Aboard Air Force One
En Route South Bend, Indiana
5:36 P.M. EDT
MR. SHAH: So we’re on our way to Indiana. Very excited for tonight’s campaign rally. It’s going to be a unity rally after the primaries earlier this week. And I can take your guys’ questions.
Q Raj, why Singapore as the summit site?
MR. SHAH: Well, look, Singapore has a relationship with both the United States and North Korea. They can be ensured — to ensure both the President’s security and Kim Jong-un’s security, as well as provide neutrality.
Singaporeans have been gracious up until now and also in the past. In fact, on a historical note, the first meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan took place in Singapore some years back.
Q How long do you expect the summit to last? One day? Two days? How long are we looking at here?
MR. SHAH: Right now, we’re just looking at June 12th. I won’t get ahead of anything else.
Q Is the President open though, to going another day if things are going well? Is he flexible on how long this could last?
MR. SHAH: Well, right now, we’re still planning out a lot more of the details. So I don’t want to get ahead of anything more specific.
Q Have you decided — has the President decided yet whether he will have some one-on-one time with Kim, or whether it will always be kind of an expanded bilat format?
MR. SHAH: I don’t have anything further on that — whether that’s been decided or is under consideration.
Q The way the President described it this morning — used the word “excellent” in the release, I’m wondering whether that’s going to encourage others to kidnap Americans so they’ll be — get something when they release them. Because they were kidnapped by North Korea.
MR. SHAH: I’m sorry, I’m wondering what is your question there?
Q My question is, the tone that the President set in thanking the person who actually did the kidnapping of Americans. So will that encourage more?
MR. SHAH: Look, the President is obviously — and the whole nation should be pleased with the release of these three Americans.
I don’t think anybody is under any illusions about what life was like in a North Korean prison camp. But nonetheless, the President, Vice President, the entire U.S. government, Secretary Pompeo and everybody else is pleased to see the release of these three American citizens. And we’re also glad to see they were able to walk both onto the plane and off the plane themselves.
Q What requirements did the President ask for for the Kim meeting? What were some of the requirements that the President demanded would be in place in order to agree to the Kim meeting on the 12th?
MR. SHAH: Well, I’m not getting into the conversations that Secretary Pompeo had. What I will say is that, prior to the invitation being accepted several months ago or at least well over a month ago now, the North Koreans agreed to halt their ballistic missile testing, halt their nuclear testing, and not publicly oppose joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
So those were the initial steps that the North Koreans took. We’ll hold them to those steps. And then, obviously, there have been subsequent conversations.
Q Is there anything else that has to happen between now and the summit?
MR. SHAH: I’m not setting additional preconditions. It’s now been set.
Q Well, the President said yesterday though that this deal could be scuttled. What could scuttle this meeting now?
MR. SHAH: Well, we have over a month. Right? We have a month and several days. And there are a number of things — provocative actions, for example, from North Korea would not be received well.
So I don’t want to offer hypotheticals. All I’ll say is that this meeting has been agreed to, but obviously it could be halted for any number of reasons.
Q Is the President expecting to walk away from that summit with a nuclear deal on June 12th? Is that his expectation?
MR. SHAH: I won’t define his expectations, but that is certainly a goal. Right? Our policy is to ensure the complete, irreversible, and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And that’s what he’s going to be seeking.
Q Does the President feel that he’s going to have to make some concessions, though, in order to get the North Koreans to denuclearize?
MR. SHAH: I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations, but that is our goal — our stated goal. It has long been a U.S. policy in this administration, and it will continue to be. And we’ll see what happens going forward between now and June 12th.
Q Raj, there are so many experts — well, there’s not so many, but there are some experts who have served in the Bush administration, Clinton administration, Obama administration, outside of government who are, even if they don’t know Kim Jong-un, they know his family and they have been to North Korea; they’ve dealt those sort of negotiations. Is the President and Mr. Pompeo committed to — are they committed to outreach beyond the White House to talk to, I don’t know, whether it’s a Bill Richardson or a Sue Terry — like, is that outreach happening?
MR. SHAH: I have no announcements on outreach. Obviously, you know, Secretary Pompeo now has probably some of the more extensive experience dealing with that regime and dealing with Kim Jong-un specifically.
And the other thing I would add is that you just named officials from several administrations that did not get the job done, and so we take that into advisement. But I have no announcements on outreach that’s going on to previous diplomats.
Q Does the President feel that Michael Cohen was profiting off of his friendship and their working relationship over the years. What does he make of these reports that Michael Cohen was earning —
MR. SHAH: I’m directing all these questions and the press office has been directing all those questions to Michael Cohen, his attorney, and also the President’s private counsel.
Q Does the President still have confidence in Rudy Giuliani? I mean, you saw that he — Mr. Giuliani left his law firm today under circumstances —
MR. SHAH: Yeah, the White House doesn’t have a reaction to Rudy Giuliani’s leaving his law firm, but the President is content and satisfied with Rudy Giuliani.
Q On Iran, are there any developments that you can discuss? And not to ask too flaky of a question, but can you —
MR. SHAH: Please, get as flaky as you’d like.
Q Okay, I’m going to get — well, first of all, if there are any developments on Iran, I do want to ask that. But also, the President’s approach on Iran and the President’s approach on North Korea, do you see those as similar or different? What do you think is the negotiating style that is kind of consistent through his handling of both situations?
MR. SHAH: Well, I see the goal to be similar, which is to prevent a rogue regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Iran deal was flawed; flawed from the beginning. And the President has been clear about that since when it was signed, through his candidacy and through his presidency. It did not stop Iran from eventually obtaining a nuclear weapon. It did not stop Iran’s support for terrorism around the region, destabilizing activities.
And with respect to — I think you’re referencing some of the activity in the last 24, 48 hours with Israel — you know, the United States strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself.
And this action kind of goes to show that Iran is not a trustworthy actor. They have been destabilizing the region prior to the JCPOA. They’ve destabilized the region during the JCPOA’s time. And then since the President’s announcement, this latest provocative action is another example for why the President made the right decision to pull the United States out of the JCPOA.
Q Raj, going back to selling access to the President, Michael Cohen isn’t the only one who’s close to the President who’s been accused of doing that. So I just want to ask you, generally, how the President feels about the idea that either former campaign aides or former friends or current friends have been accused of selling access to him and profiting off of the presidency.
MR. SHAH: Well, the President makes up his own mind about policy matters and everything else in between. You know, he’s not influenced by the kinds of things that you’re referencing. And, as a broad matter, he makes decisions about what is best for the country, best for the public, and what’s the right public policy choice.
Q Was he disappointed, though, to hear these — or to see these reports about Michael Cohen? And after all his talk, the campaign about pay-for-play and draining the swamp, and, now, seeing these reports —
MR. SHAH: Let me state a few things. First of all, the President has signed some of the most sweeping rules when it comes to ending the revolving door around lobbying. There’s been a multi-year ban on lobbying and restrictions on what former employees and administration officials can do, which was an executive order signed in his first weeks in office; as well as a lifetime ban on lobbying for foreign governments. We think that those are stringent and something that we are very proud of.
And sorry — what was the front end?
Q Yeah. Is he disappointed in these reports about Michael Cohen perhaps selling his access, given the President’s promises during the campaign?
MR. SHAH: Given all that’s going on about that, Matt, I’m going to refer it to outside counsel.
Q Raj, is there any chance that any of the money collected by Michael Cohen went to pay any of the personal obligations of Donald Trump?
MR. SHAH: Again, I’m going to direct all those questions to outside counsel.
Q Where does the President stand on Mr. Pruitt right now?
MR. SHAH: So the President is pleased with the job that he’s doing as the EPA Administrator. However, the issues that have been raised that I think you guys are all familiar with — you know, and they have raised some concerns. And we’re hopeful and expecting that Administrator Pruitt will be able to answer those.
Q Has the President had any other calls with foreign leaders this week, aside from President Xi and President Macron?
MR. SHAH: I’d have to double check. Let me get back to you on that one.
Q Has he spoken with Kim Jong-un? And is he willing to in the future before the meeting?
MR. SHAH: I have nothing for you on that. All right, any last questions?
Q What about Indiana? Can we do — can you do politics, or do you need to bring someone else back?
MR. SHAH: I can do a touch on politics. What about Indiana?
Q What are you trying to — what is the — what are we doing? (Laughter.)
MR. SHAH: Yeah, look. This is going to be a campaign rally. The President is going to talk about why electing candidates that support his agenda is good for the country. We’ve gotten unemployment now down to 3.9 percent — it’s the lowest level in 18 years. You’ve got a foreign policy that’s seen a potential historic breakthrough with North Korea. You’ve seen ISIS crushed in Iraq and Syria. You’ve seen real progress in a whole lot of areas; he’s going to be talking about a lot of those things. And he’ll talk about some politics, which I’m probably not allowed to talk as much about.
Q Sometimes he talks about politics at official visits. Is that a problem?
MR. SHAH: I don’t know with respect to — I don’t know exactly what you’re referencing, but, sure, I mean, it’s just —
Q At every official visit he’s had in the last several months, he’s talked politics and he’s endorsed candidates.
MR. SHAH: I reject the premise unless I’d see that specifically. But I think the President referencing, you know, political matters —
Q Well, for instance, in Ohio, there was a roundtable event, that was a public — it was an official White House event and he took a knock on Sherrod Brown on his record. I mean, is he mixing politics with official events?
MR. SHAH: I think criticizing the public policy records of those that oppose the President is very different from a political campaign event. And I think that distinction is pretty important.
All right. Thanks, guys.
5:48 P.M. EDT