Return to Transcripts main page


White House Press Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 8, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a president that is going to engage with everybody that can help join in in proposing ideas and thoughts ideas and opinions on how to move the country forward. So he looks forward to dinner tonight with Senator and Mrs. Cruz, as he has with several others. And I think you'll see more and a continuation of this kind of effort to reach out and get people's ideas.

QUESTION: (inaudible) a second topic.


QUESTION: Does the president believe the CIA has been compromised in any way?

SPICER: With respect to the disclosures? Is that what you're -- again I'm not going to -- it's U.S. government policy not to confirm this. I think he has obviously been very concerned, as I stated, about the disclosure of national security on any level. It undermines our country's national security. And I think that, you know, I just will say, I think there's also been a big double standard when it comes to disclosures of national -- of classified information, and the outrage or the -- that exists when one side has it happen versus another.

There was...


SPICER: Well, I think that there has -- there has been a lot of disclosures about national security that occurred last cycle when there was the potential that the FBI had been -- leaked certain information. The members of Congress on the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton and others, talked about how there was so much concern about classified information. Seeing such silence on outrage from the media, from others, with the current disclosures now, with things that may or may not have happened towards the 2016 election when it comes to this side.

So I think there's a vast difference when it comes to how the disclosures are approached.


(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... on North Korea (inaudible). And what is the President Trump (inaudible) North Korea (inaudible) and what is (inaudible) North Korean (inaudible)?

SPICER: On the -- on the -- which...


QUESTION: North Korean (inaudible).

SPICER: On the politics?

QUESTION: No, policies.

SPICER: Policies -- well, I mean, we're very troubled by the launch of missiles that occurred from North Korea. I think that's why the THAAD missile system that we've started to deploy into South Korea is so important. We're continuing to work with the government of South Korea to make sure that they have the defenses necessary to protect themselves.

It's a -- the deployment of the THAAD system is critical to their protection, as witnessed by this weekend's ballistic missile test. China and the United States in particular both understand the threat that North Korea poses to the region. And I think that there's areas of concern that we can work together to protect the country.


QUESTION: (inaudible) was international women's day. There's a lot of concern about access to healthcare for women.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: Will the president commit to reaching out to female Democratic lawmakers as the next two phases of this healthcare bill continue? And additionally, what is the president's stance on access to birth control for women across the country?

SPICER: Well, I think that's -- that question was asked and answered by Secretary Price yesterday. With respect to women's health, the president has also made it clear that he intends to have a substantial increase in funding towards women's -- community centers that fund women's health services. And that will be reflected in his budget.


QUESTION: Thank you.


SPICER: Sorry.

QUESTION: Sean, is the president the target of a counter- intelligence investigation? SPICER: I think that's what we need to find out. There's obviously a lot of concern. I mean, I mentioned to John, there was considerable concern last cycle when a reporter was the target of one. But part of the reason that we have asked the House and Senate to look into this is because of that.

And I think, you know, it was interesting. I think if you look at last week, all of a sudden these stories that keep coming out about the president and his links to Russia. It has -- it has continued to be the same-old, same-old (inaudible) over and over again.

The president has made clear he has no interest in Russia, and yet a lot of these stories that come out with respect to that are, frankly, fake. They are a series of fake allegations that at the bottom no -- while there's no evidence to substantiate any of this, it's the same unnamed sources, quote-unquote, "associates" that we get tagged with.

And yet, there is no evidence that continues to be shown, and every single person that gets briefed on this shows that whether it's Senator Cotton, Chairman Nunes, who has done a phenomenal job of trying to get to the bottom of this. But it's interesting I think the double standard that exists between the concern about getting to the bottom of the allegations that -- with respect to the president that there are on so many other issues.

When you talk about...


QUESTION: So he doesn't know whether he is the target...


SPICER: No, no -- but -- but I think that's one of the issues that we have asked the Senate and House to look into. I can tell you with respect to the other (inaudible), you look at DNI -- former DNI Clapper's comment. He literally said the DNI, which he said, the DNI, which includes the NSA, FBI, and CIA, did not find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

Senators Rubio, Cotton, Burr, Chairman Nunes -- all of the people who've been briefed on the situation -- have come to the same conclusion. And it is -- it is interesting how many times this fake narrative gets repeated over and over and over again. And yet no evidence has ever been suggested that shows the president has anything to do with any of the things that are being said. It's a recycled story over and over and over again.

And I think that there is a bit of -- you know, it's amazing. The president goes out last week, does this joint session. And then a couple -- you know, literally 24-hour stories start getting recycled about you know, potential issues that come up that literally continue to offer no fact, nothing but the unsubstantiated rumors over and over again.

And yet what is ignored is when you have someone like former DNI Clapper go out and literally say, quote, that they "did not find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians [sic]." You have Rubio, Cotton, Nunes all say the same thing, that they've been briefed that there's nothing.

And yet there's this fake narrative...


QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to make sure that I'm understanding. Are you saying that there is a possibility he is the target of a counterintelligence probe involving...


SPICER: I don't know the answer...


QUESTION: You just connected those...


SPICER: No, no, no. I think what I'm saying is that there is a difference between that narrative and then the narrative that has been perpetuated over and over again.

The concern that the president has, and why he asked the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to look into this is to get to the bottom of what may or may not have occurred during the 2016 election. But the interesting, Margaret, is that when you look at every single person that's been briefed, they've all come to the same conclusion, that nothing happened during the 2016 election tying him to Russia. And yet the fake narrative continues over and over and over again. And the idea that it has -- it continues to be recycled without any substance, without any evidence needs to stop.

QUESTION: (CROSSTALK) the president...

SPICER: Chris?

QUESTION: (CROSSTALK) as that fact?

SPICER: I understand that. And that's why we're very...




SPICER: No, no. That's not what I said. What I said was...


QUESTION: (Inaudible) the target...

SPICER: Hold on...


QUESTION: ... of investigation. His wires were tapped.

SPICER: Hold on. One at a time.

I said that the president made clear on Sunday that he has asked the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees to use their resources and their processes to examine the facts and come to a conclusion.


QUESTION: Since you're talking about whether things are true or not, let me ask you, following up on something yesterday.

You seem to acknowledge the president was wrong when he Tweeted that 122 prisoners released by the Obama administration from Gitmo had returned to the battlefield. In fact, it was mostly by the Bush administration. Will he retract or even apologize for that, given that he also called it a terrible decision by the Obama administration?

And given that that was incorrect, that there still has been no proof either of his Tweets about widespread voter fraud or the wiretapping, does the president have a credibility problem? SPICER: You know, look, I said yesterday, I think Trey asked the question that the president meant the total number of people. And that -- hold on...

QUESTION: (Inaudible)...

SPICER: I understand -- OK. I understand that. I'm actually explaining it. That's the way you asked the question. I -- just he meant that the total number of people released from Gitmo was 122.

What the president -- but just to be clear, there is a big difference. Under the Bush administration most of those were court ordered. The Obama administration took great steps. They talked about -- it was a campaign promise, frankly, from day one to close Gitmo.

This president is very clear that he understands the nature of the threat that the people in Gitmo pose to our nation, and the recidivism rate that there are among people we have released. That is a concern that he shares.

The reason the Bush administration did it was in many cases they were under court order. The Obama administration made it actually a priority to let people go, and to actively desire to close that camp and to release more and more of those people, especially in the waning days.

There is a huge contrast between the posture and the policy of the last two administrations on how they were dealing with Gitmo. This administration understands, and the president has been very clear. He understands that they -- people that are kept in Gitmo pose a danger to our country and to the rest of the world. There's a big, big difference between the posture of those two.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that the Tweet was wrong?

SPICER: I just said it. I said that the Tweet -- he meant that it was the totality of the people. That's what I said to Trey yesterday. I'll say it again to you today.

Dave Boyer?

QUESTION: (inaudible) on something else you said, Sean...

SPICER: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: It's a totally different topic. Because you said that you're in a full -- you're in sell mode...


QUESTION: ... completely in sell mode. And I wonder if the president sees this as a test of his ability to make a deal. Something that he really talked about, something that voters responded to on the campaign trail. Is this essentially, does he feel, on him, that this is him going to show the American people that he can get this deal done?

SPICER: Well he gets -- I mean he is a dealmaker. He's a negotiator. He's a world-class business leader. And he's been highly successful at it. So if anybody can get a deal on something, it's going to be Donald Trump.

I mean that's part of the reason I think that the American people, what they saw in him. That there was so much broken with Washington. Then when it came to the big problems, whether it's domestically or internationally that if somebody could come in and work across party lines, work with another country to get a deal that was in the country's best interest he had that skill set.

And, that's why they, frankly, elected him President. So, I think he feels very good about the product that we've put out we are in sell mode, we want to get this done, but the President has an open mind.

He enjoys meeting people and hearing ideas on how to make this country better, how to create jobs, how to create a better healthcare system, how to create better schools. And, if there's someone who comes up with a better idea that will help lower cost and increase access he's certainly gonna listen to them. (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Sean, yesterday, in the President's meeting with the deputy (inaudible) he was talking about his tax cuts again. He said it's gonna be the biggest since Ronald Reagan maybe even bigger.

So, I know exactly what we're looking at. Most of us know exactly the plan. So, my first question is really easy. Tell us about the plan.

SPICER: What the plan is?

QUESTION: The tax cut.

SPICER: Well, again, I'm gonna wait - I appreciate the layout, Dave. But, I'll leave it to him to work with Congress. When we're ready to roll it out we will do just that. We're not there yet. So, let's go on with the next hopefully ...

QUESTION: Secondly, building on these jobs numbers today and they look very positive obviously there's a lot of CEOs out there who are excited about the possibility of a tax cut plan and yet, the president has also express a lot of concern about the national debt.

If you're going to get a tax cut on the level of Ronald Reagan, a historic size tax cut how are you gonna do that balance the needs for continued job growth with the concerns about the debt?

SPICER: Because, I think that one of the best ways to get the national debt down is to grow the economy. The more the economy is growing, the more we can get it at three, four, five percent, the more the deficit goes down. That's just the best way to tackle the deficit is to grow the economy and put people back to work, create a deeper manufacturing base.

I mean, that is - between that and some of the efforts the President has put in to make government more efficient and effective and save money at that level. Those are the two things that I think combine to get the deficit down. Jennifer?

QUESTION: I just wanted - of the more than 13,000 Syrian refugees who are in the country 150 of them - or less than 150 of them are Christian, Shia or (inaudible) same group the U.S. government acknowledges are literally being at rick of being wiped off the map.

So, I wonder now that Secretary Tillerson has time to settle in and as you review the refugee program, immigration policy is this something that's being discussed, is this a priority to give these groups relief?

SPICER: Well, I think that when we talked the first time about the executive order was something that we acknowledged. There is definitely an area where in the executive order that we just passed one of the areas that we talked about was and I have to go back and look at the exact phraseology but we recognized that certain group and they can be religious in nature are being persecuted.

And, I think, that's gonna be a factor how we look at that program. It's something that the President - he's talked about in the past. It's something that Secretary Tillerson has acknowledged. And, that's not just refugees coming in this country but I think one of the reasons we need safe havens in Syria is to make sure that groups and individual, whether they be part of a group or religion who are being persecuted have a degree of safety that they can count on. Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Thank you so much. So, the President's on the record saying that he supports some sort of legalizations for many of the (inaudible) people in the country and you know there's a Dreamer that was caught in the race (ph) in Seattle, Washington, we don't know if he's gonna be released or not.

Does the President want to or plan to meet with Dreamers to talk about what's on his mind about you know gathering ideas for some sort of legalization and if so when would that meeting occur?

SPICER: The President, I think, has talked about how he wants to tackle this holistically and back to Chris's question a second ago, I think, he's made it clear that if there's someone's ability to strike a deal to get people in a room and acknowledge we have to stay true to our principles that we can get a deal on a way to fix our broken immigration problem, that's him.

We are not at that phase yet. And, this is something he's talk to senators about and I think that as we continue to move forward, obviously, the focus now is on Obamacare. Repealing and replacing it with this program.

But, it is something that we're gonna continue to move forward with and as a comprehensive thing not just the illegal issue but the visa issue, how we deal with the other folks that are in this country. But -- but stay tuned. We've got more to go on this. We'll go further.


SPICER: What's that?

QUESTION: No meeting on the works (ph) with DREAMers?

SPICER: No, there's nothing on the schedule at this point. Yes.

QUESTION: (inaudible) pose a question. I'm sure you're aware that (inaudible) the president has ordered a (inaudible). Does this mark a -- a new strategy, rather? And does the president (inaudible) on the attacks from either ISIS or Al Quaeda?

SPICER: Well, I think the -- the president talks about this a lot during the campaign, about giving the authority and -- and trusting the generals and the decision makers in -- of -- of his national security team with -- with executing what they need to to prosecute the war on terror, and the war against radical Islamic terrorism.

So it's not a question of delegating authority. There are certain things, and we addressed this in the briefing in previous weeks. But there's a big difference. He's not delegating the authority, but making sure they have the ability and the timeliness to act in an appropriate manner to -- to prosecute the case, and to go after terrorists in a way that they probably weren't last time.

So I think there's a big difference between the approach of this president and the last administration in terms of giving the generals, and the leaders, and the national security team and the defense department the tools and authority they need to prosecute the case against ISIS. Sara (ph) -- Gabi (ph). I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Hi. You'll get it next time.

SPICER: Get it switched.

QUESTION: Israel's defense minister said yesterday that U.S. officials had sent a direct warning to Prime Minister Netanyahu against annexing parts of the West Bank. I wanted to kow if that was at the request of President Trump. And then also, if you could tell us where the White House is in terms of reaching a deal with Israel on what they consider permissible settlement construction?

SPICER: Well, as you know, yesterday the president spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. That conversation largely had to deal with areas of -- of regional security. I don't have anything further to read out on that, and I know that when they met here at the White House, there was discussion of settlements, and -- and the president was very clear about, you know, his -- what his desires and his wishes were.

I think as we continue to follow up with Israel in the coming weeks, we will have more on that. Yeah.



QUESTION: Thank you. I have a follow-up question. It's actually asking about the thousands of women who have chosen to strike today. And you're saying that it is a free country. But at Channel 5, we've reported quite a bit on the schools and the districts that are closing...

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: ...because so many women chose to strike today. So, you know, it is a free country, but what would be the president's sort of reaction to, if you will, what is more important: the students being at school today, or that the woman's right to strike, and kind of make a statement, if you will, on this day?

SPICER: Yeah, thanks. I think it's an important question. I mean, you've -- I know locally, this affects a lot of individuals throughout northern Virginia, and Maryland, and -- and the District.

So, I -- look, I -- I think -- I haven't talked to the president specifically about this. Obviously, as I've mentioned, people have a right to express themselves in our First Amendment. As the president's doing today by making sure that we appropriately salute the contributions that women make to this country.

But there's clearly an impact, in the -- in the case of schools. Localities throughout the country, here, and in the greater Washington, D.C. area. But I think that that concern is best utilized by parents through their local school boards, and through their city councils and mayors, whether or not they found it appropriate for that to have occurred.

I have not spoken to the president about this, but I think there's a balance. And I think that -- I would hope that -- that we should use this opportunity to recognize the role of women in the workplace, in the family, and throughout society for the contributions that they continue to make, and have made in the past in making the country as great as it has.

So with that one last thing, just to clarify, I think Jill asked this. But I just want to be really clear on one point, which is, there is no reason that we should -- that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever. I'm sorry, that was Margaret (ph). I apologize.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SPICER: Right, and there is no reason to -- to believe that he is the target of an -- of any investigation. I think that's a very important point to make. And so ...

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SPICER: No, no, no. It doesn't -- What I'm saying is that -- that --


QUESTION: (inaudible)

SPICER: Hold on. That one question dealt with whether or not -- the tweet dealt with wiretaps during the thing. The other is an investigation. They are two separate issues. And there is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice. Thank you, guys. I'll see you tomorrow.


SPICER: Thank you. I'll see you guys.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SPICER: I'm not going to -- I can't comment. Thank you guys.

QUESTION: Are you aware of an investigation?

[14:50:08] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Dana Bash, in for Brooke Baldwin.

As you can tell, you've been watching the White House daily press briefing.

Let's get right to unpacking all of what you just heard. Joining me is CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson; CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

I'll start with you, Gloria.

At the very end there, Sean Spicer coming back to try to clarify the question about whether or not the president is the target of any investigation, and he said flatly no. What do you make of that? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He said flatly no and

said there's no reason to believe that the president is. You know, a lot of this presser was taken up with Sean Spicer talking about this double standard that he perceives on leaks. He wouldn't criticize WikiLeaks directly when he was asked, because the president said I love WikiLeaks, and then he said well you know obviously if accurate, if what we know is true, this would be damaging and there's a great concern. But he also wondered aloud why other kinds of leaks don't receive the same kind of criticism and scrutiny. And clearly, that's music to the president's ears because, as we all know, the president has been complaining about all the leaks, potentially, out of the intelligence community against him and that was a clear message I got from Sean today.

BASH: That was a great example of the audience of one, right?

BORGER: Right. Exactly. You bet.


BASH: But on that, Elise, I want to go to what Sean was talking about with regard to WikiLeaks, which we should say is not just any old leak. They put out a slew of information that the intelligence community says is very dangerous to them. But he tried to draw and very clearly drew a distinction between that and what happened during the campaign with John Podesta's e-mails. Let's listen.


SPICER: All of these occurred under the last administration. That is important. All of the alleged issues. And I think it's interesting to have it asked this way about the damage that could have occurred or what tools could have been used in light of what's going on. We had -- your own network's correspondent, James Rosen, had his phones, multiple phones tapped. Was that appropriate back then? I think there's a lot of concern out there about alleged leaks.

There's a big difference between disclosing John Podesta's Gmail accounts about a back and forth, and his undermining Hillary Clinton and his personal thoughts on her on a personal nature, and the leaking of classified information. There's a massive, massive difference between those two things. And I think, again, the interest and outrage that occurred last year by a lot of Democrats when it came to leaks is interesting that we're hearing not as much outrage now when it comes to issues of national security.


BASH: Elise, what do you make of that?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, I do think he is conflating all of them, Dana. Yes, there's a big difference between the kind of leaks that we saw with Hillary Clinton and the CIA documents, which are basically kind of cyber tools and computer code of U.S. government in terms of his espionage programs, would be leaked, but he's not saying there's a difference -- he's actually making it one of the same as the leaks of this alleged -- collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, and these particular leaks. He's saying she's were just as serious, but the Hillary Clinton leaks weren't as serious. I think he's conflating all of them.

On the issue of James Rosen, in fact James Rosen, the reporter from FOX, that he's talking about, his phone was not wiretapped.

BASH: Exactly.

LABOTT: I believe his phone records were subpoenaed by a court --

BASH: Exactly.

LABOTT: -- about alleged leaks under the Obama administration, so I think that's a different case.

But I think Donald Trump is trying to walk a very delicate line and Sean is trying to do that as well because President Trump said say during the campaign he loves WikiLeaks. That's part of the problem when he says these sorts of off-color comments. They're coming back to bit him now because certainly WikiLeaks, the very organization he praised, is now becoming a threat to his government.

I thought what was very interesting was the report I read has treated this as a very serious leak of the U.S. government secrets. And I think journalist have done that. But I haven't really heard Sean Spicer or anyone in the U.S. government publicly talk about how damming this particular CIA leak is.

[14:55:19] BASH: I agree with that. And I'm glad you said that about the James Rosen comment because Sean Spicer was not correct. And I have a quote here from Rosen himself saying, recently, that he wasn't wiretapped, his parents weren't wiretapped, which is when you place a listening device on someone's phone, and that, in fact, his phone records were subpoenaed.

Nia, what do you think of this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think they are in some ways trying to muddy the waters, I think a lot of questions the reporters had were about Donald Trump's comments Saturday, about his phones being tapped. The last statement he said there's no reason to believe that Donald Trump I guess he was saying currently, is under any sort of investigation. The reason people believe that partly is because of what Donald Trump himself tweeted. So he's constantly going to get questions about that. Of course, he's going to put it off on Congress and say they're going to do some, you know, evaluating of this and some investigation. Lindsey Graham, of course, trying to get some sense of whether or not there had been some sort of court order. So this is going to continue. And you just see Spicer there over this hour constantly trying to talk about this and being twisted in knots and it's a preview of what we're going to see from this administration.


BORGER: No, I was just going to say, it was sort of stunning to me to not see outrage from that podium about these WikiLeaks, if true.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: But normally from a White House press secretary you would say this is damming to national security --

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: -- we cannot have this, and instead he turned it -- and you're right, Dana, because he's playing to an audience of one -- he turned around and said, OK, this might be bad but what about all those other leaks of people in my administration. It was sort of surprising to me.

BASH: Me, too. Well, maybe not surprising, well, not that part was surprising, but that part where he didn't come out and aggressively say this is damaging, but instead, I don't want to touch that because I don't want to talk about classified information.

I want to turn to health care.

Gloria, I'll start with you.

I thought it was so interesting the way Sean Spicer said the president is in sales mode. And as he was talking, our Deidra Walsh was reporting on Capitol Hill that he was invited the House Freedom Caucus to go bowling in the White House.


And he is putting a full-court press on and using the tools and the trappings of the White House in a way that President Obama didn't even come close using. Do you think it'll work?

BORGER: Right. Well, first of all, I'll give the president credit. He wants to get something through the Congress. He ought to be inviting members of Congress to come over and go bowling or to have dinner, to smooze with Ted Cruz and kind of smooth over that problem he might still have with Mrs. Cruz after the last campaign. This is his job. Use the power and the purse of the office to try and convince people to come to your side that you need this win.

What was most interesting was that Sean seemed to be doing a prebuttal about the Congressional Budget Offices' estimates that will come out next week about how much this is going to cost and how many people are going to be covered by saying, well, they were wrong last time around so maybe they'll be wrong this time around, too, attacking their credibility.

BASH: You mentioned CBO. Let's roll that sound bite from Sean Spicer and talk about it on the other end.


SPICER: With all due respect to that, this is a same group who said -- who passed it, then told us we could read it. This bill is online for every American to go to It's on the speaker's website. We link to it on several accounts. We --


SPICER: I understand that. Again, if that's the complaint, this is the same group that didn't let anybody read it, that didn't -- that jammed it through with no bipartisan support. This president reached out to both sides of the aisle, had governors here, had Senators here to get their input. There's no contrast between what we did and what they did. This was a full effort to reach out to members in the House and the Senate. It's going to regular order in the House. Every member of the House and Senate will have their opportunity to have -- committee processes on the floor. So the idea that they can compare, that they can have a score is pretty weak and deep on this because there's been opportunities for members to have their input on this and to talk about their concerns and give their input on it, especially the governors, who were left on the sideline last time, and who have such an important role in administering health care when it comes to Medicaid. The idea that anybody talks about when the score was issued, there will be a score all the time.

But the other thing is, let's be honest, the --