly, at the time say, “Could you clarify that then? If it’s not true, could you clarify the story?” The deputy director said, “I’ll get back to you.” When he got back to us, he said, hey, look, we don’t want to get in the practice of starting to refute every story. The chief of staff said, well, you’ve put us in a very difficult situation; you’ve told us that a story that made some fairly significant accusations was not true. And now you want us to just go out there — and I think that we have a right, if there’s information, or if you’re saying the story is not right, could you at least make it available to the media or some folks in the media that, yes, that story is not right? It made very, very serious allegations.
And further in the day, the director of the FBI said to Reince that you have every right to go out there and say that you’ve been briefed by us, which he did.
Q So a clarification on that. And on “Meet the Press,” when the chief of staff obviously said that he had had permission from senior intelligence officials, he was speaking about McCabe, the deputy director?
MR. SPICER: And the director.
Q So they had given him explicit permission?
MR. SPICER: They said, literally the story in The New York Times is not accurate.
Q Sean, do you have any idea what —
Q Sorry, I just want to follow up on this thread. The President said today that he doesn’t like the idea of unnamed sources. Obviously, this administration briefs on background, meaning on the condition that you not be named. Is that going to change now?
MR. SPICER: No, no, but I’ll give you a great example. This morning — there’s a big difference —
Q But —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Hallie, let me answer the question.
Q I didn’t get to the question.
MR. SPICER: Okay, go ahead.
Q Is there — go ahead, you first.
MR. SPICER: No, I didn’t let you get to your question, so go ahead. Seriously, keep going.
Q The question was, do you plan to change that? Are you going to do all your briefings on the record?
MR. SPICER: So there is, I think, a big difference — this morning was an example where we wanted to have a free-flowing exchange with reporters. At the end of the conversation, several reporters said, can we use some of this on the record? We said yes. So the answer is, is that there is times when —
Q But it’s —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Hallie. Let me just answer.
Q All right, I’m just flowing.
MR. SPICER: I think there is an opportunity — there’s a way to use background sourcing to be able to have a much more robust discussion about some things. We came back, as the example this morning, and said, sure, there are quotes that you can use on the record. I think there’s a big difference between explaining a policy and wanting to be able to have that kind of discussion where you say, hey, let’s do this on background. And I think, generally speaking, we’ve been pretty open to saying, sure, we’ll put those statements on — or if you want to clear some stuff on the record, for the most part we’ve been very good about it.
There’s a big difference between making serious allegations — us coming back on the record, and reporters saying, well, we have five sources that are unnamed that say contrary to that. I think there’s a point at which there’s an obligation, if you’re going to make a very serious allegation, and we’re willing to push back on the record that there be somebody at the very least that’s willing to push back on this and say that they’ll put their name attached to it. When you look at the reporting that The New York Times initially did, it was all background sources. It basically accused the President and his campaign team of doing some very, very serious stuff. We pushed back against that reporting at the time, and we were met with, “Well, we have unnamed sources.” And I think there’s an obligation at some when, if you’re going to make allegations of a serious nature, to at least make somebody go on the record and say, yes, I’m willing to stand behind that, when we’re willing to or another organization is willing to refute them on the record.
So we often get met with us going on the record in multiple ways with reporters to only be told, “Well, we’re not going to believe you on the record because we’ve got one, two, three unnamed sources that we’re not going to tell you who they are, where they’re from, whether or not they’re even in the circle of orbit.” And in many cases, when I push against reporters, I’ll say, look, there were four people in that meeting — here are the four people. Can you confirm any of them? “Well, no they were people who heard from them.” So I’ve literally gone back to people and said, there is a room that occurred with four, five, six people in it, and this didn’t happen because I was in the room. And they’ll say, yeah, but people who were briefed by those people. So how many degrees of telephone do you play before at least you’re willing to say, if someone in the room won’t at least put their name on it or you won’t admit that somebody in the room is willing to say it? I think that that undermines the credibility of some of the reporting that’s going on.
Q Can you explain the distinction that the administration has drawn between a lot of conservative anger about the Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton conversation versus the obviously Reince Priebus-Deputy Director conversation? The administration has said it’s different because the Chief of Staff was talking about a report, a news report and not an investigation. But the report was about an investigation. So does the administration worry that the Chief of Staff has crossed the line?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, hold on, hold on. And I brought this up this morning — sorry for those of you who have to listen to this twice — let’s reverse-engineer this in two ways. Number one, the deputy director comes to us. We didn’t go to them. The differences in the case —
Q I’m not going to rehash, but I want to get this —
MR. SPICER: No, no, I am. But I —
Q I think it’s important to get on the record.
MR. SPICER: And I will. And, by the way, just as a side note, as I mentioned to one of your colleagues today, doing a gaggle doesn’t preclude us from doing something on camera later today. And I’m more than welcome — I think the idea was that with time being what it is today, we wanted to just make sure that you guys got up-to-dated on a variety of issues.
But there’s nothing that precludes us from saying, hey, we’ll go do an on-camera interview. So just the idea that we don’t do something in the Briefing Room doesn’t preclude. Here’s the thing — there’s a big difference. The deputy director came to the chief of staff of the White House and literally said, the story is false.
So here are the two scenarios. One is, the chief of staff says nothing and just stares at him, which is what some of the folks in this room believe he should have done, he should have just sat there and said — (indicating) — which, now if any of you — the second piece of this is that nine times out of ten0, when I deal with you guys, and I’ll say we had a big problem with the story in X publication or X outlet, the first question I get asked is: Well, did you push back? Did you ask for a correction?
And I think in this case, the point is, is that all we simply did was say, wow, you’re bringing us information saying that something — a story in The New York Times is not accurate. So is there something that you’re doing to let other journalists know that it’s not true? Because they’re asking us.
So that morning I got, let’s say, five, ten, fifteen phone calls from you and your colleagues, saying, “Hey, there’s a report in The New York Times — what do you think about it?” Well, if someone is coming to us telling us that it’s not a true story, our goal was to literally just say to them, will your public affairs office take this phone call?
Q Sean, is there an expectation —
MR. SPICER: I just want to be clear. I really am intrigued by I don’t know what else we were supposed to do. We were provided information. And this notion that I see on CNN about we pushed back or we applied pressure. Pressure, by definition, is applying force. So if we had said, “If you don’t do this, if you don’t do that,” that’s pressure. And I get that. That would have been wrong. “We order you to do this. We require you to do that. We’re urging” — we literally responded when presented with information and said, “Could you let the media know that, what you’re informing us of?”
And the answer was, well, we don’t want to get in the middle of starting a practice of doing this. So our answer is, well, why did you come to us with this information if not to elicit a response?
I don’t know what else you do except for say, gosh, could you clear the record up? That is a very different scenario than trying to exert influence on a situation. We literally responded to what they came to us with and said, okay, what are you going to do about it?
And again, if you take —
Q Did you —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, I’ll finish with this, because the thing that’s interesting to me is that had we not done anything and just sat there, what would — it would have been irresponsible and, frankly, malpractice to say, yes, I was informed that we didn’t do anything, and yet I didn’t act.
Q So we talked about this six hours ago, all that same stuff. Can we just move ahead a little bit here? Do you have any idea what McCabe’s motivation was in coming forward?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q Because then he asked the Chief of Staff to call him back at the FBI, only to then be told from the FBI Headquarters, there’s nothing we can do. And then it was a very small circle of people who knew about this, and yet it leaked.
MR. SPICER: I think that’s concerning. Again, remember the timetable. We didn’t ask them for that meeting. Reince had never met the guy prior to that morning. He wouldn’t have known who he was. And frankly — so he showed up at a meeting. Director Comey was traveling that day. It was an intel meeting on a separate subject. So the idea that — and again, they don’t dispute — from what I understand — any of this chronology that he pulled him aside. So if you logically can ask yourself why would he have pulled him aside to update him on a story just to say, “Hey, I know we’ve never met before, but I just wanted to know if you read the paper today”? Logically that makes zero sense.
So I don’t know what his motivations were. I don’t — I think hopefully to make sure that they knew that they were informing up what the status of the story was.
And can I make one more claim? Because this just dovetails into something that Hallie asked. Just so we’re clear — because I’ve seen a lot of reporting about was it proper or whatever — first of all, there’s nothing — there is literally a memo out from past Attorneys General about how the DOJ will deal with the White House. There is literally a carve-out for dealing with public affairs. This is a story in The New York Times that was not accurate, according to them. So this idea about how we handled it, or how they handled it, there is literally in the memo — which is all it is, it’s a guidance memo — there’s literally a carve-out that specifically addresses how to handle public affairs.
Q Let me just come back to the leak. Because you’ve got three people who were in this loop.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q You’ve got the chief of staff of the White House. You’ve got the deputy director and the director of the FBI.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q And yet this somehow leaks.
MR. SPICER: I think that’s why the President —
Q If the President is pursuing leaks, it would seem that he doesn’t have to look too far.
MR. SPICER: And that’s why I think you’ve seen the President’s tweet on this today, and you’ve heard the President’s comments. He is not just today, but last week at the press conference. This is troubling when an FBI or anyone in the intelligence world, or, frankly, anyone in government entrusted with classified information and national security information is sharing that information widely. Yeah, that’s a big problem. And I think you’ve seen the President’s concern for this issue.
Q Should he fire somebody? Is he going to fire Director Comey?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to — I think I will leave it at the President’s tweet speaks for itself, and the President’s comments on his concern for national security — yes, it’s concerning. Overall — overall, it’s concerning.
Q Pulling back, this Russia narrative continues to dog the administration and it’s something that Americans have been paying attention to, it’s something the media has been paying attention to. How do you — what’s your goal to sort of end this narrative? Is there any way you could answer more questions, do more things to finish this thing that started right after the election, that somehow the President has an improper relationship with Russia? Is he prepared to answer some of these questions, release some more details to finally put an end to this? Or are we just going to continue to find out about his connections through these leaks?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, there are no connections to find out about. That’s the problem. I think, A, he’s answered it forcefully. You can’t disprove something that doesn’t exist. He’s talked about the fact how many times he’s talked to Putin. He has no interests in Russia. He has no — there’s only so many times he can deny something that doesn’t exist.
Q Until another leak comes out?
MR. SPICER: But what are the leaks? The leaks don’t actually — again, you’ve got a story that comes out from The New York Times with unnamed sources. You have the FBI coming to us. And frankly — and I don’t — I know that I do a really good job of lecturing you guys, so I’ll try to stay silent on a Friday. But to some degree the true story — and Chairman Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee is on the record saying that he received a report and corroborates it. At some point, isn’t the story that actually the accusations that came out have been disputed?
Q I guess the question is —
MR. SPICER: Hold on. The House Intelligence Committee came out, after getting the briefing, and said that the story is demonstrably false. And I don’t mean to put words into the chairman’s mouth there. I think he’s quoted in the Wall Street Journal. But, at some point, isn’t the story actually that there is no story, to your point; that it’s been disproven, and it’s not the level to which The New York Times has made it to be?
But all we have done from the get-go is exactly what you’re asking, which is to continue to disprove a negative.
Q Sean, on that — but continuing with that though, are you then saying that you would encourage, not interfere with, and not in any way encourage the Attorney General to suppress the investigation? Because there is some suggestion of that. Putting this story aside, there is a suggestion that there is suppression.
MR. SPICER: I know, but the only suggestion, Margaret, with all due respect, is from you guys. There was — we were not aware of —
Q Actually, it’s not. There —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no — but who? So you have someone like Nancy Pelosi coming out and making a wildly inappropriate statement.
Q I’m speaking specifically to the Department of Justice, not Capitol Hill.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But in other words, we’re not aware of an investigation, so how would we be able to — well, I’m sorry, what was the word that you used?
MR. SPICER: But, but — so if you’re going to make an accusation like that, where is the evidence that there has been anything that A, exists, or B, that we’ve suppressed anything?
Q But the question was, are you actually saying any investigation — if there was any reason to investigate, the Department of Justice should go ahead, because there is a —
MR. SPICER: Sure.
Q — suggestion at the Department of Justice, on the —
MR. SPICER: Sure, if there is evidence of anything —
Q — that there is —
MR. SPICER: No, that’s their job. Look —
Q — (inaudible) question.
MR. SPICER: Right. And I think we’ve made it clear that if there’s evidence of something, pursue it. And we’ve said that very clearly about the House and Senate. There is nothing to — we have nothing to hide. The President has been crystal-clear consistently over and over again. And my point to you is that at some point you use words like “suppression” or “investigation” — then show us. Where’s this investigation? Where is the suppression that’s occurring? Where’s the so-called pushback or pressure?
I mean, respectfully, guys, I don’t — I find a lot of this offensive. When you talk about us pushing back on something that doesn’t exist, at some point answer the opposite — which is, what were we supposed to do when presented by information by them? Sit back and do nothing?
Q I’m not speaking about that point and case. I’m talking about at the Department of Justice, writ large, investigating ties to Russia. Is that an investigation that should continue to proceed?
MR. SPICER: If they have an investigation, then they should do what they want. They should follow the law.
Q And is that the message that the President has delivered to the Attorney General?
MR. SPICER: I mean, he literally swore him in. I think something like, I hope you execute the — I mean, why would he have to — again, respectfully, it’s insulting that the President would have to tell the Attorney General to follow the law. Did you ask the same question about Obama with respect to Holder? I mean, with all of the stuff that went out there, did you —
Q There are reports and those are lines of questions that —
MR. SPICER: Did you ever ask that question?
Q I wasn’t covering that case, but there were reporters at my network who did.
MR. SPICER: They did? So they did. You can —
Q I believe it was CBS that broke the “Fast and Furious” story. But anyway, moving —
MR. SPICER: That’s not what I asked. No, no, I didn’t ask that question. I’m saying, did you ever question the White House, or did CBS, on the record, question the Obama administration whether or not they asked the Attorney General to follow the law?
Q But there is — Sean —
MR. SPICER: No, see what you just did? You told —
Q I’m trying to answer you. There is a sort of boilerplate speaking point, talking point to say we don’t want to impede an ongoing investigation, we hope that all those thing —
MR. SPICER: Did you ever ask the Obama administration the same question?
Q About this? No.
MR. SPICER: No, about whether or not they asked Attorney General Holder to follow the law. These boilerplate language —
Q There were plenty of questions about interference —
MR. SPICER: No, no, look —
Q Yes, there were plenty of questions about interference.
MR. SPICER: So you can you tell me that CBS asked the White House that same question?
Q About whether the Justice Department was interfering in investigations?
MR. SPICER: Would follow the law, would use this “boilerplate language”?
MR. SPICER: Okay.
Q But to the point, there are people that —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, but you don’t get to pivot, Margaret.
Q I’m not. I’m actually asking to stay on the topic, which was the topic of the Russia investigation, not what you’re talking about. So on the topic of the Russia investigation, what you have said is there is no knowledge at the White House of any investigation into ties with Russia?
MR. SPICER: I am not aware of an investigation. If there was one, then they should follow the law. But I don’t think — I will definitely try to look for whether or not CBS asked the same question to the White House during the eight years of the Obama administration. Because at least I never saw that.
Q Sean, can you say why Mr. Priebus wanted — when he talked to McCabe — why did he then want the FBI to go do, on their own, bat this story down? Was there something about it being more credible if the FBI were to speak up about than if it was just coming from —
MR. SPICER: Okay, so just stop for a second. Let’s walk through this logically. I come to you and say, hey, there’s evidence that whatever you’ve been accused of is not true. What’s your response? No, no, answer the question.
Q You said to me that there’s evidence of —
MR. SPICER: So you’ve been accused of some wrongdoing, and I come to you and say, hey, guess what — the accusations that you’ve been accused of I know they aren’t true.
Q I’d love for you to tell everybody. I’m asking specifically in this case. I’m just asking in this case was there a sense, on this subject matter, which is politically very loaded, where you feel you haven’t been treated well, that it would be more useful for the administration if the FBI spoke up —
MR. SPICER: No, it’s not a question of useful. They came to us and said, this story is not true. We said, great, could you tell people that? Reporters are asking us, we’ve denied it. We did deny it. I’m really having a tough time understanding the logic of your question. They story gets printed in The New York Times. Just to be clear, let’s think about this for a second. If we knew that this story was false and we wanted the FBI to pressure, wouldn’t we have asked the day before when the story was coming out?
Q I wasn’t suggesting you asked them to pressure. That was not the premise of the question.
MR. SPICER: So they come to us with information that morning and say, the story that was published is not accurate. What should have been the White House’s response?
Q I’m not going to say what your response should have been. But do you see what I’m asking is —
MR. SPICER: No, I don’t. I really don’t. I think it’s insane. I think it really — the idea that you’re saying someone tells you that something is false —
Q Did you think that denial would be more credible if it came from the FBI instead of from you?
MR. SPICER: Of course, it would. Because the story listed intelligence sources as saying — The New York Times said, according to multiple sources in the intelligence community, this is false. If the FBI and part of the intelligence community says, we believe it’s false, it came out after we had denied it — and, of course, The New York Times didn’t believe us, said, oh, we have X number of sources in the intel community, you’re wrong — why wouldn’t we want someone with credibility who’s saying, we have no evidence that this story is accurate, come out and say that?
Q I guess what I’m aiming towards is, are you trying to — do you guys feel like there’s been background sources from the intelligence community saying things that you dispute, that you don’t like? Is this part of a broader effort to get the intelligence community —
MR. SPICER: That’s barely — you show a lack of — I mean —
Q To go on the record.
MR. SPICER: No, no, hold on, hold on. Just stop for a second. They come to us and say, “The New York Times is quoting intelligence sources claiming X, Y and Z. We don’t believe that that’s accurate.” “Okay, could you please let people know that that’s not true?”
Q And I’m saying, when you say that, is that a way of asking them to get their house in order if these sources are talking —
MR. SPICER: No, it’s a way of saying — if someone witnesses something that happened and says, I’m willing to go out and say that, hey, I saw that actually the car went right and not left, and I can clear this up — wouldn’t you want the witness to do that? The FBI is saying, we are in the intelligence business, we didn’t think that story was accurate; we wanted you to know. Our answer is, great, reporters are calling us — could you let them know?
Q But I think that happens pretty regularly, that the FBI tells you something and they are not deciding what’s going to go into the public sphere or not. That’s your job, right?
MR. SPICER: Not if — we had to — I mean, no, actually it doesn’t, to be honest with you. It’s the first time that I’ve seen it happen. Obviously, we had never had — the chairman had never — the chief of staff had never met this guy before. So for him to come over and say, hey, by the way — no, that doesn’t — at least in my 30-some-odd days, it’s never happened.
Q I guess what I was wondering is why it’s so unusual for them to want the White House, the political component, to be the ones deciding about what gets put —
MR. SPICER: I don’t know, ask them. Again, I hate to probably break some norm, but maybe you should direct your question to them. I know that’s probably — now you’re going to have stories about how I directed reporters to call the public affairs office to do —
Q But I’m asking you the question.
MR. SPICER: No, no, because — I know, and I’ve asked and answered it, like, 18 times.
Q Sean, did Reince talk to counsel, the White House Counsel’s Office after he talked to McCabe?
MR. SPICER: I don’t — it’s possible. It’s very possible that they were in the initial meeting. I’m sure that he has followed up with counsel and said, hey, I just was told this — at some point.
Q This is a bit of a difficult situation and what do we do.
MR. SPICER: But again, at the beginning part, the answer was to tell — to say to McCabe, hey, let us know how you want to handle this.
Q So that secondary —
MR. SPICER: Just remember the response, which is, it wasn’t a directive. We didn’t say, “Go do the following.” That’s a directive. That could be — we literally said, “What can you do to help get the world out? Could you take calls from reporters? Will you clear this up?”
Q But that kind of, “what could you do” wasn’t — to your knowledge it wasn’t after he had spoken to counsel and said —
MR. SPICER: Oh, no, it was immediate.
MR. SPICER: Like, “Hey, what can you do?” And the answer that McCabe gave was, “Give me a few hours to get back to you and see what we can do.”
Q So you know what McCabe went away and did in those two hours? I mean, was he talking to his own counsel?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. You should ask him. I don’t want to —
Q Sean, going forward, then, with the FBI, you have a fundamental persistent dispute with them about them stepping into such matters and —
MR. SPICER: I don’t — in terms of what, Dave?
Q In terms of if this situation arises again where they have information that they could back down an untrue story —
MR. SPICER: I think that the FBI — sure. I mean, if the FBI knows something to be false, unless it hinders intelligence-gathering, an ongoing investigation, I don’t want to get in the — I mean, our job isn’t to get in the way of them doing their job, i.e. investigating something or uncovering a plot, or whatever they’re doing. If there’s some reason that they have to act in accordance to protect this country, they should by all means do it. But to come to somebody and say, you’ve been accused of some pretty serious things and we know them not to be accurate, I would assume that you would want — I mean, isn’t their job justice?
I mean, that’s — I mean, if you wrote a story that was knowingly false and somebody came to you and said, I know, Dave, that the story you wrote is false and I’ve got some facts to prove it, I would hope and I do believe that you would say, get them to me and I’m going to update the story.
If this was you, and you had written a story and someone from the FBI came to you and said, hey, I know you wrote that story, Dave, or, Hallie, I saw your package last night, and, gosh, we’re in the intel community and I’m willing to let you know it’s not accurate — I would assume that your answer would be, okay, what do I need to do to correct it, or what can I do, or what can you give me.
Q So the administration still maintains there is no investigation.
MR. SPICER: No, that’s not what I said, Charlie. No. I literally said then when presented with a story that we were told was not accurate, our answer was, could you go tell other people that it’s not accurate or correct it, or whatever you see fit. But what are we doing to get the story or the facts straight?
Q So you don’t know whether or not there is an investigation.
MR. SPICER: I know nothing more than they told us a story was not accurate. And our answer was, what are you going to do to get the story right. It wasn’t — that’s it, full stop. There was no discussion about anything beyond the story. And the story wasn’t right. And I believe he used —
Q So you’re not aware of any investigation into Russia, did I misunderstand that?
MR. SPICER: I’m not aware of one. Huh? You asked me if I was aware. I am not.
Q Is the administration?
MR. SPICER: I don’t — that’s a pretty broad term. I’m not aware of one. And so —
Q More broadly then, to this point, is there concern — or what does this say about the relationship between the administration and the FBI, given that you used words like “concerned,” “troubling,” talking about leaks? Should Americans be concerned about fallout between the White House and the FBI?
MR. SPICER: I think you should — no, I mean, all I know is they’ve told us some information, we’ve asked them to help get the word out. That’s where it stands.
Q But you called the potential leaks “troubling” and “concerning.”
MR. SPICER: No, I was asked about the leaks, Hallie.
Q But you directed us back to the President’s tweet, which says, “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’.” Are we to deduce that the President has lost confidence in the FBI and the Director?
MR. SPICER: I think that I’m going to let the President’s tweet stand for itself. But I think that — and again, I think he commented on this last week, that there is a concern — these are two separate issues. One is the instance at hand and the story that came out, and the second is the leaks that are coming out.
Q And on a sort of semi-related note, this banner on CNN right now that says “CNN and others have been blocked from media briefings,” are CNN and The New York Times not in here right now because you’re unhappy with their reporting? And why are they not in here?
MR. SPICER: Because we had a pool and then we expanded it, and we added some folks to come and cover it.
Q But there’s enough room for others in here.
MR. SPICER: It was my decision to decide — you know, to expand the pool. Yeah.
Q Sean, the President said today at CPAC, “We’re going to do something about it” in reference to these stories that he is saying are false by The New York Times and CNN and others. What is he talking about there?
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, say the beginning.
Q He said, “We are going to do something about it” when he was referencing —
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, I think we’re going to aggressively push back. We’re just not going to sit back and let false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.
Q In terms of leaks, what’s the next step? The President has been concerned —
MR. SPICER: The President is not going to tell you how he’s going to handle this. Obviously, that would undermine the ability to block them if people knew what he was going to do or how he was going to handle it.
Q Can I first ask about the shooting in Kansas of the two Indian Americans and what the President’s response to it was, but also if there’s any concern that some of the rhetoric that the President or — that generally has been out here recently could have contributed in any way to that or stepped up violence?
MR. SPICER: I mean, obviously, any loss of life is tragic, but I’m not going to get into, like, that kind of — to suggest that there’s any correlation I think is a bit absurd. So I’m not going to go any further than that.
Q Can I ask about the CEA? Politico is saying that Kevin Hassett is the President’s choice. I’m wondering if you can confirm that.
MR. SPICER: I can’t.
Q And then more broadly, the CEA is not among the President’s Cabinet positions anymore and I’m wondering if you can explain —
MR. SPICER: I don’t think it was during Bush, was it?
Q I know it was under Obama.
MR. SPICER: Okay, so what’s — okay. Some positions are and some positions aren’t. I mean, there are —
Q Well, can you just explain the logic behind —
MR. SPICER: No, I can’t. I mean, I think the President makes a decision — he can always expand his Cabinet. But I think that there’s some Cabinet positions that each administration decides are part of their Cabinet, some aren’t. And I think the President has an unbelievably talented group of economic advisors, from Steve Mnuchin to Wilbur Ross to Robert Lighthizer, should he be confirmed by the Senate, as well as Wilbur and others.
So it’s every President’s prerogative to decide beyond the statutory members of the Cabinet who else to have included.
Q Can I follow up on the shooting? You mentioned that — is it the — what part is the “absurd”? I guess I’m just —
MR. SPICER: Well, it’s absurd to suggest that rhetoric. And I think the point that was at least — I think the —
Q I mean, the comment from the man supposedly is, “Get out of my country.” Is it a question of it’s too early to call it a hate crime?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, but I think they’re pointing out — at least what I thought was being asked is, is there any, like — was it your intention to suggest that there was, like, a connection between —
Q I mean, I think that — I didn’t want to say, this person did — I mean, I don’t think any of us could know that possibly.
MR. SPICER: Well, I think to sort of — to right now intimate what the motives are is too early. I mean, I guess my point is to sort of jump to a conclusion. We’ve seen that too often in the past — in Florida and other places where people jump to a conclusion. This is — we’re not going to be subject to calling a video as the Clinton — as the Obama administration did. I mean, let’s let law enforcement do its job before we start jumping to conclusions.
Q Do you know of any other parts of the administration looking into this potentially? The Department of Justice, for example, maybe?
MR. SPICER: I don’t have anything for you on this.
Q So today, President Trump talked about how he’s going to build up the military, there’s going to be a big funding request. Can you talk about how much money does the President think he’s going to need to ask for? And how is this going to be paid for?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s two things. One, I think he’ll touch on this in the joint address. But, secondly, the budget that’s come out will be very clear about where a lot of that funding will come from. And so I don’t want to get ahead of either of those, but I will — I think they’re good questions that will be answered in due time, both beginning with the joint address — we’ll touch on that. And, second, from a more detailed standpoint, the budget, specifically with respect to the savings and how savings and how additional funding would be processed.
Q And regarding the joint address, do you imagine the joint address will be kind of like this very broad, like overhead look at what the President plans to do? Or will it be very specific, like bullet points, this is what we’re going to do, very specific policies that we’re going to enact?
MR. SPICER: I think it will be a little bit of a blend. More so the former than the latter. I think he’s going to talk very optimistically about where we’re going to go as a country and the general policies that he’s going to pursue to get us there. I don’t think this is going to be the same old Christmas tree kind of State of the Union. And I think there is a little bit of a traditional tweak between a joint address and a State of the Union.
Q Is the President going to meet with insurers on Monday?
MR. SPICER: I’ll have Lindsay get out — we’re going to get the schedule together. I think —
Q Sean —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, I told Gabi, and then I’ve got to be downstairs.
Q Okay, I have a question on the budget. With so few Cabinet Secretaries confirmed right now, is the White House working with agencies to ensure that their submissions are being —
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q Okay, and do you expect the budget to be thin because of the absence of Cabinet Secretaries?
MR. SPICER: No.
MR. SPICER: I think — I mean, it may be thin, but that’s because of — I’m joking. I think the President’s commitment to getting Washington in order is going to be very apparent in the budget, and his desire to respect taxpayers and duplicity in government and programs that are outdated is going to be very much reflected in the budget.
But we start that process sometime next week, where they start the passback process of going through departments and what their top lines are and things like that.
Q If I could just ask one more question on immigration. Before the President was inaugurated, he said that approximately 2 million to 3 million criminal illegal aliens would be deported during his first year in office. But according to the guidance that Secretary Kelly sent out earlier this week, they are now saying that law enforcement officials should be also looking at apprehending and deporting low-level criminal illegal immigrants and anybody that DHS deems a public risk.
How does the administration — I mean, number one, can we expect that figure — 2 million to 3 million — to expand now that it seems the definition of criminal illegal aliens has expanded? And also, how are you going to ensure that somebody who didn’t just get a traffic ticket isn’t included in that — under that definition?
MR. SPICER: I’m not — we’re not going to ensure anything. I mean, that’s the job of ICE — or DHS and then, more specifically, ICE, is to look at who is in this country, where they sit on that. But it is not the job of the White House to get involved and do carve-outs about misdemeanor versus that. People who I think — I would actually just leave it at you should contact ICE in terms of how they’re prioritizing this.
Our job was to make sure that they were enforcing the laws and achieving the mission, protecting the nation, and I’ll leave it at that.
Q Was that something that the White House had spoken with Secretary Kelly about? About expanding the definition of the individuals it would include?
MR. SPICER: I would touch base with Secretary Kelly’s office and then ICE. But our job was to give them — the executive order and the guidance they put out I think is pretty explicit as far as describing how that executive order is going to be carried out. And then Secretary Kelly lays out very specifically how they’re going to achieve that. So if you look at the factsheet and the letters that he put out, I think it lays it out pretty well.
Q Is the President hoping to have this executive order on immigration done before the joint session to Congress? And can you talk a little bit about — you’ve talked about the delay in it is related to the fact that there’s been more communication with other agencies to make sure this is rolled out appropriately. Can you talk about what — I mean, what is the President looking for to get from these agencies?
MR. SPICER: I think we’re just trying to make sure that it is done precisely with a precision that he expects to make sure that we achieve the goal of the executive order when it’s issued.
Q Sean, on healthcare, there’s a new executive — a new draft bill, a draft proposal that’s been circulating on Capitol Hill that’s now been made public that, for example, shrinks Medicaid expansion, scales back subsidies, et cetera. Is this something the President would support?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to get into what we are or are not going to support. That’s my understanding, from media reports, is that that’s a House draft and I would respectfully ask that you follow up with them.
Q Real quick yes or no. The President said at CPAC this morning that we’re going to see the biggest buildup of the military in American history. Can we take that to the bank? Is that a real promise? Or is that —
MR. SPICER: I think you can take what the President says to the bank.
Thank you, guys. I’ve got to get downstairs.
Q One more question just about the idea that it seems as though you’re playing favorites with media outlets by excluding some from this conversation.
MR. SPICER: You’re my favorite. (Laughter.)
Q No, that’s not what I’m asking. But do you have a response to that, though, given that that is a concern to some that want to see press have access to you, all out?
MR. SPICER: No, I think that — right — I think that we have shown an abundance of accessibility. We’ve brought more reporters into this process. And the idea that every time that every single person can’t get their question answered or fit in a room that we’re excluding people — we’ve actually gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team and our briefing room, more accessible than probably any prior administration. So I think you can take that to the bank. When you look at —
Q But why not those other outlets today?
MR. SPICER: Because, Cecilia, there’s 3,000 people that are credentialed to come in here.
Q But there are six outlets that want to be in here right now. The New York Times —
MR. SPICER: No, there’s not. Actually, that is false. To say that there are six — maybe six that reached out to you, but that is not —
Q Well, but —
MR. SPICER: No, no, hold on —
Q — listed in the White House Correspondents’ Association’s response to this.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. There are way more than six that wanted to come in. We started with the pool and then we expanded it. So I get it. But why — I can ask — there are plenty that want to come in at all times for every event. We do what we can to be accessible. And if there’s a problem with that, I understand it. But we do what we can to accommodate the press. I think we’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility and openness and getting folks to — our officials, our team. And so, respectfully, I disagree with the premise of the question.
2:18 P.M. EST