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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 3/20/2017

Monday, March 20, 2017 14:57
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(Before It's News)

James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:45 P.M. EDT

MR. SPICER:  Good afternoon.  As you all know, the President will be speaking this afternoon in Louisville, and we've got an event coming up, so I'll try to keep this relatively short to focus on — let the President focus on his message for the day.

In regard to the news of the day, this morning, after receiving his daily intelligence briefing, the President met with Bill Gates, the co-chair and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The President and Mr. Gates talked about their shared commitment to finding and stopping disease outbreaks around the world.  The President particularly commended Mr. Gates for the Gates Foundation's work in global health and health security.  Generous and innovative private philanthropy groups, like the Gates Foundation, are critical to our mission of finding the cures of tomorrow. 

Also this morning, the confirmation hearings in the Judiciary Committee began for the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch.  As the judge will continue to show throughout this process, he's eminently qualified for this position, with impeccable academic credentials, a brilliant legal mind, and a proven commitment to the Constitution. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Judge Gorsuch will be questioned by each member of the panel.  And on Thursday, we anticipate things to conclude with a panel of witnesses.

The President was glad to see so many people convey their support in the last few days for Judge Gorsuch.  Just this past weekend, Senator Grassley, former New York Mayor Bloomberg, editorial boards from across the country, and several of his former colleagues and classmates either penned op-eds and editorials or provided comments, one way or another, stating his impeccable qualifications for the bench.

They add to the long list of jurists, politicians, and elected officials from both sides of the aisle who have already given the judge their support.  The President looks forward to watching Judge Gorsuch continue to show the Senate what an extraordinary addition he will be to the bench, and is confident that he will be confirmed.

Later in the morning, the President had a meeting with Speaker Ryan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Tom Price, and Dr. Zeke Emanuel.  Dr. Emanuel has been intimately involved in crafting healthcare policy since his work on Obamacare.  Obviously, he and the President have some differing views on the best way to make healthcare affordable and accessible, but the President also strongly believes that the health and wellbeing of the American people shouldn’t always be a partisan issue, and he will continue to reach across party lines and listen to voices on this issue.

Last week he heard from individuals and families who have suffered from the disastrous results of Obamacare.  He’s previously spoken to healthcare policy groups, Republican congressional leadership, and health insurance companies.  This week, he and his staff will have discussions on women in healthcare while continuing an open dialogue with members of Congress.  And he will be hosting even more meetings and listening sessions in the coming weeks as he works with Congress to bring commonsense reforms to our healthcare system.

The President has shown that he's willing to hear from all stakeholders in the healthcare field, and he will continue to listen as the process on the American Health Care Act moves along and we pursue the additional legislative and administrative actions necessary.

This afternoon, the President had lunch with the Vice President, and as we speak he's meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson.  The Secretary just returned from an important trip to Asia.  He made it clear that America is committed to our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea, and that we expect China to increase its role in persuading North Korea to move away from nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development and toward steps to create a better future for the North Korean people. 

This trip set the stage for future leader-level engagement between the U.S. and China.  During this meeting, he will debrief the President on his trip.

Later this afternoon, the President will welcome Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq.  The Iraqi people have been a brave and steadfast partner in our shared fight against ISIS, al Qaeda, and radicalism.  The President will speak with the Prime Minister about how that partnership will help us defeat ISIS and move into a new era in which Iraq is a force for stability and peace and a prosperous Middle East.

After his bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister, the President will depart the White House for Louisville, Kentucky for a Make America Great Again Rally before returning to the White House later this evening.

A few notes at the end before I take some questions.
Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin returned from a very successful trip to Europe, where he stopped in the UK for a bilateral with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and later met with 18 of his counterparts during the G20 Ministerial in Baden-Baden.  

This trip gave the Secretary an opportunity to outline the administration's priorities on a number of issues, including macroeconomic policy, financial regulation, international tax, and illicit finance.  During the meetings, the Secretary and his counterparts presented a platform that will strengthen our collective work on steps to promote global growth and financial stability.

In terms of the schedule for the rest of the week — tomorrow, the President will sign S. 442, “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017” in the morning, and make remarks at the National Republican Congressional Committee March Dinner in the evening.

On Wednesday, as I mentioned last week, the President will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus.

On Thursday, the President will hold an event with truck drivers and representatives from the trucking companies and industry on healthcare and its negative impacts on their industry and livelihood, which just happens to be the largest employer in 29 states.

And on Friday, the President will hold a Greek Independence Day celebration.  We’ll have further updates on all of those events later.

And finally, I want to address the House Intelligence Committee hearing that is currently happening in which the FBI director and the NSA director are currently testifying and comment to the extent that I can at this time.  

This hearing, as Chairman Nunes noted, is the first of several that the House Intelligence Committee is engaged in, and the President is happy that they’re pursuing the facts in this.  As has been previously reported, Director Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating Russia’s role in interfering with the election.  And let me just comment briefly on that.

Following this testimony, it’s clear that nothing has changed.  Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion.  The Obama CIA director said so, Obama’s director of national intelligence said so, and we take them at their word.

However, there was some new information that came from the hearing that we believe is newsworthy about the intelligence-gathering process and the unmasking of Americans identified in intelligence reports, and the illegal leak of such unmasked individuals, which is a federal crime.  

Director Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that certain political appointees in the Obama administration had access to the names of unmasked U.S. citizens, such as senior White House officials, senior Department of Justice officials, and senior intelligence officials.  Before President Obama left office, Michael Flynn was unmasked and then illegally his identify was leaked out to media outlets, despite the fact that, as NSA Director Rogers said, that unmasking and revealing individuals endangers “national security.”
Not only was General Flynn’s identify made available, Director Comey refused to answer the question of whether or not he’d actually briefed President Obama on his phone calls and activities.  Director Comey called these types of disclosures of classified information a threat to national security, and said he will investigate and pursue these matters to the full extent of law.  

He also said that the leaking of classified information had become “unusually active” in the timeframe in question.  It’s also important to note that both Directors Comey and Rogers told the committee that they have no evidence that votes were changed in the swing states the President had won. 

I think that pretty much, until we get the ending of this hearing — I don’t know that I want to comment too much further.  And with that, I’d be glad to take a few questions.

Jonathan.

Q    Sean, does the President still have complete confidence in FBI Director Comey?

MR. SPICER:  There’s no reason to believe he doesn’t at this time.  

John.

Q    You said — wait, hold on –

MR. SPICER:  I answered you.

Q    He said that there is no information to support the allegations that the President made against President Obama.

MR. SPICER:  At this time.

Q    So is the President prepared to withdraw that accusation and apologize to the President?

MR. SPICER:  No, we started a hearing.  It’s still ongoing.  And, as Chairman Nunes mentioned, this is one in a series of hearings that will be happening.  As I noted last week, there’s also a lot of interesting news coming out of that in terms of the activities that have gone on to reveal the information on American citizens that have been part of this, particularly General Flynn.  There’s a lot of things that aren’t being covered in this hearing that I think are interesting that — since it’s ongoing, I’ll leave that for now.  But I think there’s a lot of areas that still need to be covered.  There’s a lot of information that still needs to be discussed.

Q    The director also said he’s investigating the links and the possibility of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Given that the President just this morning said that the Democrats made up the Russia story, why would the FBI director be investigating a story if it’s simply –

MR. SPICER:  I don’t think that’s what he said.  But again, look at what –

Q    No, no, he did.  He said that he’s investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether or not there was any coordination.

MR. SPICER:  Correct.  But again, investigating it and having proof of it are two different things.  If you look at the acting Obama CIA director, he said that there’s smoke but there’s no fire.  Senator Tom Cotton — “Not that I’ve seen and not that I’m aware of.”  You look at Director Clapper — “Not to my knowledge.”  Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware — “I have no evidence of collusion.”

There’s a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody who’s been briefed hasn’t seen or found.  I think it’s fine to look into it, but at the end of the day, they’re going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had.  So you can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn’t exist doesn’t matter.

There is a discussion — I heard some names thrown around before — that were hangers-on or on the campaign, and I think at some point people that got thrown around at the beginning of this hearing, some of those names, the greatest amount of interaction that they’ve had has had cease-and-desist letters sent to them.  

Q    You’re talking about the Roger Stones and the Carter Pages.

MR. SPICER:  Exactly, the Carter Pages, yes.  But those people, the greatest amount of interaction that they had with the campaign was the campaign apparently sending them a series of cease-and-desist letters.  So again, I think that when you read a lot of this activity about associates, there is a fine line between people who want to be part of something that they never had an official role in, and people who actually played a role in either the campaign or the transition.

Julie.

Q    Sean, I just had two quick questions on the hearing today.  Does the President — now that we know there is an ongoing investigation by the FBI — does the President stand by his comments that he is not aware of any contacts that his campaign associates had with Russia during the election?

MR. SPICER:  Yes.

Q    And then the second one is:  Has anyone from the White House –

MR. SPICER:  Well, can I just amend the first one?

Q    Sure.

MR. SPICER:  Obviously, just to be clear, I know that — I’m trying to think through this for a second, because obviously General Flynn — but again –

Q    Right, particularly during the campaign, before the election.  

MR. SPICER:  Right.  And I’m not aware of any at this time. But even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign, and then obviously there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.  But beyond –

Q    He was the chairman of the campaign –

MR. SPICER:  Hey, Jonathan, hold on.  Can you stop interrupting other people’s questions?

Q    (Inaudible) played a limited role – 

MR. SPICER:  Hey, Jonathan, somebody is asking a question.  It’s not your press briefing.  Julie is asking a question.  Please calm down.  Julie.

Q    Are you saying then that the President is aware of contacts that Manafort had during the campaign?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, nothing that hasn’t been previously discussed.  I just don’t want to make it look like we’re not aware of the stuff that’s –

Q    Understood.  And then the second thing is, anyone from the White House, up to the President, been interviewed by the FBI as part of this investigation?

MR. SPICER:  Not that I’m aware of.  

Mara.

Q    You said that — you made a point of saying that Comey refused to say whether he had briefed Obama about the investigation.  And also, the President, on his official account, tweeted the same thing today.  Comey made a point today of saying, please do not draw any conclusions from my ability to confirm or deny anything, but you are drawing a conclusion from that.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think we’re pointing it out.  I mean, we’re making a point that it is not known.  And I think there’s further — I mean, to everyone who was looking for a conclusion today, I think there’s a lot more that needs to be discussed and looked at before we can jump to a conclusion about – 

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  But I think the point is, is that, in the same token you’ve got individuals that want an answer, and at the same time, there’s clearly a lot of information that still hasn’t come out or been discussed.

Q    So you’re looking forward to this investigation –

MR. SPICER:  I think that we are — there is a lot more to come is the answer that I –

Q    But the reason that I’m asking this question is you said that they are going to come to the same conclusion of everybody else.

MR. SPICER:  My point is, is that –

Q    So you already know what the conclusion is?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no.  What I’m getting at is that there is this continuous — there is this media narrative that continues to talk about collusion that exists, and yet every person that's been briefed — Nunes; Tom Cotton; Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware; Clapper, the Obama appointee — have all said that nothing that they've seen makes them believe that there was any collusion.  

And I think there’s a difference between talking about an investigation into the 2016 election, which we all know, and any evidence of collusion.  There is no evidence, according to the people that have been briefed, of any collusion or activity that leads them to believe that that exists.  I think that is an important point that gets overlooked over and over and over again.  

Q   Right, but you said it’s fine to look into it, but they are going to come to the same conclusion of everybody else — that this collusion doesn’t exist.  So you already know –

MR. SPICER:  No, I don’t.  What I’m –

Q    – investigation is finished – 

MR. SPICER:  No, no, that’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is, is that every single person — because what the director said today is that there's an ongoing investigation.  My point is to say that everybody who's been briefed on that investigation — it doesn’t — there is an assumption that because there is an investigation, it must mean that it’s about something.  

My point to you is that there is an assumption on behalf of most people in the media about what that investigation must mean.  And my point to you is, is that, despite the narrative that gets played over and over again with respect to what the investigation might mean in terms of collusion, every person, Republican and Democrat, that has been briefed on it has come to the same conclusion that there is no collusion and that that’s over.  

So while we can talk about an investigation, big-picture holistically, the idea that so many people are trying to jump to a conclusion seems very, very misguided. 

Zeke.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Two quick ones.  First — briefing with the President, do you expect the invitation to President Xi to that summit that's being reported on for next month to be — was that extended on that trip?  And do you expect that to be taking place early April, the 6th, 7th and 8th?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll try to have more of a readout afterwards.  I know that they’re going to talk extensively about what he accomplished in both Japan, South Korea, and obviously in Beijing.  But I’m going to let the Secretary of State debrief the President before I get ahead of deciding what was discussed in Beijing.

Q    And back to the previous topic.  I was hoping you could square the circle a little bit.  You said in the case of the President’s tweets, on this an ongoing investigation, that more things will come out that may justify that.  But in the case of the Clinton charges, you listed all the people who have said (inaudible) investigation there.  Why, in one case, is that sufficient to say that there is no — you could rule out collusion now, versus in the other case you'd say, oh, there is going to be more information coming out that will prove these tweets?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I’m not — because again, I think there’s a difference.  I’m not ruling anything out.  I’m merely explaining to you that every person — Republican, Democrat, Obama, that served in the Obama administration across a broad section –

Q    You can say the same thing about tweets.  

MR. SPICER:  In terms of what?

Q    Wiretappings.   

MR. SPICER:  But I think that there is — on the investigation itself, we know from the people who have been briefed.  On the other piece of it, we know that there is — it’s an ongoing thing, and that even according to the Department of Justice in terms of the information that has been provided and Chairman Nunes, that they are still at the beginning of this process.  That is a very different thing than a group of people saying there is an ongoing investigation.  And from what we’ve been briefed, there is no evidence to suggest any type of collusion.  That’s the difference.

Hunter.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  On a slightly different topic:  In his first eight weeks in office, President Trump has made at least 10 trips to the golf course.  He regularly used to criticize President Obama for spending time on the course.  How is his golf game any different?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think two things.  One is, you saw him utilize this as an opportunity with Prime Minister Abe to help foster deeper relationships in Southeast Asia — in Asia, rather — and have a growing relationship that's going to help U.S. interests.  How you use the game of golf is something that he has talked about.

Secondly, we went down to — he had a mini Cabinet meeting the other day down — or two weekends ago, down at his club in Virginia.  And I remember so many people jumping to the conclusion that he’s going down and playing golf.  Just because you go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean that you did that.  So on a couple of occasions, he’s actually conducted meetings there, he's actually had phone calls.  So just because he heads there doesn’t mean that that's what's happening.

Q    I know he did meet with Prime Minister Abe on the course, but we're not getting a lot of details on other high-level meetings that are taking place.  If he is having these productive meetings on the course, why isn’t the President and his aides being a little more forthcoming about what he's doing?

MR. SPICER:  It's the same reason that he can have dinner or lunch with somebody and not — because I think the President is entitled to a bit of privacy at some point, which is what we've always agreed to.  We bring the protective pool to be there, but the President is also entitled to a bit of privacy as well.

Trey.

Q    Does the President believe the FBI will do a fair job of investigating any sort of links to Russia during the election?  And then I have one more for you.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think there's a variety of institutions looking at it — both the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI.  But, yeah, I think that when you get to the bottom of it, we'll have a much better picture of what's happening, and I think it will continue to vindicate him on that.

Go ahead.

Q    In a follow-up, the President tweeted this morning a question about a potential DNC connection to Russia during the election.  Is he under the impression that the Clinton campaign had inappropriate contact with Russia during the election?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think that — and that's an interesting aspect of all of this that's not being covered.  Number one, from everything that's been publicly available, on several occasions the DNC was asked by the FBI to investigate — or to allow their servers to be looked at, despite all of the claims of their concerns about leaking.  And yet, the question still doesn’t come out — why wouldn’t the DNC, on multiple occasions, rebuff the FBI?  Why were they not wanting — if they were so concerned about hacks and leaking, why did the DNC not ask the FBI to come look?  Not only did they not ask them; they rebuffed them on multiple occasions.  Why?  What are they hiding?  What were they concerned of?

But I think there is a serious question.  I mean, it's not — they're very clear about the concerns they have, as well as all of the leadership in the Democratic Party.  And yet when it came to hacks and leaks out of the DNC — and they're quick to jump to the conclusion about who did it, and yet they wouldn’t allow the FBI to investigate it — there's a whole second set of concerns here in terms of what was Hillary Clinton's role.  I mean, if you look at the Obama administration and the Clintons' involvement with Russia in terms of donations the Clintons received from Russia and entities, the idea that they sold off a tremendous amount of the uranium to the Russian government, and yet where was the concern for that?  What are we doing to look into that?  It was the Obama administration in 2009 that talked about a reset with Russia and a desire to reset relationships.  It was Hillary Clinton who signed off on the deal that gave a Russian company one-fifth of the U.S. uranium supply.  Where is the questioning about that?  What did they get?

There was discussion the other day about a Russian official noting that both campaigns they sought to — where is the concern about their efforts on the Hillary Clinton thing?  The Democrats and the Democratic Party, and a lot of those individuals are quick to point fingers, and yet when it comes to discussing their own collusion or questions involving their involvement with Russian officials or buy-offs to the Russians, there's no discussion there.  So you got to wonder, on both sides, where's the parity when it comes to these kinds of investigations?

Margaret.

Q    Sean, what constitutes conclusive evidence for the President on this front when you say there's more to come forward?  You've got the FBI director saying nothing to back up the President's tweets about wiretapping, the former head of the DNI, House Intelligence Committees.  I mean, you've had a series of officials.  So when does this end for the President?  Is it March 28th?

MR. SPICER:  It's not a question of a date, it's a question of where we get answers.  If you look at someone like Michael Flynn and you ask the question, how does an American citizen, who should be protected by law from having their identity unmasked, how does that happen?  Because you got to think about it just like this:  The FBI and all the relevant intelligence agencies have access to this document; they can figure out who it was.  Right?  So –

Q    I'm sorry — who it was?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  In other words, they –

Q    The wiretapping of the President, that's the claim.

MR. SPICER:  Listen.  I understand that.  What I'm getting at is that there's a lot of information that we have come to learn about what happened in terms of surveillance throughout the 2016 election and the transition.  And when you look at somebody like Michael Flynn and you realize that while they might have been looking at somebody else at that time, how does somebody's name that's protected by law from being disclosed get put out in the public?  Why was it put out in the public?  Because the people in the intelligence community would have had access to that information.  They could have found out who it was.  But yet you've got to question why was a name that should have been protected by law from being put out into the public domain put out there?  What were the motives behind that?  What else do we need to know?  Who was behind that kind of unmasking?

Q    So are you saying the President has evidence that we have yet to see in public? 

MR. SPICER:  No, no, I am saying that there's a lot more questions that need to get asked about what was being done in terms of surveillance, who was being surveilled, why were they being involved, what techniques — why are certain people being sort of “unmasked” and having their identity known, what was going on.  But there's a lot more questions than answers that need to get asked.

Q    Who does the President trust to provide those answers if not the heads of all those agencies?

MR. SPICER:  And we've talked about this ad nauseam, that the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees are looking into this.  Today is the first of several hearings that Chairman Nunes intends to call.  Senator Burr has already talked about it.  There's a ways to go.  And I get that you guys want to know the end of the book right now, but we're on the first chapter of this process. 

Steve.

Q    So Burr and Nunes, he does trust them to provide –

MR. SPICER:  Of course.  We've put out a statement saying so much that we asked them to look into it.  So I don’t think it should come to any surprise that that's where we have noted multiple times that that's where the President believe the appropriate place and the process for all of these documents to go through.

Steve.

Q    The President said he had a lot of meetings over the weekend on North Korea.  Who were those meetings with?  And what was his reaction to North Korea's test of this new rocket engine?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think we continue to be concerned with North Korea's activity.  That's why not only have we continued to have conversations with officials in Japan and South Korea, but we continue to urge China to step in and play a larger role in deterring both the ballistic and other missile threats that North Korea plays.  I will try to have a further readout on some of those conversations, but I think there is growing concern about North Korea.  I think that is part of what Secretary Tillerson is going to be discussing to him during their meeting.

Q    And did Tillerson get a promise from China to weigh in more on North Korea?

MR. SPICER:  I think he sent a very clear signal that our policy of strategic patience is over.  The President and the Secretary of State have an expectation that China employed multiple points of pressure on North Korea.  We know that we don’t agree 100 percent of the time with China, but as the State Department noted yesterday, both President Xi and Secretary Tillerson agreed that there are opportunities for greater cooperation between China and the United States, and acknowledged that there are and will be in the future differences between the two countries.  But I think that Secretary Tillerson's trip continued to — or helped set us down that path.  And I think that the follow-on meetings that the leaders intend to have will be helpful in that vein.

Q    Given the talk last week about the budget, the priorities for the American tax dollars, the need to cut programs like — or make cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels, is the President going to consider curbing some of his trips to Mar-a-Lago that the GAO estimates could cost $3 million for the President to Palm Beach?  Is he planning to cut those back at all given his feelings about the priorities for the Americans' tax dollars?

MR. SPICER:  I think that is a vast reach to suggest — I mean, Presidents always travel.  And I think the President, wherever he goes, he carries the apparatus of the White House with us.  That is just something that happens.  The President will continue to go and travel around the country and have meetings to solve the nation's problems.

And again, I think just — because I know you took a little bit of a shot there, I think even The Washington Post, which is no friend to conservatives, even they sided with us that these false sort of narratives on Meals on Wheels — it’s not a federal program.  Three percent of their total budget comes from a block grant that’s passed through there.  It’s a state-run program.  They had apparently a phenomenal weekend this week.

I get that that’s a cute program to point at, but it's false and misleading to try to make that narrative stick.

Q    So to your point that all Presidents travel, no President has traveled so often and so early to their own private residence.  

MR. SPICER:  President Bush went to Crawford.

Q    Not this often and –

MR. SPICER:  I get it, I get it.  But at the same time, the President is — very clearly that he’s worked seven days a week.  This is where he goes to see his family.  He brings people down there.  This is part of being President.

John.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Turning back to the meeting with Chancellor Merkel on Friday, did the President and the Chancellor discuss the economic crisis in Greece at all?  And given the appointment of two officials to the Treasury Department who have been critical of the International Monetary Fund, does the administration see a new or different role for the IMF in resolving the Greek economic crisis?

MR. SPICER:  Let me refer you to the Treasury Department on IMF.  I think the readout that we provided on the Secretary’s — on the Chancellor’s visit, rather — excuse me — speaks for itself.  They spoke at length as far as what they discussed and what they meant.  So I’m not going to step on that.

Francesca.

Q    Thank you.  Are you aware of any White House officials that are under investigation by the FBI?

MR. SPICER:  No.

Q    Okay.  And you mentioned the “hangers-on” in the campaign earlier and Carter Page, but there was also a question about Roger Stone.  Was he also in that category?  Is he someone that the President is still in frequent contact with?  Because he’s often called an informal advisor to the President and a confidante of his.  

MR. SPICER:  Mr. Stone is somebody the President has known for a long time.  He worked briefly on the campaign I think until about August of 2015, from recollection.  They have talked from time to time but I don’t think any time recently.  But they had a long relationship going back years where he would provide counsel.  And again, he played a role early on in his campaign but ended that role in August of 2015.  And I don’t know at all when the last time they even spoke was.

Q    Sean, in the meeting this morning with Gates, did the President’s cut in NIH funding come up?  And how does he square meeting with Gates and sort of focusing on this whole need to continue medical research and then at the same time want to cut medical research funding by such a large amount?

MR. SPICER:  I know they talked about cures and health, and I think he applauds a lot of the work that they’ve done overseas in particular.  I don’t have a full readout on it yet, but I’ll try to get you more on it.

Look, we’ve discussed the NIH in particular.  I think that there’s this assumption in Washington that if you don’t spend more on a subject that you’re not caring as much.  When you look at some of the agencies and departments and programs that we’ve seen, in many cases they’re not meeting their mission.  And I think there are cost-savings that can be achieved so that you can focus the dollars that are being allocated towards a more effective use of the mission at hand.

But it’s interesting, only in Washington do you literally judge the success of something by how much money you throw at the problem, not actually whether it’s solving the problem or coming up with anything.  

April.

Q    Sean, I want to go to a couple of topics.  One, back on wiretapping, Comey said he had no information supporting that President Obama wiretapped President Trump.  So with that, you have Schiff saying things like there are half-truths coming from this President; no truth, it’s dangerous; we’re alienating our allies; we need to be able to trust our President.  And with that, I’m going to ask you — and I need an answer for this — how do you regain trust, as some view him as the boy who cried wolf?

MR. SPICER:  I think if you’re citing Adam Schiff’s political diatribe at the beginning as some sort of sense of — he literally went off – 

Q    But you have Comey saying – 

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  If you want to talk about a series of mistruths and misdirection, I think if you look at that opening statement it was filled with those.  So I don’t need to use that as some basis for having to respond to you.  I was watching a lot of the reporter response on Twitter initially to his sort of diatribe, and I think there were several folks that talked about how he’s mischaracterizing and taking things way out of context.  So to use that as the basis of some kind of authoritative –

Q    What about Comey saying there is no information?  How do you regain the trust at that –

MR. SPICER:  April, I’ve addressed this multiple times.  At this point, we are at the beginning phases of this and we have a ways to go.

John.

Q    Wait, I’m not finished.  I asked on the budget.  On the budget.  How — and this is kind of going back to –

MR. SPICER:  This is number three now.

Q    Not really; it’s number two.  Thank you.  How is the President contributing to his own role of reducing spending, the deficit and the debt, and his management of spending here at the White House?

MR. SPICER:  There’s a lot — we’ve used — the White House, when it looks at a total percentage of the budget, is miniscule.  I think that to ask that question is somewhat ironic after seeing Director Mulvaney sit up here the other day and talk about the savings and the cost-cutting measures that we’ve seen across the entire budget.  He sat up here and got grilled on that and answered effectively how the President is looking at efficiencies and duplicity in all programs throughout government.  

So it’s not just a question of here at the White House, but he’s looking at it holistically throughout all of government.  But then you look at some of the activities the President is personally engaged in terms of the F-35, the next generation of Air Force One, personally getting — and looking at ways in which we can create a more effective and efficient procurement process.  That’s one area where I think you’re going to see the President personally engage on more and more, is looking at all the stuff that the government buys and how we’re doing it, our bidding process in so many ways, especially in the Department of Defense.

Q    What about salaries?  We know three people here are not taking salaries.  But what about salaries?  I’m talking about since he’s making these massive cuts, is the hurt going to come here as well?

MR. SPICER:  Sure.  It’s not just a hurt, but you bring it up — there are multiple people here who are not taking salaries.  I mean, that is – 

Q    Three,

MR. SPICER:  Huh?

Q    Three.  

MR. SPICER:  No, way more than three, April.

Q    How many?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll get back to you, but there are several individuals that are not taking a salary here.  So when you talk about commitment to helping to come serve this government, serve the President and actually help institute a vision, there’s a lot of people who have sacrificed tremendously in terms of saying, I’ll give up — I’ve done very well for myself, this country has benefitted me, this is an opportunity for me to give back — that there are people well through this organization who have done that.

John.

Q    The President met with Dr. Emanuel, as you pointed out, a short time ago.  He’s probably one of the fiercest critics of what the President is trying to do of anybody out there.  He’s made it quite clear that he believes that this will take us back to worse than we were before the Affordable Care Act came in.  What did the President hope to gain by meeting with Dr. Emanuel today?

MR. SPICER:  Well, he’s an architect of Obamacare.  I think that despite our political and policy differences, he wants to hear ideas not just of him but a lot of people.  We’ve brought in people on both sides of the aisle from both houses, from industry.  The idea is to try to make this the best possible — he talked to Elijah Cummings a couple weeks ago about drug prices.  It’s not about ideology or party, it’s about instituting a patient-centric drug and healthcare system that benefits the American people and gives them the access and the price point that they can get healthcare and actually get coverage.  

So it is hearing his ideas.  It’s listening to his suggestions and figuring out if we can make it better.  Part of the manager's amendment that Speaker Ryan talked about is in large part because we’ve been listening and making it better and making it better.  And as it continues to work its will through the process, it’s not just the current bill but it’s also the additional legislation that’s part of this overall three-pronged process that we’ve talked about.  So making sure that we do this right and we give the American people the best possible outcome is what this has always been about.

Q    The Speaker wants to get this in front of the House maybe by Thursday.  How much will the plan change between now and then compared to what we saw voted on in the first two committees?

MR. SPICER:  Three.  The House Ways and Means Committee – 

Q    And is the President going up to the Hill tomorrow morning?

MR. SPICER:  We don’t have any announcements on the schedule at this time.  He’s going to continue to make sure that we do everything we can, and I’ll leave the legislative piece up to Speaker Ryan.

Q    How much does he think is going to change between what we saw voted on by Ways and Means –

MR. SPICER:  It depends on how much — look, I think Speaker Ryan detailed some additions and ideas and suggestions on your network yesterday with Chris Wallace that he is considering, and I think as we continue to meet with folks — there are some staff-level discussions that occurred over the weekend.  There will be more later this afternoon.  And to the extent that we can make changes that I think enable us to maintain 218 votes, we will do it.

Sara.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  There are a number of the President’s supporters on the Hill and elsewhere who worry that the President’s refusal to drop the whole wiretapping issue will eclipse some of his other accomplishments.  What message does the President have for his supporters who worry that this could be a rabbit hole that might diminish the other things he’s trying to, like healthcare?

MR. SPICER:  I think there will be a lot of accomplishments, so they don’t need to worry.  We’ve got a lot of things coming down the pike, and I think whether it’s healthcare, tax reform, his infrastructure plan, reforming government, immigration — I think we’re going to have a lot of things to be very proud of that people on both sides of the aisle are going to be excited to see enacted.  And so in due time there will be plenty to be proud of.  

Sara.

Q    You dismiss Paul Manafort as sort of an incidental figure in this campaign.  But he worked for the campaign for five months, he was the campaign chairman, he was there for a number of pivotal decisions.  So I’m wondering how is that insignificant, and is the White House aware of any contacts between Paul Manafort and Russian operatives or suspected Russian operatives?  And is that cause for concern?

MR. SPICER:  Well, just so we’re clear:  I’m not dismissing Paul Manafort as a hanger-on, I was noting to some other folks, as Jonathan pointed out.  With respect to Paul, though, I believe — and again, I’m not looking to re-litigate the election or — but I believe Paul was brought on sometime in June, and by the middle of August he was no longer with the campaign, meaning that for the entire final stretch of the general election, he was not involved.  And so to start to look at some individual that was there for a short period of time, or, separately, individuals who really didn’t play any role in the campaign, and to suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous.

Q    So are you saying it wouldn’t be cause for concern if we found out that Paul Manafort was in contact with Russian operatives or suspected operatives when he was the campaign chairman?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no, I think that — but to intimate that somebody who was there for eight weeks, and definitely not there in the final three months of the campaign played some kind of lasting role that influenced — you know, again, you realize, I think somewhere between March — I mean, August 12th or the 15th was when he ended his affiliation with the campaign.

So my point is, to suggest now that if you look at the final three months of the campaign where none of the individuals in question that Democrats brought up over and over again today were affiliated with the campaign — to suggest that that somehow shows some high-level collusion is a bit of a stretch to say the least.

Q    And is the White House aware of any contacts between Paul Manafort and Russian operatives or suspected Russian operatives?

MR. SPICER:  No.

Q    He joined in March.  Sean, you’ve been really critical of reports that are based on sources in the past.  Today it seems like the two headlines that we got out of the committee were, one, an official confirmation directly from the FBI and the Justice Department that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into whether associates of the sitting President had contacts with Russia and Russian operatives, and whether there was any coordination between those.  

And the second headline being that there is an official — you had questioned in the past, Priebus a couple weeks ago, when there were reports in our paper and others that the FBI director was indicating that there was no support for President’s tweets, you said, well, those are just reports; those are not coming from his mouth — he hasn’t said it.  Okay, we’ve now got it from his mouth directly, in open testimony, that there is no evidence that he has to support the President’s tweets.  

I guess the question is, do those two facts, which are now on the record and not attributed to anonymous sourcing — does that cause this White House any concern?  And how come you treat the one — the latter, the one about wiretapping — you want to say that’s just in the early stages, but on the former one, you want to sort of come to the conclusion that the investigation has sort of gotten to the point where you don’t have to worry about that because that’s all said and done and everybody has come to the conclusion on that?  So that seems like you’re treating both of those pieces of news very differently. 

MR. SPICER:  Well, first, I think your headlines are bad.  I’m glad to rewrite –

Q    I don’t think that.  

MR. SPICER:  I’d be glad to if you guys are looking for some help.  (Laughter.)  

Q    Are you looking for a job?
MR. SPICER:  Our services are at the New York Times’ disposal if it comes to writing headlines, and we could probably do a couple things on stories too, if you’re willing to go there.

I think because there’s a big difference.  One is, literally talking — there’s a big difference.  Everyone keeps conflating that there is an investigation into the 2016 election.  Got it — no disagreement there.  Right?  But I think that there’s a question about collusion between anybody.  And my point has been to say over and over again, to the dismay of every one of you guys, is that when the people who have been briefed by the FBI about collusion between individuals, the answer continues to be “no.”  And at some point, take no for an answer.  

When these people, both sides of the aisle — Obama appointees, elected Democrats, elected Republicans — say “no evidence suggested,” at some point it's not just about me, it's about you:  Take no for an answer.  And realize that the people — while you can have an investigation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to jump to the conclusion that, ah ha, it must be about the collusion between those two things.

They've talked about this for a long time.  The 17 intelligence agencies have talked about an ongoing investigation into Russia's involvement in the election.  That's vastly different than jumping to the conclusion and saying that there must be somehow, therefore, a collusion between individuals on one side.  They don’t talk about all of the Hillary Clinton collusion that may or may not have occurred, and that was a subject that came up with a Russian official, and yet that has not gotten pursued once. 

There were zero minutes paid on the evening news the other night, when that Russian official said that they had attempted to reach out to both campaigns.  Zero minutes.  I know, I know — see, I'm an equal opportunity –

Q    But can I just ask, does the President need to take no for an answer in the same way that you're urging the news media to on this?

MR. SPICER:  No, because one is a bunch of people who have been briefed who are saying, we haven’t seen anything.  And one is an ongoing — because, again, when you ask them, they are getting at — the President was very clear, and I think there is continuing to be a very, very literal interpretation of his tweet, which is whether or not there was wiretapping.  The President understands that you don’t literally wiretap people the same way that you did in the '70s and '80s with wires and things in the phone.  

Q    Director Comey didn’t focus on wiretapping.  He focused on the question of surveillance.  

MR. SPICER:  No, but again, I think that we are still at the beginning phase of a look as to what kind of surveillance occurred and why, and that there's a question about what leaks occurred, why they're happening.  And again, just Director Comey — because I believe one of the big headlines that should come out of today is that when he talks about the unusually high amount of leaks that are coming out of this, and classified information leaks, that in itself should be a question:  Why is so much information being leaked out now?  What are the motives behind it?  Who is doing it?  And is it threatening our national security?  Which I do believe the answer is yes.  But there's a lot of other stories.

And that's why I think, with all due respect to your two headlines coming out, I do believe there's a lot of headlines coming out.  It's just that the only headlines that people want to write are the ones that support a narrative against this administration, and not one that actually looks into how many times do people say that there was no evidence of something happening; how many times — or how much classified information is being leaked.  There's a lot of headlines that should be written today about a lot of stuff that's ongoing.  And I know that we have an ongoing hearing, but there's a lot of other things that need to get discussed and aren’t being happening.  

Why did the DNC not let the FBI look at their servers?  Why is that story not — because I would assume that if somebody was a victim of something, which they have yelled from the rooftops –

Q    And you – 

Q    The President made the allegation.  

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, hold on –

Q    I'm sorry, I'm curious — the implication of that is what?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, the question is, why is none of that being looked at?

Q    I understand the question.  But –

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know what the — but my point is, is that, not to draw an implication, but to merely ask a question, which all I'm getting at is that suddenly none of the questions regarding any of this seemed to get asked or answered or explored.  And yet –

Q    But you won.  You're here.  

MR. SPICER:  Brian, you get the same treatment that Jonathan does.  That doesn’t mean you get to jump in.  So the answer that I'm getting at is, why are none of those questions being asked?  Why is no one taking no for an answer when it comes to all of these individuals saying that they've seen nothing?  But there are a series of headlines that I would suggest need to get written and, frankly, stories.  I'm glad to do that, as I offered.

George.

Q    I'd like to try to clarify two things.  In the future, when you, from that podium, read from news articles or cite news articles, can we assume that you're vouching for the accuracy of those articles?

MR. SPICER:  I think merely reading a story that's in a paper is not vouching for it, it's reading the story.

Q    It doesn’t put a White House –

MR. SPICER:  No.  I think reading a series of things when asked a question, “where is this narrative coming from,” and citing a multitude of stories that are in the public domain is not necessarily endorsing everything I read.  That's a silly assertion.  We're reading stories that you and your colleagues — and not necessarily you at National Journal — have put out, but several people in here whose publication have put something out.  Simply reciting those things is not an endorsement.

Q    The second thing is, when you talked to the British about the GCHQ thing, did you tell them that the White House would not raise that again?  Or can you talk about that conversation?

MR. SPICER:  There was merely an explanation of what we did and why we did it, which is what I just said to you.  And that was it — simply that.  

Thank you, guys, for that.  We'll see you tomorrow.  Hopefully some of you get a chance to go down today.  If you don't, we'll have a readout.  Thank you.

 END
2:30 P.M. EDT



Source: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/20/press-briefing-press-secretary-sean-spicer-3202017

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