James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:16 P.M. EDT
SANDERS: Good afternoon. On Tuesday, June 19, President Trump will deliver remarks at the NFIB’s 75th anniversary lunch. NFIB is America’s leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of Americans to own, operate, and grow their businesses.
The President will highlight the strong American economy and tout the benefits we are seeing from tax reform and deregulation, including that small business optimism has hit its highest level in more than 30 years.
As you know, National Economic Council Director and Assistant to the President Larry Kudlow was discharged from the hospital and is recovering at home. The President has spoken with Larry and he’s in good spirits. We look forward to having him back here at the White House soon.
Tonight at Nationals Park, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will put aside their political differences to play America’s game.
After last year’s horrible shooting at the GOP practice, where Capitol Police acted heroically in the line of fire to save lives, we are excited to see those who were injured return to the field, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Those injured have fought hard for this moment and we will proudly be cheering them on. I have heard the Republican team looks good in practice and that they’re headed for a victory.
Lastly, on June 14th we celebrate Flag Day, commemorating the adoption of our American flag, which we all proudly stand for, the founding of our brave U.S. Army.
And last but certainly not least, we would like to wish the President a very, very happy birthday. And if I do say so, I don’t think he looks a day over 35. (Laughter.)
With that, I’ll take your questions.
A little sucking up is probably never bad.
Q Sarah, thank you. If you would, please comment on the recently released IG report, your impressions of what you’ve read so far. And have you have had an opportunity to discuss with the President the New York Attorney General’s idea of suing the Trump Foundation to have it shut down in the state of New York?
SANDERS: The President was briefed on the IG report earlier today and it reaffirmed the President’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the FBI. Director Wray, as you know, will be holding a press conference later this afternoon and we would encourage you to tune in for specific questions.
As to your other question, the President has tweeted about this specifically earlier today. The Foundation raised $18 million while giving $19 million to charity while virtually having zero expenses. The previous New York AG, who was forced to retire in disgrace, made its stated mission to use this matter to advance his own political gain. And the current acting New York AG has stated that battling the White House is the most important job she’s ever done. That sounds outrageously biased and certainly problematic, and very concerning.
Q Sarah, in the State of the Union, the President had really harsh words for North Korea. He said, “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more…brutally…than North Korea.” Why is he now downplaying North Korea’s horrific atrocities?
SANDERS: The President hasn’t downplayed. Like you said, the President has raised North Korea’s human rights record and some of the abuses of the North Korean regime in a number of occasions. He also raised them at the summit that took place earlier this week. But the focus of the summit was denuclearization and peace on the Peninsula, and that was the purpose of the President’s conversation and that was the focus of what took place there.
Q But when he was asked about human rights on Fox News, he said, “A lot of other people have done some really bad things.” How is that not downplaying the atrocities?
SANDERS: Again, certainly that’s a factual statement. A lot of people have done some bad things. However, the President hasn’t ignored the bad things that have been done by the North Korean regime. He’s directly called it out on a number of occasions, as you yourself mentioned, and he brought it up at the summit. And again, the purpose of the summit was to focus on denuclearization and looking towards that brighter future, and that was what the President was trying to do.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Could you confirm that there is a trade principals meeting today; that there are Chinese tariffs coming tomorrow? And there was a report that somewhere in the —
SANDERS: That’s a lot of questions. We’ll go one at a time. First —
Q It’s the same thing. Okay.
SANDERS: — yes, there is a trade meeting today. In terms of any announcements, I’ll keep you posted when we have something to announce.
Q So the third part of my two-part question is, there has been a report that —
SANDERS: Third part of a two-part question.
Q — that 800 to 900 Chinese products will be on that tariffs list. It seems like quite a high number, even though I guess their highest number was 1,300. But even if you’re not ready to roll out the whole thing, if that number is higher than it really is, could you tell us now?
SANDERS: Well, since I’m not making any announcements, it would be hard for me to give details of an announcement that we’re not quite ready to make. Whether or not we will, we’ll certainly keep you posted. But beyond that, I can’t get into any details.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, if you don’t mind. The President said earlier this week that he did speak with Kim Jong Un about human rights abuses. Can you tell us exactly what areas of concern they talked about? Was it the gulag work camps, torture, public executions, the lack of freedom of religion and the press, kidnapping, women’s rights? What did they actually talk about?
SANDERS: Again, they covered a number of different topics, a couple that you listed. I’m not going to get into all of the details of their private conversation, but I can tell you, as the President has already publicly stated, that he did bring up human rights abuses of the North Korean regime.
Q And then, secondly — I’m sorry —
SANDERS: I’m sorry, you had two.
Q I just had two. Rudy Giuliani spent 20 minutes today talking with one of our reporters about his love life, and proclaimed that — actually, his words — he’s not going to be a priest if he’s separated from his third wife. Has this become too big of a distraction to the point where the President would consider getting another lawyer? And then, also on that, he said his soon-to-be ex, Judith, called the President last week. Can you tell us what they talked about?
SANDERS: I’m not today or tomorrow or at any point ever going to comment on Rudy Giuliani’s love life. (Laughter.) I will be glad to leave that to you and the reporter that spoke with him. And I’m not aware of a call and don’t have any information on that.
Q Sarah, can you tell us why the President saluted the North Koreans when he was over in Singapore?
SANDERS: It’s a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes, that you return that.
Q Can I just ask a second question, completely unrelated, on these children who are being separated from their families as they come across the border? The Attorney General, earlier today, said that somehow there’s a justification for this in the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that it’s moral to take children away from their mothers?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of the Attorney General’s comments or what he would be referencing. I can’t —
Q Is it a moral policy, in your view?
SANDERS: I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is, actually, repeated a number of times throughout the Bible. However, this —
Q But where in the Bible does it say —
SANDERS: Hold on, Jim. If you’ll let me finish.
Q — it’s okay to take children away from their parents?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to comment on the Attorney’s specific comments that I haven’t seen.
Q You just said it’s in the Bible to follow the law.
SANDERS: That’s not what I said. And I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess, but please don’t take my words out of context. But the separation of —
Q That’s a cheap shot, Sarah. That’s a cheap shot, Sarah.
SANDERS: — illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close. And these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade. And the President is simply enforcing them.
Q But how is it moral? How is it a moral policy to take children away from their parents? Can you imagine —
SANDERS: It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.
Q — the horror that these children must be going through when they come across the border?
Q They’re with their parents, and then suddenly they’re pulled away from their parents. Why is the government doing this?
SANDERS: Because it’s the law. And that’s what the law states.
Q It’s not. It doesn’t have to be the law. You guys don’t have to do that. It’s your policy.
SANDERS: You’re right, it doesn’t have to be the law. And the President has actually called on Democrats in Congress to fix those loopholes. The Democrats have failed to come to the table, failed to help this President close these loopholes and fix this problem. We don’t want this to be a problem. The President has tried to address it on a number of occasions. We’ve laid out a proposal. And Democrats simply refuse to do their job and fix the problem.
Paula, go ahead.
Q Certainly both parties could fix it. But you don’t take children away from their parents.
SANDERS: Sorry, Jim, I’ve given you enough time.
Q Two questions. First of all, there is not law that requires families to be separated at the border. This was the administration’s choice to move from civil matters on immigration on to criminal, to criminally prosecute people who come across the border illegally and therefore you have to separate families.
So why did the administration find that this was necessary? And if it continues to not have much of a deterrent effect, will you continue this policy?
SANDERS: Again, the laws are the ones that have been on the books for over a decade, and the President is enforcing them. We would like to fix the broken system that our immigration — and fix our immigration problem. However, until Democrats are willing to actually fix this problem, it’s going to continue. But we would like to see it fixed.
Q But isn’t the administration — it doesn’t want to take responsibility for its policy change from civil — handling them as civil matters to criminal prosecutions.
SANDERS: It’s not a policy change to enforce the law.
Q It absolutely is. Sessions made a change.
SANDERS: That’s been this administration’s policy since the day we got here.
Q No. Jeff Sessions made a decision in April that he was going to move from handling it as a civil matter to criminal, and then separating the families.
SANDERS: It has been our administration’s policy —
Q Your own administration said it was deterrent. They’re separating families to deter people from coming here illegally.
SANDERS: Our administration has had the same position since we started on day one that we were going to enforce the law. I know it was something that wasn’t high on the priority list in the previous administration, but it is on ours. We’re a country of law and order, and we’re enforcing the law and protecting our borders.
We would like to fix these loopholes, and if Democrats want to get serious about it, instead of playing political games, they’re welcome to come here and sit down with the President and actually do something about it.
Q Sarah. Sarah, don’t you have any empathy?
SANDERS: Jill, go ahead.
Q Come on, Sarah. You’re a parent. Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?
Q They have less than you do.
SANDERS: Brian. Guys, settle down.
Q Sarah, come on. Seriously. Seriously.
SANDERS: I’m trying to be serious, but I’m not going to have you yell out of turn.
Jill, please —
Q But you’re sitting there telling us it’s a law. And they have — these people have nothing. They come over here with nothing —
SANDERS: Hey, Brian, I know you want to get some more TV time, but that’s not what this is about.
Q It’s not that. It’s not about that. It’s about you answering a question, Sarah.
SANDERS: I want to recognize you. Go ahead, Jill.
Q Honestly, answer the question. It’s a serious question. These people have nothing. They come to the border with nothing and you throw children in cages. You’re a parent. You’re a parent of young children. Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?
SANDERS: Jill, go ahead.
Q Two questions for you. First, does the President really believe that Crimea is part of Russia because everyone there speaks Russian? And the second question: The President has said that Kim Jong Un told him that North Korea is destroying a major —
SANDERS: Let me answer your first question. I’m not aware of any comment like that. I know it’s been reported, but I’m not going to comment on a private conversation I wasn’t a part of — that I don’t have information on.
The second part.
Q So the President said that Kim Jong Un has told him that North Korea was working to destroy a major missile engine testing site. Is that the Sohae site, as it’s sometimes referred to?
SANDERS: We’ll have specific details later. We’re working with the Department of Defense and we’ll make sure we get you guys that information.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions on the IG report. Earlier this year, the President suggested that the DOJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, was “an Obama guy.” How does the President view Horowitz today? And does he feel that this investigation was thorough?
SANDERS: Again, the President thinks that this report reaffirms the suspicions that he had about Comey. And Director Wray is going to hold a press conference later today, and I would encourage you to tune in for that.
Q And I could ask you about the text message exchange between two —
SANDERS: Sorry. Go ahead, Trey.
Q The text message exchange highlighted in the report between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. Ultimately, the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, said, “We’ll stop it.” And he was referring to candidate Trump becoming President. Did the President have any reaction to this information when you spoke with him after he was briefed today?
SANDERS: Certainly, again, it causes a great deal of concern and I think, points out the political bias that the President has been talking about and that has been repeatedly mentioned from this administration that we found to be a huge problem. And we’re glad they’re looking into it.
Q Sarah, thank you. Did the President or anyone else use funds from the Trump Foundation to pay for personal, business, or campaign expenses?
SANDERS: I’m not aware of any of that taking place.
Q But you can definitively say “no”?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not aware of it and I’d have to get more information, but I would refer you to Trump Foundation for that specific one.
Q Have you asked the President?
SANDERS: I haven’t spoken to him about that specifically.
Q And, Sarah, let me just follow up with you. President Trump said several months ago he doesn’t think Michael Cohen is going to flip. Is that still the case?
SANDERS: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the last part of your question.
Q President Trump tweeted several months ago that he doesn’t think that Michael Cohen is going to flip. Does he still think that that’s the case?
SANDERS: I would refer you back to the President’s comment.
Q Yeah. Two questions, please, Sarah. And thank you. First, there have been reports on almost a daily basis and in punctilious detail about EPA head, Scott Pruitt, doing things that border on the unethical. And almost on a daily basis, Republican members of Congress call for his resignation. What is his status within the administration? And does the President have confidence in him to remain as Administrator?
SANDERS: Certainly we have some areas of concern in some of these allegations but I don’t have any personnel announcements at this point.
Q My second question is, Congressman Mark Sanford blamed the President’s tweet as the final straw in his defeat, making him the second Republican House member to go down to defeat. This is the first time in 48 years a sitting President has opposed a member of Congress of his own party. Does the President intend to speak out for primary challenges to other critics of him within the Congress? And if so, who?
SANDERS: I don’t have any announcements on any candidates that the President may or may not endorse, and wouldn’t be able to address that from this venue either.
Q Sarah, you called —
SANDERS: Sorry. That’s right, Mara.
I’ll come back to you.
Q I appreciate it. Two questions. First, on the two immigration bills that the House is considering, does the President have a preference for one over the other, or are both just fine with him? And then I have another one.
SANDERS: The President has already laid out a proposal that closes the legal loopholes and provides the resources to secure our border. If the process leads to a permanent solution, as outlined by the President, then we would support it.
Q Has he looked at those two (inaudible)?
SANDERS: Again, we’ve laid out what we want to see. And if this gets to a permanent solution, then we would support it.
Q All right. And then another question about immigration, you blame the Democrats for not closing the loopholes. Republicans control both Houses of Congress and, despite the President’s repeated preference for Mitch McConnell to get rid of the legislative filibuster so they could pass something without Democratic votes, they have not done that. So don’t Republicans face some responsibility for the immigration laws as they exist?
SANDERS: Look, if a handful of Democrats wanted to solve this problem, we could quickly get it done — but they don’t. And they’ve refused to come to the table and actually be part of a solution instead of just playing political games and attacking the President.
Q The President has asked Mitch McConnell numerous times to get rid of the legislative filibuster, and he hasn’t. In other words, that’s not a barrier if they change the rules.
SANDERS: Look, there are — the majority of Republicans support fixing the loopholes. The President wants to work with them. We want to get something done. We’ve laid out a proposal to do that. And we are hopeful that Congress, particularly Democrats in Congress, will come together and actually fix the system.
Q So Republicans bear no responsibility for the immigration problems at the border?
SANDERS: Look, the President wants to fix it. I mean, we have laid out a number of different plans and proposals that would close these loopholes, and we continue to be ready and willing to work with Congress to get it done.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. On immigration, what does the President want to see the House of Representatives do in the next week?
SANDERS: Again, we’ve laid that out. We’d like to see a permanent solution to fix the loopholes and secure the border.
Q And on —
Q No, on DACA, I think she was —
Q Well, just on the upcoming votes, is there a particular bill that he favors or a particular —
SANDERS: Again, he wants to see all of the different components that we laid out several months ago addressed. And if any of the legislation comes to the table that would create a permanent solution that does that, then we would support it.
Q Thank you. And, Sarah, on NAFTA — the President has threatened border tariffs. Does that mean that he will withdraw from NAFTA in the coming days?
SANDERS: I don’t have any announcements on that.
Q Sarah, to follow up on Trey’s question on whether the President believes that the Inspector General’s report was thorough, several GOP lawmakers today have called for a second special counsel. Would the President support a developed inquiry into the Inspector General’s report and into the further conduct of the FBI? Or does this settle the matter for all time?
SANDERS: Certainly this creates a great deal of concern, and we’re going to tune into Director Wray’s comments this afternoon. But certainly there are a lot of things in this report that not only worry those of us in the administration, but should worry a lot of Americans that people play this political bias and injected that into a department that shouldn’t have any of that.
Q To follow up on that, does the President believe that Peter Strzok should still have a job at the FBI?
SANDERS: I haven’t specifically asked him that question, but my guess would be no.
I’ll take one last question. Eamon.
Q Thanks, Sarah. There are a number of officials here at the White House who are reportedly eyeing the exits, including Marc Short, Raj Shah, and yourself. Can you give us a sense of what to expect? Are any of those officials leaving? And what’s the plan to replace all those high-level people?
SANDERS: Well, I don’t know that there’s a need to replace them. As I stated last night in a tweet, I think CBS got a little ahead of their skis, particularly since they put out a story about my thinking without ever actually talking to me. Seems like that would be a little bit problematic.
In terms of personnel announcements, I don’t have any to make. I can tell you that I show up here every day, I love my job, I’m glad to work for the President. And each and every day, I’ll pray for clarity and discernment on what my future looks like. Right now, I think the country’s looks pretty good, and I’m glad to get to be a part of that process, and I’m going to continue to do my job.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.
3:34 P.M. EDT