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WH Briefing Amid Rising Tensions With North Korea; WH: No Red Lines Expected On North Korea; WH: "Not Taking Options Off The Table" ON N Korea; Trump Never Releasing Taxes? Spicer: "Get Back To You"; WH: Trump Holds "Cards Close To Vest" On North Korea; White House Comments on Not Releasing Visitor Logs. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 17, 2017 - 14:30   ET


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Again, I'm not going to -- they have a right to have elections and their people participate in that. But before we start getting into their governing system, let this commission get through its work.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sean, when Vice President Pence says regarding North Korea's strategic patience is over --

SPICER: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- what does that mean exactly?

SPICER: The era of strategic patience was a policy that the Obama administration enacted to basically wait and see. I think we have now understood that that policy is not one that is prudent for the United States. And I think that's why you've seen stepped-up efforts, particularly with respect to China. And that's why I think the relationship that the President really is building on from the time that he spent down in Mar-a-Lago with President Xi is hopefully going to produce results.

And so part of it is to actively engage with world partners like China, in particular, that have economic and political influence that they can utilize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would it take to restart some sort of talks with North Korea?

SPICER: Well, let's see. Again, I'm not going to get ahead of the policies right now. I think we're seeing some active engagement with China and that's helpful. So let's see how that goes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Mr. Sean, I have two for you on North Korea. You're doing it today and you've done it before, you've stood at the podium and said you don't want to telegraph moves that the President will make to preserve that element of surprise. A Kremlin spokesperson said that President Trump is more impulsive and unpredictable than Kim Jong-un. At what point does this strategy of unpredictability become a liability?

SPICER: Well, I respectfully would disagree. I think that the rest of the world, when he acted in Syria in particular, the world community -- not just the world community but here at home, on a bipartisan basis, applauded the President's actions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you see unpredictability as an asset?

SPICER: Well, I think -- absolutely. But it's not -- I think that you have to look at the flip. I mean, I talked about it a minute ago. When you look at some of the actions that we've taken in the past, Mosul being a good example, where we leaned in and started to explain what we were going to do and when we were going to do it, that takes a huge element off the table of not only surprise but achieving the effect that you're trying to do.

So the world community, and especially the more that he meets with world leaders and developing relationships, repairing relationships, and reasserting the U.S. place around the globe, is -- should be reassuring to not just us here at home, but around the globe. People are excited that the President is taking action, and decisively so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've made it clear that you're not taking options off the table --

SPICER: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- including military options. Defense officials have estimated for a long time that war on the Korean Peninsula would cost thousands of lives. It could economically devastate South Korea. Is this to be read then as an acceptance of that risk by the Trump administration?

SPICER: No. Again, I think the point is, is that when you get into a series of hypotheticals about what you will take on or off the table, will we do this or not that, at some point, you really start to narrow your options. And I think the President has long held a strategy that doing that begins to give the enemy, the opponent, whatever it is in any particular case, you know, whoever, even if it's just a negotiation, the options of knowing where to go or where not to go. And so the President has been very clear that not taking options off the table gives us a stronger hand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So do you accept the risk of war?

SPICER: I didn't -- no. Because again, you're -- by what you're trying to do is to get us take something off. I think at the end of the day, we'll always act in America's best interest to ensure that our national interests are protected. And so, if we were to say that we're taking something off the table in any way, shape or form, that would limit what we have to do. We are going to make sure that we do what we have to do to protect our national interests.

And obviously, with respect to South Korea, we've been very clear -- the Vice President spoke very clearly about the need to strengthen and cement the alliance that we have with South Korea during his visit. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to be clear, because I want to flip the coin, right, which is something you've talked to us about. If you're not taking options off the table, if you flip it then, that can be read is you're accepting the fact --

SPICER: No, I think that's a stretch. Right, that's a stretch. I think don't -- I'm not --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you don't accept that risk?

SPICER: No. It's not a question of taking a risk or not taking a risk. Again, you can start to go down a very dangerous path of, you know, will you use this, will you not use that? The President is very clear. And I think everybody who's been briefed on it, and I think when you look at the quality of the national security team that's surrounding him, by all accounts probably the best in our nation's history in terms of all across the board, you know that the President is getting unbelievably sound and strategic advice on how to protect our national interests.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last week you dismissed -- I think it was when Hallie asked a question -- you dismissed North Korea and said it isn't a threat if you can't go through with it. So what changed? What's our goal in North Korea? What's the strategy? And what's your response to the critics who say that this is just blue smoke and mirrors to hide some of the problems on the White House staff and some of the failing domestic social agenda?

SPICER: I think -- don't think there's anybody in the world who would not believe that North Korea's actions are both provocative and a concern. So the actions that we're taking are extremely --

[14:35:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you said that it was --

SPICER: -- they're appropriate and justified. What we're doing is working with the world community. And as I've mentioned multiple times today, especially China, which is really acting in an historic way to ensure that our national interests and the safety of the Peninsula is protected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what about the --

SPICER: Francesca.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the follow-up there is what about the criticism from people on the Hill who say you're just hiding a domestic agenda that isn't working?

SPICER: I don't -- I've never heard that -- I haven't heard that criticism --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, actually, I have.

SPICER: OK. Well, then we travel in different circles. But I -- look, I don't think that there's anybody who honestly believes that after seeing the launches that they're taking and the works that they're undertaking, that any attempt to protect our country and our national interests is anything other than the right and justified thing to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sean. This morning in an interview, you referred to the missile launch as an unsuccessful military attack. That contradicts what other White House officials have said.

SPICER: It was an unsuccessful launch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So you just misspoke in the "Fox and Friends" interview? There's no specific evidence that this was some sort of attack?

SPICER: No. It was an unsuccessful missile launch.


SPICER: You're welcome. Glenn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sean, you talked about strategic -- the end of strategic patience -- two questions -- in the context of attempting to expand China's role in pressuring North Korea. Do you believe China has the power to change North Korea's behavior if they choose to do so? And then a follow-up.

SPICER: That's a good question. I think they can definitely try. There is economic and political points that they could be pushing. Whether or not they achieve that outcome is yet to be seen. But I think that there's a lot of influence that they could exhibit in both of those areas, and we'll have to see. And that's -- but it's clearly the prudent thing for the President to do to try to build that relationship with President Xi and see if we could achieve an outcome that's in all of our best interests.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How concerned are you that the uptick in the language, the bellicosity, tweets, could potentially provoke unintentionally military action? I mean, is there a concern that a lot of the words that are being thrown around could have an unforeseen impact? Just explain to me what the President is thinking, how concerned he is of the risk of an unintentional conflict.

SPICER: I don't think that that's there. I think we're taking all the appropriate and prudent steps.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got a question on North Korea and China, but first to follow-up on the tax question. You've been asked about this obviously a thousand times.

SPICER: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You always talk about under audit, the President is still under audit. Is it time to say once and for all the President is never going to release his tax returns?

SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, is he -- I mean, really?

SPICER: Really.


SPICER: No. I said I'd have to get back to you on that. I think that we're -- he's still under audit. The statement still stands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And on North Korea, you said that China is playing an active role, you even said a historic role right now in pressuring the North Koreans. What are they doing?

SPICER: Again, I think that when you look at the economic front, coal in particular, that that is North Korea's number-one export --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That the Chinese cut off the coal?

SPICER: I think that they have taken some very helpful economic actions and exhibited positive signs on the diplomatic front as well. But again, this is something that is an ongoing conversation both on the relationship that the President established with President Xi. And I think that we'll -- you know, as the President has noted before, I mean we'll have to see. But, you know, it's encouraging, the signs that China is showing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the President suggested there was a quid pro quo in terms of not declaring China a currency manipulator because they were helping or going to help with North Korea. So if China does not adequately put pressure on North Korea, is he going to go back and declare them a currency manipulator?

SPICER: Yes. So, there's a couple things on that. Number one, they haven't been manipulating their currencies since he's been in office. That's a fact. Number two is I think the President's tweet said clearly that to do so at this time would not be prudent. It's not a quid pro quo. It's just saying that in the middle of them taking very positive signs to help us address the issue -- the situation in North Korea, that to label them a currency manipulator I don't think would be very productive in achieving a very, very important national strategic objective.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sean, on both the taxes and on the visitor logs, so there are now ethics experts on both sides of the aisle who say this is the least transparent administration in decades. How do you respond?

SPICER: Well, I think that we've taken several steps to allow people access to this White House in terms of -- in particular the press. [14:39:59] We hold regular pool sprays. We bring people in. We release participant lists. We give press the opportunity to come into the room, see everybody who's there. You're part of the discussion. So I would respectfully disagree with that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean, there's a new Gallup poll out today showing that 45 percent of Americans don't believe that the President will keep -- only 45 percent believe he will keep his promises. That's down to 17 percent since early February. Given some of his reversals, especially in the last week, does he risk being seen as a flip-flopper?

SPICER: I don't think so. You know, I mentioned it on the currency, on NATO -- we talked about this last week. The question in my mind isn't -- is looking at the issue and seeing -- and I mentioned NATO, and I think Matt asked it last week -- where there are certain things -- and again, on NATO, if you go back to, I think it was September 29th of last year, he was talking very specifically about some of the moves that he was seeing NATO make in a positive direction, and already at that point, encouraging them.

In the case of China, they aren't, since he's been in office, manipulating their currency. The Treasury did issue a report on Friday that put them on a watch list with a number of other countries.

So I know that it's easy to just take an issue and say, well, he's not -- make it seem very black and white. But on these particular issues, you can see that there's movement to the President's position. I would argue that he's achieving a lot of results on the issues that he talked to the American people about.

I think when you talk about the big issues that he kept -- that he promised the American people in terms of immigration, we see immigration is down 60 percent at the border. On jobs, jobs are coming back over and over again. You're seeing companies talk about new job creation here, new manufacturing here. The executive orders that he's signing are all consistent with the promises that he made to the American people on the campaign trail.

And I think on issue after issue, whether it's immigration, job creation, national security, the President made very clear promises to the American people that on -- you know, over and over again, he's achieving great success on. And so I would argue that we're going to continue to see the President not only keep his word but be rewarded by the American people on that end -- on that front.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On a separate issue, about the President's continued travel to Mar-a-Lago or any other place where he's conducting official business, does the White House believe that those other locations should be treated like this building in the sense that you guys will be transparent about who he's meeting with and then what kind of official business he's conducting while he's there? Is that a commitment that you all are willing to make? SPICER: I think we've been fairly consistent with reading out who he's meeting with and what he's done, providing the pool access to his whereabouts and what he's doing. I think we generally do. Obviously, the President has, you know, time to spend with family and he makes phone calls. We generally provide readouts of those phone calls with foreign leaders, whether he's here or in Florida.

So I think we've done a fairly good job of making sure that people know who he's meeting with, who he's speaking to, and when appropriate, the contents of those calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, Sean, long stretches of time go by and we get pool reports from the pooler saying, "We've been asking the White House for information about what the President is doing --

SPICER: And I understand it. And --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and we don't get that information." We can't even get an answer to whether he's golfing or not these days.

SPICER: I understand that there are some days you don't get it as quick as you want. But --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some days we never get it.

SPICER: OK. But with all due respect, Julie, he's entitled to have moments with his family and private time. So I think, respectfully, I would disagree. I think we do a very good job of getting you information, of bringing you along to events, whether he's here or at a location or even going out to dinner. We've lived up to that. I think the President is entitled to have some times with his family and friends to just catch up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But then that's the difference then to what you're saying to Abby, which is that you are providing that information.

SPICER: No. But what I'm saying is her question was about official business. And when he does have a call and when he does meet with the advisors, we generally put it out. But when he's meeting internally, in the same way that when he's meeting here with his staff, we don't read out every staff meeting that's going on. And so when he's down, traveling, and he's having meetings, whether it's on Air Force One or wherever, you know, that's what his staff does, is they provide him updates and policy briefings and give him an opportunity to make key decisions with their insight into a particular issue. That's what all Presidents do.

And I think that I would respectfully suggest that we have done a really good job of making sure that the pool in particular is provided information in terms of his whereabouts, and then we've provided background briefings on issues that are coming up, where we're going, why we're going, and what we intend to do.

So, you know, I get that there's always going to be this back-and- forth. You guys are going to always want more. And I think that we've tried to do what we can to get you that information.

Thank you guys very much. We look forward to seeing you in Wisconsin tomorrow, if you can. Thank you.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so the majority of the press conference there all around North Korea.

[14:44:58] You know, Jim Acosta out of the gate asking him, "Would you want to draw a red line on North Korea?". And essentially, Sean Spicer is saying, "No, it hasn't worked for presidents in the past." But using Syria as an example is essentially saying the President is not afraid to take decisive action. You know, reiterated some of the same phrases we heard from the Vice President along the DMZ saying no option is off the table and the era strategic patience is over.

You know, other notes, he was asking question about the transparency or lack of transparency on the White House's decision to keep those White House visitor logs secret and also a question on will the President ever release his tax returns.

I have all my great voices with me. Maeve Reston, let me just begin with you here because the live jumped out of me. We started our whole conversation, before we heard from Sean Spicer, about, you know, the more bellicose rhetoric from President Trump. And, you know, when you have Sean Spicer saying that President Trump wants to keep, you know, the issues of North Korea Close to the vest, yet he is -- has this rhetoric that is out there for the world to see at 140 characters or less, how do you balance that? What's the result of that?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, I think it really is -- it is hard to square those two things certainly. But this was an interesting response from Spicer kind of trying to push back on the idea that this has been bellicose rhetoric coming from the president. I think a lot of other people would see it differently and think that it's not wise to get into a tit for tat and a back and forth with the leader of North Korea.

But I think that, you know, Spicer in his press conference today was saying very much in keeping with what the Trump campaign when they were on the campaign trail which is, "We're not going to telegraph our plans. You know, the President as we all know is very unpredictable." And so, that was kind of to be expected from Spicer. Not much information there on where this is going, Brooke.

BALDWIN: How much -- Kimberly Dozier, how much -- so Glenn threw us great question. Can China really help on North Korea?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it seems the White House is putting an awful lot of faith in their efforts to be able to leverage Pyongyang. But it also opens them up down the line to what is China going to ask for in return.

China is already making noises that it doesn't like THAAD missile system that the U.S. is deploying to South Korea. And they may e eventually push back on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea where they've built an island, which has now got a landing pad on it.

So, it is placing a lot of pressure on China. One of the things I was thinking as I was listening to Spicer again and again saying the Obama administration could have done something about this, but they exercise this "strategic patience" essentially leaving it for us to deal with. Well, the --

BALDWIN: What did you think of that?

DOZIER: Well, the Obama administration had the luxury of time. At that point, Pyongyang hadn't gone so far down the road towards developing a weapon that had the possibility of reaching the United States. And so, you could see that they were sanctions time to work because there are no good military options here. This is why Obama warns Donald Trump that this is going to be one of the worst problems you have to deal with.

But now you see the Trump administration having to deal with this and reset, which means that explains why they had to come in hard and say, "We're willing to do things the last guys weren't."

BALDWIN: So one theme in the press briefing, North Korea. The second big theme was transparency. Transparency. I want you to listen to what was said about the White House not releasing visitor logs and Trump not releasing his taxes.


SPICER: The visitor logs to all the White House, OMB, the Council of Economic Quality, U.S. Trade Representative, Office of Science and Technology -- huh? What I'm saying is all those are subject to the Federal Records Act. We're complying with all that and we're complying with the Presidential Record Act.

My point is that, look, this is the policy that's existed from the beginning of time since they were kept and through the last one. And the last one was a faux attempt at that. Again, it's not really being transparent when you scrub out the names of the people that you don't want anyone to know were here.

And so I think that we've made a decision to stay in line with the law and follow the same procedures that everyone else has maintained.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been asked about this obviously a thousand times.

SPICER: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You always talk about under audit -- the President is still under audit. Is it time to say once and for all the President is never going to release his tax returns?

SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, is he -- I mean, really?

SPICER: Really.


SPICER: No. I said I'd have to get back to you on that. I think that we're -- he's still under audit. The statement still stands.


[14:50:02] BALDWIN: Got to get back to you on that. What did you make of that response?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's been -- look, the President doesn't want to release his tax returns. He doesn't have to release his tax returns. He won the election without his tax.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, POLITICS AND BUSINESS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Just because he's under audit for the million tenths of time for his tax returns.

DRUCKER: He can go into his basement and he pull out the packet that we all have to keep for seven years and throw it out there.


DRUCKER: There's nothing preventing him from doing that. He doesn't want to do it. That's fine. It may be a political issue for him in 2020. It may not. It wasn't last year. But the excuse just doesn't hold water.

HOLLIDAY: Well, he also says that the only people who care about his tax returns are reporters. He said that in press conferences before. But as we saw this weekend, that's not the case. And Donald Trump can't really have it both ways. He wants Americans to say, "You were rightly the president. You were elected fairly. Let's move on. This is something you just said on Twitter recently."

But he doesn't want to release his tax returns, which can brings up major questions for voters, legitimate questions for voters about who he is currently in favor with, you know. We see him go soft on China with currency manipulation. Is this just because of North Korea or does he have other interests at stake? We hear him say something about Russia. Same question.

So it's something that voters are demanding from him. Whether or not that would hurt him in 2020 remains to be seen, but it's not something that will be swept under the rug any time soon.

DRUCKER: I mean I think Republican votes will leave without it and certainly his base (inaudible), they'll live without it.

BALDWIN: Absolutely.

DRUCKER: Democrats want to see his tax returns.


DRUCKER: A lot of independence probably like the idea of seeing his tax returns.

BALDWIN: Well, he did weigh in, in addition of, you know, talking about the media. He weighed in on Twitter. And so let's just throw it up on the screen, and you can see it. "Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday." There were all these rallies Saturday, people calling for him to release his tax returns. He said, "The election is over."

Now, I mean coming from a man does bring up the election quite a lot, but moving on to the broader theme of transparency, just I think in general, we were talking even Friday when the story broke about the, you know, the White House visitor logs. And listen, you can look back to the Clintons and then the Bush White House and they did the same thing that the Trump White House is doing. So you can understand how, you know, folks, critics would say, "Well, still, I should be able to see who comes to the Trump White House, and by the way, what about Mar-a Lago? To your point.

DRUCKER: Look, there is a good government arguments to make and a tax payer argument to make that you work for us, all that stuff belongs to us.


DRUCKER: And you need to tell us what's going on. But I don't think this is an issue that registers politically with voters. So we have the political and we have the government. And I think that the spin coming from Spicer today was high level spin because the argument was basically like, "Well, we weren't really going to be transparent any way since we are going to scrub some names." So just, you know, dump the whole thing.

BALDWIN: High level spin, so this is direct. Maeve, what do you think? Yeah, go ahead.

RESTON: I disagree with that point. I think this does matter to voters. I think that -- I mean I'm sure what's echoing in it your brain is what's echoing in my brain is how many times on the campaign trail Donald Trump went on and on about the Obama administration being the least transparent, you know, administration in history and his White House is going to be so transparent. You can tell so much by who the president is meeting with.

You know, hour after hour, hour after -- you know, day after day, what his thinking is, what issue is coming up next. You know, it's a very important source of information. And for someone who claimed that they were going to be, you know, one of the most transparent administrations in history, I think that this is a total walk back of that campaign promise and it's something that people should pay attention to.

DRUCKER: Well, that makes him a hypocrite. It doesn't mean at the end of the day that I think voters are going to make their decision based on that. And all politicians are hypocrites at one time or another. HOLLIDAY: Well, voters may not care until something comes up but that makes them care. For example, we looked at -- the media looked at voter logs for Hillary Clinton and who visited her when she was Secretary of State. You know, he had saw Devin Nunes go to the White House the other day and people want to know who else has been to the White House. So it doesn't really matter day to day until there's something that comes up that does matter. Then people care.

BALDWIN: And then people very much care. Thank you all so much. Good to see you all here.

HOLLIDAY: Thank you.

DRUCKER: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: By the way, just a short time from now, police will be speaking on this massive manhunt underway in Cleveland for the man accused of killing a grandfather, videotaping it and posting it on to Facebook. He's -- apparently, he's vowed to kill again. We will hear directly from the police department.

That is moments away. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:59:48] BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Moments from now, let me just tell you what you're looking at here. These are live pictures in Cleveland, Ohio because police there are getting ready to set up for a news conference.

[14:59:58] This is an update on this massive manhunt underway for the man accused of killing a grandfather and posting the video of the killing on Facebook. So we're waiting for more information on that. We'll get it momentarily and we'll take it live.