White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefs the media on the issues and events of the day, including:
- Banning of bump stock devices
- McSally appointment
- Flynn sentencing
- Government shutdown/border wall funding
- Russia collusion investigation
MS. SANDERS: Hey guys. My apologies for the delay. We’ll get to as many things as we can before we have to break for the President’s event.
Good afternoon. As you know, the World Economic Forum will take place in Davos, Switzerland from January 22nd through 25th. The President will attend, as he did last year. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin will lead the delegation, and that will also include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination Chris Liddell.
On another note, the President is once again fulfilling a promise he made to the American people. And this morning, the Acting Attorney General signed the final rule, making clear that bump stocks are illegal because they fall within the definition of machine guns that are banned under federal firearms law.
A 90-day period now begins, which persons and possessions of bump-stock-type devices must turn those devices to an ATF field office or destroy them by March 21st. Instructions for proper destruction will be posted on ATF’s website today.
Lastly, Representative Martha McSally has been appointed to the U.S. Senate, and we congratulate her. She has been a strong partner in the House of Representatives, helping to advance a number of the administration’s priorities, including rebuilding our military and increased border security. The President applauds Governor Ducey for his swift and qualified selection, and he appreciates Senator Jon Kyl and thanks him for his service to the people of Arizona.
And with that, I will take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, a reaction to the delay in the Flynn sentencing and the rather unusual inquiry from Judge Sullivan this morning asking prosecutors if Flynn possibly committed treason?
MS. SANDERS: The delay is something between General Flynn and the courts, and that’s something for them to determine what timeline looks like. In the meantime, we wish General Flynn well, and we’ll continue to focus on doing what we do here every single day.
Q And what about the inquiry as to whether he committed treason? Does the President see any reason why Flynn should be asked if he committed treason?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of anything that we would know of that would indicate that, certainly.
Q Sarah, I was in the courthouse the last hour when the judge, Emmet Sullivan, basically said that he was disgusted by Michael Flynn’s crimes. He said that he had disdain for Flynn; that Flynn said that he knew it was illegal to lie to the FBI, and he was ready to accept responsibility. This was all before agreeing to a delay in his sentencing. Given that, are you in a position now, or would you like to revisit your comments earlier today, that the FBI ambushed Flynn here?
MS. SANDERS: No. We still firmly believe — look, the things that may have taken place, again, that’s for the judge to make that determination, whether he engaged in something inappropriate. What we do know that was inappropriate, by own self-admittance of James Comey, is that the FBI broke standard protocol in the way that they came in and ambushed General Flynn, and in the way that they questioned him, and in the way that they encouraged him not to have White House Counsel’s Office present. And we know that because James Comey told us that, and he said that the very reason that they did it was because — the only reason that they did it, it was the Trump administration and they thought they could get away with it.
Those are the facts. And certainly there may be other issues there. But, that, we don’t have any reason we’d want to walk that back.
Q Can I ask you very quickly about Michael Flynn? He has cooperated with the Special Counsel’s Office and met them 19 times. Is there a particular reason why the President has not said he is a rat, the way that he has said that Michael Cohen is a rat, for cooperating with prosecutors?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we know Michael Cohen to be a liar on a number of fronts, and the President’s opinion is extremely clear on that front. I don’t see any reason to go beyond that comment at this point.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you on the government shutdown. First, can you clarify us the current White House position towards the continuing resolution that’s floating up on the Hill? Is it a demand for $1.6 billion in border wall funding? Or is it supporting continuing resolution to take this matter up after the Christmas break?
MS. SANDERS: You know, at this point, the Senate has thrown out a lot of ideas. We’re disappointed in the fact that they’ve yet to actually vote on something and pass something. So when they do that, we’ll make a determination on whether or not we’re going to sign that.
In the meantime, we’re looking at every avenue available to us possible. The President has asked every one of his Cabinet Secretaries to look for funding that can be used to protect our borders and give the President the ability to fulfill his constitutional obligation to protect the American people by having a secure border.
So we’re looking at the other options. In the meantime, we’ll see what the Senate does, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that front.
Q I had a second question.
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to — sorry, Saagar, I’m going to keep moving just because we’re tight on time.
Q So following up on that, there’s other sources that could potentially pay for the wall. Which agencies are you looking at? You’ve mentioned DOD —
MS. SANDERS: As I said, we’re looking at — the President has asked every agency to look and see if they have money that can be used for that purpose, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Q And if they can find that money, does that mean the President would accept a budget proposal that does not include any money to fund new border wall construction?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we want to see what the Senate can pass. They’ve thrown out a lot of ideas. They’ve yet to take a vote. Once they do that — we’re disappointed in the process and their inability to put something forward.
Once they make a decision, and they put something on the table, we’ll make the determination on whether or not we’ll move forward on either a short-term or long-term spending bill.
Q Just this idea that —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.
Josh, go ahead.
Q Michael Flynn today tweeted that he did lie to the FBI, to them repeatedly, and that he was working for a foreign government during the campaign. Does that concern the President? I mean, he seems to be concerned that Michael Cohen is a liar. Is he concerned that one of his top aides lied to the FBI and was working for a foreign government?
MS. SANDERS: Not when it comes to things that have anything to do with the President. The activities that he has said to — and I’ll — again, we’ll let the court make that determination — to have engaged in, don’t have anything to do with the President.
Let’s remember what the whole thing that this started is supposed to be about: It’s whether or not Russia influenced the election, and whether or not the President had anything to do it.
We know that Russia tried to create chaos within the election, but certainly not that they actually impacted it. The only reason that the President is the President is because he was a better candidate and beat Hillary Clinton.
We also know that the President never colluded with Russia. So that’s the whole reason that we have this, and we know those things to be false.
Q Yeah, but what I’m trying to say is: Is the President concerned that Michael Flynn lied to representatives of his own government and was working for another government during the campaign? Does that concern him or not?
MS. SANDERS: Look, there’s certainly a concern, but that’s something for the court to make that determination, and we’ll let them do that.
Q Why does he keep making positive comments about him when he’s pleaded to this?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re going to let the court play that out, and they’ll make a determination on whether or not he engaged in something right or wrong.
Q But why is the President making positive comments about him given these things that he’s pleaded guilty to?
MS. SANDERS: It’s perfectly acceptable for the President to make a positive comment about somebody while we wait to see what the court’s determination is.
Q Sarah, let me ask you about a tweet that the President sent out earlier today, as he continues to vent frustration about the Federal Reserve. He said that he hopes the Fed reads the Wall Street Journal op-ed. Part of the op-ed, the Journal points out, that U.S. growth might be slowing; the President’s tariff battles have produced investment; housing and autos are down; and there’s a few cracks showing as well in the credit markets.
When the President talks about the Fed, is he just venting at this point, or is he genuinely worried that if there is a rate hike tomorrow, that the economy will slow down?
MS. SANDERS: The President is stating his opinion, which he is perfectly within his right to do so. I think that is one of the reasons people like him, is because he does that, and he does it regularly. He’s been very clear about what his position is, while at the same time he understands that the Fed is an independent agency. That doesn’t take away the President’s right to state his opinion on a particular matter.
Q And let me ask you as it relates to the shutdown.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.
Francesca, go ahead.
Q All right. Thank you, Sarah. I just want to clarify one thing, and then back on to the border wall. But the clarification on Michael Flynn, you said it has nothing to do with the President. But one of the things that the judge brought up today was that it was so concerning to him because Michael Flynn lied inside the White House, as the National Security Advisor to the President. So is the White House disputing at this point that Michael Flynn is a liar? Because that’s also the reason that he was fired. He (inaudible).
MS. SANDERS: We’re disputing that any actions he engaged in had nothing to do with the President. That just because it — maybe he did do those things, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the President directly.
Q He was working for the President.
Q Okay, when it comes to the border wall, today on television you mentioned that the President would be willing to accept $1.6 billion for the wall, the way that I understood it when you said it. And also, that plays into a broader $25 billion bill over 10 years. Is that what the White House’s current offer is to Capitol Hill that it would accept?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we are continuing to have constant and regular conversations with the Hill. I’m not going to negotiate here. We’ve laid out clearly what our parameters are with members of Congress. We want to know what they can pass. We want to know what they think they can actually get done. We’ve laid out what we’d like to see.
In the meantime, we’re looking at other areas where we can draw money from to make sure that the President can actually protect our border and protect American citizens.
Q With the deficit ballooning to over a trillion dollars under this President, where are the additional monies for this wall going to come from? And why is he asking the American taxpayer for them, when he promised Mexico was going to pay?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re not asking American taxpayers for that. We are looking at existing funding through other agencies right now that we can draw on to do that immediately.
The President has been clear —
Q So there’s no add to the deficit?
MS. SANDERS: The President has been clear that the USMCA deal would provide additional revenue through that deal that would show that Mexico was paying for the wall.
Q Not to the Treasury, though. The trade benefits, if there are any, don’t go to the Treasury.
MS. SANDERS: He’s saying that the revenue provided and the money that would be saved through the USMCA deal, we could pay for the wall four times over. And by doing that new trade deal, we have the opportunity to pay for the wall.
Q But trade benefits go to private citizens. They don’t go the United States Treasury.
MS. SANDERS: But he’s talking about — he’s talking about the general revenue that comes from that.
Q So you’re going to tax?
MS. SANDERS: No, we’re not taxing. We’re talking about additional revenue that wouldn’t have existed without the President getting a new deal.
Q Have you done the math on that? That —
MS. SANDERS: There are — there have been a number of things that we’ve looked at in which we know will have additional revenue that comes in through the USMCA.
Q Twenty-five billion from the USMCA into the Treasury?
MS. SANDERS: We think we’ll have — we think there will be more than that that comes in.
Jeff, go ahead.
Q Sarah, it was announced today that the President’s charity is being dissolved. Does the President or anyone in his family have regrets about how that charity was handled?
MS. SANDERS: That’s something that I would refer you to the Trump Organization. That’s not something we could comment on here at the White House.
Q Let me ask you one other question on another topic. Can you just clarify, Sarah —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep it moving.
Q Can you just clarify, Sarah, real quick on something else — whether the President has given any indications to Turkey that he would be willing to extradite the cleric, Gulen?
MS. SANDERS: The only thing he said is that we would take a look at it. Nothing further at this point beyond that.
Q Take a look at extraditing?
MS. SANDERS: Take a look at it but nothing committal at all in that process. Just that he would look into it.
Q Sarah, you’ve been saying a lot that things don’t have anything to do with the President, and he’s just giving his opinion, and he has a right to give his opinion. But does he not have a broader right — I mean, responsibility, as far as, you know, if his national security advisor is lying? Should he not be speaking on behalf of the American people, not just himself, President Trump, man under investigation? But, you know, in all these aspects, you’re talking about — saying that he is just speaking for himself and he’s not been linked to collusion, is the claim, and therefore, you know, it doesn’t matter what he says. And the same thing with the Fed and —
MS. SANDERS: That’s not what I said at all.
Q — that his comments on the Fed have no bearing; he’s just giving his opinion. What about him speaking for the American people?
MS. SANDERS: I didn’t say they have no bearing. I said he’s the President of the United States and he should — not only does he have the ability to give his opinion, he should give his opinion. That’s why the people elected him, is because they trusted him to make decisions on policy matters. They want to know what his positions are on specific policies. He absolutely should state his opinion on not just that but on every topic that comes up that he wants to engage on.
Q But a lot of people who are somehow involved in investigations feel the FBI is unfairly targeting them. But the President normally has a different role as far as —
MS. SANDERS: We know for a fact that the FBI engaged in an outrageous amount of political bias. The fact that anybody could deny that there was political bias within the FBI, particularly under James Comey’s leadership, is frankly just laughable.
Q I guess I’m wondering, using terms like “rat” and things like that to talk about people who are cooperating witnesses with the FBI, does he not have —
MS. SANDERS: For people who were dishonest and lying. I mean, seems like a pretty appropriate term.
Q — does he not have a broader responsibility to preserve confidence in the rule of law to the American people?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly. And that’s why he has appointed new people to help do exactly that — whether it’s Director Wray; a new attorney general; somebody that can come in and be very transparent throughout this process.
I’ll take one last question. Justin. The President’s event is about to kick off.
Q Sure, I just wanted to go back to the shutdown. And you keep saying that you’ve asked agencies to look for more money. And so, on this issue of reprogramming, specifically: Is your red line in these negotiations that you need Congress to reprogram money explicitly, so DHS or the Defense Department, or whoever it might be, say — that Congress say, “You can spend this money that we didn’t spend on something else on wall construction?”
MS. SANDERS: No.
Q Or are you saying that you think that you have the legal authority? And what are you, I guess, basing that legal authority on, since Nancy Pelosi said today that, in fact, that sort of authority doesn’t (inaudible).
MS. SANDERS: I would never use Nancy Pelosi as my source for legal authority on probably anything. But I would use attorneys that work here at the White House and in agencies that that’s their entire job is determining whether or not something is legal. And we’re looking to those individuals to find out those specific pots of money that can be used for that.
Q So a bonus amount of money that is sort of reprogrammed by Congress won’t be necessary for the President’s signature on this budget bill?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we would like to see Congress pass an appropriations bill that fully funds our government and that allows the President to protect our border and provides substantial border security funding, both for the wall, for CBP, for ICE, all of DHS. But in the meantime, we’re also looking at other avenues that would allow us to provide and do our constitutional authority, and the President to be able to carry that out by protecting our border and protecting American citizens.
I encourage you guys to tune in to the President’s event. We’ll talk to you soon. Thanks guys.