Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. A couple of announcements. The President will be traveling to Kansas City, Missouri, next Tuesday, July 24th. He will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars 119th Annual Convention.
President Trump is committed to our veterans and has worked to reform the VA and to ensure veterans are given the care and support they deserve. The President looks forward to being with the more than 4,000 veterans in attendance.
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Randy Quarles as the Vice Chair for Supervision at the Federal Reserve. But it is unfortunate that his nomination was continually delayed.
There are still three more nominees to the Fed who have yet to receive a vote. It is inexcusable that Senate Democrats have delayed confirming the President's nominees.
An even worse example of unnecessary delay is the nomination of Dawn Stump to be a commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There is no opposition to her, but yet she has been waiting for 400 days for a vote. We urge Senate Democrats to stop these unnecessary delays and confirm these qualified nominees.
Lastly, on behalf of the President and the White House, we offer prayers for United States Secret Service Special Agent Nole Edward Remagen and his family, including his wife and two young children.
The Secret Service announced this morning that Agent Remagen suffered a stroke while on duty in Scotland last week and has tragically passed away.
He was a five-year veteran of the United States Marines and spent 19 years with the Secret Service. The President and the First Lady are deeply grateful for his lifetime of devotion to his country. And the men and women of the Secret Service make enormous sacrifices for our safety and security, and we are forever in their debt.
And with that, I will take your questions. Major.
Q: Earlier, Cecilia asked the President, "Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?" He said, "No." Is that what the President actually believes? Did he understand the question? And is his position that, no, Russia is not doing anything to interfere or meddle in the 2018 election?
MS. SANDERS: I got a chance to speak with the President after his comments, and the President was -- said, "Thank you very much," and was saying "no" to answering questions. The President and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past and as we have stated.
Q: So he does believe it's going on?
MS. SANDERS: Well, since there's currently not an election today, not specifically, but we certainly believe that we are taking steps to make sure they can't do it again. Unlike previous administrations, this President is actually taking bold action and reform to make sure it doesn't happen again. But he does believe that they would target, certainly, U.S. elections again.
Q: Is there any distance between the President and the DNI Coats, who said that the red lights are blinking on this topic? Do they completely agree?
MS. SANDERS: No, as I just said, that's why we're taking steps to ensure that these things don't happen again. We wouldn't actually spend as much time and effort as we are if we didn't believe that they were still looking at us.
From the beginning of his administration, President Trump has actually taken action to defend our election system from meddling and interference.
I'm going to read through a few of the things that we're doing. In May of 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to strengthen and review the cybersecurity of our nation and its critical infrastructure. The Department of Homeland Security has taken the lead in working with all 50 states, local governments, and private companies to improve election security.
DHS has increased coordination among all election partners. Thirty-four states, fifty-two county and local governments, and five election companies received cybersecurity scans regularly from DHS.
DHS plans to provide onsite risk and vulnerability assessments to all states that request it. So far, 18 states have requested this assessment.
A new pilot program was launched to increase rapid response capabilities on Election Day, and in 2017, onsite cybersecurity support was provided.
In March of 2018, Congress provided the Election Assistance Commission with $380 million in funding for election assistance grants to states. These are steps that we've taken to prevent it from happening. These are steps that we've taken because we see that there's a threat there.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. I just want to clarify what you just said. Dan Coats said, point blank, the threat is still ongoing from Russia. Does this White House believe that, currently, this threat is still ongoing?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly. Like I just said, we believe that the threat still exists, which is why we are taking steps to prevent it. Again, you wouldn't go through that lengthy process if you weren't.
Q: Since the President yesterday clarified his comments from his press conference Monday with Vladimir Putin, does the President stand by all of his other public comments on the trip, including his (inaudible) interview criticizing Theresa May's handling of the Brexit negotiations? His comments that Russia -- that Russia controlled Germany over that pipeline? And other comments in that press conference Monday where he continued to doubt -- cast doubt on the intelligence community's assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Does he stand by all of those?
MS. SANDERS: Again, the President saw a need to clarify the position. He saw how his comments were being interpreted. He looked at the transcript and clarified those comments.
Q: And, Sarah, does the White House have any response to the arrest and indictment of a Russian national who is accused of trying to infiltrate American political organizations -- purely on the right -- and to try to influence American politics?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we're looking at that. But just to clarify, I know that there was a massive media hysteria yesterday over confusion between that individual and a White House staffer, which I think shows, frankly, the outrageousness and the, just, desire to find the negative in everything that this President does. Just because somebody was simply redheaded, they were accused of being some sort of spy for Russia.
I think that this has gotten totally out of control, and you guys need to take a little bit of a step back, slow down, and quit going after the Trump administration on every single thing that takes place.
Q: But, Sarah, you have no response to the indictment? You have no response to the indictment but you have a response to the media?
MS. SANDERS: I said we're looking at it, but this is a lengthy process. We're going through it. However, I do have a response to the fact that simply because somebody had the same hair color, they were accused of being a Russian spy by a large number of people, frankly, in this room.
Q: The President, today, and the Secretary of State both spoke about progress being made in talks -- trade talks with Mexico. And I'm wondering whether trilateral talks with Mexico and Canada, and also the bilateral talks with Canada, are effectively off the table for now. Is the administration choosing to go with Mexico, where they see if there's progress, and forget about the trilateral track?
MS. SANDERS: We're continuing both of those tracks. We see a lot of progress on the conversations with Mexico, and if we could make a bilateral deal with them, we're certainly very happy to do that. But again, we're continuing both conversations, both tracks.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question, who they claim were involved in Bill Browder's "crimes," in their terms, including a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?
MS. SANDERS: The President is going to meet with his team, and we'll let you know when we have an announcement on that.
Q: (Inaudible) for a second, is that a topic that came up in their conversation? Did President Putin raise this with President Trump?
MS. SANDERS: There was some conversation about it, but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the President will work with his team, and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. The President earlier today said that there could be "tremendous" retribution for the European Union if there's not a deal struck on auto imports. In the past, he has talked about potentially putting a tariff of 20 percent. Is that what he meant today by tremendous retribution? Or is it possible he goes even beyond that?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, that's an option on the table that the President is considering, but we are in the investigation process right now. And we'll let you know when we have an announcement.
Q: Since you brought up the Fed, the Beige Book just came out, which is anecdotes from across the country of what's happening with the economy. Here are some of the headlines: Manufacturers are concerned about tariffs; they're dealing with higher prices because of trade; tariffs are increasing metal prices; and ag prices have fallen because of Chinese tariffs. It's not necessarily a rosy picture with the tariff situation. Your response to those headlines would be what?
MS. SANDERS: The President is focused on long-term economic principles. We have one of the strongest economies that we've had in decades. He continues to look for ways to help protect American workers, and he's going to continue to do that on a number of different fronts and in a number of different ways. Again, this is short term, and the President hopes to open up a number of different markets and to create a more playing trade field across the globe.
Q: Hi, Sarah. Two questions. The first one: In Finland, President Trump, when talking about the stances of the U.S. intelligence community and of Russia, he said, quote, that both parties -- "I have confidence in both parties." After a young woman was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia after protesting neo-Nazis, he said, "I think there's blame on both sides." Some people see this as a President continuously making false equivalencies -- equivalences. What do you say to that criticism?
MS. SANDERS: I would not compare the two situations. The President, I think, said exactly what he thought yesterday in his remarks, and I would refer you back to those.
Josh. Sorry, go ahead.
Q: And also, does the President see the interference in the 2016 election and possibly in the midterms as an attack on democracy -- American democracy? The Secretary for Homeland Security said that it was an attack on American democracy. But the President said that the Democrats are weak, that Republicans basically have better systems. Does he see it as an issue of American democracy, or just his opponents being attacked?
MS. SANDERS: Again, the President thinks that we have to focus on securing our election integrity and our election systems, which is why he has spent so much time with his administration making sure that this doesn't happen again. Let's not forget that this didn't happen under President Trump's watch. This happened under the Obama administration. We're taking steps -- we're making bold reforms to try to fix this and make sure it never happens again because we take it seriously and because we recognize that our election system are incredibly important, and is certainly a cornerstone of our democracy.
Q: The President spent two hours (inaudible) with Vladimir Putin. Was there a deal made on Syria? Was there a deal made on anything? Can you give us any sense of what came out of that meeting?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, as the President said, a number of issues were raised, including Syrian humanitarian aid, Iran's nuclear ambition, Israeli security, North Korean denuclearization, Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, and of course, your favorite topic, Russia's interference in our elections. All of these issues were talked about. This is the beginning of the dialogue with Russia and our administration and theirs. And we're going to continue working through those things. But those were all of the topics, and certainly probably others that were covered.
Q: One follow-up. On a number of issues, from the annexing of Crimea to election meddling, the President seems to have spent more time criticizing his predecessor, Barack Obama, for letting it happen under his time, than Vladimir Putin. Do you have any sense of why the President has not been more critical of Putin for some of these events that the entire world stage has really gone after him about?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the President, as he has said many times before, has been tougher on Russia than anybody. I think you can see that. And all of the actions that he's taken -- whether it was a plant that was closed due to aluminum and steel tariffs that were put in place by this President, the Treasury Department has issued new sanctions on numerous individuals and entities in Russia, the President has continued sanctions on Russia's malicious cyber activity in response to election hacking, we've expelled 60 Russian operatives from the United States and closed two consulates. President Trump issued four statements condemning Russia's poisoning of UK citizens on UK soil, authorized the sale of lethal aid to Ukraine, authorized military strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, and has repeatedly called out Russia's actions, exporting energy to our allies in Eastern Europe. Look, the President has been extremely tough on Russia, and to say anything different is just not true.
Q: So why is he critical of other world leaders by name far more often than Vladimir Putin? Why won't he criticize Putin by name?
MS. SANDERS: I think he has. I think he has called them out for interfering in our election. He's been tough on Russia repeatedly, and he's taken action against Russia on a number of fronts that I just listed off.
Q: But he was beside him on Monday, though. Why wasn't he critical of Vladimir Putin's actions?
MS. SANDERS: Look, they had a number of conversations. The President discussed some of these things directly, face-to-face, with Vladimir Putin. He addressed them again yesterday. The President also sees this as an opportunity, as he said many times, to be able to work with Russia. He recognizes the fact that 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons are under the direction of the United States and Russia. He thinks it's a good thing to get along with the other person that controls that much of the nuclear arsenal across the globe. He wants to create a more stable world, a more peaceful world, and we can't do that if we can't get along with Russia in some capacity.
And so certainly, we've called him out, we've been tough; we've approached this in a totally different fashion than has been previously done, because what's been done in the past hasn't worked. So we're trying a new approach.
But to act like he hasn't been tough on Russia, that he hasn't called them out, is simply not true, and it simply completely changes everything that this administration has done in regards to that country.
Josh, I'm going to keep going. Justin.
Q: Sarah, a minute ago, you described the negative impacts of the trade conflict with China, the short term. But that's only true if we're able to strike a better deal. And from the outside, since the tariffs went on more than two weeks ago, it seems like those negotiations have broken down. So I'm wondering if you could tell us what the status of them are, why the Treasury Secretary isn't meeting one-on-one with China when he's in Argentina for the G20, and what it would take from the Chinese or from the U.S. to restart those talks?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to negotiate with you guys. I'm going to leave that to Secretary Mnuchin and Ambassador Lighthizer. We're continuing to have conversations with China. We're continuing to look for ways that we can have a better trade deal with them.
Q: I want to follow up on Maggie's question, because she asked about the idea that Putin offered of essentially allowing Robert Mueller and his investigators to go to Russia to oversee or witness the interrogations of the Russian military intelligence officers if the U.S. would reciprocate and have Russian investigators come here to watch American citizens face questions about the crimes that they allegedly committed in Russia.
The President called it an interesting idea. He said it was an incredible offer. Why we would he say that?
MS. SANDERS: He said it was an interesting idea. He didn't commit to anything. He wants to work with his team and determine if there's any validity that would be helpful to the process. But again, we've committed to nothing. And it was an idea that they threw out.
Q: Sarah, some Democrats on Capitol Hill now are saying that they want to drag the translator, who was in the room with the President and Vladimir Putin, before congressional committees to find out exactly what was said in their private meeting. Is that something that the White House would ever support?
MS. SANDERS: That's something that would go through the State Department.
Q: The list of subjects you went through as far as the -- for that one-on-one meeting -- unless I missed it, were sanctions discussed at all? Did the President bring it up, or did President Putin bring it up to President Trump?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware. I'd have to ask to be sure.
Q: Sarah, I just wanted to ask you, just one quick one. Yesterday, the President's revision -- it was kind of seen widely that he was leaving himself a little bit of room when he said there could have been others too who have meddled. Was he referring to any specific intelligence on that? Or was that his instinct?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the President receives a number of briefings and has talked about this subject pretty extensively. We're aware of others that have made attempts, but I can't get into any of that here at this point.
Q: Sarah, I have two questions for you. And I want to just clarify something you talked about at the beginning of the briefing. So despite the video that shows the President looking at Cecilia and answering "no" to this question about whether Russia is still targeting the U.S., and despite multiple people in the room understanding that the President was responding to that question, and despite the President having never before said the word "no, no" repeatedly to usher reporters out of the room, you're saying it's the reverse? You're saying the President --
MS. SANDERS: He actually said no to (inaudible).
Q: This is the second time --
MS. SANDERS: The first thing that the President said after the question was asked was "Thank you very much."
Q: And he looked and said, "No."
MS. SANDERS: And then he said, "No," I'm not answering any more questions. And even further, I think even Cecilia didn't realize what the answer was because she asked for clarification and he didn't answer the follow-up.
Q: She asked for a follow-up.
MS. SANDERS: Again, I --
Q: She asked for a follow-up.
MS. SANDERS: Right. Because she wasn't sure. I talked to the President. He wasn't answering that question. He was saying, no, he's not taking questions. And I've stated what our position is.
Q: So let me get to my question, Sarah, because I haven't actually asked it yet, which is the President, now -- this is second time in three days that the President or the White House has come out and reversed what the President has said to the opposite of what it was perceived.
MS. SANDERS: Actually, I'm interpreting what the President said; I'm not reversing it.
Q: But it was perceived in the opposite way. Why wasn't the President --
MS. SANDERS: I was in the room as well, and I didn't take it the way you did.
Q: But why should this President have any credibility to Americans in what he says if, in fact, 24 hours later -- or, in this case, three hours later -- the White House comes out and says "just kidding"?
MS. SANDERS: First of all, that's not what I said. I was interpreting what the President -- his intention was, and stating the administration's policy. It's not exactly what you just explained. We never said "just kidding."
Q: I'm paraphrasing. (Inaudible) direct quote. You understand.
MS. SANDERS: And I think that you can take the fact that the President has credibility, because he saw that he had misspoken and he wanted to clarify that yesterday, which he did. So when he sees that he has misspoken, he comes out and he says that.
Q: And a second question, to follow up on Josh's second question --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving. Jordan, go ahead.
Q: You told Josh -- well, just to follow up on my second question, Sarah. You told Josh --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to -- you've asked two. I'm going to move on to Jordan.
Q: I have two. You told Josh the President has been publicly critical of Vladimir --
MS. SANDERS: Once again, Hallie, I'm moving on to Jordan. Jordan, go ahead.
Q: You said --
Q: Sorry, Hallie, go ahead if you want to.
Q: Thanks, Jordan. You said to Josh --
MS. SANDERS: Actually, I'm going to take a question from Jordan.
Q: -- that the President has been publicly critical of Vladimir Putin. I just want to know when. Because I don't think any of us remember -- at least I don't remember a time when the President has publicly called out Vladimir Putin.
MS. SANDERS: I think by stating the fact that the President said that Russia interfered with our election, that's a pretty bold call-out of another world leader.
Jordan, go ahead.
Q: Senators Rubio and Van Hollen have introduced legislation that would impose new sanctions on Russia if the intelligence agencies find that they meddle in the 2018 midterms or in the future. Would President Trump support a proposal like that?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to get into a hypothetical situation until we see, you know, a final piece of legislation and also a determination if there is election meddling. Again, our goal is to stop that from happening, which is why we've spent such a significant amount of time in the first year and a half of our administration focusing on protecting the election integrity system.
Q: Included with that, Sarah -- is voter suppression --
MS. SANDERS: Jon, go ahead.
Q: Sarah, is voter suppression included with that, please?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, guys, if we could go on to the people that I have called on.
Q: I'm just asking you a question because you choose not to call on me. Is voter suppression part of that election process that the President is trying to look for?
MS. SANDERS: Jon, go ahead.
Q: Are you not going to answer that?
MS. SANDERS: If I call on you, I'll be happy to answer your question.
Q: Voter suppression is a huge issue that a community in America has asked about.
MS. SANDERS: Jon, go ahead.
Q: You're not going to answer me?
MS. SANDERS: Jon, go ahead.
Q: That's all right. Fine.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the immediate reaction to the President's comments that he made at that joint press conference in Helsinki. It was immediate. Every cable channel -- Fox, NBC, CNN -- reacted immediately to the suggestion the President made that he did not believe that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election.
I got my inbox inundated with emails from Republican members of Congress with their reaction immediately. And 24 hours -- it took 24 hours for the President to correct the record. Why did it take so long for the President to clarify the comments that he made at that press conference?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President put out an initial tweet after boarding Air Force One that clarified his comments on the intelligence community. He wanted to make sure that was clear. And at the very first chance he had, in a public setting the following day, he clarified his comments. And I don't think that it was that long for that to be the very first public appearance that he had following arriving back to the United States.
Q: (Inaudible) 24 hours actually. It's a pretty long time. And it was out there for quite a bit.
MS. SANDERS: It wasn't actually 24 hours before he responded at all. Again, he put out an initial tweet from Air Force One.
Q: Twenty-four hours (inaudible) comment on this to clarify his remarks, to change the "would" to "wouldn't" -- or the "wouldn't" to "would." And I think that a lot of people would argue that there was ample time for the President -- he tweets all the time from Air Force One -- for him to --
MS. SANDERS: And he tweeted that night.
Q: -- to put out a statement which clarified what he meant to say during the joint news conference, and he didn't do that. What took so long is my question?
MS. SANDERS: Once he reviewed the transcript, he wanted to publicly --
Q: He didn't have that on Air Force One?
MS. SANDERS: He wanted to publicly address the clarification, and which he did.
Q: There are currently efforts within Congress to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Is that something that the White House would support for lack of cooperation in turning over documents to Congress?
MS. SANDERS: The President has made clear he'd like all documents to be turned over, but we're continuing to work with our Department of Justice. I don't have anything further on that.
Jim. Jim, go ahead. Sorry, go ahead.
Q: To follow up on that, would the White House denounce that effort then? Do they have the -- do they have confidence within the Deputy Attorney General?
MS. SANDERS: The President would like to see the documents turned over. When the President no longer has confidence in someone, his administration will let you know.
Q: Sarah, on Friday, at the press conference with Prime Minister May, I asked the President, as he was leaving, whether or not he would tell Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections. As he was leaving with the Prime Minister, he said, "Yes." Did the President tell Vladimir Putin, at their summit in Helsinki, to stay out of U.S. elections?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the President, as both he and President Putin said, discussed election meddling. I think we've made very clear what our position is on that front.
Q: I understand that you're saying that they discussed election meddling, but did the President of the United States tell the President of Russia to stay out of U.S. elections? Did that occur?
MS. SANDERS: The President -- the President has made clear to Vladimir Putin that he should stay out of U.S. elections.
Q: And let me ask you, if I may --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving.
Q: Well, if I may, it's just a quick --
MS. SANDERS: April, go ahead.
Q: Was there a recording? Was there a recording made --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Jim. I'm going to take a couple last questions.
Q: Was there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting? Does that exist?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of one. I'm not aware of one.
Q: So, Sarah, since you keep saying that the President is very concerned about the election process -- you talk about what he's doing. You did not -- you did not mention voter suppression in that. Voter suppression has been an issue for decades, and particularly in these last few elections. Is voter suppression now on the table? When he was talking about voter fraud, people were talking about voter suppression as well. Is voter suppression on the table as well?
MS. SANDERS: We want to do everything within our power to protect the integrity of our elections, and we're going to look at that on a number of fronts. The reason I address these specific issues is because of Russia's involvement in our elections in the past.
I'm going to take one last question. Right here.
Q: Sarah, I want to change the topic a minute, if I may, and go south.
MS. SANDERS: Sure, I think that'd be fine.
Q: Thank you. So the incoming President of Mexico has made two very bold suggestions. Number one, he's looking at giving amnesty to the drug cartels operating within there. Today, they come out and say they're seriously looking at legalizing all drugs in Mexico. Now, if they do that, obviously it's going to have a tremendous impact on the incoming amount of drugs into the United States. What is the President's position on that? And are they going to do anything to stop that from happening in Mexico?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we're going to continue engaging with our Mexican partners. I don't have a specific policy announcement on that front. However, I can say that we would not support the legalization of all drugs anywhere, and certainly wouldn't want to do anything that would allow more drugs to come into this country.
Thanks so much. Have a great day.
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/335845