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Sean Spicer Holds White House Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 14:30   ET


SPICER: And one is, I think he -- the talks that -- that Secretary Mnuchin and other members of the staff have had and the reception that they have gotten to the president's bold tax reform proposal is extremely welcoming.

I think the president in general finds it frustrating the way some of the -- some -- how the Senate operates. And again, I'm dating this back to the holdup that they had on some of these unbelievably well- qualified nominees. So they're not -- we're not -- we don't want to mix those two issues together.

But I think he feels very -- very encouraged by the reception that he's gotten to tax reform. Secretary Mnuchin, who had made the comment about August, had talked about, while that was a goal, that we'll continue to work as hard as we can to get it done. And -- but we've got a pretty bold agenda. He's still pushing hard on health care. Infrastructure is a priority of his. So the president's legislative agenda is in full swing.

Yeah. No (ph).

QUESTION: Where do you see the state of the U.S.-German relationship right now? And how important is that relationship to the White House and the president and the American public?

I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel, he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond they had during their talks in the G7.

And he views not just Germany but the rest of Europe as an important American ally. During his conversations at NATO and at the G7 the president reaffirmed the need to deepen improve our transatlantic relationship.

QUESTION: How did he view her comments that she felt Europe could no longer depend on the United States?

SPICER: Well, respectfully, that's not what she said. So since you're misquoting the chancellor, let me read what she actually said.

She said, "the time when Europe could rely solely on others is somewhat in the past, and as I have witnessed over the past few days, Europe must take its fate into its own hands. This means working in friendship with the U.S., the U.K. and neighborly relations with Russia and other partners."

That's great. That's what the president called for. He called for additional burden sharing. The secretary-general of NATO said that the president's calls are what's moving them in the right direction. The president is getting results. More countries are stepping up their -- their burden sharing. That is a good thing for them. It's a good thing for NATO, and it's a good thing for America.

Scott Thuman?

QUESTION: Yes, Sean. Has the president been meeting with lawyers specifically about defending himself in the special counsel investigation into Russia? I'm sure you've probably seen the reports that Congressman Adam Schiff would like to see Jared Kushner before his committee and possibly (ph) to go over his -- his clearances?

SPICER: I'm not gonna dignify partisan accusations of -- of anonymous sources and alleged -- unsubstantiated attacks. It's -- it's -- so I'm not even going to...


QUESTION: (inaudible) the president whether or not he's had any meetings with lawyers...


SPICER: The president has a lot of meetings. If -- if the president has a decision on anything, we'll be sure to let you know.


SPICER: Yeah, Brian (ph).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but first, welcome back, by the way.

SPICER: Thanks.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. This weekend, while you all were gone, someone shot up (ph) the Lexington Herald-Leader, and of course we understand what happened in Montana with now Congressman Gianforte. I think it's a -- think it's a misdemeanor charge of assault.

Will this administration take a stand against violence aimed at reporters?

SPICER: We'll take a stance against violence against any individual.

QUESTION: Well, and then -- so would you -- or exact (ph) -- well, let me follow that up with would you support legislation? You have been the ones that have come out screaming against fake media. Would you support legislation that would support real reporting, such as the shield wall (ph) I've asked you before, such as other...

(CROSSTALK) SPICER: We -- we have a constitution, Brian (ph), that supports the First Amendment, which allows all Americans -- and anyone in this country, frankly -- the freedom of expression. We support that fully.

QUESTION: The second question: When you say that you're going to -- that you're going to try to defeat ISIS and al-Qaida, what are you doing to eliminate the abject poverty that is the breeding ground for the terrorists?

SPICER: I -- we -- as we've mentioned before, his national security team is putting together a holistic solution to -- to defeating ISIS. When that strategy is complete, we'll have something for you on it.



You said that a back-channel is an appropriate part of diplomacy.

SPICER: I didn't say that. I said that Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both commented on that.

QUESTION: Can you add more to that? How is it that it's appropriate for someone who is a private citizen, not sworn in as an official of the U.S. government, to conduct any kind of negotiation or diplomacy with a foreign official?

SPICER: Again, I would refer you to both the comments that -- that Kelly, General McMaster have said about how they can be an important tool in diplomacy.

QUESTION: But at the time there was no one who was close to the president who was working in an official government capacity. How is that appropriate?

SPICER: Again, I think that both of those individuals, who are steeped in national security and foreign policy, have said that that can be an effective tool, generally speaking, in diplomacy. Shannon?

QUESTION: I know the president hasn't made a public decision on the Paris agreement, and I don't want to get out ahead of him. But on the more broad issue of climate change, can you say whether or not the president believes that human activity is contributing to the warming of the climate?

SPICER: I can't say. I haven't asked him. I can get back to you.

QUESTION: OK. And do you feel like that is a decision he's still trying to make?

SPICER: I don't know. I honestly haven't asked him that specific question, so I...


QUESTION: And then just real quick on health care, to follow up on a question (inaudible). So, as part of his -- the tweet about wanting to add more money to get better health care, would the president consider, you know, putting back some of the Obamacare taxes that were taken out of the health bill as it goes into the Senate? Would he be in support of keeping taxes in there to help pay for health care?

SPICER: Again, let's -- that negotiation is ongoing with the Senate. And I don't want to pre-suppose what the president may or may not want to do.


QUESTION: Let me finish, please. Thank you, Sean.


QUESTION: Angela Merkel's quote, "The Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands." How did the president react to that? And will this have any effect on what he want to -- what he decides to do with Paris?

SPICER: You know, I think he -- look, I said a moment ago the president believes that seeing Europe and other NATO countries increase their burden-sharing is a very positive thing for their own countries, for NATO as a whole, and for the United States; to see these individuals heed the call that he has so eloquently put out over the last several -- well over a year.

But when you look at the comments that the secretary general made, he recognizes that the president's rhetoric has had an extremely positive effect on the strengthening of NATO and other countries stepping up the percent of their own GDP that they're putting towards their common national defense.

That benefits everybody. It benefits us. It benefits NATO and benefits themselves.

QUESTION: And what effect on the decision on Paris?

SPICER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Will it have any effect on the decision on Paris...

SPICER: I don't -- obviously, that's -- what he ultimately decides is up to him.

QUESTION: Does the departure of Michael Dubke signal some kind of broader reorganization in the West Wing? Obviously, we're hearing that (inaudible) might be returning; that (inaudible).

SPICER: I don't think so. I think the president is very pleased with his team. And he has a robust agenda, as I've just outlined, that he looks forward to working with Congress to get done to achieve results for the American people.

QUESTION: Is the White House considering changing how you communicate the president's message (ph) at all? Maybe it's (inaudible) more? Or a difference face at the podium?

SPICER: Well, I don't think that there's anything that we haven't said before about how, you know, we've got to -- the president has an unbelievably qualified Cabinet. And we've utilized them a ton in the past. If we can continue to do that on key issues, we're going to do that. Ultimately, the best messenger is the president himself.

He's always proven that, that he is the best messenger not just for what he wants to articulate, but that the American people resoundingly chose him as their president because he understands the frustrations and concerns and values of the American people. And he is probably the best person to communicate that.

QUESTION: But do you think that he is happy with the messaging that's been done thus far?

SPICER: I think he's very pleased with the work of his staff. I think that he is frustrated, like I am and like so many others, to see stories come out that are patently false; to see narratives that are wrong; to see quote-unquote, "fake news." When you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false, that are not based in fact, that is troubling.

And he's rightly concerned.

QUESTION: Can you give an example of fake news, Sean?


SPICER: Yeah, absolutely. I'll give you an example.


SPICER: Sure. Friday, the president was having a great discussion at the G-7. And someone from the BBC and ultimately an incoming reporter from the New York Times re-tweeted that the president was being rude by disrespecting the Italian prime minister. When in fact you all in every one of the meetings that we sit in watched the president with that one earpiece that's been used by other presidents.

And yet the president did a great job at NATO, building stronger bonds, building stronger bonds at the G-7, increasing America's presence around the world, and that's the kind of thing that -- that the BBC and ultimately a reporter who's now joined the New York Times push out and perpetuate, with no apology -- you're shaking your head, Peter. I mean, it's true. You did it.


SPICER: No, I'm answering your...


QUESTION: ... reporters make mistakes...

(CROSSTALK) SPICER: No, no. That's not -- but that's just fake. That is a fake...


QUESTION: ... your trip was all over the front page. You're making something out of one tweet instead of the...


SPICER: But again, you guys defend your mistakes like that. With all due respect, I was asked to give an -- I was asked to give an example and I did it.


QUESTION: ... than anybody... (CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I just -- I gave an answer to Jim. The problem is that I think the president, to the question, gets frustrated when he sees fake stories get published, things that aren't based in fact. And a narrative gets pushed...


QUESTION: ... something significant, though. That's not...


SPICER: So that's -- that's just -- well, with all due respect, I think when you see instances like that get perpetrated over and over again, that is frustrating.


SPICER: I'm not -- no, I'm not here -- I didn't come here with a list of things. But I think that...


SPICER: Well, thank you, I appreciate it. You get to decide what's big and what's not.

I think this -- there is a lot of this stuff that has gotten pushed out based on unnamed, unaccountable sources that is very troubling.

And I think when you see the same kind of thing happen over and over again it is concerning.

And I think the president has fought very hard to bring back jobs. You -- as I mentioned, you had over half a trillion dollars of investment that's coming in that's going to grow jobs, grow our economy. That should be a big story.

The president's results when it came to fighting terrorism was a big thing. The idea that we're standing up a global center to fight extremism in Saudi Arabia that's uniting Muslim countries, that's a big deal.

I think...

QUESTION: (OFF MIKE) reports that there's going to be an overhaul of the communications office...


SPICER: Wait, how did...

QUESTION: ...for (ph) fake news?

QUESTION: I think (inaudible) question.

SPICER: I know. So now you want to come back to that.

What I'm telling you is, is that the reason that the president is frustrated is because there's a perpetuation of false narratives, a use of unnamed sources over and over again about things that are happening that don't ultimately happen, and I think that is troubling.

Thank you guys very much.

[14:41:15] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. So we're going to end it there with Jim Acosta's question and Sean Spicer heading out there.

So for the past 40 or so minutes, it began with this onslaught of adjectives describing this overseas historic, unprecedented trip abroad, which we've never seen before. We'll delve into that with my panel in just a minute.

But one of the headlines, he was also asked about Jared Kushner and some of our reporting and, you know, putting it on anonymous sources leaking out. Response, "You're question predisposes facts that haven't been confirmed."

Let's begin there.

Dana Bash, let me begin with you.

We've got Gloria Borger, Steve Hall, David Chalian.

Dana, to you first.

On the question of Jared Kushner, didn't get very far. He shot that down.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He did. I think that this new war room or whatever it is, this machine moving in to better help answer questions, I should not say better. I should say more effectively answer questions, from their perspective, seems to be churning and that answer on Kushner was probably exhibit a. First of all, I think to read what he didn't say is that he didn't deny that Jared Kushner had this meeting and didn't deny that Jared Kushner asked for a back channel. Instead and actually even more so than not denying it, he pointed to reporter statements from General McMaster, the president's national security adviser, and General Kelly, Homeland Security director suggesting that back channels are an acceptable means of diplomacy. But that's also an artful dodge because, sure, back channels are always an acceptable means of diplomacy. It stopped nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis except that was with members of the current administration and he didn't answer the very good question from the follow-ups from the press room from reporters saying, but wait a minute, Jared Kushner was not in office yet. So a back channel is acceptable for people who are in administration but not for a member of the transition.

BALDWIN: David Chalian, what did you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Also, it's not that Jared Kushner was a transition official at the time. The communique indicates that this channel was trying to be set up in a way to not be detected by anyone in the U.S. government. So it's not just the timing of this. It's that going about this to use Russian facilities or Russian means to avoid any ability for the U.S. government to monitor it, what was so concerning there? Listen, you saw at how Sean Spicer ended this briefing and I think it tells us a lot about where we're going. One, he touted that President Trump is his own best spokesperson. So it sounds to me like, if you read between the lines, the reporter we've been seeing that perhaps there might be a diminishment of the daily press briefings, he was pumping up the idea that we're going to need to hear from President Trump himself to get the real story or real thinking on this and even things like the Paris Accord on climate change. Secondly, you heard his own silly attack on this notion of fake news or perhaps a mistaken brief. Sean Spicer wanted to end this on defensive stance and not being able to really answer the questions at hand I think tells us a lot about where the communications effort from the White House currently is.

BALDWIN: Speaking of silly, I thought this was one of the best questions from Francesca Chambers of "The Daily Mail," which asked about tweets and sourcing. Roll it.


[14:45:02] FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, THE DAILY BEAST: The president retweeted this morning an article about that back channel that was based on an anonymous source that said there was an effort to set up a back channel and it was the Russians who suggested that and it was to talk about Syria. But the president not confirming that there was an effort and the facts that I just said?

SPICER: I think what I just said speaks for itself.

CHAMBERS: But you said that, first of all, the article was based on anonymous sources.

SPICER: Which it is.

CHAMBERS: But the FOX article that the president retweeted was also based on anonymous sources. Why is the source that they used more credible than the one in "The Washington Post" article? SPICER: Again, there's two issues at hand. One is, the statement

that Jared's attorney has provided and the second is whether it -- the dossier was largely discredited in the first place. Most of the publications refused to publish it in the first place. I'm not going to get into confirming stuff when there's an ongoing investigation.


BALDWIN: Gloria, the president can't have it both ways. He can't rip and trash anonymous sources but yet retweet a FOX News story that has a more positive spin for him that recites an anonymous source.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I'm not quite sure I understand Sean's answer to that, which was a nonanswer, answer. It's obvious the president can't have it both ways. Sean talked about false narratives and it seems that it became clear that there were fewer and fewer things that Sean Spicer can actually really talk about. He gave a laundry list at the beginning about how great the NATO summit was and kind of gave a back to business summation at the top of the press conference, you know, we're doing this, we're doing that, we're working on health care that means a lot to the president, we're going to work on tax reform.


BORGER: But whenever he was asked about the big news of the day, it seems to me that he has a diminished role in what he can say. So I would agree with David that this is kind of the precursor to not having Sean out there very much because it's very difficult, as we learned during the Lewinsky scandal, to have a press secretary out there who can't answer questions.

BALDWIN: Do you think his lane is shrinking because, as Dana pointed out, this creation of the war room?

BORGER: Yeah. It might be. Absolutely.

BALDWIN: Steve Hall, to you, just going back for a second on the conversations about the reporting, about the communications that Jared Kushner was trying to set up with the Russians, what did you make of Sean Spicer's explanation or nonexplanation?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly. Nonexplanations. I mean, the plan now seems to be we're not going to talk about this, it's all false and fake news. It becomes prima fascia and comes from an anonymous source and then it's not true. The problem with that is there's such a preponderance of information out there that it's difficult to write it all off. It's not made up of out of whole cloth. The Russians were trying to mess with our elections. Time and time again, these lines can be traced which is what people are investigating right now, the FBI, Congress and Mueller, lines can be traced back to Russia. To say that that's fake news and is somehow nonexistent, I suppose it's a tactic but not going to get very far from people trying to get to the bottom of it.

BALDWIN: Yep. And then there were questions about the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Some of the awkward moments when President Trump was over for the G-7 over in Belgium, and then what Angela Merkel said that we can completely rely on one another is over and doubled down today and then the president tweeted about it. This was Sean Spicer's response.


UNIDENTFIIED REPORTER: Where do you see the state of the U.S./German relationship right now and how important is that relationship to the White House and the president and the American public?

SPICER: I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel, he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G-7. Any views, not just Germany but the rest of Europe, is an important American ally during his conversations with NATO and the G-7.


BALDWIN: David, let me come to you.

Guys, put the Trump tweet on the screen. This is what the president had to say about Germany: "Very bad for the U.S. This will change," on paying NATO.

David Chalian, Sean Spicer saying that the media are taking the comments out of context, do you think we're reading too much into it? What kind of consequence could this war on words have?

[14:50:10] CHALIAN: First of all, just an odd -- fairly unbelievable. I don't quite know what that means in describing the relationship. I think Sean Spicer thinks it's spectacular or unbelievably good is what I think he was I am flying. Fairly unbelievable. Angela Merkel would describe the relationship that means something else.

BALDWIN: Good point.

CHALIAN: Clearly, there is a strain in this relationship. I understand Sean's frustration with the coverage of it but I don't think, even in the context of Angela Merkel and her own domestic politics and running for re-election, which is important for everyone to know, I still think what she was describing is quite unusual in terms of rhetoric that we hear out of a leader in the U.S. modern-day relationship.

BASH: No question. Brooke, if I may?


BASH: But I also think that that was a classic example of how a White House -- the Trump White House, because this didn't happen in previous White Houses, can use Sean Spicer to clean things up and smooth things over that make it even more tense because of the president's tweets. The president was, you know, basically punching back in his tweet this morning at Angela Merkel and what Sean clearly went out there to do was to try to calm things down and try to make sure that things don't get worse between the U.S. and Germany. I thought that was really interesting. Unbelievable was not necessarily the word that maybe would be a way to achieve that, but we knew what he was trying to say.

BALDWIN: We've got it.

Gloria, I apologize. We got cut off before.

I want to loop back with you on your great reporting on some of this color and news coming out of the White House, which is where the president's mindset is.

BORGER: I was told by multiple people who speak with him that before he went on the trip he was in a glum mood and didn't get better when he came back, obviously. He's got his son-in-law now part of a counterintelligence investigation. He clearly feels under assault. I was told he's kind of living within his own head and this source said to me it's a dangerous place for him to be, that he feels alone, that he doesn't have a lot of faith in the people who work for him and so I think you have this idea of a president who can't figure out why he can't punch through all of this and get to do what he wants to do, that he takes no blame for anything that's going on with the Russia investigation, that all he wants to do is fix it, which I believe is what he was probably trying to do when he talked to members of his administration about trying to fix it. And I think that there's also a lot of criticism coming to the president from outside people about his staff. One person said to me, these people play checkers, not chess, meaning that they are not anticipating every move out there. And --


BALDWIN: Shooting from the hip --


BORGER: Yeah. And you can blame Donald Trump for that, of course. But I do think he's sort of taking a lot of incoming from his friends, trying to figure out what to do with the staff and how to recalibrate as they go forward with the Russia investigation.

BALDWIN: The incoming, so you talk about how he feels like he's under assault and that tees up -- we'll hit on it again. Sean Spicer going off on the media in the briefing. Roll it.


SPICER: When you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false and not based, in fact, that is troubling and he's rightly concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you give me an example of fake news, Sean?

SPICER: Yeah, absolutely.


SPICER: Sure. Friday, the president was having a great discussion at the G-7 and someone from the BBC and ultimately an incoming reporting from "The New York Times" retweeted that the president was being rude by disrespecting the Italian prime minister. When, in fact, you all, in every one of the meetings that we sit in and watch the president with the one ear piece used by other presidents, and yet the president did a great job at NATO, building stronger bonds, building stronger bonds at the G-7, increasing America's presence around the world, and that's the kind of thing that the BBC and, ultimately, the reporter is who is now joining "The New York Times" push out and perpetuate, with no apology.

You're shaking your head. It's true. You did it.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Reporters make mistakes.

SPICER: No. But that's just fake. That's just fake --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're making something out of one tweet instead of the vast majority --


SPICER: With all due respect, I was asked to give an example and I did it.


SPICER: I gave an answer to Jim. The problem is that I think the president, to the question, when he sees things not based in fact and a narrative gets pushed --


[14:55:13] SPICER: So that's just -- well, with all due respect, when you see instances like that get perpetrated over and over again, that is frustrating. No, I'm not here -- I didn't come here with a list of things but -- well, thank you. I appreciate it. You get to decide what's big and what's not, there's a lot of this stuff that's gotten pushed out based on unnamed, unaccountable sources that is very troubling and I think when you see the same kind of thing happen over and over again, it's concerning.


BALDWIN: All right. Let's pick up this piece of the conversation with two new faces here. We've got former Republican Congressman David Jolly with us; and CNN political analyst and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina, Andre Bauer.

Gentlemen, great to have you here. DAVID JOLLY, FORMER CONGRESSAMN: Great to be with you.

BALDWIN: Andre, let me begin with you.

Listening to Sean Spicer, ripping into the media, listen, the issues are piling up. You have this cloud of the Russian investigation hanging over the White House now that they are back from the big trip overseas. They are lawyering up and apparently building this war room. It seems to me, though, that they are just shooting the messenger.

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they are getting a lot of shots from all sides. Spicer ought to be commended. He holds himself just monotone the whole time, never gets flushed no matter what they throw at him. I'll give you a quick example, the fact that it was said by the news that Martin Luther King's bust was removed from the White House. There's lots of these stories. It's one after the other and --


BALDWIN: But that was corrected long ago.


BALDWIN: A lot of this is coming from the president himself.

BAUER: Again, the fake news narrative. There are a lot of stories out there. You continue to hear this drip, drip, drip on Russia and we hear that there were ties between Russia and the people in the camp of Donald Trump. But there's no facts. And six months of investigation, still no leak that is concrete or anything that was illegal.

But we don't hear much more about Podesta's ties, the Clinton ties, calls from Putin to Bill Clinton --

BALDWIN: Oh, Andre.

BAUER: -- his speaking fees. So none of those are ever brought back up. But, in fact, those should be investigated just as much as any ties.

BALDWIN: Congressman jolly, you're listening?


BALDWIN: Thoughts?

JOLLY: You don't hear about it because Hillary Clinton lost the election and Donald Trump holds the public trust and he's president of the United States and it's worthwhile for the Americans to know what his ties are. It was shocking to hear him describing about bringing back a strong America, and the reality is, rarely have we seen a weaker president on the world stage. You've had Putin offered to release a White House transcript from the Oval Office that Trump said he didn't have. President Erdogan beat up protesters and Angela Merkel says we can't rely on him. Comey says I had to keep notes on this guy because I can't trust him. The president's own deputy A.G. appoints a special prosecutor. The reality is, this is a weak president on the world stage despite the narrative that Sean tried to deliver today that sounded like it had been written by Donald Trump himself.

BALDWIN: Andre, to put the ball back in your court, the president talks about this fake news and anonymous sources and a reporter was saying how is it ok for the president to rip anonymous sources and yet retweet some FOX News article, which has a positive spin on his administration, which is entirely contingent upon an anonymous source? It's not fair.

JOLLY: Well, also, because they don't know how to handle the Kushner story. Kellyanne Conway said today, on the record, that it was standard operating procedure. It's not perhaps that he intended to establish a back channel. It was the motive. When back channels have existed, they've been highly coordinated with intelligence sources here in the United States. What Kushner was trying to do, the motive is very important but the carelessness and recklessness could have jeopardized our security, just like the president releasing classified information in the Oval Office.

BALDWIN: Andre, you tell me how it's fair that the president can bash anonymous sourcing and retweet a story based on an anonymous source.

BAUER: I don't know if I can defend that. It's legitimate to point out.

BALDWIN: What else do you think?

BAUER: I think when the congressman references Angela Merkel, I think it's a good thing. As a taxpayer, as a U.S. citizen, I don't think it was combative what she said. She said --