James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:25 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Sorry about the delay. A lot of activities here this afternoon.
I’d like to start today by bringing up Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan. Mr. Cronan supervises the Criminal Division’s more than 600 federal prosecutors who conduct investigation and prosecutions involving organized and transnational crime, gang violence, and other crimes.
He’ll make a statement regarding MS-13, and then take a few of your questions on this topic. And then I’ll be back up after that to finish and answer questions on the news of the day.
Thanks, guys. John.
MR. CRONAN: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. CRONAN: Again, my name is John Cronan. I am the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.
Before serving in my current role, I supervised the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Prior to that, I served as an assistant United States attorney in the Southern District of New York, where I prosecuted violent criminals and I prosecuted national security defendants, including Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and the attempted Times Square bomber.
On the day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in, President Trump sent him executive orders to reduce crime in America and to target transnational organized crime. As Acting Assistant Attorney General, I support the Attorney General in accomplishing these goals by directing the enforcement of all federal criminal laws, with the exception of those that are specifically designated to other divisions of the Department of Justice.
As Sarah mentioned, my duties include oversight of the nearly 700 prosecutors in the Criminal Division, and that includes the Organized Crime and Gang Section, the Capital Case Section, the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, and the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training.
I had the opportunity just now to brief President Trump about one of the most significant threats to the public safety of our communities: MS-13. And I appreciate the opportunity to also speak with you today about that threat.
MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, has grown to more than 30,000 members worldwide, 10,000 of whom live right here in the United States, spanning 40 states and the District of Columbia. This violent, murderous gang has infiltrated our country.
It is estimated that there are 2,000 members in Los Angeles; between 800 and 1,200 in Dallas and Houston; 2,000 members on Long Island; between 800 and 1,200 members in Boston; and approximately 3,000 members living right here in Washington, D.C. and the D.C. metropolitan area.
And I’m sure many of you, not all of you, know MS-13 is probably the most violent and ruthless gang terrorizing our streets today. Their motto is, “Mata, Viola, Controla,” which means “Kill, Rape, Control.”
It is this motto and indiscriminate violence that MS-13 lives and rules by. They commit rape, robbery, extortion, and murder, often just for the sake of it. They attack their victims with chains, bats, machetes, firearms. MS-13 recruits children to be murderers. They gang-rape young girls and sell them for sex.
I briefed the President on a few of examples of MS-13’s brutality. These include a 15-year-old Gaithersburg, Maryland girl named Damaris Reyes Rivas, who was stabbed 13 times with knives and a wooden stake. The girl’s killers filmed her murder so they could show gang leaders back in El Salvador what they had done. Damaris’s body was savagely dumped next to railroad tracks under the same road, the Beltway, that many of us take to work every day.
I briefed the President about the MS-13 members who murdered a fellow gang member they believed to be a snitch, and who murdered a recruit violating gang rules. One of those individuals had his head severed. MS-13 buried those two victims in shallow graves in a park in Falls Church, Virginia — a park just about 10 miles from here.
I briefed the President about a Long Island victim who was lured into the woods of Central Islip, New York by MS-13 members, who beat him with sticks and a fire extinguisher. That gang members ultimately cut his throat with a pocketknife and sadistically stuffed his body into a drainage pipe, where it went undiscovered for months.
The Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Sessions, is devoting resources to accomplishing the President’s directive of reducing violent crime and ensuring that our citizens are no longer held hostage by murderous savages like MS-13 members.
Attorney General Sessions has designated MS-13 a priority for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. The Department of Justice will be surging hundreds of federal prosecutors, new federal prosecutors, to the field specifically to focus on violent crime and immigration offenses.
The Department has enhanced our relationships with the Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — to target MS-13. This past summer, Attorney General Sessions visited El Salvador, where he met with the El Salvadorian Attorney General Douglas Melendez to discuss joint efforts to dismantle MS-13 at its roots.
Soon after that meeting, about 70  gang members were charged in El Salvador. And in total, our work with our Central American partners have thus far resulted in the arrest or charges against more than 4,000 suspected MS-13 members.
The Justice Department, in coordination with our partners on the state and local level, will continue prosecute scores of MS-13 gang members located in the United States.
But because MS-13 is based and operates in El Salvador, and because MS-13 largely directs its murderous mission from prisons out there in El Salvador, we must do more than enforce our domestic violent crime laws against gang members in the United States.
Our investigations have revealed that when we fail to enforce our immigration and human smuggling laws, when we fail to enforce immigration laws, and allow for loopholes to exist to let future MS-13 gang members into the country, MS-13 can very easily simply replenish its jailed membership by sending more gang members across our borders.
And for that reason, as well, the Department of Justice also remains committed to enforcing our criminal and immigration laws, and to identifying and targeting MS-13’s smuggling networks.
To be clear, we will undertake all lawful measures to end this scourge on our communities. Thank you for your attention.
Q I had a question, yeah. Given the threat that you’re discussing here, why has Attorney General Sessions renewed a, sort of, increase in the enforcement against marijuana, even though a lot of states have tried to decriminalize or make it legal?
MR. CRONAN: I’m not able to talk much detail into the marijuana policy, but I will say that there are a number of policies that the Department of Justice is pursuing on any given day. As the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I’ve certainly seen the harm that marijuana can do. But more importantly, the priorities here are not at the expense of any resources being addressed in the marijuana policy.
And with respect to MS-13, the Attorney General has made clear that he is devoting sufficient resources and additional resources to ensure that the districts — the U.S. attorneys’ offices — have the prosecutors necessary to address this scourge on our communities.
Q But you do have finite resources, correct? So why put a priority, again, in an area that had been deprioritized and had not been considered nearly the threat that this kind of violence you’re talking about is?
MR. CRONAN: Well, we’re dealing with multiple priorities any day at the Department of Justice. As a matter of allocating resources, there will be sufficient resources targeting MS-13, and we will continue to devote those resources to that threat.
Q John, people in this community have been reading about MS-13 since 2006. Is it your position that the previous two administrations, Bush and Obama, simply did not prioritize this? Or is it much worse now than it was then, and therefore it is justified to have the focus you’re describing here today?
MR. CRONAN: Yeah, MS-13, you’re correct, has certainly been around for some time. I do think we’ve seen a significant uptick in their violence in the past several years, when you’re looking at the acts of atrocities that they’ve committed, both in local communities here and, really, across the country. I think it’s a new threat and unlike one we’ve really seen from a violent, transnational organized crime that is operating on United States soil.
MS-13, like I said in my remarks, not only has 10,000 members in the United States, but they are across the country in 40 states and the District. We have MS-13 prosecutions going on in Virginia, in New York, LA, Texas, all around the country. And —
Q Did the previous two administrations not appreciate this, let this grow, let this become a bigger problem?
MR. CRONAN: Well, I can’t talk to the priorities of the previous administrations. I can talk to the priorities here. And combatting and targeting MS-13 is a top priority of this administration, of this Department of Justice.
But in order to effectively target MS-13, it’s not enough that federal and state authorities are enforcing the criminal laws, with respect to MS-13 members, on U.S. soil. We also have to make sure that MS-13 is not in a position to replenish its ranks by sending additional members or additional unaccompanied children into the United States, who will later be recruited by MS-13 to be their murderers in a few years down the road.
Unless we’re able to do that, we’ll be in this constant situation where MS-13 will be reconstituting its ranks, without us able to effectively eradicate it from U.S. society.
Q Two questions. Last year, President Trump talked about MS-13. We saw some graphic detail about MS-13. Now you’ve given the President an update. What, beyond an immigration issue, will the Justice Department be doing to break the back of MS-13? That’s the first question.
MR. CRONAN: Sure. Well, the first question is that the Department of Justice has been and will continue to dedicate considerable resources to ensure that MS-13 is being targeted.
And I think we’re seeing that that’s working. Last year, the Department of Justice secured more convictions against — or secured convictions against 1,200 gang members. We charged the most federal firearms offenses in a decade. We brought more cases against violent criminals in at least a quarter of a century. So domestically, that is what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue that.
I mentioned the additional prosecutors that are going to be sent out to the field. There are additional prosecutors going out to specific areas where MS-13 is a problem, and we will enforce our robust criminal statutes that allow us to target a variety of conduct — robbery, racketeering, murder, drug trafficking — to get them off our streets.
Another important component, too, is capacity-building. One focus I can mention is working with our partners in the Northern Triangle countries, in Central America. We provide training down there to their law enforcement and their prosecutors and whatever systems we can to make sure they are able to target MS-13 before — at the roots in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, before that threat hits United States soil.
So it’s a multi-tiered attack that the Department of Justice is undertaking.
Q And for my second question — yeah, and on my second question, on another issue. And I’m glad you’re here today. The Eric Garner case — it’s still out there, and there are people waiting for an indictment. His mother is looking for justice. He cried out 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” What’s new? What’s happening? What should we expect on that case?
MR. CRONAN: With respect to that case, I have no updates I would be able to share. I think it would be better directed at other (inaudible) the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Q But it’s in the criminal — we understand that it is in the criminal department — the criminal portion of Justice. So, I mean, is there any movement at all? Because I’m hearing that there should have been an indictment here.
MR. CRONAN: And I apologize, but to the extent an ongoing investigation exists, I’m not able to talk beyond that at this point. I apologize.
Q Jonathan, in the Cabinet Room, where you gave your first presentation, the whole MS-13 issue was wrapped up in the need to increase border enforcement, to change our immigration laws. Do you have any idea how many of the 10,000 gang members of MS-13 in this country are here legally and how many are here illegally?
MR. CRONAN: It’s hard to put a statistic on that number because, often, they are not caught and they enter the country without us knowing. But I would give one example as, kind of, a snapshot of what we are seeing.
This past November, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced the results of Operation Raging Bull. Operation Raging Bull was our enhanced efforts to target MS-13, and it culminated in the arrest of about 200 — in 267 arrests, both in the United States and in El Salvador.
In the United States, there were 214 arrests. Ninety-four of them were on criminal charges for federal or state, for murder, racketeering, robbery, firearms, and many other offenses. Of the 214 individuals arrested in the United States, 198 were foreign nationals, and only 5 of them — 5 of those 198 had legal status in the United States. And 64 of those had illegally crossed the border as unaccompanied children, and many of whom have since become adults.
So I do not have a number to give you, or a statistic to give you. But I think that snapshot from Operation Raging Bull gives a sense of the extent of the problems.
Q Isn’t it true that MS-13 makes up just a small fraction of gang members in this country, though?
MR. CRONAN: I don’t know what percentage of gang members it makes up, but the Department of Justice efforts obviously targeting violent gangs is not limited to MS-13. We have numerous prosecutions going on around the country into violent subsets of the Bloods, of a group called the Nine Trey Gangsters. Not too long ago, we announced charges against a Mongols Motorcycle gang.
There are many gang prosecutions going around the country, and this is not to say that MS-13 is the only threat we face. That’s certainly not that case. But MS-13 is a unique threat. It is violence for the sake of violence. It is indiscriminate killing. It is brutality that is terrorizing our communities. And it’s also a threat that is very tough to stop because we’re in a position where MS-13 is able to replenish its ranks as we incarcerate its members in the United States.
Q Few people would certainly argue with that characterization that MS-13 targets communities in this country. But what would you say to critics who say you’re using this gang to basically paint a very broad brushstroke against immigrants and scare people here?
MR. CRONAN: I think if we look at the reality of the actions of MS-13 in the D.C. metropolitan area and Long Island and around the country, the scare tactics being used are not by the Department of Justice, they’re by MS-13. It is a brutal gang of savages that is engaging in indiscriminate violence in our communities.
Q You talked about the Attorney General’s leadership here, Jeff Sessions’s, what he’s been doing in fighting this gang problem. And I want to ask about somebody else who’s a leader of the DOJ, Rod Rosenstein. Are you comfortable with his leadership? Do you believe the rank-and-file are comfortable? Do you believe he’s being unfairly maligned by the President?
MR. CRONAN: You know, I will — I’m here to talk about MS-13 and asked to stay on that topic. But I will say that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, as a former U.S. attorney in Maryland, is someone who saw firsthand the devastating effects of MS-13 on his district. He is someone with an intricate understanding of the threat, and he shares the Attorney General’s commitment to targeting the threat, and he’s very supportive of our efforts targeting MS-13.
Q So my question, if you — really quick. May we — look, local law enforcement — one of the biggest problems local law enforcement has is that they believe that your particular rules and what you’re doing now are actually causing more problems, because people in the immigrant communities are afraid to come forward and testify against MS-13 because they believe they’re going to be deported if they do so.
Can you at least give them any assurance that the immigrant communities, particularly in Gaithersburg, Maryland — you brought that one up and people had — the police in Montgomery County had a difficult time getting people to come forward as witnesses because they were afraid they would be deported if they did so.
So your own rules, your own — what you’re doing is scaring people away. Can you address that?
MR. CRONAN: Well, I think local law enforcement largely is supportive of the Department’s efforts to target MS-13. To the extent individuals are scared to testify against MS-13 members, I think you need to look no further than MS-13 targeting people perceived as snitches and putting them in shallow graves. It’s not because of the actions of the Department of Justice.
Q No, well, but they’re afraid that you’re going to ship them out and deport them if they do. That’s a real fear. They’ve expressed that fear.
MR. CRONAN: And there are opportunities for immigration relief. If someone does have a real fear and is providing testimony, then they could pursue that relief as well in the appropriate circumstances.
Q You see where that might be a problem, though, in prosecuting the case?
MR. CRONAN: We always deal with situations of cooperating witnesses and having to deal with fears by cooperating witnesses, and we address those fears as appropriate.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, John. On a few lighter subjects to cover, and then I’ll take your questions.
As you all probably saw earlier this morning, First Lady Melania Trump announced the initial details for the 140th White House Easter Egg Roll.
The event will take place Monday, April 2nd on the South Lawn. Families with children 13 years old and younger are invited to join the President, First Lady, White House staff, and their families for a day of festivities.
The tickets are free to the public and can be requested through an online system opening this Friday, February 9th, and closing Thursday, February 15th.
As in the past years, the White House will also select volunteers for the Egg Roll through an online application. People can submit their names through WhiteHouse.gov. The deadline for applying is February 23rd.
Over the last year, I’ve occasionally taken the opportunity to share some letters to the President, written by people from all over the country, from “Pickle” to “Frank the lawnmower.” I’ve especially enjoyed introducing you all to some hardworking, young Americans with incredibly bright futures.
Today, I have another letter to share. This one from Natalie Elder Dalton from Clarksburg, Maryland. She writes:
“Dear Mr. President,
I’m Natalie and I’m 11 years old –- almost 12. My cousin, Celia, who is 8 years old, and have loved to cook since we practically were born. If you don’t believe me, check out the pictures we’ve enclosed. We are more than cousins, we are best friends.
From the time we were very little, we’ve helped our nona in the kitchen, therefore, we are very good cooks for little girls.
The reason I’m writing is to offer you an amazing opportunity. We would love to cook for you and your family at your home. Or, you are most welcome to come to my house if you’d prefer. It would be such an honor to make you a meal. We don’t think you get many home cooked meals, since you are always so busy and we read that you only sleep four hours a night.
Please, please call us and let us cook for you!
P.S. Our pop-pop says that you’re doing a great job. Thank you for keeping us safe.”
Natalie, I’m happy to tell you that I talked to the President about your letter this morning, and he and the First Lady would like to take you up on your very kind offer.
We have an amazing kitchen and culinary staff here at the White House, and the President and First Lady would like for you to come over and work alongside them sometime very soon.
He said to tell your pop-pop and nona hello, and to tell your mother congratulations for raising such a brave and talented little girl.
Most importantly, he said to tell you to always believe in yourself and know that, in America, you can achieve anything through hard work, determination, and perseverance. And sometimes, you just need to take a chance and put yourself out there.
That’s exactly what you did with your letter, and we’re excited to meet you in person soon.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Sarah, on the President’s shutdown comments a few minutes ago, a few weeks ago he said that a shutdown would be devastating to the military. Does he now feel that a shutdown would be worth it even if members of the U.S. military were negatively impacted?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the only people that have caused a shutdown are the Democrats who have repeatedly held the government hostage over their own politics.
Democrats actually shut the government down — let’s not forget that — just a couple weeks ago. The President isn’t looking for this. But if the Democrat Party is going to continue to threaten a shutdown because they won’t include responsible immigration reforms, including fixing MS-13 loopholes and other issues, then the President welcomes that fight. It’s a fight we won last time, and it’s one we’re very confident that we would win again.
But let me repeat, our goal is to get a two-year budget deal and to also get a deal on immigration, which we have laid out. The President has generously laid out a plan that addresses both Republicans’ and Democrats’ concerns, and we’re hopeful we’ll come to an agreement on both of those fronts.
Q But isn’t the President encouraging a shutdown here?
MS. SANDERS: The President is encouraging people to do their jobs. The President is encouraging them to get a deal on the budget, as he’s laid out, a two-year, a long-term budget deal that actually helps our military instead of doing the short-term deals. That’s what he’s advocated for all along, and the President is encouraging them to do their jobs and come to an agreement on immigration, particularly the four places that he’s outlined that have to happen in any piece of legislation.
Q Can you then clarify, would the President rather see a shutdown, or a short-term spending fix this week?
MS. SANDERS: Look, again, we are not advocating for the shutdown. That’s the fault of the Democrats not being willing to do their jobs.
The President wants a long-term deal, and he wants to get a deal on immigration. And we hope that Democrats will come to the table and get those things done.
Q And then I’m hoping you can clarify one other thing. Chief of Staff John Kelly said today that some DREAMers were, “Too lazy to get off their asses” to register for DACA protections. Is that the position of this White House that DREAMers are lazy? Who thinks this?
MS. SANDERS: The positon of the White House is that we want to fix a problem that was created by the previous administration. We have a system that is not lawful. We have a system that has a lot of legal loopholes and has a very large national security concern. We want to address it completely. We want to solve the problem on DACA, and we want to solve the border security issue. We want to end chain migration. We want to end the visa lottery system.
What we don’t want to do is continue kicking the can down the road. We’re focused on actually getting a solution. And, frankly, I think if anybody is lazy, it’s probably Democrats who aren’t showing up to work and aren’t actually getting to the table to make a deal on this.
Q Sarah, what did the President make of the stock market’s volatility yesterday and today? And does he have any regrets about taking responsibility or credit for the stock market’s rise?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the economy is incredibly strong right now. The President’s focus continues to be on the long-term economic fundamentals, which, like I just said, are very strong in this country.
We’re infinitely better off today than where we were before the President took office, particularly on the economy. We have historically low unemployment, and we actually have increasing wages for American workers. There’s nothing that’s taken place over the last couple of days in our economy that’s fundamentally different than it was two weeks ago, and we’re very comfortable with where we are right now.
Q Does he have any second thoughts about taking credit for when the stock market goes up?
MS. SANDERS: Does the President have second thoughts about taking credit for a booming economy? Absolutely not.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Has the President had a chance to review the memo from the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee? And is he inclined to release it?
MS. SANDERS: The President has seen the memo. He met with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, within the last hour to discuss some of the differences between the two memos. And we are undergoing the exact same process that we did with the previous memo, in which it will go through a full and thorough legal and national security review. We’re in the middle of that process. When that’s completed, the President will be given a thorough briefing on the findings of the different organizations and stakeholders that are involved, and will make a determination at that time.
Q Before the review concluded last time, the President had made it clear to lawmakers that he was inclined to release the Republican memo. Has he made any kind of similar comments to you guys about the Democratic memo?
MS. SANDERS: The President has made the comment that we’re going to go through the same process that we went through the first time. And that will take several days to complete, as it did the first time, and we’ll make a determination at that point.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The President, on the Republican memo, says that it completely vindicates him. And this weekend we heard from Trey Gowdy, who is on the Intelligence Committee, who had a large part in writing that memo. In what way does the President believe that the Republican memo vindicates him?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has consistently called the Russia investigation, “politically motivated,” “witch hunt,” for the last year. And the memo clearly vindicates the President’s positon that there was political bias in this process. It’s pretty simple.
Q Sarah, I would think it’s fair to say that many members of the Senate, including Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, were surprised by the President’s comments. So I’d like to see if I could figure out exactly what he was driving at. Is the President saying that unless there is an immigration compromise that he’s satisfied with, he will not sign the emerging budget compromise on a two-year budget deal that McConnell and Schumer are working out? Or will he deal with that separately from the budget talks that are going on now? And both of those represent — are making substantial progress.
MS. SANDERS: As I’ve said, we want a two-year budget deal. We’ll see what this looks like. We certainly —
Q Does immigration have to be included in that?
MS. SANDERS: — are supportive of Republicans and Democrats coming to a deal. We also want a deal on immigration.
Q But do they have to be together?
MS. SANDERS: They’re not mutually exclusive. The President wants to get a deal on both of those (inaudible).
Q Will he sign a budget deal that does not include immigration policy reforms?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think that we expect the budget deal to include specifics on immigration reform, but we want to get a deal on that. As we’ve said, we don’t want to hold the government hostage over these items.
Q So let me ask one other thing about — Senator Flake said something on the Senate floor just a minute ago. I want to give you a chance to respond. He said, and I quote —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sure this will be eventful.
Q — “I have seen the President’s most ardent defenders use the now weary argument that the President’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue-in-cheek. But treason is not a punchline.” Can you say for the sake of the future that you agree with Senator Flake on that, that treason, or treasonous, is not a punchline, is not a joking matter?
MS. SANDERS: Look, honestly I’m not going to respond directly to Senator Flake’s comments. I don’t really care what Senator Flake has to say. I don’t think his constituents do either, and I think that’s why his numbers are in the tank.
The President was clearly joking with his comments. But what isn’t a joke is that Democrats refuse to celebrate the accomplishments of last year that has helped all Americans.
What I don’t understand, and what I don’t think the country understands, is why Democrats are so upset about lower taxes and higher wages. That’s something that every American should be celebrating, not crying about, not sitting on their hands for. Democrats are going to have to make a decision at some point really soon. Do they hate this President more than they love this country? And I hope the answer to that is, “No.”
Q Sarah, I want to ask you a question about —
Q Sarah, thank you. Sarah, you did call on me.
MS. SANDERS: I’ll come back to you. Sorry, Steven.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you a question about stocks. On the positive economic news, there is a school of thought among economists that, given the current growth in the economy, to inject the economy with stimulus and the tax cuts could actually spark inflation. So — which means is, when these people have more money to spend, prices necessarily go up, and the prices that people pay, go up. And that’s not a good thing.
So how keenly focused is this President on inflation fears? And ahead of next month’s Fed meeting, has the President spoken to Chairman Powell about whether he thinks interest rates should go up or not?
MS. SANDERS: Look, our team is in close contact with all of the stakeholders in this process, but as I said before, the President’s focus is on our long-term economic fundamentals. And we’re going to continue to be focused on that, on all aspects of —
Q Any thought on interest rates, one way or the other?
MS. SANDERS: Nothing specific to announce at this time.
Q Sarah, as it related to the Republican memo, the President and this White House argued it was important to release it for the sake of transparency. So, therefore, can the American people expect to see the Democratic memo in the sake of transparency?
MS. SANDERS: I think the American people can expect this memo to go through the exact same process that the Republican memo went through, which involves bringing all of the stakeholders from a legal and a national security perspective to weigh in before making a determination. We’re in the middle of that process and I’m not going to get in —
Q (Inaudible) determination prior to releasing the Republican memo. So why not the same, as it relates to transparency and —
MS. SANDERS: We didn’t even release the memo prior to that review process being complete.
Q He said, “100 percent.” He said, “100 percent” —
MS. SANDERS: We didn’t release the memo prior to the review process being complete, and we’re not going to do that this time.
Q One question about John Kelly and his comments calling DREAMers — indicating some of them are lazy. Does that type of rhetoric help get a bipartisan deal done?
MS. SANDERS: Look, like I said, the President and the administration — we’re focused on actually solving this problem, not kicking it down the road. And we’re going to continue to have those conversations.
Q Sarah, also up on Capitol Hill today, Chief of Staff Kelly said that he didn’t think the President would be likely to extend the DACA deadline from March 5th. But twice in Davos, the President said, “If we need a little more time, we’ll take a little more time,” on DACA. And then in a gaggle, when asked if he would extend the deadline, he said, “Yeah, I might do that. I might do that…not guaranteeing it…but I certainly have the right do that if I want [to].”
So, which is it? Is he is still open to the idea of extending the deadline, or is it closed?
MS. SANDERS: He certainly has the right to do so. Again, we’re hopeful that we’re going to get to a deal. We’ve laid out a very generous offer that meets all of the demands that the Democrats have. In fact, it goes above and beyond what they asked for, and it includes, mostly — everything else that is part of the pillars that we have laid out are things that Democrats have voted for.
Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, all of these individuals have voted for the majority of the priorities that we’ve laid out in this legislation in the past, except we’ve actually gone further on the DACA component than Obama ever offered. And so, the fact that we can’t get to a deal, that’s a question, frankly, that Democrats should be asked, like, what are you not supportive of in this legislation? And why are we not moving the ball forward and actually solving the problem?
Q Sarah, can you clarify, is he open to extending the deadline, or has that door closed?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to get ahead of the process. We’re still hopeful we’re going to get there before the deadline hits.
Q Sarah. Thank you so much, Sarah. So on North Korea and the Vice President, when we’ve asked in recent days whether the Vice President — we’ve asked Secretary Rex Tillerson and the Vice President himself — whether he would be interested in meeting with North Korean officials while he is traveling in South Korea for the Olympics, and they both have said, “We’ll see.” Is the administration trying to signal some interest in talks with North Korean officials? Or what is that about?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any more announcements other than we’ll see. I’m going to echo the Vice President and the Secretary of State. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of either of them.
Q Will the administration rule out that the Vice President will speak with North Koreans while he’s there?
MS. SANDERS: I think the answer remains the same: We’ll see.
Q Can I get back to the Chief of Staff saying that some of the DREAMers may just have been too lazy to get off their asses? Just on the face of it, isn’t that just a wildly offensive comment about these undocumented immigrants who are waiting for some kind of solution to come out of this city?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the only person that’s actually offered a solution is this administration. The President has been a champion of giving 1.8 million DACA recipients and DACA-eligible people a pathway to citizenship. And he’s laid out a plan and a solution that actually addresses both Republicans’ and Democrats’ concerns. I think it’s hard to argue with that.
Q On the surface of that, Sarah, though, isn’t it just a — it’s just an offensive comment, though, isn’t it? Just on its surface.
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something you would have to decide for yourself.
Q Sarah, have the President’s lawyers advised him not to testify before Robert Mueller?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we’ve said many times before, this is something that would be determined by the Office of the Special Counsel. I’d refer you to a statement from Ty Cobb on that: “The professional and active discussions between the Office of the Special Counsel and the President’s personal lawyers regarding how and under what terms information will be exchanged are understandably private.”
Q It’s possible he won’t testify?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to go beyond that statement. If you have further questions, I’d refer you to Ty.
I’ll take one last question. April.
Q Sarah, two things. On the economy and the shutdown, how is a shutdown that the President wants to basically show Democrats that they’re wrong — how is a shutdown going to help the economy and help those who this administration is saying we want to lift out of the situation, the plight that they’re in?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants solutions. He wants to get a two-year budget deal. He wants to get a deal on immigration. It’s pretty simple.
Q And then — okay, and then on the next piece, you said treasonous was a joke. But what about “un-American”? In Washington, over the years with the State of the Union, one side — be it if it’s a Democratic President, the Republicans sit. If it’s a Democratic President — well, whatever, you get it. If it’s a Democratic President, the Republicans sit. If there’s a Republican President, the Democrats sit. What is so un-American about this, this year, after this has been going on for all of these years?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s un-American not to be excited about the fact that more people in this country have jobs than they did before; the fact that more people in this country have higher wages than they did before; the fact that the economy is booming like it wasn’t before; the fact that ISIS is being crushed like it wasn’t before. These are things that — I don’t care what party you’re from, these are things that every American should be excited about and be able to celebrate.
Q But he was specifically talking about the black unemployment rate. But he was specifically, at that moment when he was in Cincinnati, talking about the black unemployment rate.
MS. SANDERS: And that’s something everybody should be excited about.
Q But it’s jumped up from 6.8 to 7.7.
Q It’s still higher.
MS. SANDERS: But it’s lower than it was. Guys, it’s progress.
Q But it’s still higher than it was.
Q But it’s still higher —
MS. SANDERS: You should be excited about the fact that we are making progress, that things are better today than they were a year ago. That is something that we should be excited about. That is something that we should be celebrating. It’s not perfect. He didn’t say it was perfect. He said we’ve made progress. He said things are better.
The fact that any time, the day before, Americans’ lives are improving — that’s a good thing that we should all be excited about, that we should all celebrate.
I’ll take one last question. John.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Quick question. There have been numerous published reports that Dave Bowdich, number three in the FBI, would be moved up to be deputy director, under Director Wray. He received both his present appointment and his previous position as head of the Los Angeles office of the FBI under former Director Comey.
Given the administration’s almost contumacious criticism of Mr. Comey — (laughter) — is there going to be any objection to Mr. Bowdich moving up to the number-two spot under Director Wray?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t have any personnel announcements on that front, but you definitely win the award for best and biggest word used in the briefing.
4:04 P.M. EST