James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. In the two weeks since President Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh, he has met with 23 senators. Unfortunately, all of them are Republicans. That’s because Senator Schumer is encouraging his members to not even meet with the Judge.
For members of the opposing party to demand answers to questions and yet refuse to even meet with a qualified Supreme Court nominee is unprecedented. Senator Schumer should stop these political games and meet with Judge Kavanaugh.
We welcome Senate Democrats who take their constitutional duty of advise and consent seriously. Judge Kavanaugh stands ready to meet with members of both parties.
As you know, here in a few minutes, the President will be participating in an event, and we’re excited to hold the 2018 Made in America Product Showcase here at the White House. The President is committed to policies that ensure more products are made in America.
Today, we will see items like snowboards made by Never Summer Industries in Colorado, campers made by the Newmar Corporation in Indiana, an F-150 truck made by the Ford Motor Company in Michigan, and baseball bats made by BWP Bats in Pennsylvania. And a personal favorite, Ranger Boats from Flippin, Arkansas is also here.
The President celebrates every state’s effort and commitment to American-made products, and he is honored to have these companies here today. And we look forward to having you all join us at that event here shortly.
And with that, we’ll hurry and jump into questions.
Q Sarah, thanks. Is the President considering the Republican House Intel request to declassify key sections of the records with respect to that FISA document release? And will he do that declassification before the House goes into recess at the end of the week?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to — has purposefully remained uninvolved in this process. He said repeatedly that he wants the Department of Justice to be fully transparent with these requests from Congress, and he’s going to continue, at this point, to remain uninvolved.
However, he sees more and more, every single day, that this is proving further and further to be a total witch hunt, particularly because it was based on a false and unverified and discredited dossier.
Q Sarah, we saw the President’s tweet on Iran last night. What prompted him to use such strong language on them?
MS. SANDERS: The President has been, I think, pretty strong, since day one, in his language towards Iran. He was responding to comments made from them, and he’s going to continue to focus on the safety and security of American people.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q What would it take to have direct negotiations between the President and President Rouhani?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into specifics, and certainly not negotiate with the press. That would be a determination that the President would make on what that looks like.
But the ultimate goal and the focus of the President is making sure that we keep nuclear weapons out of their hands and that we focus on the protection of Americans.
Q Sarah, the President tweeted yesterday that Russia’s election interference was “all a big hoax.” Those are the words he used. But last week, he said he had “full faith” in the U.S. intelligence agencies. So does he believe the interference was a big hoax, or does he have faith in the intelligence agencies that have concluded definitively the other way — that Russia did, in fact, interfere?
MS. SANDERS: As the President has said many times, and stated over and over again — as have I, as have a number of other administration officials — we maintain that Russia interfered in the elections. The President, however, very much so, and has repeatedly — as, again, have the rest of us — that his campaign colluding in that process is a total hoax. And we still hold strong to that.
Q But is (inaudible) calling it — the tweet suggested overall that it was a hoax, though.
MS. SANDERS: The President is referencing the collusion component. Once again, the President has faith in the intelligence that suggest and maintain that Russia was involved in the elections. However, it’s also important that that same information concludes that it had no impact on the election, and that the President, again, would like to repeat that there was no collusion.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Sort of following up on that question, the President has very forcefully spoken out against Iran. He’s very forcefully spoken out against North Korea. He has said that he will forcibly speak out against any threat to the United States. Russian election interference is a threat to our democracy. Why will he not forcefully denounce that?
MS. SANDERS: The President has been incredibly tough on Russia. He’s brought it up directly to him in person every single time that they have met. He has put unprecedented sanctions and been extremely tough on Russia across a number of fronts which we’ve addressed here many times before. Frankly, I’m not sure why that is so hard for the media to write about.
We’ve repeated it time and time again: The policy that the President has been — since day one, in office, has been extremely tough on Russia, probably more so than with any other country.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Senator Rand Paul today made a strong attempt to vitiate the credibility of former CIA Director John Brennan, saying that he’s — and I quote — “monetizing his security clearance” and that it should be removed from him. He even called on the President to do this. Will the President consider Senator Paul’s suggestion and call for the removal of former Director Brennan’s security clearance?
MS. SANDERS: Not only is the President looking to take away Brennan’s security clearance, he’s also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice, and McCabe. The President is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances.
Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President is extremely inappropriate. And the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.
Q I have a follow-up question to Steve first. When the President pulled out of the JCPOA, he did not reveal an alternate plan to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He seemed to bank on economic sanctions being enough to get them back to the table. Is that still his plan B?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we have said, the President’s number-one goal is to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon. We have similar and shared interests with our European allies. We’re continuing to have discussions with them. And when we have specifics on that front, we’ll let you know.
Q And I have a question about Russia, Sarah. Sarah, my question was a follow-up. But my question about Russia is that, you know, President Trump continues to air his grievances about the coverage of his meeting with Vladimir Putin.
MS. SANDERS: Because you guys continue to obsessively cover it.
Q But we can’t really, because it’s been seven days and we have not received a readout, we have not received any specific details about agreements that were reached, whether formally or verbally. So when can we expect that? And, by the way, did he take notes —
MS. SANDERS: The only specific agreement that was made was that the two national security teams from both the United States and Russia would continue at a working level, these discussions. I can tell you that Ambassador Bolton plans to have a meeting — a follow-up with his counterpart from Russia next month, in addition to meetings with other European allies to further those discussions. And we’ll keep you posted when we have specific details on what that meeting (inaudible).
Q Sarah, so does President Trump plan on ordering to move any carriers or additional military resources to the region, should Iran continue to pose the threat that he alluded to in his tweet? And I also have a follow-up.
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any specific announcements on that at this point.
Q Just to follow up, then — Secretary of State Pompeo yesterday talked a lot about corruption and human rights abuses in Iran. Why is he zeroing in — why is the administration zeroing in on Iran when a number of other states are guilty of the same transgressions, including Russia, which we are now warming up to?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’ve had tough conversations with Russia. We’ve been tough on them with our policy. As I stated this morning, we can be tough on more than one country at a time, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Could you explain a little bit of the threshold that the President has for taking away a former official’s security clearance? Is it his position then that any former Obama administration official who holds clearance and does make political statements about him should have their clearance revoked? Or is it just limited to the names right now that you read?
MS. SANDERS: As of right now, we are exploring the mechanism on those specific names. I’ll keep you posted when there’s further information.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The language the President used in the tweet that he sent out last night was very similar to the language he used last August in New Jersey, when he spoke of fire and fury being rained down on North Korea. And, of course, that led to a one-on-one meeting the President ultimately had with Kim Jong Un. Is the President open to diplomacy with Iran, meeting perhaps one-on-one with President Rouhani?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to negotiate what the specifics that the President or the administration will be looking at. Again, our goal is to stop Iran from nuclear weapons, and we’ll keep you posted as we move through that process.
Q Can I ask you about your statement regarding Judge Kavanaugh, I think you made at the very top? There is one Republican senator who says he’s undecided. Well, there’s a few that say they’re undecided. But Rand Paul, in particular, says, “I’m honestly undecided. I am very concerned about his position on privacy and the Fourth Amendment.” Are you concerned about losing Rand Paul once this vote for Judge Kavanaugh ultimately gets to the floor of the Senate?
MS. SANDERS: We’re certainly hopeful that Senator Paul will do the right thing and vote for this very highly qualified nominee.
Q Yes, Sarah. Flipping around Jon’s question about Iran, considering the comments that we’ve heard in the past day from the President’s tweet, Ambassador Bolton’s statement, which you put out, and Secretary Pompeo’s speech last night, what is stopping this administration from just openly advocating regime change in Iran?
MS. SANDERS: Again, our focus is on stopping Iran from having nuclear weapons, regardless of who is there. That’s what our priority is. And if we have any further announcements on that front, I’ll let you know. But the President and his administration are going to continue pushing and advocating for that.
Q Sarah, regarding one of the stories that broke on Friday, how did the President feel when he found out that his longtime lawyer and fixer had reported him surreptitiously?
MS. SANDERS: While the President maintains that he’s done nothing wrong, on this specific topic I’d refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q Does the President still deny that he ever had a relationship with a woman named Karen McDougal?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, the President maintains that he’s done nothing wrong, and I would refer you to Rudy Giuliani for all questions on that matter.
Q Sarah, I just wanted to follow up first on this statement you made about Brennan and his security clearance. Are you considering any additional actions against Brennan and the other names you read off? In addition to revoking their security clearance, is there any other action under review?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And then, to go back real quick to the Russia investigation — so the FISA application on Carter Page states that he is a Russian agent involved in clandestine activities. Given that the President continues to say there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia, is he concerned or does he not believe the intelligence community’s assessment that Carter Page was a Russian agent?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I think that we’ve spoken extensively what our position is on this, and we have no changes to that.
Q The President is threatening to punish Brennan and Comey and Clapper for saying things about him that he doesn’t like. Is that presidential?
MS. SANDERS: The President is exploring these mechanisms to resume — remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, actually monetized their public service and their security clearances. And making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President is extremely inappropriate.
The President contends to the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence. When we have further updates on that front, I’ll certainly let you know.
Q Their free speech, he doesn’t like. And he wants to punish them for it.
MS. SANDERS: No. I think you are creating your own story there. The President doesn’t like the fact that people are politicizing agencies and departments that are specifically meant to not be political and not meant to be monetized off of security clearances.
Q Sarah, I want to follow up and ask a separate question after. But to follow up on that, isn’t the President doing exactly what you just said the President doesn’t want all these people doing: politicizing matters of national security by going after his political enemies?
MS. SANDERS: No, the President is not making baseless accusations of improper contact with a foreign government and accusing the President of the United States of treasonous activity when you have the highest level of security clearance, when you’re the person that holds the nation’s deepest, most-sacred secrets at your hands, and you go out and you make false accusations against the President of the United States. He thinks that is something to be very concerned with, and we’re exploring what those options are and what that looks like.
Q The other topic, Sarah, was actually on the message to Paul —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I got to keep moving because we’re running out of time —
Q That’s okay. Just the second question —
MS. SANDERS: Kaitlan, go ahead.
Q — was on the President’s message to Paul Manafort. Does he have one?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Hallie. I’ve got about two more questions left.
Kaitlan, go ahead.
Q The President’s message to Paul Manafort, Sarah? Just does he have one?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Kaitlan, go ahead.
Q When is the President going to make this decision on those security clearances?
MS. SANDERS: I said, when we have an update, we will let you know.
Q Okay, so my other —
MS. SANDERS: Last question. David.
Q My question — that was just a follow-up on that. My question: Has the President — since you didn’t answer if he’s briefed — since they haven’t briefed reporters on what went down during the two-hour meeting between President Trump —
MS. SANDERS: We actually had a press conference. The President has done a number of interviews. And we’ve actually put out quite a bit of information following that meeting. So —
Q So my question is not about the press, but has the President briefed his national security advisor, his Secretary of State, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Defense Secretary on what exactly was said between him and President Putin?
MS. SANDERS: The President has met and spoken with all of those individuals since his meeting with President Putin.
Q But when he briefs them, is he relying solely on his own memory to tell them what happened during that two-hour meeting?
MS. SANDERS: The President has met and consulted with all of his national security team, and we feel very confident in the process.
Q But it’s on what he remembers that happened? It’s not any notes he took or —
MS. SANDERS: Kaitlan, I’m not going to go into the specific details on how the President interacts every single time with his national security team, but —
Q Well, this is a rare one, though. It’s a sit-down with the Russian President for two hours, one on one.
MS. SANDERS: It’s actually not a rarity; it’s a normal practice for two world leaders to be able to have a conversation with one another.
Q But not the President of Russia, who attacked the American election.
MS. SANDERS: David, go ahead.
Q What about President Obama and Vice President Biden, and their security clearances? Are they on the list as well?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any plans for that at this point.
Thank you so much, guys. We’ll see you on the South Lawn.