Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:18 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. As you saw, the President just wrapped up a meeting in the Oval Office with four families from different parts of the country. They are veterans, small-business owners, workers, moms, dads, and students. And they all had one thing in common: The President's plan to cut taxes and reform our broken tax code will help them thrive and build a better life and a better future for themselves and their children.
This event was an important reminder that while Washington focuses on the politics of the day, the President is focused on the forgotten men and women around our nation. These are the families who deserve a tax cut for Christmas, and that's exactly what we're going to deliver.
Looking ahead, the President will visit Mississippi on Saturday, where they are celebrating the state's bicentennial, 200 years of statehood. To mark the occasion, the President will participate in the grand openings of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
Tomorrow, First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence will travel to Texas to continue their efforts in assisting those affected by this year's devastating hurricane season. They will participate in a meet-and-great with first responders in Corpus Christi and then travel to Rockport to meet with a family whose home was destroyed in the hurricane.
Mrs. Trump and Mrs. Pence will also visit a local elementary school to speak with faculty and students about the hurricane. And their last stop will be at a local food bank to meet with volunteers and help sort boxes for donations.
Finally, I know there have been a lot of questions surrounding the President's decision on Jerusalem. Tomorrow, the President will deliver remarks regarding this action.
At 5:30 this evening, senior administration officials will hold a background briefing here to explain the President's decision.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Sarah, one issue that you may have seen this morning: Is the White House, or the President, at any level, considering creating a global or regional spy network that would circumvent the U.S. intelligence apparatus and serve the President outside of the normal and legally defined intelligence-gathering mechanisms?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any plans for something of that definition or anything similar to that at this time.
Q: The President would be opposed to that?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't had that conversation with him, but I'm not aware of any plans for anything like that moving forward.
Q: Do you know if any senior official has been briefed on that idea, or has it been discussed at any level in this administration?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't done a full survey of every member of the administration, but I can tell you, as of right now, that's not something that's currently being planned, and not something that I'm aware is moving forward in any capacity.
Q: Is it possible --
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to answer every hypothetical for every single member. Did some random person off the street come in and say something? I don't know, Major.
Q: No, but is it possible it's something the President might consider?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry?
Q: Is it something the President might consider?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I haven't asked him, but it's not something that's currently in the works.
Q: World leaders have spoken out, Sarah, in the last 24 hours about the possible move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas says that it would have great consequences for peace and stability in the region. King Abdullah said much the same thing. Saudi Arabia, at least publicly, saying the same thing; though, I'm told privately, they're saying something different than that. French President Macron said that he thought it was a bad idea.
In the face of all of that, would the President ignore that advice from world leaders and go ahead and make the move at this time?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of the President's remarks that he'll make tomorrow. He did speak with a number of leaders this morning, and he's going to continue to have conversations with relevant stakeholders. But, ultimately, he'll make what he feels is the best decision for the United States.
Q: Is it safe to say, other than Israel, which thinks that this move is 22 years overdue, that all of the feedback that he's been getting from world leaders is overwhelmingly negative about this idea?
MS. SANDERS: No. Again, he spoke with five leaders. That's hardly indicative of everybody across the globe. But certainly he's going to continue to have conversations with different leaders from across the world, and we'll keep you posted as those calls take place, and we'll let you know when the President has made a decision.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. Yesterday, the President said that he felt very badly for General Flynn. Would he consider pardoning him?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware that that has come up or any process or decision on that front.
Q: So you haven't talked to him about it or he said he wouldn't consider it?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't asked the President whether or not he would do that.
Q: You have not --
MS. SANDERS: I think before we start discussing the pardons for individuals, we should see what happens in specific cases, too.
Q: So is it fair to say that it's on the table?
MS. SANDERS: No. I just said I haven't had the conversation with him because I don't feel that it's necessary until, you know, you get further down the road and determine whether or not that's even something needed.
Q: Back on the embassy. Has the President made up his mind about this, or is the decision still in flux a bit?
MS. SANDERS: The President, I would say, is pretty solid in his thinking at this point.
Q: Sarah, a couple questions. One, there are comments from people from the NAACP, black ministers, who plan on protesting and boycotting this weekend for the President's visit to the Civil Rights Museum. What say you?
MS. SANDERS: I think that would be, honestly, very sad. I think this is something that should bring the country together to celebrate the opening of this museum and highlighting Civil Rights Movement and the progress that we've made. And would I hope that those individuals would join in that celebration instead of protesting it. However, they have every right to protest it.
Q: They feel it's an insult that he's coming as we've had issues of Charlottesville, the back and forth -- the President couldn't get his statement straight on Charlottesville.
MS. SANDERS: I think he got his statement very clear when he condemned all forms of racism, bigotry, and violence. There's no gray area there, and I think he made it very clear what his position is.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. Did the President know that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI at the time that he fired him in February?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President knew that he lied to the Vice President, and that was the reason for his firing.
Q: I have a follow-up. So your predecessor said on June 6th, "…is the President of the United States, so they're considered official statements by the President of the United States in regards to his tweets." Does that still -- does that standard still apply for the President's tweets?
MS. SANDERS: It does. And I know that you're probably referencing the tweet that was written by the President's attorney, and he since clarified that, and I would refer you back to the attorney's clarification on that.
MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Sarah. The White House originally said that if the accusations against Roy Moore were true, then Moore should step aside. I'm wondering how the President reached the conclusion that all of Moore's accusers -- including those who have put forward evidence -- are lying.
MS. SANDERS: Didn't say they were lying. The President's position hasn't changed; still finds those concerning. But as we've also said, the President feels that he would rather have a person that supports his agenda versus somebody who opposes his agenda every step of the way. And until the rest of that process plays out, you have a choice between two individuals, and the President has chosen to support Moore.
Q: Even if that person who would support his agenda has done what Roy Moore's accusers have said he's done?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we've said that the allegations are concerning, and, if true, he should step aside. But we don't have a way to validate that, and that's something for the people of Alabama to decide, which we've also said, and we maintain that. And ultimately, it will come down to the people of Alabama to make that decision.
Q: Sarah, can you tell me a little bit about the process and timing as how the President got to the potential Jerusalem announcement tomorrow? Do you have somewhat of a backstory on that to the degree that you can at this point?
MS. SANDERS: I can tell you that it was a very thoughtful interagency process. In terms of specifics, that's something that will be addressed in greater detail later this evening at the background briefing and then further by the President in his remarks tomorrow.
Q: And just a quick follow-up. An evangelical's role in this, how crucial is that being in terms of the Faith Advisory Council?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President wanted to make the decision that was the best decision for the United States. And I'm not going to get ahead of anything beyond the events later today and tomorrow.
Q: Thanks a lot, Sarah. I have a question for you about the special counsel's office. Does the President believe that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or anybody on his staff, is biased in any way against the President?
MS. SANDERS: I think we've seen some reports that certainly caused a great deal of concern, and we hope that those are fully looked at and investigated.
Q: Just a follow-up for you, if I may, Sarah. I think it was about five or six weeks ago that you indicated from that podium, on a few occasions, that you believe and the White House believes that Mr. Mueller's investigation will be wrapping up shortly.
Since that time, we've seen that a very high-level aide to the President -- former aide to the President -- former national security advisor has entered a plea deal with the special counsel's office. Do you still believe that this investigation is wrapping up soon?
MS. SANDERS: We do. And I'd refer you to the comments that were made by Ty Cobb, where he indicated as such, over the last few days.
Q: Sarah, thank you. Let me ask you two questions on so-called "red lines." If Robert Mueller ends up looking into the President's finances, or if he has already looked into the President's finances, does the President, does this White House believe that is a red line? And, if so, why?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think it's important to note -- and hopefully you guys have seen the statement that Jay Sekulow, a member of the President's legal team, has put out within the last hour -- that they confirmed that the news reports that the special counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the President are completely false. No subpoena has been issued or received. We've confirmed this with the bank and other sources.
I think that this is another example of the media going too far, too fast. And we don't see it going in that direction.
Q: Let me ask you -- a second red line. This White House has consistently said there are two red lines on tax reform -- middle class relief and then a 20 percent corporate rate. But the President, over the weekend, seemed to suggest that he would be amenable for a corporate rate up to 22 percent. Why would he be willing to step over his own red line on that issue?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President said just, I guess, maybe a couple of hours ago, that we're firm and we feel strongly about the 20 percent. And we're very excited about the progress we've made on that front, and think that we'll get there on both sides, in the House and the Senate.
Q: So two quick things. One, does the President believe, as the lawyer from the solicitor general's office said at the court today, that a baker could put a sign in his window saying "We don't bake cakes for gay weddings" and that that would be legal?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry, could you say the first part of that question again? My cough kind of drowned you out.
Q: Yeah, so the solicitor general -- the lawyer from the solicitor general's office for the administration said today in court, at the Supreme Court, that it would be legal, it would be possible for a baker to put a sign in his window saying, "We don't bake cakes for gay weddings." Does the President agree that that would be okay?
MS. SANDERS: The President certainly supports religious liberty. And that's something that he talked about during the campaign and since upheld since taking office.
Q: And that would be, that would --
MS. SANDERS: I believe that would include that.
Q: And one other question just on Russia, but not one that you would expect. What does the President think of the decision to ban Russian athletes from the Olympics in 2018?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't had the ability to speak with him directly about that decision since it was made here earlier today. But I'll certainly be happy to talk to him and follow up with you on that.
Q: Sarah, House Republican leaders had to push back a vote on a short-term budget bill this week to avert a shutdown. Does the White House think that a shutdown is a possibility?
MS. SANDERS: You know, it's always a possibility, but it's certainly not what we hope for. And we have both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer coming later this week. And the President hopes to be able to have conversations with them to make sure that doesn't happen.
Q: And one follow-up. Then, the President doesn't think that it would be politically advantageous?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I said that we don't -- that's not what we would like to see happen, and we're going to have meetings and try to make sure that it doesn't.
Q: Two quick ones for you. And just a statement of fact: When did the President know that Mike Flynn lied to the FBI?
MS. SANDERS: As I said earlier, I referred you back to John Dowd's clarification, and I would --
Q: I'm asking for a date. I'm asking for a date. When did he find out? Was it when the announcement was made Friday? Was it prior to that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'm not aware of those specifics, but I would refer you to John Dowd for that specific question.
Q: Would you mind following up with the President since Dowd has been unresponsive to that?
MS. SANDERS: I would actually refer you to John Dowd on that specific question. Since it's a legal matter, I'm not allowed to weigh in to it.
Q: No problem. A point to you, you have weighed in on other special counsel matters before. It's just a statement of fact of when, during the administration, what day the President discovered this lie issue.
MS. SANDERS: And I'm telling you, as a statement of fact, that you should contact John Dowd. Doesn't seem that hard.
Q: My second question is on Roy Moore, Sarah. You said, just a minute ago, that the President would want somebody in the Senate who supports his agenda versus one who does not. And I just want to clarify here that, is it the White House's position then -- sort of formally here -- that it is worse to have a Democrat in that Senate seat than somebody who is accused of sexually abusing a teen girl?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as I said, we find the allegations to be troubling.
Q: Then why did the President endorse?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that those are different things in terms of we aren't going to be the ones to determine that process. That's for the people of Alabama to determine what those things come down on. He does want people that support his agenda. He's not going to, obviously, support a Democrat. And I think, if that's our standard, then we need to look at a number of members of Congress that have had allegations brought against them that are still in office.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. I do want to nail something down with respect to John Dowd and what he's been telling us in the last couple of days. He's argued that the President cannot be charged with obstruction of justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer in the country. That's his opinion. Does the White House share that opinion? Has the White House Counsel's Office looked into this question? Does it share that perspective?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth on legal theories. But I can tell you, as the President has said, there's no collusion, there's no obstruction, and that we're confident that the facts will show that when this is wrapped up.
Q: What do you make of the whole notion of obstruction of justice, though? It's been discussed in the last couple of days. A lot of people have been talking about it. What do you think about it?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not an attorney. And as far as I know, only Jon Decker in the room is. (Laughter.) And so if you want to ask him legal questions, you certainly can. I don't know if he'll answer them. But that's as far as I'm going to go on that.
Q: I'm not an attorney either. Let me ask you about --
MS. SANDERS: I know, that's why I didn't call you out.
Q: Thank you, I appreciate that. This decision on Jerusalem -- is the President concerned that there could a violence as a result of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Has that been looked at by this White House?
MS. SANDERS: A number of things have been looked at that have been weighed into the President's decision. But as I said a few minutes ago, I'm not going to get ahead of his remarks. And we'll be certainly happy to address those at a later time.
Q: Following up on Roy Moore, just very quickly -- other folks got a couple of questions -- isn't there a moral decision that you're making here? And I'm sure you've heard this talked about in the news the last couple of days as the President has decided to endorse Roy Moore. This is somebody who has been accused of child abuse, of molesting children. How can that vote in the Senate be that important that you would take a gamble on somebody who has been accused of molesting kids, of harming somebody who's underage?
MS. SANDERS: As I've said, that's something for the people of Alabama to decide. And that's up for them --
Q: Is that something the President has wrestled with in any way? Has he wrestled with that question?
MS. SANDERS: As I've said, we find the allegations very troubling. And, again, this is up to the people of Alabama to make that decision. I'm not a voter in Alabama and can't make that decision.
Q: Sarah, thank you. The President said that the tax plan will hurt him individually. Will the President release his taxes to prove that?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any plan to do that, but if it changes, I'll certainly let you know.
Q: Why not? I mean, he can release it -- even if it's under audit, he could release his tax returns if he wanted.
MS. SANDERS: As he said, as long as it's under audit, he's not going to do that. And I'm not aware of any plans to change that policy at this time.
Q: Yeah. Thank you, Sarah. A matter of procedure on the Roy Moore endorsement. Did the President have any conversations with Chairman McDaniel of the RNC after he made his position known? Or did he talk to state Chairman Lathan in Alabama or any of the players involved in the Republican National Committee before they decided to get back in the race and support Roy Moore?
MS. SANDERS: I know there have been conversations between administration officials and the RNC, and supported that move. But, legally, I can't -- because of the Hatch Act -- go much further beyond that.
Q: You can't say who the officials are?
MS. SANDERS: I know that there were multiple conversations. I'm not aware if the President spoke specifically with the chairwoman. I'd have to check on that and let you know. But I do know the administration supported the RNC's decision. However, I can't go any further than that at this time.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. Given the President's endorsement, does he agree with Roy Moore that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't asked him about a past statement from Roy Moore.
Q: But, I mean, you're saying that their agendas are kind of in lockstep. Does that go both ways?
MS. SANDERS: I'm saying he supports the President's agenda. The President doesn't necessarily support everything of Moore's agenda.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. Does the President expect Deutsche Bank or any financial institutions to cooperate with requests for documents from U.S. law enforcement if they get them?
MS. SANDERS: As I said a few minutes ago, Jay Sekulow, a member of the President's legal team, put out that --
Q: What's the President's message to the financial institutions themselves? If they get a request, should they comply with that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations and try to determine and project everything that could happen. We know that it hasn't happened up until this point and that the reports out were totally false.
And, again, the media got ahead of their skis a little bit on pushing and driving that story that wasn't true.
Q: Just to follow up on Roy Moore a bit. Are you saying that -- you're saying let the people decide, but this administration has endorsed Roy Moore. Why endorse him if you want the people to decide? You're influencing the decision by endorsing him. And secondly, are you saying that no matter who runs as a member of the GOP, it's okay as long as you are in lockstep with the President and vote the way he wants?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I'm not going to get into every person that could or couldn't run for office down the line.
Q: For this person. This person.
MS. SANDERS: Hold on. I'm going to finish answering the question, if you allow me to. But I'm not going to address -- you asked -- the end of your question was, every person that runs for office. One, I'm not going to weigh in, because I don't know who may run for office.
But what I can say, the President made that decision, and he decided that it was better to have somebody that supports his agenda than a Democrat that doesn't. Again, it's still up to the people of Alabama to decide. They're ultimately the only ones that can vote in that election. We'll see what happens.
Last question. Dave.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. The administration reported today that illegal border crossings have dropped to a 45-year low. Does that lessen the urgency, as we're getting down to spending decisions here, about whether to go forward with building the wall in this budget?
MS. SANDERS: I think it shows, probably, the effectiveness of the Trump presidency and another success story as we wrap up the year and certainly something that could be looked at.
But I think the need for the border wall and border security, as well as responsible immigration reform, still stands. And we still need to look at all the ways that we can protect our national security, and we still feel strongly that that's one of them.
Thanks so much, guys.
END 3:39 P.M. EST
Donald J. Trump, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/332019