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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/31/2016

Monday, October 31, 2016 17:09
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(Before It's News)

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:07 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Halloween.  Hope you had an opportunity over the weekend to spend a little time celebrating or marking the occasion, however you choose to do so.  I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can go directly to your questions.  

Josh, do you want to start?

Q    Sure.  Thanks, Josh.  Let's start with the uproar over FBI Director Comey's decision to notify Congress, and therefore the public, about the new — look at some of these emails.  It seems like there's been really a bipartisan combination of that decision.  The Justice Department is pretty openly saying they advised him that that was not appropriate.  Eric Holder says that was the wrong decision, and the attorney generals of both parties.  Without getting into the content of the investigation, which I know you can't discuss, does the President feel it was appropriate for Comey to make that public just days before the election?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, I anticipated this is where you wanted to start.  I appreciate you noting that over the nearly two years now that I've been answering questions about Secretary Clinton's email system, that I have made clear that the White House is going to be scrupulous about avoiding even the appearance of political interference in prosecutorial or investigative decisions.  And that is a posture that I won't change and is a posture that speaks to the kind of institutional responsibilities that are vested here in the White House, which is preserving the independence and integrity of independent investigations conducted by the Department of Justice.

Now, you've raised a question about some of the decisions that have been made to communicate information about those investigations to the public.  And what's true, Josh, is that I don’t have any independent knowledge of how those decisions were made.  I don’t know what factors were considered, dating all the way back to July, when Director Comey announced the results of the investigation and spoke at length to the public about his decision not to prosecute Secretary Clinton.  Included in that news conference were some rather harsh condemnations of the way that Secretary Clinton handled that situation.

Director Comey also testified before Congress at some length, on camera, under oath, about the investigation.  And some of that testimony provided fodder to Secretary Clinton's critics.  Over the course of the fall, we've seen the FBI move forward in providing other investigative information — 302 forms and other documents — to Congress.  

And the fact is, my lack of independent knowledge about that decision-making prevents me from weighing in.  So I anticipate that this is not the only question I'm going to get asked about this today, but I'll neither defend nor criticize what Director Comey has decided to communicate to the public about this investigation.  

What I will say is that the Department of Justice and our democracy has given the expansive authority to conduct investigations.  The Department of Justice has given subpoena power.  They're allowed to compel witnesses to testify.  They are able to collect evidence that's not readily available necessarily.  They're even allowed to impanel a grand jury.  Those are substantial authorities.

It's important, in the mind of the President, that those authorities are tempered by an adherence to longstanding tradition and practice and norms that limit public discussion of facts that are collected in the context of those investigations.  And there are a variety of good reasons for that.  And the President believes that it's important for those norms and traditions and guidelines to be followed.  

Q    Were they, in this case?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think you'd have to — I know that there's been a lot of discussion about this — and by discussion, I mean a lot of public reporting based on a multitude of anonymous sources at the Department of Justice.  The President believes that there are a set of significant institutional responsibilities that officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI must fulfill.  

The good news is, the President believes that Director Comey is a man of integrity, he's a man of principle, and he's a man of good character.  That, presumably, is the reason that President Bush chose him to serve in a senior position at the Bush administration's Department of Justice.  These same character traits are what led a strong majority of Democratic and Republican senators to confirm him to this job.  These are the traits that led the President to select him to be the Director of the FBI.  And these are tough questions.  And so it’s a good thing that he’s a man of integrity and character to take them on.

Q    You’ll concede, I’m sure, that in the absence of any additional information about this, voters are left to essentially speculate about what might be involved in this, what the FBI might be looking at or not looking at just before the election.  So would the President, in the interest of people being able to not rely on anonymous sources and the like, see the FBI release more information than Comey did in that very brief letter prior to Election Day about what’s going on?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, in the same way that I’ll neither criticize nor defend Director Comey’s decisions about what to make public in the context of this investigation — that’s because I just don’t have independent knowledge of the decisions that are made to release this information.  And there are other people that have the luxury of being able to opine — writing op-eds or serving as anonymous sources for reporters to weigh in with their own view — but when I’m standing here representing the institution of the presidency, I don’t have that luxury.

And so in the same way that I’ll neither defend nor criticize Director Comey’s decisions with regard to what to make public in the context of this investigation, I don’t have any recommendations to make to him either with regard to what information should be communicated to the public.

Q    In the past, including after the FBI announced that it was not proceeding with the recommendation to bring charges in this case, the White House did defend Comey, and you’ve defended him a number of times.  So is that a substantive shift from the language you’re using today, is that you won’t defend or criticize him?  The fact that you’re not defending him, is that some signal to us that there is reason for the White House to maintain some additional distance here?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Josh, what I have observed in the past is that Director Comey is a man of integrity.  He’s a man of principle.  He’s a man who is well regarded by senior officials in both parties.  He’s somebody who’s served in a senior position in the Bush administration.  And he’s somebody who got strong bipartisan support when his nomination to be the Director of the FBI was considered by the United States Senate.

So all those things are true.  They speak to his good character.  And the President’s assessment of his integrity and his character has not changed.  For example, the President doesn’t believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election.  The President doesn’t believe that he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party.  He’s in a tough spot, and he’s the one who will be in a position to defend his actions in the face of significant criticism from a variety of legal experts, including individuals who served in senior Department of Justice positions in administrations that were led by presidents in both parties.

But that kind of — but I’m just not going to be in a position to, frankly, either defend or criticize the decisions that he’s made with what regard — with regard to what to communicate in public.  That is separate, Josh, from the kind of prosecutorial and investigative decisions that are made by the FBI and the Department of Justice.  That is their institutional responsibility — to make those decisions about investigations and prosecutions independent of any sort of political interference, and I will defend their right to do that.  In fact, it’s their responsibility.

Q    This decision aside, is it concerning at all to the White House that you have the Justice Department and the FBI basically griping at each other in some form of public or semi-public fashion?  I mean, they obviously have to work very closely together to keep the country safe.  Is there an issue there that needs to be resolved so that the Justice Department isn’t accusing the FBI of not following proper procedures?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, you’ve heard me discuss the President’s view of Director Comey’s integrity and character.  Let me just tell you that the President has got a lot of confidence in the Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch, to run that Department.  And she is somebody who spent decades as a career prosecutor.  She’s not new to any of this.  A lot of that work was done when she was the head of the Eastern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  That is a position where these kinds of decisions are closely scrutinized by the media that’s based in the largest city in our country.

So she’s used to this kind of pressure.  And the President has got complete confidence in her ability to handle this situation responsibly and consistent with the institutional responsibilities that are vested with the Department of Justice.  

Q    And one other question on a topic that I know is difficult to talk about for another reason.  The President’s half-brother, Malik Obama, has published an op-ed, I suppose, in a New York newspaper, essentially airing a list of grievances against the President, saying he wasn’t — he hasn’t sufficiently supported his family in Kenya, didn’t send condolences after his half-brother’s sons — or children passed away.  And he ends by saying, “I will not be humiliated anymore.”  Does the President have any thoughts about that op-ed or about the fact that this family issue is playing out so publicly?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, I have to admit that I have not seen the op-ed that you’re referring to.  If we have an official reaction to it, I can follow up with you.  I spoke to the President the series of questions that you started the briefing with, but I had not read the op-ed, so I did not ask him about this one.  But we'll follow up with you.

Ayesha.

Q    Thanks.  Going back to the FBI.  You said that you don't have enough — or the White House does not have enough independent information to either criticize or to come out with a position on Comey’s letter.  But then I guess what do you say to the American people?  If the White House doesn’t have enough information to decide whether the letter was appropriate or not, seemingly the American people are then left with questions about what to believe.  There are lots of criticism right now from both sides, or lots of calls from both sides of the aisle asking Director Comey to release more information.  Do you feel that the American people don't have a right to more information about this probe?  I mean, they are going to the voting booths right now and next Tuesday.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, Ayesha, this is an entirely legitimate question for you to ask, and I think these are the kinds of questions that are being carefully considered at the Department of Justice right now.  And given the institutional responsibilities that are vested here at the White House, I just don't have a recommendation to make.  

It's important for them to make these decisions consistent with their — let me be more precise here.  It's important for officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI to make these decisions consistent with their institutional responsibilities.  

And as I made reference to earlier, those officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI are given expansive authority and expansive powers to intrude on the privacy of private citizens.  And that authority is tempered by longstanding traditions and norms and guidelines that largely avoid extensive public discussion of those investigations.

Let me give you an example that I think will resonate with all of you, based on your day-to-day responsibilities here at White House.  It is not uncommon for you, when you call the Department of Justice asking them to even confirm that there’s an investigation ongoing, for them to decline to do that.  Typically, when you report about the fact that there’s an ongoing investigation, that's not based on official confirmation you’ve received from an official at the Department of Justice; it's based on confirmation you’ve received from an anonymous official at the Department of Justice who’s not willing to speak publicly about the case because it would be improper for them to do so.  

That, I think, in a way that we all — in a way that reflects the reality of the world that we all work in on a day-to-day basis, I think that underscores the sensitivity of discussing this information.  

Now, the other thing I think that's important to consider here is there is a tendency to say — with regard to this letter that was written on Friday — to say, well, Congress is independent and they have their own independent oversight responsibilities to exercise over the Department of Justice.  

Well, let me say a couple of things about that.  The first is, the kinds of norms and traditions that limit the public disclosure of investigations don't supersede the oversight responsibilities or requests that are submitted by members of Congress.  And the reason for that is simple.  Congress is, indeed, independent of the executive branch, but they’re far from impartial.  Congress is made up of 535 politicians, Democrats and Republicans.  And we've already seen just in the last 72 hours the kind of risk that's associated with communicating to them sensitive information.

There’s one senior Republican official who’s already indicated — who had previously endorsed the Republican nominee for President, who let it slip that his party was considering impeaching President Clinton even before she’s been elected, if she’s elected.  That, I think, is a pretty clear indication that Congress is not at all impartial.  And that's why many of these norms, longstanding norms — that apply even when we're not talking about someone famous, and even when we're not talking about an election being a week and a half away — that should apply.  And the President believes that these norms are important and worth upholding.

Q    So the President believes these norms are worth upholding, but it seems like in this case, Comey — these letters — that's what people are saying, is that these norms weren’t upheld.  We're talking about an ongoing investigation because a letter was sent.  So I guess I'm trying to parse out, so where does the White House stand on that, just as a general issue, having an ongoing investigation that is now being discussed?

MR. EARNEST:  And look, this goes to the fact that because we have worked to shield this investigation, given the politically sensitive nature of it.  Well, frankly, even it weren’t politically sensitive, we would go to great lengths, we would be scrupulous about insulating that independent investigation from even the appearance of political interference.

So I don't have any independent knowledge of the investigation or the kinds of decisions that led Director Comey to take the steps that he did to communicate some of this investigation — or some of the material relevant to this investigation to the Congress and to the public.

So, again, I'm not in a position to either defend or criticize that decision.  That's something that officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI have to do. 

Q    So Senator Reid said that the FBI has some explosive information regarding Trump and Russian ties.  And basically he is accusing the FBI of having a double standard and not releasing information like that.  And he and other Democratic lawmakers have called for the FBI to release that information.  Does the White House have any position on that?  Are you concerned that now you have more, kind of, accusations going around about FBI probes?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, as I mentioned before, the White House has not been briefed on the investigation that the Department of Justice and the FBI were conducting into Secretary Clinton's email system.  The White House has not been briefed on even the existence of any investigation into the activities or habits of the Republican nominee.  These are all questions that should be directed to the Department of Justice and to the FBI.

Toluse.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Going back to Senator Reid's letter, he basically accused the FBI Director of potentially violating the Hatch Act.  And you said that you believe that Director Comey is a man of integrity.  In the letter that Senator Reid sent, he said that he once believed that Director Comey was a principled servant, and he now no longer believes that.  So what is your reaction to that letter, and do you agree with Senator Reid on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, questions about the application of the Hatch Act should be directed to the Office of Special Counsel.  This is an independent agency that is filled with attorneys and investigators who, among their responsibilities, are investigating potential violations of the Hatch Act.  But, again, you'll have to talk to them to even confirm the existence of an investigation, let alone learn more about what they have concluded.

With regard to Director Comey, as I said at the top, the President believes that he's a man of integrity, he's a man of character, he's a man of principle, and he's got a very difficult job.  And those character traits that I just described will serve him well as he works through the difficult challenges that he faces over the course of his job.

Q    You said you spoke to the President earlier today.  Can you describe his mood, how he's taking the general news?  Obviously, there's a political side to this, and we saw Secretary Clinton and her campaign reacting very strongly to this.  Did the President have that same level of sort of visceral reaction to how this is impacting the election?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Toluse, with regard to the impact on the election, I think there's a lot of speculation out there in terms of what potential impact this could have.  Based on the public evidence that I have seen from polls and other analysis, there hasn't been a significant change in the race.  There are probably some analysts who disagree with that; maybe they're right.

I think what those of you who have been covering the President for a while now know that the President is somebody who is pretty even-keeled.  He doesn't get too high or too low.  And he has a tendency to focus on the responsibilities that he has in front of him.  And the President feels strongly — as you've heard him say — about supporting Secretary Clinton's campaign.  And over the course of the next week, the President has put together a rather aggressive travel schedule to make the case to the American public in support of the candidate that he's endorsed.  That's what the President is focused on, and that's — I would not anticipate a significant change to the public pitch that President Obama will be making in support of Secretary Clinton's campaign.

Q    You also mentioned longstanding guidelines that the FBI has about discussing ongoing investigations.  There are also longstanding guidelines about taking actions that could be seen as influencing an election so close to an election.  Is that something that the President is concerned about?  Is that something that the President believes, as many Democrats do, was undermined in this case?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, those kinds of guidelines are important.  I'd refer you to the Department of Justice and the FBI for how those guidelines are observed and enforced.  But I think the President is every bit as concerned about the broader principle, which is the Department of Justice is entrusted with expansive responsibilities, and those responsibilities are tempered with guidelines and traditions that limit the public discussion of the investigations.  And the President believes that that principle, those guidelines, are applicable, even when there's not an election around the corner, even when one individual who was affected by the investigation is not a global figure.  And the President believes it's important for everybody to be mindful of those guidelines.

Ron.

Q    So if he's insisted the President — that these norms — that public discussion should be limited, even when there's not an election around, he certainly believes that public discussion of an investigation should be limited when there is an election nearby.  Is that a fair conclusion to draw?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, let me just restate it to make sure that I understand your question.  

Q    The question is, essentially, are you saying the President believes that there should be very limited discussion of investigations near an election?

MR. EARNEST:  The President believes that our democracy has been very well served for more than two centuries by officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI observing longstanding traditions that limit public discussion of investigations whether an election is around the corner or not.

Q    So how can he agree or not criticize what Director Comey has done?  It seems like a clear — it's a public discussion of an investigation.  I mean, you point out how we can't even get confirmation that an investigation is happening.  

MR. EARNEST:  Yeah.

Q    This seems like a very clear-cut — based on what you're saying about the President's concerns about the broader principles, it seems that it would be very clear that he would be critical of what Director Comey has done.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is clear what Director Comey has done.  What's not clear is what led to that decision.  And nobody at the White House has insight into the decision that Director Comey made –

Q    Right, but — so you're saying there could be some mitigating factor that we don’t know about that would essentially allow somebody to breach this broad principle of limited public discussion of the investigation?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not being that prescriptive.  I am basically suggesting I'm not aware of any of the factors that went into Director Comey's decision to send this letter to Congress on Friday.  I'm not aware of the factors that went into his decision to give a long public statement on July 5th, when he announced that he was not going to recommend the prosecution of Secretary Clinton.  I'm not aware of the factors that went into his decision to testify before Congress for several hours, under oath, in discussing his investigation.  And I'm not aware of what kind of factors influence his decision to release the summaries of investigative interviews that were conducted by FBI officials in the context of this investigation.  

Q    But, Josh, at some point, you just kind of break this all down to just common sense.  I mean, people all over the country — friends, family are talking about all this.  I mean, how in any way can this be good for the country at this point in time?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, what is important is that people across the country and former administration officials have more of a luxury to be able to step back and weigh in from the sidelines, to offer up their own opinion based on their own experience, based on their own training, based on their own observation about the impact that this has on the our political process.  There's nothing wrong with that.  That is part of the kind of debate that is critical to the success of our democracy, as well.  

But what's important for the person that's standing behind the podium with the White House seal behind me is to make sure that I'm observing the institutional responsibilities that I have and that everybody who works here has, including the President of the United States, which is that we're not going to be in a position of defending or criticizing the decisions that were made by the Director of the FBI with regard to communicating information from the investigations.

Q    I see that.  But you're saying so much that could be interpreted as critical of what he's done.  Are you aware of that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm certainly giving voice to longstanding guidelines that have served our democracy well, that the President believes are really important.  And I recognize that those guidelines have been the basis for other people to offer up their criticism of Director Comey.  It's a free country; they're certainly allowed to do that.  But from here, I'm not going to be in a position of criticizing Director Comey about those decisions, in part because I don’t have any independent knowledge of how those decisions were made.  That's also the reason, by the way, I'm not going to defend him either.  

Q    Did the President read the Eric Holder op-ed letter?

MR. EARNEST:  There have been a lot of opinions that have been shared in public over the last 48 hours or so.

Q    Eric Holder — this is a –

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, my point is that I know the President is aware of this issue and he’s read about many of the opinions that have been expressed in the last 72 hours.  But I don’t know whether or not he saw that particular op-ed.

Q    And lastly, when you were talking about Loretta Lynch, you said something about how the President has confidence in her, and so on and so forth.  But when you were talking about Director Comey, you talked about how he’s a man of integrity, character, principle that will serve him.  Are you saying there something different?  Does the President not have — does the President still have confidence in Director Comey?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not trying to send a signal here.  The President is somebody who, three years ago, nominated Director Comey because he’s a man of character, he’s a man of integrity, he’s a man of principle.  He is somebody who’s had a distinguished legal career that’s been rooted in making sure that his own political views don’t interfere with his responsibilities as an attorney or as a law enforcement officer.

So, look, the President thinks very highly of Director Comey.  And, yes, you can assert that he continues to have confidence in his ability to do his job.

Kevin.  

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Given the President’s mantra for no drama and don’t do stupid stuff, I just have to wonder where he is on this email –

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you for editing yourself, by the way.  (Laughter.)  This is a family program here, Kevin.

Q    You’re absolutely right.  It goes on and on and on.  And I’m just wondering, given what you said earlier about wanting to scrupulously avoid any appearance of impropriety, do you believe, or would the President believe now is the time for a special prosecutor in this circumstance?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, no, the President hasn’t reached that conclusion at all.  As I mentioned earlier, the investigation that was conducted by the Department of Justice and the FBI was a thorough one and one that Director Comey, for better or worse, has thoroughly explained.  

And I don’t think that after considering what Director Comey has put forward that anybody would conclude that he somehow gave short shrift to answering the questions that were posed in the context of the investigation.  Again, that’s all based on his public statements.  The White House nor I, nor anybody here, has been briefed on those investigations.  But based on his public statements, I think it’s quite clear that a thorough investigation has been conducted.  

And that investigation was conducted free of any sort of political interference from the White House.  There are another set of decisions that were made with regard to communicating information from that investigation to the public.  And as I mentioned earlier, I’ll neither criticize nor defend the decisions to make that information public or to communicate it to Congress.

Q    You want to be careful not to criticize, but I’m curious, do you see it as partisan in any way?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  As I mentioned earlier, the President has got confidence that Director Comey –

Q    Because that's how some people are shading it.  Early on, especially back in July, there were a number of, maybe, on the right who were suggesting that, you know what, he didn’t listen to his staff, he should have proceeded with an indictment.  And now, here, over the last 72 hours, many on the left are suggesting he did this right before the election, it was completely out of bounds.  There is this narrative that some people feel like somehow the Director, rightly or wrongly, has been partisan.  Does the President acknowledge? 

MR. EARNEST:  The President is completely confident that Director Comey has not taken any steps to try to intentionally influence the outcome of the election or to advantage one candidate or one political party.

Q    Let me ask you about the emails.  And I know you and I can’t talk about some of the specifics, but I’m just curious about the Huma Abedin shared email account with Anthony Weiner, former congressman.  Is there any reason that the White House has any concern that the President’s emails may have ended up on that computer in any way?

MR. EARNEST:  I think as has been — if the public reports are true, nobody knows what’s on that computer.  And I’m not going to speculate about what may or may not be there.  

Q    Can you answer this question, then:  Is there reason the President would use an alias or a pseudonym when emailing back and forth with members of Congress in particular, or even with the former Secretary of State?  Is that true?  And if so, why?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know that the President emails with members of Congress.  What I can tell you is that the President’s email system has a lot of built-in security measures, including an alias.  And as we’ve discussed in here before, it would be foolish to give the President the BObama@whitehouse.gov email address.  

Q    So it’s not Barack.Obama?  (Laughter.)  Not that I haven’t tried that one.  (Laughter.)  

Let me lastly ask you about something that, again, I know your usual pivot is these are private emails that were obtained illegally or surreptitiously, but I do think it bears the question about the suggestion that Donna Brazile, the acting DNC leader, taking over for the now-deposed Debbie Wasserman Schultz, may have been aiding the Clinton campaign with more questions leading up to town hall events and other sort of — giving her an inside scoop.  What do you say to those Bernie Sanders backers who feel like the fix was in from the very outset?  And should Donna Brazile, in your opinion, if this turns out to be true, step down from her position at the DNC?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  The President believes that she’s done a fine job stepping in in a very difficult situation to lead the Democratic Party.  Those of us who have known Donna a long time know that she is a person of integrity and a person of high character.  She’s a true professional who is a tenacious and effective advocate for Democrats.  And she uses that skill regularly on television.  She has been using that skill regularly as a party official.  And I, for one, am pretty excited about the fact that we’ve got her on our team.

Q    Last question.  I just want to make sure I drill down on your answer.  If it turns out that she did tip the scales or put her hand on the scale for Secretary Clinton, and didn’t handle it evenly as a member of the leadership of the DNC, that’s okay with you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t think she was a leader of the — on the DNC leadership at the time of the debates.  I think during the — my understanding is — and you should check with the DNC on this — but that during the primary, she was not affiliated with the DNC. *[Brazile was serving as a Vice Chair of the DNC.]

Margaret.

Q    Josh, has the President spoken with Attorney General Lynch about this issue and her apparent disagreement with the FBI Director?

MR. EARNEST:  He has not.

Q    And when exactly did the White House find out about the FBI letter?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as my colleague, Eric, in answering this question last week told you all, the White House was not given advance knowledge of the decision by the FBI Director to submit this letter to Congress.  So we learned about this letter the same time all of you did.

Q    Through the media?

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct.

Q    When you were speaking earlier, you used the language, saying the President did not believe that Comey intentionally is trying to influence the election.  The former AG, Eric Holder, said that this is a serious error with potentially severe implications.  Whether or not this was intentional, is there concern that this could have, indeed, potentially severe implications?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly have already seen some of Secretary Clinton's harshest critics capitalize on this letter, distort its contents to provoke controversy.  I made a reference earlier to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who committed the classic Washington gaffe of saying something in public that everyone secretly knows is true, which is that House Republicans are already plotting the impeachment of Hillary Clinton, even though she hasn't even been elected President yet.  That was based on questions that he was receiving about the letter.  

In the same interview, he referred to substantial information being included in those emails.  At the time that he gave that statement, public reports indicated that the Director of the FBI hadn't even had an opportunity to review those emails.  I think that's exhibit A of how partisans in Congress have sought political advantage through the disclosure of this information.  That's why these kinds of guidelines are so important.  And that's why adherence to these guidelines has served our country so well for a long time.  The strength of our democracy depends on it.

Q    But the President previously has said he thought Hillary Clinton displayed some carelessness here, but that her use of private email system and server didn't jeopardize national security.  He has weighed in on this generally, as saying this is a little bit of a distraction.  Does he still believe that?

MR. EARNEST:  The President's views of this situation have not changed.  Again, I think the focus of so much of our discussion today has been on the decision made by officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI to talk about this investigation in public.

Q    But the premise of the investigation itself he's somewhat been dismissive of by using that language, saying it didn't jeopardize national security to begin with — it was careless, not criminal.  So to be dismissing the premise of the investigation, but then — I mean, is this all just procedural items that you think this hubbub is about at this time?

MR. EARNEST:  Even when making those comments, the President specified in the same interview, in response to the same question, that the Department of Justice had at the time and continues to have a responsibility to follow the facts where they lead.  This is why we ask career prosecutors to set aside their own political views and their political interests to pursue these kinds of investigations.  

This is what the nature of an independent investigation is, which is that even though — so this is the best way I think to describe the situation — it's no secret that President Obama is a strong and enthusiastic supporter of Secretary Clinton.  But he also expects the Department of Justice, including some of the officials that he appointed, like the Attorney General and the FBI, to fulfill their basic responsibilities — even if that means investigating a candidate for President that he's endorsed.  That's the President's commitment to his institutional responsibilities as President of the United States — to set aside his own political views from his institutional responsibilities.  And his institutional responsibility is, don't interfere with a DOJ investigation.  And that's something that we have scrupulously followed.

Q    So does that mean that the President will avoid mentioning this issue in any and all campaign events for the next few weeks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, fortunately, there's only another week or so to go.  (Laughter.)  I think I speak for everybody in here when I say that.  But yes, I would anticipate that the President will speak publicly quite a bit over the course of this week.  I would not expect a dramatic change to the President's speech that you all have heard him deliver, indicating his very strong support for Secretary Clinton in his view that the outcome of this election is critically important to the future of the country.

Q    But will he make a pointed decision to avoid commenting on this because of all the concerns about –

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the President, prior to Friday's letter, was not spending a lot of time dwelling on this topic, and I wouldn't anticipate a significant change to his stump speech.

Q    And lastly, I just want to come back to the Harry Reid question about what he was implying about Donald Trump and the Russian government.  Since the DNI has said that there was a Russian effort from the top down to influence the election, when you said that you haven't been briefed on whether there is an actual connection to the Republican nominee.  If there were information along these lines, is this the kind of thing that should be disclosed prior to the election?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think this sort of falls into the category of a decision that has to be made by officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI.  They can speak to whether or not there’s an investigation that's ongoing.  If there is, they can speak to what that investigation has uncovered.  And ultimately it will be up to them to decide, consistent with the guidelines that I've laid out, how much of that investigation to make public, if any.

Q    But you don't think hear they're withholding information as is being implied here by Harry Reid?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, it's just hard for me to say that because I don't know whether there’s actually an investigation even ongoing.

Kenneth.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  So just to confirm and clarify, everything the White House has learned to date about the latest probe by the FBI on Hillary Clinton’s — these newly discovered emails has been through media reports?  There hasn’t been a letter?  There hasn’t been any type of call?  This has all been through media reports?

MR. EARNEST:  So, Kenneth, let me just be as precise as I possibly can here.  The White House was not given advance notice of the fact that the Department of Justice was sending a letter to Capitol Hill.  The White House became aware of that letter through media reports when individuals in Congress presumably made the decision to make that letter public.  And since then, the Department of Justice has not provided any sort of briefing or consultation — or sought any consultation with the White House about this matter moving forward.

Q    Josh, you mentioned there are a lot of people on the sidelines — former officials who have the luxury, you said, to comment about this.  But some of these folks are not on the sidelines; they’re active in government.  You mentioned Harry Reid, who said that he deeply regrets fighting to confirm Comey.  Obviously, you're saying that the White House is standing behind — standing with Comey on this.  So what’s your response to people who are, even in your own party, top leaders, who say they regret fighting to confirm Comey to be FBI director?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, just to real precise about this, with regard to Director Comey’s decision to send this letter to Congress, I'll neither defend nor criticize that decision.  I recognize that there are a lot of other people who have, and they certainly are entitled to do that.  But based on the institutional constraints that I have, standing here at this podium in front of the White House logo, I don't have that luxury.

So I'll let other people weigh in.  The President’s view is that Director Comey is a man of integrity, he’s a man of character.  He is not attempting to influence the election to benefit or advantage one political party or one candidate for office.  He’s got a tough job, and hopefully he'll draw on that character and integrity as he does it.

Q    So there’s a lot of talk about Comey after this.  Obviously, his term continues well into the next President.  So what is this administration’s advice to Hillary Clinton if she wins on working with a man who has now investigated her, seemingly, at least twice in the public?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I'm not going to speculate about the outcome at this point.  The President is focused on — over the course of this week, he'll be focused on making a case for her because he feels strongly about her candidacy, and the stakes that are — the stakes in this election for the future of the country.  But I’m not going to speculate about what sort of advice the President would have for President-elect Clinton.  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Q    And finally for me, does the President have a costume to wear today?  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you all will have an opportunity to see him when he’s passing out candy on the South Lawn later today, so stay tuned.  I’ll just say in the past, the President has not worn a costume when he’s passing out candy.  (Laughter.)  But I did not ask him today if he was going to change that practice, that longstanding guideline and norm.  (Laughter.)  

Michelle.

Q    I mean, we hear you defending both Comey and the Attorney General, which is interesting because they could not be more opposed on the release of this information and the timing of it.  And so to hear the Attorney General — I mean, sources within the Department saying that the release of this and the timing runs contrary to procedures, to hear Eric Holder saying that this is a “stunning breach of protocol,” “violates longstanding policies.”  I know you don’t want to take sides here, you’re not going to do that, but doesn’t that chasm between the views here of the FBI and the Justice Department at the very least raise a concern here?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, there has been a multitude of anonymous voices in the media over the last 48 to 72 hours sharing their own perspective and opinion about this situation.  Some of those are anonymous voices who are identified as people who currently work in the United States government.  The sharing of their anonymous opinion is not particularly helpful.  And I think there was — again, based on the letter that Director Comey sent to employees at the FBI, his letter was intended to clarify actions that the FBI was taking.  But based on the fact that Director Comey felt like he had to send that letter to agency employees I think is an indication that the letter had the opposite of the intended effect.  And the void has been filled by a lot of anonymous voices that haven’t served the public interest either.

So again, it’s still a free country.  And particularly people who, based on their previous experience in government or based on their own legal expertise, have an opinion and a view, and it’s clear in a modern media environment, they have a variety of ways to share it.  But for somebody that’s got institutional responsibilities like the President, or somebody who’s got institutional responsibilities like me, who speaks for the President, I don’t have the luxury of weighing in, in the same way.  

Q    Eric Holder obviously is not an anonymous voice, and someone who was so recently in that office, using such strong language about this — not based on solely his political leanings and beliefs, but based on procedure and guidance that was in effect while he was there — doesn't that worry the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President believes strongly in those kinds of guidelines too.  I can’t recite Mr. Holder’s op-ed from memory, and I don’t have it in front of me, but the kinds of guidelines and norms and traditions that he was giving voice to in his op-ed are the kinds of traditions and norms that the President has in mind when talking about the responsibility that everybody at the Department of Justice and the FBI has to live up to them.

And those norms are important because they protect the rights of people who are being investigated.  And that’s important even in situations where somebody who is affected by an investigation is not famous, and even when there’s not an election around the corner.

So at the end of the day, officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI have a responsibility to live up to those traditions and to follow them.  And the President’s expectation is that they will do that.  

Q    Okay, so given that you do see this stark difference — even if you’re not listening to anonymous voices, even if you’re just listening to Eric Holder, who said that was a hard op-ed for him to write because he also respects Comey — and you hear top Democrats calling for the release of more information, to put out the full facts, including the candidate calling for that — isn’t that something that the White House would welcome?  There’s so much controversy surrounding this, and it’s not good for who the President wants to be elected.  So would not the White House say, let’s put more information out there then?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, Michelle, I think that — as I mentioned earlier, I think that was the hope that Director Comey had.  That was his stated hope of sending the letter in the first place.

Q    But clearly it’s not enough.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, clearly, it had the opposite of the intended effect.  I think we can all agree on that.  And again, I can’t — other than what he has — other than what Director Comey has written in his letter to agency employees or employees of the Bureau, I can’t speak to what factors he considered in making the decision to send that letter in the first place.  And I just can’t be in a position of speculating about what may have led him to make that decision.  

Q    Given what has happened, given the effect that you talked about that was likely the opposite of the intended effect, wouldn’t you then welcome more information to throw some more clarity on that?

MR. EARNEST:  I think, as is evident from the last 72 hours of media coverage, Director Comey is getting advice from a variety of perspectives.  I don’t have any advice to share.  I’m not even sure that he’d be that interested in it, even if I did.

Q    Okay.  And I have a lot of questions, sorry.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s fine.

Q    When we heard the President in a call talk to supporters of Hillary Clinton and tell them to avoid all the noise and distraction that’s out there, doesn’t he think that what’s happening now with the FBI reopening an investigation, isn’t that more than noise and distraction?  And if he thinks it is noise and distraction, isn’t he then weighing in essentially on what he thinks this is all about or what he thinks is at the core of this?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think the President’s intent of using that admonition in the call that he did yesterday with Secretary Clinton's supporters is to remind people why they got involved in her election in the first place; to remind them of why he got involved in support of her election in the first place.  

He cares deeply about the future of the country.  He cares deeply about making sure that his successor is somebody who shares the values and the vision that he's been fighting for, for the last eight years.  Somebody who is committed to growing our economy from the middle out, who is committed to making sure that America is a place that's fair and just for everyone.  Making sure that we're being smart and judicious about what's necessary to advance our interests around the world; about confronting the reality of climate change; about making sure expanding access to health care for every American.  

These are the kinds of principles and values that President Obama has championed.  Those are the things that drew the President to public service in the first place.  Those are the things that drew him to support Secretary Clinton in the first place.  And presumably, those are the kinds of things that actually motivated people to sign up and get involved and volunteer for Secretary Clinton's campaign.  And that's what the President is encouraging those people to focus on.

Q    So is what's happening now with the FBI and everything that's being said out there, is it noise and distraction only?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I don't want to be perceived as dismissing this, primarily because I also don't want to be in a position of being perceived as either criticizing Director Comey for the decision to release this information, but I also don't want to be in a position of leading people to think that I'm defending his decision to release this information.  This was a decision for him to make, and the President believes that those kinds of decisions should be made in consultation with other officials at the Department of Justice and with due consideration given to longstanding norms and principles and traditions that have served our country well.

Q    Okay.  And this is the last one, I promise.  You talked about the President — his pitch, his public pitch not changing as he goes out on the trail for the last week this week.  But what we heard from him as recently as Friday is not the making the crowd laugh like it's a comedy routine, not making fun of Donald Trump.  He sounded deadly serious, first of all, which sounded like a difference — in my opinion, at least.  And also, instead of him talking about — like he did in the beginning of the campaign — that America is not so divided as people say it is, he was talking about a polarized America.  So isn't that a change in kind of how he's seeing things at this point in the race?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I can assure you that the President's speech that he gave on Friday in Florida was not changed in light of the news that Director Comey's letter made earlier that afternoon.

Look, I think all of the arguments that the President made in Friday's speech are at least consistent with the arguments that he's been making on the campaign trail for a couple of months now.  Yes, on some occasions the President has spent more time dwelling on the reasons that he has not endorsed the Republican nominee.  But in this case, he spent more time dwelling on the reasons that he's strongly supportive of the Democratic nominee and illustrating the stakes of this election, which are — in his view — as high as they've ever been.

Q    Has this election made him rethink that America is not so divided as people say it is?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, earlier this year, the President gave a State of the Union address in which he acknowledged that our country has not made as much progress as he would have liked to have seen over the course of his presidency in bridging some of the political divides.  I think when it comes to our values and our notion of what it means to be American, a commitment to a set of values that — or the foundation of the forming of this country, I think there's a broad consensus about the importance of those values.  And sometimes that consensus is overshadowed by more narrow political disagreements.  

That's not to minimize the significance of those political disagreements, because the President believes that it's really important that the candidate that he's endorsed prevail in this election.  And he'll be making that case accordingly.  But this is not the first time the President has made the observation that the country is a little bit more divided and our debate is a little more polarized than he would prefer.  

April.

Q    Josh, a couple of questions.  One, you talk about the integrity of Comey and others, but I want to ask you right now with this current election cycle and these current revelations over the last couple of days, is there still integrity in this election process?  

MR. EARNEST:  April, there's no reason — as we've discussed before in a variety of contexts — there's no reason for anybody to call into question the ability of our democracy to count the vote of every eligible voter that exercises that right on Election Day or before.  This is a — our system of conducting elections and our democracy has persisted and prevailed through a Civil War, through two World Wars, through a Cold War.  And we've got a vigorous election that's underway now and a vigorous political debate that, in some cases, has trended toward the divisive.  But the President has confidence in the ability of our system of government to succeed in ensuring that the outcome of the election reflects the will of the people who show up to vote.

Q    But what I'm specifically speaking about is the break in tradition — 11 days out, or how many days it was — to have this revelation, this letter to the Congress.  And the FBI Director, who had already investigated and found that he was not going to charge her.  Is there still integrity, do you believe, in this process?  As people are early voting – 

MR. EARNEST:  When you say “this process,” tell me what process you mean.

Q    The early voting process.  This election process.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, it's not been affected.

Q    Okay.  All right.  Now, when it comes to the President, was there ever any conversation about the possibility of not allowing the President to go with the revelation of this letter going to Congress — going out on the road for her the next couple of days?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sorry, I don't think I understand your question.  Can you – 

Q    Was there ever any consideration of not letting the President go out on the road to campaign for Hillary Clinton after this latest Comey letter came out?

MR. EARNEST:  No, not at all.  There's no schedule change contemplated at all.

Q    And now with him going out again — as you said, no schedule change — do you believe that the President feels that, because he is a constitutional attorney and understands the law from his (inaudible) — do you believe that the President feels that, like in July, that Hillary Clinton will be found not to have I guess made a national security breach, or not charged or indicted?  Does he believe that, as he's getting ready to embark on a road trip for her for her presidency?

MR. EARNEST:  The President continues to be completely confident.  I'm not going to comment on an ongoing FBI or Department of Justice process.  But what I will reiterate is the President's confidence in Secretary Clinton, in her values, in her leadership qualities.  The President's assessment that she would be an excellent candidate, that she would be an excellent President and that she is the right person to succeed him in the Oval Office has not changed.  And you've heard him talk about that quite extensively over the last couple of months, and you're going to hear him talk about it quite a bit over the course of the next week.

Richard.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  So if the President’s opinion hasn’t changed, just a clarification again for me.  Did the President feel that, as Director Comey said, that Secretary Clinton showed recklessness with her private emails?  Did he use that term — is carelessness a part of and include recklessness?

MR. EARNEST:  The President has had an occasion to talk about this previously.  I don't have anything to add to what the President has previously said.  I think the President, as I have on a number of occasions, has noted that Secretary Clinton has acknowledged that it was a mistake.  She’s acknowledged — she’s apologized for making that mistake, and she’s acknowledged that if she had an opportunity to do it over again, she’d do it a lot differently.

But with regard to the President’s opinion of Secretary Clinton and his firm belief that she will be an excellent President, that assessment has not changed.

Q    This campaign — the Clinton campaign has come out with a new ad where they depict the daisy girl image.  You’ve been with the White House for eight years.  You do think one man being the President can, by himself, start a nuclear war?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is enormous authority that's invested in the commander-in-chief.  And choosing a commander-in-chief with the right temperament has been the subject of presidential campaigns for — let me say it this way — this is not the first time that there has been an extensive debate on the campaign trail about whether or not one of the candidates has the right temperament to be commander-in-chief.  So I'll let the Clinton campaign make whatever case they choose to make.

You’ve heard the President talk in his own words in these speeches about how important it is to have the right temperament when doing this job, and he says that based on his own personal experience of sitting in that office every day for the last eight years.  So the President’s views about how important the consideration of temperament is in choosing the next commander-in-chief is something that he’s talked about extensively.  And it sounds like the Clinton campaign wants to talk about that, too. But you should talk to them about that strategy.

Q    You’ve seen the President discuss issues, going to war in Iraq or in Afghanistan, the surge and putting soldiers on the ground.  

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  These are life and death decisions.  They don't just –

Q    Exactly.  Can one man just, without even talking to anybody around — can the President of the U.S. start, himself, a war — a nuclear war?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't know that I can walk through the procedures that are involved for making that kind of decision –

Q    My question is, is that exaggerated in trying to portray this?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't think it's exaggerated, because the person who is the commander-in-chief is somebody who’s calling the shots.  And there’s a longstanding tradition in this country — a different tradition, but a longstanding tradition — of civilian leadership of the military.  And for the person who is entrusted with that responsibility by the American people, that's the person that's making decisions that members of the military — they’re giving orders that members of the military vow to uphold and vow to carry out.

So, again, I can't speak to the procedures for the kind of operation that you're alluding to.  But I think the point of this debate is helping the American people understand that it's enormously important who the next President of the United States is.  And that is a — lives are at stake in making that decision because the President frequently has to make life-and-death decisions.  And typically, when those decisions are being weighed, they’re not even one person’s life and death.  We’re talking about the life and death of, for example, thousands of American servicemembers who signed up to serve this country in the military.  Those servicemembers are entrusting their lives to the Commander-in-Chief.  And the President feels that responsibility, and it’s a weighty one.

Dave.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to go back on Toluse’s question about the mood, the reaction to Comey’s announcement on Friday.  I mean, you’re talking about, obviously, the candidate that the President wants very deeply to succeed him and carry out a lot of his agenda.  A lot of — some White House — top White House people have gone to work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the last year or so.  And so obviously, a lot of people here at the White House, it’s no surprise, are rooting for her to win.  Then you got this major, negative news story out of the blue, as you said, 10 days before the election.  What was the reaction here among senior-level people?  Were you concerned?  Were you shocked?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned, the White House was not notified of the decision to send this letter to Congress before the letter was made public.  So I guess it’s fair to say that since we didn’t know about it in advance, that we were surprised, particularly when you consider the kind of longstanding tradition that’s been observed by investigators and prosecutors in our democracy for a long time.

But, look, I think the broader analysis of the impact of this story on the race I think is much more complicated than just describing it as a bad story.  I think there are a variety of opinions about what potential impact this could have on the electorate — who’s motivated, who’s discouraged.

Q    But for example, there was a poll yesterday, I think it was ABC, that said up to one-third of voters are now, because of this story, considered less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton.  Doesn’t that concern you guys?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think there’s a lot of analysis and a lot of data out there to sift through, and I’m sure there are people in the Trump campaign headquarters and in the Clinton campaign headquarters sifting through that data right now to search for a political advantage.  That’s what they’re supposed to do.  But I’ll leave the analysis to them and to others who are talking to journalists.  I’ll let others carry that analysis.

Q    One other matter, about the VA.  The good folks at USA Today had a story today about bonuses that were awarded to VA employees in fiscal 2015 — some $177 million to VA employees, about 189,000 employees, which was an increase from the year before by about 24 percent.  Given the year that the VA has had, does the President feel like they were due for an increase in bonuses that were handed out?

MR. EARNEST:  Dave, I haven’t seen the story.  Let me look into the story and we’ll follow up with you with a response.

Scott.

Q    Josh, the President is going to make two separate trips to North Carolina this week.  He’s going to Florida for the third time in three weeks.  Can you talk a little of the calculation that the White House and the Clinton campaign put into where they allocate the President’s time?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a question that you should direct to the Clinton campaign.  They’re making — the President’s directive to his team here is to figure out what he can do to be most helpful to Secretary Clinton.  And so those decisions about where the President will travel are being driven by the strategists at the Clinton campaign.

The observation that I will make is that it is not uncommon in a national election for the outcome to be — for a couple of states, for a handful of states to be viewed as likely to decide the outcome.  And typically that means that the two competing candidates will often find themselves in the same city as their opponent in the last few days, which is a remarkable thing when you consider how big the country is.

So I haven’t seen, or at least not taken a detailed look at the schedule that’s being kept by Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton.  But, again, I think it is common in national elections for a handful of states at the end to ultimately swing the outcome.  And so it makes sense that the candidates and their strongest surrogates would be spending most of their time in the days before an election in those states and in those communities.

Francesca.

Q    Thank you.  On this same topic, without giving too much away, is it possible that the President will have additional events beyond the ones that have been advised through Friday before the election?

MR. EARNEST:  It is possible, yes.

Q    Okay, it is possible.  No idea where they’re at?  Won’t tell us?  

MR. EARNEST:  Stay tuned.

Q    Okay.  I do have a few questions on this topic, because it sounds like it’s possible that this might be our last briefing then before the election, if that’s the case.

MR. EARNEST:  We’re still working on the schedule.  We’ll keep you posted on that, too.

Q    You’ve talked about this in a different context before, but heading into the election, the President said that he’ll take it as a personal insult if black voters don’t come out and support Hillary Clinton in this election.  Will he take it as a personal insult generally if Donald Trump is elected, given the things that Donald Trump has said about him, some of them so very personal?

MR. EARNEST:  You know, Francesca, I’m asked a lot about sort of how personally the President takes his criticism.  And when you’ve served in the national spotlight for as long as he has, you develop a pretty thick skin.  And to the degree that the President takes this election personally, it’s rooted in the personal investment he has made in the progress and success of this country.  

He has poured his own blood, sweat and tears into an economic strategy that prevented the United States from tipping over into a second Great Depression and has led to the longest streak of consecutive job growth in American history.  He has poured his heart into the idea that we should coordinate with other countries around the world to fight climate change, to strengthen the economy, to fight terrorism, and to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  You surely, those of you who covered it, know that he spent a lot of hours that he would probably have rather spent doing something else talking to members of Congress about how to get health care reform done.  

So the outcome of this election is significant because you have one candidate who is promising to tear all those accomplishments down.  The President is personally invested in those accomplishments.  He’s personally invested in the progress that our country has made.  And to the extent that the President feels personally affected by this election, that's what it is.  

He’s not offended by the outrageous things that his critics say about him.  He just wants to make sure that all the work that he’s done over the last eight years to strengthen our economy and strengthen our national security, and make our country more fair, to fight climate change and to advance our interests around the world — that that progress is something that is not torn down but actually something that we build on.  

And that’s how the President has made a decision about who to support in this election, and it's why the President has been so vocal in support of the candidate that has endorsed.

Q    For that reason, all the things that you just said, though — if Donald Trump were elected, again, based on what you just said, that would be a rejection of some of those things that President Obama has done over the last eight years.  Would he find that personally insulting to the work that he did and to his legacy?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President would be deeply disappointed if his successor were to try to roll back and tear down the progress we've spent so much of the last eight years working to achieve.  And that's why he’s so invested in this election.  And that's why you see him making such a forceful case on the stump in support of Secretary Clinton.

Q    And finally, does he still think that Donald Trump won't win?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sorry?

Q    Does he still think that Donald Trump is not going to win?

MR. EARNEST:  The President continues to be optimistic about the trajectory of the race.  The President also is going to be forceful in warning people against complacency.  The election is, of course, far from over and Election Day is still seven or eight days away.  

John, I'll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Two brief questions.  Does the President believe that the FBI should release a report on the email before the election, just get the matter out of the politics thicket?

MR. EARNEST:  As I mentioned earlier to Michelle, I'll neither defend, nor criticize Director Comey’s decision to communicate to the public about the facts of this investigation. I'll do that because of the institutional role of the White House not to interfere with an ongoing FBI or DOJ investigation.  I'll also do that because I don't have any independent knowledge of what led Director Comey to decide to release that information.  

So he'll ultimately have to make that decision himself.  There appear to be plenty of people who are willing to offer him advice about how to, or whether to do that, so he doesn’t need any advice from me, and I don't think he’s looking for it.

Q    And just to follow up — the President is campaigning very hard, and I've noticed of late he has been campaigning for House candidates.  He issued a strong endorsement of Christina Bennett Hartman in Pennsylvania's 16th District, which has been in Republican hands for more than a century, since Thaddeus Stevens had it, and he campaigned for Colonel Applegate in California, with some strong words about the incumbent — Mr. Issa.  Does he really believe that the Democrats have a chance to win the House of Representatives given this stepped-up area?  And does he have a list of Republicans he’d like to take out?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President is enthusiastic about the chances that Democrats have in the upcoming election, and he is eager to use his widespread popularity across the country to benefit them.  And that's why you’ve seen the President traveling all over the country.  That's why you’ve seen the President taping television and radio advertisements.  That's why you’ve seen the President taping robo-calls or sending emails, encouraging people to actively support Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives.  And he’s bullish about Democratic prospects in the upcoming election, including for the House of Representatives. 

Thanks, everybody.

Q    Josh, no word on your costume?  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  You're looking at it.  (Laughter.)  

END
2:22 P.M. EDT

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