1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Good afternoon. First off, I want to catch everyone up who wasn’t able to make the briefing last night on the executive orders on the trade — executive orders that the President is going to be signing this afternoon.
The first order directs the Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to examine every form of trade abuse and non-reciprocal practice that are currently contributing to the United States’ large and persistent trade deficit, which was the largest of any major nation in 2016 at $500 billion.
Within 90 days, the Department of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative will submit a comprehensive report to the President on the causes of our unduly large deficit. It’s the first time in modern history that an American President has called for such an investigation, and its — our findings will allow us to make smarter decisions on behalf of the American people about our trade policy of our country going forward.
That’s why the AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers International, the International Association of Machinists and the Aerospace Workers International all came out today to applaud the order.
The second order addresses the current lack of enforcement of one of our strongest tools in fighting unfair trade practices — countervailing duties. Countervailing duties were put in place to address the problem of other countries dumping undervalued goods into American markets, making it impossible for American businesses to compete with artificially low prices.
This is especially a problem in countries whose governments subsidize exports into our country. So to discourage this practice, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has a mechanism for assessing these type of transactions and imposing financial penalties, known as countervailing duties, when it’s determined that this kind of malicious dumping has occurred.
Since 2001, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has not collected over $2.8 billion in these duties. If you think about it, we could do a lot by maximizing this enforcement power for our country. So we need to do a better job on behalf of the American worker. If a foreign company, often due to its being partly or entirely government-run or subsidized, is able to flood American markets with an artificially cheap steel, for example, they price American companies out of the system.
Say you’re the owner of a steel company in Ohio. You can’t compete with some of these below-market prices. So you have to find other ways to meet your bottom line, like closing a factory and laying off workers, or might entirely having to close down entirely.
By not properly using this enforcement mechanism we’re costing Americans who work in so many industries — not just steel, but in agriculture, chemicals, machinery, and other manufactured good in particular
President Trump was elected to do everything he can to support American workers and American manufacturers. Together, these two executive orders are a significant step in accomplishing the President’s promise to end unfair trade practices once and for all.
Also, yesterday, we were pleased to see that Senators Manchin of West Virginia and Heitkamp announce their support for Judge Neil Gorsuch. And Senator Claire McCaskill conceded at a private event that among the list of potential nominees that the President released during a campaign, Judge Gorsuch was — according to her, quote — “one of the better ones.” We hope that her praise leads to additional support — and her support.
It’s hard to find any reason except for obstructionism to see why fellow Democrats in her caucus have not been able to join them.
As I said yesterday, Judge Gorsuch is highly regarded, having received a rating of “well qualified” from the American Bar Association, and has demonstrated an unparalleled and unprecedented level of transparency, including the release of over 75,000 pages of documents, fielding nearly 300 questions from Senate Democrats on the committee, and 70 pages of written answers about his personal records, and has demonstrated a mainstream judicial record — with nearly all of the decisions being joined by Democrat-appointed judges.
Without a clear justification, Senate Democrats have fudged the facts on recent history, to try to mislead the American people about their unprecedented obstructionism, essentially claiming a non-existent 60-vote standard. As I’ve said before, should Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer get his way, this would be the first successful filibuster of a nominee to join the Supreme Court. This would make history in a very bad way.
They’ve also forgotten their own words. I’ve cited previously this week the rhetoric of Senator Schumer, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the regrets of invoking the filibuster by Senator — President Obama, then Senator Obama, and the words of many other Senate Democrats, like Senator McCaskill, on why blocking a vote for a judge having gone through the process has no precedent and is irresponsible. Let me cite one more argument that many Senate Democrats have recently made.
Current members of the Senate seem to also reject the notion of a Supreme Court operating with eight, not nine, justices. These include Senators Schumer, Dick Durbin, Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein, Jeanne Shaheen, Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar, Ben Cardin and Martin Heinrich. Each of these Senate Democrats and the rest of their fellow caucus members need not listen to me or the President, but their own words as recently as last year.
The President told the American people in his Weekly Address that was launched earlier today why it is. And again, we call on Senate Democrats to end this unnecessary obstruction and confirm an imminently qualified jurist to the bench.
Also last night, the Department of Justice filed an appeal in the 9th Circuit to Hawaii’s federal judge’s preliminary injunction against the President’s lawful and necessary executive order dealing with protecting this country.
Moving on to some of the events of today. This morning, the President met with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. They had an opportunity to talk about regional threats, current affairs hotspots, our attempt to defeat ISIS, and many more areas. It was a great meeting where they discussed many of the challenges facing our country. And the President sought the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor’s advice and opinions on a variety of subjects.
He also signed House Joint Resolution 42, allowing states to drug test unemployment insurance claims, and H.R. 1362, naming a VA outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Also this morning, the President joined Jay Timmons, President of the National Association of Manufacturers, and some of its member CEOs to unveil the Association’s annual Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey. An incredible 93 percent of manufacturers surveyed by the National Association of Manufacturers now have a positive outlook for the future. That’s a 20-year record high that’s more than 35 points higher than that same rating was last year.
To quote from the survey itself, “The rising confidence stems from the belief that the new administration in Washington, D.C. will bring much needed regulatory relief, as well as reforms to the tax code and a significant infrastructure package.”
The optimism is evident across the spectrum of indicators. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up over 12 percent since Election Day. The National Association of Home Builders Confidence Index is at its highest level in 12 years. The Gallup Small Business Index shows that small business owners are the most optimistic they’ve been since 2007.
It’s not surprising that American industry is reacting in this way. The President has taken immediate steps to make it easier to do business in this country. And we are just at the beginning of this process. On top of the significant steps taken in the executive orders this morning, he’s also withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, cleared the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, began a much needed government-wide reform of our regulatory and permitting processes, and signed legislation preventing the burdensome streamline — “Stream Protection Rule” from causing further harm to America’s coal industry.
The President was glad to see this report add to the list of measurements reflecting the incredible optimism and positivity that his pro-growth policies have created.
Back to this afternoon. The President will meet with the Director of the National Institutes of Health before signing the aforementioned executive orders on trade at 3:30 p.m. And he will meet with Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney.
In Cabinet news today, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is in Brussels, attending the NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting. There, he reaffirmed the Trump administration’s steadfast commitment to NATO. Secretary Tillerson also stressed the need for all member countries to meet their defense spending commitments, as well as the need for NATO to take a larger role in the fight against terrorism and ISIS.
The President looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts in Brussels this May to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to NATO and to discuss ways to strengthen the alliance in order to cope with challenges in national and international security.
This morning, the Office of the United States Trade Representative released the 2017 National Trade Estimate. The annual report, which is required by law, surveys the significant barriers faced by American exporters. Its findings reinforce the need for the President’s “America First” trade agenda, which prioritizes the enforcement of the trade laws to protect American workers and job creators. The President looks forward to having Ambassador Lighthizer in place as the USTR so that he can begin his important work in earnest and fulfill the mission of this report.
And Transportation Secretary Chao — who, yesterday, celebrated the 50th birthday of the Department of Transportation — today directed the Federal Highway Administration officials to award $10 million in Emergency Relief funds to help begin repairs on Atlanta’s collapsed I-85 Overpass. Releasing these funds will quickly help to ensure that the bridge is repaired safely and in a timely manner.
The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs has already talked with the Georgia Governor’s team and Secretary Chao has spoken with the Governor.
Looking forward — as promised, today we will be releasing the U.S. OGE Form 378 financial reports as filed by commissioned officers here in the White House. Right after I’m done here we’ll have a background briefing with Senior White House compliance and ethics officers to walk you through how that process is going to go and the public release of that information, which will occur later this evening. We’ll be sure to update you if there’s anything further to add.
This weekend, the President will be here in the White House holding meetings. We’ll be sure to update you if there’s anything further to add.
And on Sunday, the White House will honor World Autism Awareness Day by lighting the White House in blue to join with the autism awareness community. Further research into the causes and treatments for autism spectrum disorders is one of the President’s priorities. As we light it blue on Sunday, the White House will be celebrating all of the individuals and families whose lives are impacted by autism.
I would note that it’s a really interesting story how this came to be. The head of Autism Speaks, an organization that has done tremendous work with this, Bob Wright is one of the cofounders — is a longtime friend of the President. His wife, Suzanne, was struggling with pancreatic cancer last year. And the President made a pledge to her. He said, if I’m elected President, in supporting this cause that you care so deeply about, I will light the White House blue. So it is in Suzanne and Bob Wright’s honor that this will occur for this great cause. And I hope Bob knows that Suzanne is looking down proudly to see that that pledge has been fulfilled.
With that, I’ll be glad to take your questions.
Q: Sean, a couple of questions, if I could, about Chairman Nunes’s visit to the White House. Fox News has been told by intelligence officials that Chairman Nunes is aware of who did the unmasking of certain individuals in the transition and may be aware of who ordered the unmasking of those individuals. Is the White House aware of that information?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know what he knows, in the sense that that’s — and again, I’ve tried to make it a comment not to get into the specifics of that report.
I will not — I think it’s not in our interest to talk about the process. What occurred between Chairman Nunes in coming here was both routine and proper. Chairman Nunes and Ranking Member Schiff, who I understand is expected here later today, both possess the appropriate credentials and clearances.
We’ve invited Democrats here, and I’ve been told that material they will see will shed light on the investigation. I know a lot of folks want to talk about the process and not the surveillance and the underlying issue of the substance — the unmasking and leaks is what we should all be concerned about.
It affects all Americans, our liberties, our freedom, our civil liberties. So let’s talk about some of the substance.
And I know that’s not — but on March 2nd, day before the President’s tweet, comments by a senior administration official, foreign policy expert, Dr. Evelyn Farkas, together with previous reports that have been out, raised serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes. She admitted this on television by saying: “I was urging my former colleagues, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill; I was telling people on the Hill, get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can. I had a fear that they were essentially watching the Trump staff, and he was worried about the Trump administration.”
That’s what’s out there. And I know NBC News has just reported something very similar about information that was used by the Obama White House to spread this information — this politically sensitive information.
Dr. Farkas’s admissions alone are devastating. On March 4th, the President — as you all know — raised serious questions about surveillance practices by the Obama administration, including whether or not the President-elect or the transition team members were being improperly monitored for political purposes under the Obama administration.
Later in March, in the ordinary course of their work, NSC — National Security Council staff discovered information that may support the questions raised by the President and Dr. Farkas’s claim. These are serious issues. They raise serious concerns. And if true, the issues would be devastating.
We’re committed to working with the House and Senate committees, as we’ve said multiple times, to get to the bottom of what happened here, why it happened, and who was involved.
For this reason, we’re in the process of ensuring that the reports that the NSC staff discovered in the normal course of business are made available to those committees investigating to ensure that all of the facts come to light. And if everyone was treating the President and the administration fairly, you’d ask a series of much different questions about the substance than the materials.
As we’ve said before, when you talk about Russia in particular, everyone who has been briefed on this subject from Republican, to Democrat, to CIA, former Obama administration’s Clapper, Brennan, you name it — all of the people come back with the same conclusion — and I think that is important — that there has been no evidence of the President’s campaign and Russian officials.
In fact, as you’ve heard me state before, it was Hillary Clinton who was the architect of the last administration’s failed reset policy. She told Russian state TV that it was designed to strengthen Russia. That was their goal: to strengthen Russia. She used her office to make concession after concession, selling off one-fifth of our country’s uranium, paid speeches, paid deals, getting personal calls from Vladimir Putin.
I think if there’s — you really want to talk about a Russian connection and the substance, that’s where we should be looking. That — not there.
Q: I wasn’t expecting to tap quite such a deep well with that question. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: It’s Friday.
Q: Intelligence officials also tell us that Chairman Nunes knew about the documents that he viewed at the White House back in January, but ended up looking at them at the NSC SCIF only because he could not get access to those same documents through some of the other intelligence agencies. Basically it was a last resort to come here to the White House to view them. Do you know if that is the case?
MR. SPICER: I don’t. But I do think that it tracks everything that’s been — I saw a couple tweets the other day that I mentioned where people were saying that the NSA was trying to get documents. From a narrative of what’s been out there — and again, we have tried to be very careful about this and tried to be consistent about how we want this handled. But everything that he has said — when he came out initially and talked to the media, he made it very clear that he had been looking into this. He had stated this much earlier than the President ever had raised this issue about surveillance and the unmasking of individuals for areas that had nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with substantive intelligence surveillance.
So I think that as we continue down this path, if you actually begin to focus really on the substance, I think we see more and more a very, very troubling and devastating path.
Q: And just one more thing to clear up on process, if I could. We’re also being told by intelligence officials that the two individuals who were identified yesterday — Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis — were not the source for the information, for the intelligence chairman. They did play an ancillary role in terms of finding some extra evidence here at the White House and helping to sign him in so that he could view the intelligence. Do you know if that’s true?
MR. SPICER: Again, John, I’m not — if I start commenting on every one of these stories, I can’t — that’s not our practice. Again, part of it is that if we confirm some things and not others we’re going to go down a very slippery slope.
I can say that we’ve continued to say that this is — I think the substance of this matter and what continues to come to light in terms of Obama officials admitting either off the record or, frankly, on the record, consistent with what Dr. Farkas says, that there was clearly an attempt to do something politically motivated with the intelligence out there. And the question is why? Who else did it? Was it ordered? By whom?
But I think more and more, the substance that continues to come out on the record by individuals continues to point to exactly what the President was talking about that day on March 5th.
Q: Sean, we heard from the President this morning saying that Mike Flynn should ask for immunity. We also know the President has longstanding views on what immunity means. Back in September he said, “If you aren’t guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” So does the President think that Mike Flynn is guilty of a crime?
MR. SPICER: I think he believes that Mike Flynn should go testify. He thinks that he should go up there and do what he has to do to get the story out.
Q: With or without immunity?
MR. SPICER: That’s up to him and his lawyer to decide. I’m not going to give Mike Flynn or anyone else legal advice from the podium, but I will tell you that the President’s view is he should go up there, he should testify.
Q: But the President gave legal advice from his Twitter account. He said Mike Flynn should ask for immunity.
MR. SPICER: Right, I understand.
Q: And he has said in the past that the only reason you ask for immunity if you committed a crime.
MR. SPICER: Right, but I think the underlying point that you’re missing, Jonathan, respectfully, is that what he’s asking is, go testify, go get it out there, do what you have to do to get there and tell Congress and tell everyone exactly what we’ve been saying for a long time.
So I mean, again — I get your point. But I think that the interesting thing is you actually stop for a second and realize what the President is doing is that he’s saying, do whatever you have to do, to go up to make it clear what happened, take whatever precaution you want or however your legal counsel advises you.
But again, I’ve heard in some legal circles that the President could have exerted legal authority with him and Sally Yates and others. It’s quite the opposite. And again, I think that that, compared to the narrative that you hear from a lot of the folks in this room all the time is a little bit opposite. Here you have a President who is telling Mike Flynn and others to go up there, make sure — in fact, we talked about the other day with members of the administration that the President — we’ve made — volunteered — this doesn’t look like an administration that is not doing everything it can to get to the bottom of this in the appropriate way.
And I think that that is an important distinction that has been lost on a lot of you, that every action that we have taken — we’ve got up here and we’ve talked about Russia and the lack of a connection. We’ve talked about the fact that every single person who’s been briefed has come away saying none exists — Republican, Democrat, Obama appointee, et cetera.
And yet, at the end of the day, the narrative still comes at us. And now, we’re going to the point where we’ve actually encouraged people to go talk to the House and Senate Intelligence Committee and the appropriate investigators so that they can continue to get to the bottom of this and get it aside from us. I think that’s quite the opposite of what you would normally think that somebody who was not trying to get to the bottom would do.
Q: Thanks, Sean. One on taxes and one on trade, if I could. Back on February 9th, the President said the he would be presenting a phenomenal tax plan in the next two or three weeks. Tomorrow is April 1st; we haven’t seen that tax plan. Can you tell us when the President is going to present his plan?
MR. SPICER: I think, as you noticed — yesterday Secretary Mnuchin and Gary Cohn and others on the team talked to the President about the process, and I think that we are working on engaging with key stakeholders. And when we feel it’s appropriate that the President is given the appropriate amount of feedback, we’ll start to put out the appropriate outline and process that we envision.
But at this time, that discussion is ongoing. We recognize, as you know — we anticipated fully being engulfed in healthcare right now. And I think that we’re accelerating that. The President has got his team working overtime. He’s been giving them feedback as far as what he wants to see and how he wants to see it. But this is a big task. It’s taken 30 years and we’re going to get to it.
Q: Is the White House going to write its own proposal here, or is this going to be like the healthcare debate where we thought we were going to see a proposal from the White House, but in the end the President sort of signed on to Paul Ryan’s plan?
MR. SPICER: First, I would dispute that we signed on to someone’s plan. We worked with the House — as you know, from the President’s statements, we were very on board. I would suggest to you to say that we signed on to a plan — it was a work that both sides worked together on. We worked with the Senate as well. And I think this plan — I would assume that hopefully we come up with a plan that we all agree on.
The President will put out principles, I’m sure, as we’ve already done, in terms of what his goals are and how he wants to drive this as the process moves forward. But I’m sure that we’re going to have a robust debate about aspects of that plan, certain provisions and certain other tax pieces. But we’re going to work with the House and the Senate on it.
Q: And on trade, the President, during the campaign — he’s now gearing up for this meeting with the Chinese President at Mar-a-Lago. During the campaign, he suggested that on day one, he would declare China a currency manipulator. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t the President followed through on that campaign promise?
MR. SPICER: I think we need to have that meeting with President Xi. I’m sure that there will be a lot of discussions about our economic relationship. And so I don’t — we are days away from that, and let’s see what those — I just don’t want to prejudge — we’re days away from it, and I know there’s a lot of issues that need to come up and I don’t want to get in front of it.
Q: Thanks, Sean. Two, if I may. One on China, one on the Middle East. Does the administration plan to order a review into China’s status as a nonmarket economy?
MR. SPICER: At this time the two trade executive orders that focus on countervailing duties and — are where we’re going to look. I think we’ve got a lot — obviously that’s an issue that we would probably hope to have the U.S. trade representative confirmed. But that’s a combined decision I think that in consultation with the Department of Commerce and the Department of Treasury.
But let’s see how we go first.
Q: And then can you clear up where the President stands on whether Bashar Assad is the legitimate President of Syria?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think with respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now. We lost a lot of opportunity the last administration with respect to Assad. And I think that our statement that both U.N. Ambassador Haley gave yesterday and Secretary of State Tillerson reflects the reality that it’s now up to the Syrian people.
We had an opportunity and we need to focus on now defeating ISIS. But the United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities. And that’s why our forces in the global coalition are partnering with local forces against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
But I mean — I think there is a bit of political reality with respect to where we are now versus where we were the last administration in terms of there being a potential — there is not the opposition that existed last time and the opportunities that existed last time.
Q: It sounds like you’re saying whether or not he’s legitimate — if you were to declare him illegitimate there’s nothing the United States could do about that, so there’s no point in —
MR. SPICER: I think there is a bit of reality that has to be addressed with respect to the opportunity and the options that we have now that we don’t have or didn’t have — they had in the last administration. And there is a reality that just doesn’t exist in the same way.
Q: Thank you. What’s really the end game for Mr. Assad when the President speaks to his allies, his NATO partners? Obviously Assad is not going to retire somewhere in the south of France. Something has got to give. What is the thought there? What is the disposition, the conversation in terms of Assad, who is very close to Mr. Putin and would like to have a warm water port in the Mediterranean?
MR. SPICER: I think we believe there’s a need to deescalate violence and to have a political process through which Syrians will decide their own political future consistent with the principles that have been enshrined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254. But there’s a bit of — as I mentioned just a second ago, there’s a bit of reality on the ground in terms of what the options are.
Q: During the presidential campaign the President said he was with the state on North Carolina’s law banning transgender people from using certain restrooms. The Democratic governor yesterday signed a deal to replace that law with a measure that civil rights groups still say is discriminatory. Does the President support this law?
MR. SPICER: I have not asked the President. I would say consistent with what he said during the campaign cycle he believes in states’ rights, so —
Q: — different issue, but what is the President’s personal view on bathrooms for transgender people and the way states should approach it?
MR. SPICER: I think that the President has made it clear — this issue came up when Caitlyn Jenner in particular came to Trump Tower and he said he didn’t really care. But I think it is a state and local issue, not one that he believes needs federal attention.
Q: Thanks, Sean. Given that it’s financial disclosure day, why will the White House not be releasing —
MR. SPICER: — proclamation on that. (Laughter.)
Q: Why won’t the White House not be releasing the President’s 2016 tax returns, given, conceivably, those can’t be under audit yet while the audit has obviously been the reason for why you haven’t released those past returns?
MR. SPICER: I mean, look, asked and — I mean, the President has been very clear about his tax returns and his position on that. The Office of Government Ethics requires every federal employee at a certain level to file these financial disclosure forms, that anyone in America can go on to — it will be the first time, I believe — and I don’t want to get ahead of the background briefing to give away the good stuff — but I believe that this is the first time that they’re on the White House website. We are making them more accessible, more available than in history.
Q: So then why not make this step —
MR. SPICER: I think that’s apples and oranges. These are required by law. These lists — just for everyone who’s not familiar with them, the financial disclosure forms that we file — I think it’s called a 278 — reveal every asset you own, every debt that you have, your spouse’s income, your spouse’s employment, holdings that you have, credit card debt, other — I mean, it is a fairly comprehensive undertaking of every asset that a person owns, every debt that they have.
And I think that that is a very clear understanding of the assets that people have, the value of those assets, both in terms of whether they’re worth something or the liabilities that they’re incurring. That is a very, very transparent way of being able to understand someone’s — and so to equate the two is rather —
Q: Sure, I just was using that as a jumping-off point for the tax returns question.
MR. SPICER: Well, I’ll jump back.
Q: If the audit is not the reason for the returns —
MR. SPICER: I didn’t say —
Q: — because there can’t be an audit of —
MR. SPICER: Right, but you’ll also remember that taxes aren’t due until the 15th of April.
Q: So can we expect them on the 15th of April?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I’m not — I don’t know. I haven’t really gotten into — I’m worried about getting my own done. But I’ll —
Q: Are you going to release them?
MR. SPICER: No. (Laughter.) But I think that — again, I think that, respectfully, you look at what we’re doing, frankly — and again, this will be discussed after this is done — but I think there is an element of going above and beyond what has been done in the past to make sure that people have access to this. There is a lot of people — I think one of the really interesting things that people are going to see today — and I think it’s something that should be celebrated — is that the President has brought a lot of people into this administration, and this White House in particular, who have been very blessed and very successful by this country, and have given up a lot to come into government by setting aside a lot of assets. And I think it speaks volumes to the desire for a lot of these people to fulfill the President’s vision and move the agenda forward that they are willing to list all of their assets, undergo this public scrutiny, but also set aside a lot.
Because you’ll see that people are often told they have to sell an asset or get rid of something to come serve in the government. And there’s a lot of people that have done a lot to come into this administration to give back, that have been inspired by the President’s victory and the President’s agenda to move the country forward.
Q: General Flynn’s attorney said that his client has a “story to tell.” Is the White House concerned that General Flynn has damaging information about the President, his aides, his associates about what occurred during the campaign with respect to Russia?
MR. SPICER: Nope.
Q: Okay. The other thing I wanted to ask you, to follow up on that, is, you were just saying a few moments ago that some of this information that would be helpful to the committee — you were talking about Evelyn Farkas and so forth — that seems to be something that pertains to during the transition. But the President’s tweets time and again talked about “tapping my phones” in October just prior to the election. “Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
I’m just kind of — I want to get something clear about the time frame. Does the White House have any information — is it providing any information to these Intelligence Committees that would draw these members to the conclusion that there was some kind of surveillance going on before the election as the President originally alleged?
MR. SPICER: So again, I don’t want to specifically get in — but I think if we’re splitting hairs about what day of the calendar it was, that’s a pretty interesting development. I think that we have now come to a place where I think that we can —
Q: The President’s allegations —
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But if the allegation is, well, it was actually on the 1st of December or the 10th of December versus the 31st of October, I think that we’re starting to split some serious hairs here.
The idea that — and again, I just — it’s interesting that now we’re arguing over the date, not the substance. And the substance is why were people using government resources, violating civil liberties, potentially — looking into people’s backgrounds to surveil them, to understand what they were doing, and who they were, to unmask them, provide their names to sources; spread classified information, make it available to others, spread it to places that they weren’t supposed to use it —
Q: Then —
MR. SPICER: But, hold on, let me just — I think that it is interesting. Because again, I get your question. But if what we’re really arguing is did it happen on a Monday or a Tuesday, or did it happen on the 31st versus the 7th or the 8th, I think we’ve lost focus here. There is —
Q: But you started off as allegations —
MR. SPICER: Hold on. I’ll answer. Just let me finish —
Q: — surveillance and —
MR. SPICER: I understand that.
Q: — not that the dates are changing.
MR. SPICER: No, no, they’re not. I didn’t say they were changing. Just to be clear. I’m just saying that it is — it is fascinating to me that we are now arguing over the date, not the substance.
I understand your point. And if we get down to that, we come out and you really want to get into what date — because I think it is really getting lost in the debate that American citizens who were not government employees at the time, who were not targets of stuff potentially were surveilled, had their information unmasked, made it available, was politically spread. And all of this should be very concerning to people that an administration or people in an administration, people serving in government who are provided classified information, who are given clearance in the trust of the United States government misused, mishandled, and potentially did some very, very bad things with classified information.
That astonishes me that that is not the subject of this; that all of this is happening in our country, and yet the subject — and again, we talk about what door someone came in, what date it happened — there is a concern that people misused, mishandled, misdirected classified information, leaked it out, spread it out, violated civil liberties. And the potential that that happened should concern every single American.
Q: And to follow up on that, I think we are concerned about the substance just as much as the process. But the details matter. But I just want to make sure — you clearly — because it seems like you’re going farther than what we’ve heard in previous briefings. It sounds like you are, just as the President is, alleging that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and Trump transition team.
MR. SPICER: What I am saying very clearly is that as —
Q: Do you have evidence of that?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, I don’t. I know that what has been provided to — as I said in the statement, I believe that what has been provided and will be provided to members of both committees I think should further their investigation. I think that the revelations of Evelyn Farkas, who played a senior role in the Obama administration, going on the record to talk about how they politically used classified information is troubling.
I believe that the reports that are coming out day by day that NBC has just reported, that John just detailed what Fox has reported — day by day, more and more, we are seeing that the substance of what we’ve been talking about continues to move exactly in the direction that the President spoke about in terms of surveillance that occurred. And that should be very troubling. That, frankly, should be something that everyone looks at and says, what’s going on here? Why did it happen? Who did it? And how are we going to get to the bottom of it? That’s what concerns me.
Q: Can I go back to China for a second? The President yesterday said that the meeting next week with China will be a difficult one, and he referred to massive trade deficits. Now what sort of tone is he hoping to set for this meeting?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think he’s been very clear —
Q: Why is it going to be so difficult?
MR. SPICER: Why is what?
Q: Why is it going to be so difficult, as he says?
MR. SPICER: Why — there’s big issues. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody in terms of — we’ve got both national security issues in terms of our political posture towards North Korea, the threat of a missile that extends further and further, the tests that they’re using, their nuclear capability. Those should all be very concerning.
And then on the trade front, we’ve got serious concerns with what they’re doing, our trade practices with them, some of the things that were mentioned in the past. But there’s a lot of areas that we need to be concerned about with trade. And I think that — this isn’t a sit around and play patty-cake kind of conversation. They’re big issues. The President has been making it very clear since — for decades, frankly, of the challenges that we face. And I think he wants to have a very good and respectful and healthy relationship. But he also wants to make sure that he tackles the challenges and the problems that are facing American workers and American manufacturers and get to them.
I’m going to go to my first seat, and then Glenn because he’s patient. First Skype seat, Maurice Goodman, from WWDB-AM in Philly. So shout out to Hallie’s old stations.
Q: In Philadelphia. It’s Randall Jefferson. The question is: President Trump signed an executive order that he intends to not fund cities that refuse to share immigration status information. Attorney General Sessions recently suggested that cities could not only lose future funds but that the federal government may require them to pay back grants. Will there be a — when and will — when will this take place? And will that money be reallocated to other departments like the Department of Education or HBCUs?
MR. SPICER: Well, I’m not — I would say that the President finds it unacceptable that some localities and counties and potentially some states have prioritized a political agenda over the safety of their people by flouting our nation’s immigration laws, becoming so-called sanctuary cities.
The failure to follow federal law can have tragic consequences for all of our citizens and all of our country. It’s particularly concerning in a place like Chicago and other cities like yours in Philadelphia where there’s been increased violence. Immigrants both legal and illegal are not safe from criminals who have committed egregious acts are free to roam the streets.
And the Attorney General has issued a public notice reminding all states and local jurisdictions of their responsibilities to comply with federal laws.
With respect to the budget piece, I think we’ve had an ongoing budget process, and we’ll have to see how many states comply and where, if any, potential savings are there and then how we allocate them. But I think the President’s budget — both his FY17 contingency budget for funding beyond this continuing resolution on April 28th, and then his FY18 budget that he’s already submitted — are going to reflect some key priorities both in terms of homeland security and national defense.
So we’ll see where we would reallocate any of that money, but I think the priority is clear is to get cities into compliance and to make sure that we understand there’s not just a financial impact to this but also a very clear security aspect of this.
Q: Two things, Sean. First, just to follow up on something you said before. You said that Hillary Clinton had personal contact with Vladimir Putin, and the suggestion was that wasn’t necessarily appropriate. Can you just elaborate what you were —
MR. SPICER: Oh, no, I’m not saying that’s — the contact in itself is not appropriate — is not —
Q: I mean, as a private citizen or as a —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no. I think what I’m saying is that when you talk about connections to Russia, I think the only connection that anyone has made with President Trump is multiple years ago he hosted a pageant there and he’s — some of the — he owns condos around the world and some of them were sold to some Russians, and I think he sold a house to one several years back. That’s his connection.
When you talk about the other side, you look at what the Obama administration’s connections were. You have a Secretary of State that was selling a fifth of our country’s uranium. You have a Clinton Foundation concern with some of the donations they got. You’ve got the former President, her husband, giving paid speeches, getting a personal call from Vladimir Putin. You’ve got a stated goal of that administration, of Secretary Clinton to have a reset to “strengthen Russia.”
So when you compare the two sides in terms of who’s actually engaging with Russia, trying to strengthen them, trying to act with them, trying to interact with them, it is night and day between our actions and her actions and yet no one questioned what she was doing or how she was handling it, and yet —
Q: So you think that her pattern of behavior is more suspicious than President Trump’s pattern of behavior?
MR. SPICER: I think that if you compare the two it’s definitely — when you talk about the stuff that went to their foundation, the concerns that existed around the sale of one-fifth of all the country’s uranium, the paid speeches, the personal calls from Vladimir Putin — I think that when you want to look at a connection to Russia there is a clear one there, and much less of one that ever existed on this side.
Q: So, Sean, in terms of the Nunes chronology, just to clarify, when we’re asking questions about process like gates and people, we’re not attempting to ascertain the geography of the executive complex, we want to know who knew what and when.
MR. SPICER: I understand that.
Q: So my question is — so I will ask that directly, forget about the technical questions. Mr. Nunes was on the campus. You say we don’t know who let him in the gate, so apparently it is — and you described that, I believe, this is a normal process, right? Tell me if it is normal the way that I’m describing it. Mr. Nunes, the head of an investigatory committee, is allowed to roam around the executive complex — we don’t know who let him in — to speak to two deputy-level members of the National Security Council. He is then allowed to see information. He then obtains an appointment, from my understanding of the chronology, with the President of the United States to disgorge that information. He then goes public with that information. Then seven or so days later, you say it would be appropriate for everybody to come down here and look at it. Is that a normal process?
MR. SPICER: Well, A, I would take issue with a number of the aspects of your chronology. Number one, which you’re forgetting, is that initially he is the one that publicly said well before any of this came to light in terms of the President’s March 5th tweet that he was just looking into this whole matter. He, according to John Roberts, his own reporting, just said that neither of those individuals as described in your paper’s reporting are accurate. So I would dispute several of the pieces that — and then as far as him roaming around the White House —
Q: Well, you won’t tell us who let him in, so we don’t know.
MR. SPICER: No, I understand this, but you — again, you jump to a ton of conclusions about — and again, I love watching some of these shows where they jump to conclusions —
Q: — several times prejudged the investigation as clearing the White House. You said it twice at the podium today.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q: So we’re not prejudging —
MR. SPICER: What I’m saying is — because I’m focused on the substance of this, Glenn.
Q: Well, what —
MR. SPICER: Right, and so where is any of the reporting been in your paper about Evelyn Farkas and her revelation that this is what they sought to do? Where has been the reporting in your paper that NBC News just recently covered that other officials — you seem to be really focused on who showed up where and what door they went in and how it happened.
To answer your question, yes, it’s appropriate for a member of Congress to contact someone who has contacted him, according to some of these reports. I don’t know the answer to that, but if you’re asking me is it appropriate for a member of Congress to come over here — as Chairman Nunes has said himself, he wasn’t hiding or roaming, he was asked to come over here by an individual. He came over, which happens daily. He was asked to go somewhere, he went there. He is cleared. And nothing that is inappropriate other — exactly the opposite. What he did, what he saw, and who he met with was 100 percent proper.
Q: Did the Chief of Staff, who is, at my understanding, an exceptionally attentive gatekeeper to who comes in and out of the Oval Office, did the Chief of Staff know that he was on the campus? Did he approve his —
MR. SPICER: But remember, you’re — okay, but you’re playing cute there. You’re doing two things. One is you’re talking about the Oval Office and the other one is the campus. So, no, the Chief of Staff does not know every single person who’s on the 18 acres at any given time. They are people who are appropriately either cleared or WAVEd through the system or are escorted on in some way, shape or form.
No, we don’t track every single person who’s on the 18 acres. Do we know, generally speaking, who’s in the Oval Office? Not all the time, because people can go in. But if there was a meeting — in that case, we all sat back here, he made the announcement — and again, you’re leaving out a key part. He actually briefed the press before he told anyone. We all found — you, me, everyone else — that he was coming down here after he held a press conference with your colleagues to say he was coming down here based on stuff that he had found that didn’t have to do with Russia that a whistle-blower source had given him.
Now, the other reporting that I’m hearing today is actually that the sources that you describe in your paper are not accurate. And while I’m not going to comment on either, I think there is an assumption that everything — and the chronology that we know is accurate — which I don’t believe, from further reporting, that it is.
And I also believe that some of the comments that have come out publicly in terms of some of the Obama administration are conveniently left out of that discussion. I think that that is interesting how no one seems to really cover the fact that in a — senior Obama administration with high-level clearances talked about the spreading of classified information for political purposes and no one seems to care.
Q: But just to be clear, Mr. Pribus, Mr. Kushner, Mr. Bannon did not have knowledge of his being on the campus, having this interaction with —
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. Again, you asked two questions and you melded them together. No one knew that he was coming to speak to the President. He announced that on television during a press conference.
Q: My understanding is that Dr. Farkas left the administration in 2015. So why is what she said in 2017 relevant to something that allegedly happened in 2016?
MR. SPICER: The question I would have for you is — exactly, why is it — what does – she says inner things — I’m urging my colleagues, I’m urging it to get — the Hill. But it’s odd that the presumption seems to be why is it interesting. Have you asked her?
Q: No, you’re the one telling us to — from you right now.
MR. SPICER: No, you haven’t. So she — no, no, but she’s been on television talking about what she’s done, and you seem to have made no —
Q: I don’t believe everything I see on TV. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: Well, neither do I, but I also — I would assume that as a reporter that actually is interested in the story, a senior Obama administration official that handled Russia —
Q: Former, in 2015.
MR. SPICER: Yeah, well, all Obama administration officials generally are —
Q: No, but she wasn’t there in 2016.
MR. SPICER: Thank you, I appreciate the timeline. I’m well aware of when it was. But my point is, is you seem to be rushing to her defense. At some point, she came on — she went on television and talked about actions that he and her colleagues took to spread classified information. And instead of — Jonathan, instead of defending her, it might be worth asking her what she’s talking about, who she spread it to, why she did it, was it appropriate, who cleared her to do it.
Maybe those are questions you can ask instead of asking me to defend why a former Obama administration official is revealing stuff that should be extremely concerning. So I’m going to go back to —
Q: Yeah, one other question, which is, are you more concerned about that or Russian interference in the presidential election?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that there — as an American citizen I’m very concerned about the fact that people potentially were sharing information about other Americans for political purposes and using classified information to do so and leaking it. That should be concerning to everybody.
Q: So the Russian interference —
MR. SPICER: No, that’s not what I said. Please stop trying to — it’s not —
Q: My question is which is worse?
MR. SPICER: And I guess I don’t — I mean, the answer is, I think if someone is interfering with our election, that’s not good. I don’t think that someone revealing and leaking classified information is good either. I’m not sure that you should have to choose. I think that you can have outrage and concern for both, and I don’t think we should have to pick as an American whether or not — which freedom we want to have undermined. I think we should accept both of them.
And so the idea that we should have to choose whether or not we want someone to interfere with our election or protect our civil liberties isn’t one that we should want or that we should have questioned.
Q: Can I just ask three basic kind of follow-up to questions. You’ve used two phrases here today. One is really pretty sensitive information and the other is classified information when you’re talking about what the President believes was released. Because you said yesterday that you, yourself, had not seen the information — and that’s my understanding of today — are those terms interchangeable, or are they different in terms of what you know from the podium was released?
MR. SPICER: So there’s actually a classification level. There is certain sensitive information on individuals, while not classified, is considered stuff that the government protects. Then there’s secret, there’s top secret, and — without getting into it — there’s a lot higher.
There are differences in classification levels. So while you may not reveal a piece of classified information, what they call PII information, is sensitive information, according to the government standards. So they are different. Each of them has a different classification level.
Q: But it’s your understanding — you’ve been told that the material that the President is sharing with the committees includes classified information as well as politically sensitive information — that’s your understanding?
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q: All right. Next question — you said Congressman Schiff is coming today?
MR. SPICER: That’s my — I know that he had — I don’t — he has made contact and is trying to arrange a time.
Q: And can you share with us who will be responsible for escorting him to the proper place, showing him the materials, walking him through it, letting him absorb it? Is he bringing staff? Can you just explain the —
MR. SPICER: I don’t know the answer to that question. I know that they were arranging a time, et cetera. I think it’s going to — a lot of it will detail who — if he is requesting it. I don’t know the nature of — I know that the request was made, and that’s one that — there’s follow-up with the staff at the staff level to determine all those things.
Q: The two that the President has wanted to share with the House and the Senate committees — has it already been shared with the FBI or does the FBI already have the material?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know the answer to that. Some of it — I don’t know. It’s NSC — NSC pulls materials from the various agencies, so where that all came from — is it a single source, is it a combination of those — I don’t know the answer to that.
Q: Can you get the answer to that?
MR. SPICER: I can ask. Again, part of it is there’s a question of whether or not we have the ability or the release it. And again, as much as I appreciate where it came from, I think, again, I go back to does it really matter? Does it matter if it came from the CIA or the NSA, or another three-letter agency, or is the issue, Alexis, whether or not, as I’ve said before — whether or not there is a concern about what that information is doing, who used it improperly, what possibly could have happened. I mean, again, it’s where it came from.
Q: What I’m asking is, the executive branch — the FBI has a separate investigation. I’m asking — the President believes he has evidence that is germane to that investigation, as broad as Director Comey has described.
MR. SPICER: Well, first of all, just so we’re clear, the FBI’s investigation pertains specifically to, from what the Director said in open testimony, to Russia. What the President’s — this is not what I believe they are investigating or —
Q: I misunderstood. I thought that the FBI also had broadened the investigation beyond just simply Russia.
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I’m not aware of that.
Q: If you could just find out —
MR. SPICER: You can call the FBI. I’m not going to call the FBI and ask them what their investigation is, and then you’ll write a story about how I called the FBI.
Q: I’m asking you a separate question. Does the President believe that it is important for the FBI to have the information that he finds to be so egregiously offensive, that politically sensitive information was shared by the previous administration? I’m asking you a really simple question.
MR. SPICER: I don’t — no, it’s not. You think it’s simple, but I think the reality is it depends where it came from, who can share it. You’re acting as though it’s a very — you’re acting as though it’s a very simple process. It depends on the level of classification, who it came from, whether they have the authority to share it. There’s a lot of things that go into this. And I know that it sounds really easy; it’s not. And I think that there — I know that a lot of times that just because it can get leaked out doesn’t mean it’s being handled appropriately. And I think there is a desire to make sure that this is done correctly and within the proper guidance of who has the authority to see the right things, and that all of the procedures are followed.
That doesn’t mean we just get to, willy-nilly, pick stuff and send it around to whoever. There is a reason that certain information is handled the way it is, so that we protect the methods and processes that are in accordance with the intelligence community.
Q: This morning, the Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, took issue with the President’s tweet. He said he does not believe that the Russian investigation that’s being conducted by the FBI, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the House Intelligence Committee is a witch hunt. Why does the President believe it’s a witch hunt? He also said — before I get your answer to that — he also said that he doesn’t think it’s proper for the President to sort of tweet out or comment on ongoing investigations. Can you also touch on that as well?
MR. SPICER: I think part of this sometimes comes down to who has access to what information and what they’re looking at. So I don’t know what he has seen or not seen, or whether it’s appropriate. But again, I think there’s a whole — the reason that we’ve asked the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to look into this is to make sure that we get to the bottom of it in an appropriate, proper manner.
Q: Commenting on an ongoing investigation, is that proper by the President?
MR. SPICER: What ongoing?
Q: Well, there’s an investigation that’s ongoing by the FBI right now. There’s an ongoing investigation that’s ongoing by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
MR. SPICER: Okay. And —
Q: Should he be commenting on that?
MR. SPICER: And which comment are you referring to?
Q: The “witch hunt.”
MR. SPICER: Right, but I think when you — as I just said to Alexis, I think there’s a difference between the investigations that have been discussed about Russia that we’ve been very clear about and a discussion about whether something — as Devin Nunes has said very publicly, the information that he had with respect to surveillance during the 2016 election cycle had nothing to do with Russia.
So there’s this seeming assumption that — what the President has talked about is very clear — there is an ongoing pattern and more and more revelations that what we have seen is that something potentially was very, very bad that’s happening and people were using classified information — not with respect to Russia, but to surveil people during that cycle. And that is adversely different.
There is no — as far as I know — we’ve asked the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees to look into this whole matter — there is no “investigation” that I’m aware of.
Q: You take issue with Jason Chaffetz’s —
MR. SPICER: I don’t — I’ll let him speak for himself. My point is, though, there is obviously — I believe Chairman Nunes and others who have looked into this and see the information are probably in a much better position to discuss the situation at hand and understand what’s happening.
I’m going to go to Edward Marshall from WBBM in Chicago.
Q: Actually, it’s Derrick Blakley at WBBM in Chicago. Thank you. I have a question, and if at all possible, a follow-up as well. Chicago gets about $12 million a year in law enforcement assistance from the federal government. Would President Trump cut off those funds due to the sanctuary city status even though it would greatly hamper the police fight against street violence, something the President has repeatedly said troubles him greatly?
MR. SPICER: I think that you — it’s interesting, you talk about street violence and then we cut off the funding for sanctuary cities. I think it would be interesting to want to send more money to a city that is allowing people to come into the country who are breaking the law, who, in many cases, are committing crimes — member of gangs. And so you can’t be a sanctuary city and at the same time seem to pretend or express concern about law enforcement or ask for more money when probably a number of the funds that you’re using in the first place are going to law enforcement to handle the situation that you’ve created for yourself.
I think the President’s belief on sanctuary cities is one shared by upwards of 80 percent of the American people that we shouldn’t be using American tax dollars to fund cities and counties and, in some cases, potentially states that are seeking to allow people who are not legally in this country, who potentially can do us harm, to get funding.
And so I think there’s no question — it’s not a question of what he will do. His intentions have been very clear from the beginning. I think it’s vastly supported by the vast majority of the American people. But I think that to suggest that somehow they’re not inextricably linked is a failure to fully appreciate the scenario.
Q: Can I follow up? Does that mean the President is more interested in deporting illegal immigrants than he is with putting shooters and killers in jail?
MR. SPICER: No. Because if a shooter or killer is here illegally and he’s in this country, then I think that — again, I think, respectfully, you’re delinking the two issues. If you have people who are in this country illegally that are part of a gang, that are part of — they’re committing — a threat to public safety or committing a crime, then funding that activity and allowing that to fester is in itself a problem. And so by not rooting that out in the first place is allowing the problem to continue and not exactly showing an attempt to solve it in the first place.
Q: Let me ask you about the two executive orders that are about to be signed. Peter Navarro said this morning that they have nothing to do with the China trip next week. So is it just purely coincidence that it’s happening now and the President is set to meet with his counterpart in China next week? Or is this somewhat setting the table for what might come next week?
MR. SPICER: No, I think they are both broad-based. I mean, countervailing duties is not something that’s targeted at any specific country. So I don’t think that you could use that as some kind of indication of any one country. I think we’re giving up $2.8 billion a year and that’s coming through our borders all across. So that one.
And the other one specifically talks about every form of trade abuse and non-reciprocal practice that are currently contributing to our deficit. So there’s a lot of countries that contribute to that, and I think a lot of times the trade agreements that we’ve made in some cases haven’t been looked at or revived in a very long time. And so for either one of them to be suggested at any particular country would be a misread of either one.
Q: You mentioned that the President has signaled his intention to withdraw from TPP, you’ve got Keystone, you’ve got these executive orders, a whole host of others. The second executive order that’s coming today talks about a — or the first one — a 90-day review.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q: The one that’s still outstanding is NAFTA and what the President wants to do with that. So does that move the NAFTA timeline potentially back 90 days? Does he want to see this 90-day review first before getting to NAFTA?
MR. SPICER: I think the first thing he wants to do is get Robert Lighthizer confirmed as the next U.S. Trade Representative so that we can have someone at the helm of that agency to really shepherd the trade agenda and help with the priorities.
I know that Peter and Secretary Ross were here yesterday, and Secretary Ross and Secretary Mnuchin and others have been very involved in the trade agenda. But we really need someone in the front of the ship to help us guide us through it. And that review and others are part of that.
Q: Do you have a timeline?
MR. SPICER: I don’t.
Q: You frequently tell us to take the President’s tweets at face value and they speak for themselves. So when the President says Mike Flynn should get immunity, is he suggesting to Congress that it grant immunity?
MR. SPICER: I think Mike Flynn and his legal counsel should do what’s appropriate for Mike Flynn.
Q: Right, but that is — they cannot obtain immunity. It must be granted —
MR. SPICER: Right, and again to your question —
Q: — by Congress.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q: You have the President recommending either to the FBI or to Congress that it grant immunity. Because that’s the only way it can happen.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But again, he didn’t say Congress should grant, and I think —
Q: That’s what I’m asking. What does he mean by that?
MR. SPICER: And I think that his — what he means is he support Mike Flynn’s attempts to go up to Congress and be very clear with everything that they ask and what they want.
Q: Right. But he could have just said “and testify.” He said he should be immunity.
MR. SPICER: Right.,
Q: And I’m asking you because it’s an important —
MR. SPICER: It is.
Q: Every lawyer who works on this tells you it’s extremely important to seek it and then obtain it. And there’s only one way you can seek it, by it being granted either by the FBI or by Congress. And for the President of the United States to even lightly indicate that he is in favor of that it seems to is a significant development. And I’m trying to find out if that’s what the President was trying to accomplish.
MR. SPICER: And I think what — and I’m trying to answer the question, which is that I think that what — not that I think — I’ve talked to the President about this. I think what he —
Q: You have?
MR. SPICER: Yes. And the President is very clear that he wants Mike Flynn to go and be completely open and transparent with the committee. And whatever it takes to do that, he is supportive of.
Q: Even if he doesn’t obtain immunity?
MR. SPICER: He wants him to — again, I want to be clear, he wants him to do what is necessary to go up there and talk to the committees of jurisdiction to get this matter behind us.
Q: And since you’ve talked to the President about this, he was not trying to suggest to the FBI or the Justice Department that it grant immunity to Mike Flynn?
MR. SPICER: No, I think he was — I’m not entirely sure of the process — whether the Congress does it, or DOJ, or both in this case. But the point that —
Q: — any other venue —
MR. SPICER: I get it, but the —
Q: It would be different.
MR. SPICER: Right, I understand. Right. But the bottom line is —
Q: He’s not instructing his Justice Department to do this?
MR. SPICER: No, what he is instructing is Mike Flynn to do everything he can to cooperate with the committees that he’s asked to look into this.
Q: You talked about — one more thing. You said Congressman Schiff is coming over here, the Senate Intelligence —
MR. SPICER: And let me just be clear because I know — before you continue, I just want to be crystal clear. I know that he’s communicated. Our expectation is — I don’t —
Q: He said he was —
Q: He put out a press release.
MR. SPICER: Well, there we go. Thank you, Zeke.
Q: You just cleared up a lot of —
MR. SPICER: I know. But sometimes you —
Q: The Senate Intelligence Committee put out a statement yesterday that I just want to read to you — or part of it.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q: The committee has asked the White House to direct the agencies that own the intelligence documents in question to immediately provide them directly to the committee. Does the White House have any problem with that, or believe they’re —
MR. SPICER: I think we’re looking into that. I think obviously we would have hoped that, like Congressman Schiff, they would come and see these documents.
I don’t know. I know that the counsel’s office is in contact with them with respect to that.
Q: Do you see any problem with this procedure?
MR. SPICER: I’m not — Major, respectfully, the counsel’s office is working with them. I don’t want to get in front of what the — how they go back and forth and make a decision on that.
Q: It’s not an illegitimate request.
Q: Schiff is asking the same thing, too?
Q: Is this an illegitimate request? That’s all I’m trying to figure out.
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s not — I think — I want to say the goal would be —
Q: — you said we don’t know who owns it.
MR. SPICER: Again, I’m letting — the White House Counsel’s Office sent that letter. They are the ones whom those individuals have been in contact with. Obviously, we’d like them to come see that information, which is what we think would help them further their review of this situation.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But what I’m telling you is it’s not my decision, Major. This is a discussion that is occurring between both of those committees and the White House Counsel’s Office.
Q: I’m just asking, as the representative of the President, because it is his decision —
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And as you’re telling me, it’s happening in real time — the Schiff piece of it happening in real time. I don’t know the answer because it’s happening while we’re here. So I don’t have an answer for us on that.
The White House Counsel’s Office is in communication with the committee, in particular, and with Congressman Schiff’s office about arranging how that would go down. I don’t know what further discussions they’ve had since we’ve been out here.
Q: So really quick just to follow up. You said that the U.S. is giving up $2.8 billion a year in countervailing —
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q: Peter Navarro was up here last night and said that sum applied to a 16-year period. I was hoping you could clarify the facts on that.
MR. SPICER: I don’t — I’ll ask Peter to —
Q: Peter Navarro had it as a far smaller sum over a larger —
MR. SPICER: Right, I’ll have to ask Peter to —
Q: Thanks. The second thing, follow-up on Alexis’s question. You’ve made some serious allegations about civil liberties and potentially mishandling of classified information. Why wouldn’t the White House, if it believed — hand it over to the federal agency tasked with investigating crimes —
MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not — that’s not — because I think — first of all, I don’t know what we will or will not do going forward, and I don’t want to prejudge that. What I do know is that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are both the committees that we — the President had asked on that Sunday a few weeks ago to look into this. And I think that’s who is conducting and who’ve we’d asked to look into it. And that’s appropriate. And I’m not aware that anyone else asked us for that information.
Q: And one final one. Earlier in the briefing you said we don’t track every — we don’t track every person who is on the 18 acres —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, he asked about whether or not the Chief of Staff knew everyone who was on the 18 acres. That’s what he asked.
Q: So — but when it comes to that, do you have any information about how the Chairman did get onto the campus, who WAVEd him in?
MR. SPICER: As I said over the last few days, I’m not going to discuss —
Q: Will you release — sorry, the WAVES records?
MR. SPICER: Yes, I think all of that is going to happen as soon as — there will be a discussion about a lot of in the briefing that’s going to talk about the financial disclosure forms and such as immediately as this concludes.
Part of that. So with that, thank you, guys, very much. So we’re going to get onto the next briefing. Thank you very much.
2:44 P.M. EDT