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White House Press Briefing; President Trump Honors Responders to Baseball Practice Shooting; Attorney General Firestorm. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2017 - 15:00   ET



QUESTION: And this issue can be laid to rest for the country and for Senate Republicans, who appear, based on their public statements, to be anxious about this prospect.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I guess I'm not sure how many times you have to lay an issue to rest. I have tried many times.

QUESTION: Yes, but when you don't say the president has confidence, and the president says time will tell, as he said earlier this week, I'm only telling you what Senate Republicans who are in a position to have to deal with this are saying.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: And I have answered your question.

And, yesterday, you probably saw a statement come out from here that that was more fake news from "The Washington Post" on the fact that we were considering a recess appointment. I think that sums that up pretty clearly.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

This is a little -- maybe just a little bit off topic, but I want to run it by you anyway. Is the president aware of the story...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: It's probably good if we mix it up a little bit.

QUESTION: Yes, why not, right?

Is the president aware of the story of the I.T. staff, of the congressional I.T. staffer who most recently worked for Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Imran Awan, who was recently arrested attempting to leave the country, although he said he was not trying to flee the country?

Is the president aware of that particular circumstance and is he satisfied with the pace of the investigation?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't had a conversation with him specifically about that. But I do think it is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation on that.

QUESTION: Since we only have one question, I'm going to ask you about the Boy Scouts.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Better make it count.

QUESTION: The chief wrote this to family members who were at the president's event earlier this week: "I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the Jamboree. That was never our intent. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the scouting program."

Does the president owe the Boy Scouts an apology?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I was at that event, and I saw nothing but roughly 40,000 to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks.

And I think they were pretty excited that he was there, and happy to hear him speak to them.


QUESTION: But the head of the Boy Scouts has acknowledged that there was a problem. A lot of parents have expressed frustration in the wake of those comments, and felt the need to actually write a letter about it. So does the president owe them an apology?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I was at that event and heard nothing but a lot of cheering and probably one of the most energetic crowds I have seen in front of the president. And so I don't have anything to add. I haven't seen the statement from the Boy Scouts. So I can't comment any further than what I saw firsthand.

And that was a lot of individuals, roughly 40,000 to 45,000, as reported, cheering the president on.


QUESTION: I have two for you real quick.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: You have one. Remember, there's a rule today.

QUESTION: I will be quick, first on Anthony Scaramucci. On CNN this morning, he said he had a conversation with Attorney General Jeff Sessions about these supposed leaks. That would appear to violate DOJ guidelines.

I'm hoping you could provide some clarity on that front.

And, secondly, out of Alaska today, the local paper there is reporting that Senator Murkowski received a phone call from Secretary of Interior Zinke threatening the people of -- essentially threatening the services, federal dollars that were sent (OFF-MIKE) towards the people of Alaska if she voted a certain way on the health care bill.

I was hoping if you could confirm that and discuss whether that sort of conversation, if it happened, was inappropriate. HUCKABEE SANDERS: I will answer both of your questions with one answer, so that it keeps it somewhat fair since you kind of broke the rules.

But I'm not going to speak about conversations between Cabinet members and other individuals that I wasn't a part of and haven't had a chance to talk to either individual about.


QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

You suggested that the president continues to have confidence in Reince Priebus, based on the fact that he's still in the position and he's a friend of Anthony Scaramucci, who is coming into the administration. At this point, based on what we have seen quite publicly playing out, though, does he think they at least need to sit down and talk, as House Speaker Paul Ryan said, and get whatever this is out of their system so that they can start off on the right foot here?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: You know, I don't know if he has an opinion on what they should do between the two of them.

I think the president, as always, enjoys healthy competition and conversation, and he sees that as such.

I have got to wrap up here, because the president is getting ready to do an event, which I know you all probably want to attend. And I want to leave you with just one last thing before I close out on an important development.

You guys love to talk about Russia, and there's been nonstop coverage, and the one day that there might have been a question on Russia, there wasn't. Often, we have a lot of media with Russia first.

But, today, there was public testimony that further discredited the phony dossier that's been the source of so much of the fake news and conspiracy theories, and we learned that the firm that produced it was also being paid by the Russians. This is yet the latest piece of evidence that vindicates what the president has said, that this is a witch-hunt and a hoax.


And it's a shame that the president and the country have had to go through this charade continually. And hopefully this will help us move forward in that process.

And with that, thank you guys so much and we will see you tomorrow.

QUESTION: What is the definition of healthy conversation?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So, we got a lot of voices to talk through what we just heard there from Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I think one of the headlines being, you know, when she was asked and

then asked again about the president's confidence level in his chief of staff, given this whole back and forth over Twitter and whatnot with Anthony Scaramucci, the director of coms, and Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, she couldn't quite say yes on that.

So, I thought that was noteworthy, but just reiterated that she said the president likes healthy competition in the White House.

But that's not where I want to begin.

Dana Bash is with me first.

And to you on the news that has percolated since we have been listening on the A.G., Jeff Sessions, and the public belittling of him by the president, yet he's still staying in his post. What's the news that we have learned?


As you can see on the screen, we just have a headline that came from the Associated Press, who apparently has spoken to the attorney general. And it seems as though he's finally broken his silence, saying -- again, all we have is the headline -- that he says he will continue to serve as long as President Trump wants him, meaning, I ain't quitting, I ain't going anywhere. If you want me out, fire me.

So we will see, obviously, if and what they have that's more, you know -- more of an explanation of how he sees his job and how he can figure out how to maneuver the mine field that now is being the attorney general under a president who clearly doesn't want you in the job.

BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, I want your two cents on that as well, because, again, to go back to the briefing, one little nugget, again, reiterating what we heard from the president earlier this week, when Sarah was asked about Sessions, said again the president disappointed in the fact that he recused himself ahead of the Russia investigation, but wants him to move forward in the job.

What do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that, I thought, was the most positive thing, if you're Jeff Sessions, that he's had in about six days, today, less so that.

Here's the thing, Brooke. The easiest thing that Sarah Huckabee Sanders could probably do in response to all these questions that she gets about Jeff Sessions is to say, the president is not going to fire Jeff Sessions. He doesn't agree with the recusal decision on Russia, but he has faith in the attorney general to do the job.

She doesn't say that. Right? And the reason she doesn't say it is because Donald Trump doesn't feel that way, right, and that's the thing, is that you have to listen to what's not said, both about Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, and about Jeff Sessions. I think Dana's exactly right. (CROSSTALK)

BASH: Chris, can I just add, and I'm sure you would agree with this, that I think that Sarah is probably also not saying explicitly the president won't fire him because that may be true right now, as she's standing there, but it could also change in five minutes, and she has egg on her face which has happened many times before.


CILLIZZA: Dana's -- that's exactly right, Dana.

And I think that you have to -- you never, as a press person, want to get ahead of the president. They always would say that. You would hear that from Josh Earnest, from anyone who did that job. But with this president, it's almost impossible because the ground shifts.

What he thinks today might not be what he thinks tomorrow. It's uniquely possible he gets up tomorrow and decides that Jeff Sessions is going to stay and tweets out, Jeff Sessions shouldn't have recused himself, but doing a great job, he's my guy. Right?

I don't think that's likely, but it's certainly not impossible. It may be close to as likely as that he runs him down on Twitter again. But it is important that she did not say that. It is important, because it can't -- it could have been said if she had talked to the president and he told her to say it. He clearly still wants to keep Jeff Sessions twisting in the wind, no matter if he says he's keeping him twisting in the wind or not.


So there's Jeff Sessions. Then there is Reince Priebus, the chief of staff.

Let me bring in Richard Socarides, former Clinton adviser, and Scott Jennings, former Bush adviser, on this whole Reince Priebus bit with Anthony Scaramucci last Friday, you know, referring to them as brothers at the podium, today, with Chris Cuomo on "NEW DAY," referred to them as brothers, but maybe Cain and Abel.

And we know that didn't end so well for one of those brothers, Abel.

How do you see this?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have been trying to digest this deluge of news that we have had in the last 24 hours.

BALDWIN: Good luck with that.

JENNINGS: We talked a little bit about this last night.

I think sometimes there are two conversations going on in America. There's the conversation you have going on in the urban corridor, where we are today, and then there's the conversation the way average Americans may see it out in the heartland. And so to put a frame on it, the conversation that I think Trump may be having with his base out in the heartland, number one, hey, I just created thousands of jobs in Wisconsin, which is something I said I would do. Number two, we're cracking down on the gangs, which I said I was going to do. Number three, people may have seen some news about some White House guys that I don't really know who don't like each other, whatever, I don't care.


He made a controversial decision on the military but it's not gone into effect yet. And oh, by the way, the GOP is trying to keep its promise on health care.

If that's the conversation the way Trump's base in the heartland is hearing it, if I'm sitting at the White House, that's not a terrible thing, particularly if the jobs news is part of what is in that stream.

BALDWIN: But Trump is driving the...


RICHARD SOCARIDES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I really -- I will say that I think anybody who sees its like you have described it is living in a bit of an alternative universe.

I mean, the amazing thing about everything that's happened today, everything that's happened in the last 24 hours, is that we're trying to talk about it as if it was part of a normal construct.

This is unheard of, really, in the history of American politics, certainly in any of our lifetimes, to have a president trying to govern by creating this kind of chaos. I mean, he's at war with his own attorney general, who he can fire and hire.

The attorney general says, well, I will stay as long as he wants me. He's certainly -- the president certainly hasn't said anything that would suggest, in a real, full-hearted way that he wants this guy. I mean, everything suggests the opposite, that he wants the attorney general to leave so he can put somebody else in.

The White House staff is feuding with each other, with the chief of staff. You know, when I worked on the White House staff for eight years, you would never cross the chief of staff, because if you crossed the chief of staff, that meant that you were out. I mean, you couldn't even, like, say boo to the chief of staff.

Now the chief of staff is being undermined. All of these things that we count on, Americans count on, for the proper functioning of government are going to pieces.

BALDWIN: But the president has the power to steer some of the dialogue, and back to you and your points, and I'm not saying people in the heartland are living in some alternate universe -- and you outlined it perfectly for one group of folks -- but the issue is, when the president, we know, hopes on the phone with Anthony Scaramucci before Anthony Scaramucci hops on the phone with Chris Cuomo this morning for 30 minutes on "NEW DAY," and it's Anthony Scaramucci who chooses not to focus on the awesome jobs news, but on leaks, that's on them.

JENNINGS: Yes, well, I totally agree with you.

And the issue of leaks and when you're given time on CNN or you're given time on any of these, you know, national networks to talk, and you're not talking about the jobs announcement.

BALDWIN: Thirty minutes.

JENNINGS: That may be a missed opportunity.


JENNINGS: I do think it's sort of condescending, dismissive, and you're not learning the mistakes from the way you talk about the election in 2016 to say you must be living in an alternate universe if you don't see it this way.

There are millions of Americans who see it exactly the way I just laid out, and that's what we have to understand. We're having two conversations in this country, two different groups of people seeing the news two different ways, and they're not talking about it in the same way. And we cannot ignore it.


BALDWIN: Tell Trump that. Tell the president that.


CILLIZZA: He knows it. He invented it, and he won the White House on it.

SOCARIDES: That's exactly right. He invented it. He is trying to create two different kinds of conversations.

But the truth is, is that there's a conversation that's happening in reality and there's a conversation that's happening in fantasy.

BASH: Can I also just say that part of where the president has gotten in a real danger zone over the past week or so, since he's been going after his attorney general, is he is encroaching on the conversation that is being had among the people who support him in the base.


BASH: You agree with that?


BASH: And eroding that support by attacking Jeff Sessions, who is a hero among those people. And I can just say, as we have been talking, a little bit more of Jeff

Sessions' A.P. interview came out, where he, Jeff Sessions, again did make clear, if you want me to leave, Mr. President, you got to fire me. "I serve at the pleasure of the president. I understood that from the day I took the job."

And then he also acknowledges that this has not been the best week in his relationship with Trump, understatement of the year. But he says he and Trump have a harmony of values and beliefs.

SOCARIDES: And that is a very important last line, the harmony of values and beliefs.

BALDWIN: Andre Bauer, you have been waiting patiently. Let me come to you as well just to bring your voice into this whole conversation, because, again, reiterating the fact that the White House just today saying -- asked about Reince Priebus, couldn't give this, you know, full-throated, I have confidence in him, but Sarah said the president likes healthy competition.

Do you think the president maybe a little bit enjoys the palace intrigue, the infighting?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that he wants to find the best people he can in this job.

This guy's a modern-day Davy Crockett. He is a business tycoon. And just like when I hold office, I held three different political offices, when I had somebody that wasn't -- that I thought I was getting the best out of, I replaced them.

This is a guy that is known for, you're fired, and I think you're going to see a lot more of this. He's going to find people that deliver a message and the results he wants. And when you look at the results, you know, they're overwhelming, almost a million new jobs, record high numbers.

I mean, immigration's down. You're seeing results-oriented person. Look, he doesn't know how to work the media as best as he would like because he's not driving the stories he would like.

However, the results, the American people are going to feel them. They're going to feel it in their pocketbook. My business is doing better than it's ever done in the private sector, and you're seeing the results.


And so Washington can continue to beat on him and the media can continue to beat on him, but at the end of the day, about five states are going to decide whether he gets to be president for another four years, and those states right now are seeing unbelievable opportunities within their own state.


BALDWIN: Hang on a second, because I want to make sure we get General Marks back in ahead of the event at the White House.

Spider Marks, we talked about the press briefing about how the Joint Chiefs didn't even know anything about the transgender ban. They were slapped by it, surprised like everyone else when the president tweeted what he did.

The White House in the briefing saying, they will work out the details.


Look, the fact that the chiefs and the service chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, service chiefs, were intellectually ambushed is simply a matter of technique. It's not the best leadership.

You would prefer not to do that. You would prefer to have everybody on the same page. So the ball now is in the secretary of defense and DOD's lap. It's their obligation to get back to the president on a very specified timeline that says, here are the options for doing, Mr. President, what you have asked us to do.

That's going to take a lot of coordination because all we have is limited to the number of characters on a tweet. We need to get into what are the real intentions, here are the implications, what are the nonnegotiables, how do you view this, and so that conversation needs to be take needs to take place in earnest.

And I can guarantee you the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the SECDEF are going to do that immediately.


And just to follow up on that, then we will move back to Sessions, Chris Cillizza, to you on this ban, the transgender in the military, help us understand, beyond the how they implement it, because, to me, that's not entirely clear, but the why piece.

It's my understanding, from reading our reporting, that it was congressional Republicans who had been pressuring or lobbying the White House, but even those conservatives on Capitol Hill weren't asking for an outright ban. They just had issue with the money and the cost of some of the surgeries.

Is that correct? I mean, even they were surprised by how far the president went.

CILLIZZA: Yes. The why is always difficult with this president, and I don't say that to demean him. It's just his -- he is a uniquely isolated figure in some ways, in that, yes, he does, I think, talk, and like to sort of kibitz with other folks, people like Anthony Scaramucci, but his decision-making seems to often come, if not out of nowhere, not as the result -- and General Marks touched on this -- not as the result of the typical or the traditional way in this which these decisions are made, which is, it's a lot of conversations among folks, very publicly. And they arrive at a conclusion and then the president has an event at which he announces what that conclusion will be, and everyone involved is there and they discuss. It's already -- the implementation's already been discussed.

Trump does things unlike that. Now, before you run it down -- and I think what Scott Jennings said is very important. Before you run it down, I think you have to remind yourself, Donald Trump was not elected to be a traditional president.

So, if you hated him and you think he's terrible and should not be president as a candidate, you're going to hate him and think he was terrible as president.

But if you voted for something radically different, then you don't care about how it was -- how it was announced. That stuff doesn't affect you. So in a way, he's doing what he said he would do. I think it causes chaos among the establishment and that will ultimately not be good for him, but he views it as doing what he was elected to do.

BALDWIN: Chris, thank you.

Let's go to the vice president in the White House.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Members of Congress, our distinguished guests, members of the law enforcement community from all across the United States, on behalf of the first family, welcome to the White House.

And welcome to American Heroes Week here in our nation's capital.

One month ago today, America woke to shocking news, that a gunman had opened fire on a baseball diamond just south of our nation's capital. But in the wake of that horrific attack, our nation was deeply inspired by the heroism of America's first-responders.

And we celebrate that today. Today, President Trump will pay a debt of gratitude to the men and women who inspired the nation that day and all they represent.

This week, good news. The nation rejoiced with word that Congressman Steve Scalise was released from the hospital.


PENCE: And, Steve, I know you're watching, so let me say we're inspired and really by your recovery. It's an answer to prayer.


And we're especially honored to be joined today by your remarkable and courageous wife, Jennifer.


PENCE: Jennifer, I know I speak for the president when I say that you and the kids will remain in our prayers until Steve is back to work.

Jennifer also wanted me to recognize two medical professionals who cared for Congressman Scalise from the very moment he arrived at the hospital and tended to the others who were wounded that day. Trauma surgeon Jack Sava and Dr. Robert Golden of MedStar Washington Hospital Center saved lives, and we're honored by your presence today.


PENCE: But, finally, here on American Heroes Week, we gather in particular to honor five truly remarkable Americans who, without regard to their personal safety, rushed into harm's way and prevented an even greater national tragedy.

Join me in welcoming five American heroes here to the East Room at the White House.

Officer Kevin Jobe of the Alexandria police.


PENCE: Officer Alexander Jensen of the Alexandria Police.


PENCE: Officer Nicole Battaglia of the Alexandria police.


PENCE: Officer David Bailey of the United States Capitol Police.


PENCE: And officer Crystal Griner of the United States Capitol Police.


PENCE: As you will hear more in a moment, these five officers exemplify the best of law enforcement in this country. And they honor us by their presence today.

And before we welcome the president, would you just join me in showing one more round of applause to five remarkable Americans and all the men and women in law enforcement that they represent here at the White House today?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please sit down. Thank you. And thank you to the vice president for doing a fantastic job and for

the introduction.

We welcome you all. Members of Congress and distinguished guests, we are gathered here today for a very, very special occasion, as we pay tribute to real heroes whose courageous actions under fire saved so many lives in Alexandria, Virginia, just six weeks ago.


On the morning of June 14, several members of Congress began their day on the baseball diamond practicing for one of this town's greatest traditions, the annual charity Congressional Baseball Game.

It was just another beautiful morning, until the unthinkable happened. The familiar sounds of baseball were suddenly interrupted by loud, vicious gunfire.

Matt Mika, Zachary Barth, and beloved Congressman and my friend Steve Scalise were each shot during an attack. Others were injured trying to evade the incoming bullets, of which there were many.

Fortunately, from the moment that gunman began to shoot, he was met by return fire. Capitol Police Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner raced through the bullets. And that's exactly what they did. They raced through the bullets and immediately engaged the gunman.

Minutes later, members of the Alexandria Police Department arrived on the scene. Officers Nicole Battaglia, Kevin Jobe, and Alex Jensen joined the fight. Special Agent Griner was shot in the leg. I visited her in the hospital. She was hurt very badly.

And shrapnel injured Special Agent Bailey, as bullets swirled all around him. Despite their injuries, both officers heroically continued to face down the gunman until they brought him down. And he had rifles. They had handguns. It's a big difference.

These officers saved the lives of every innocent person on the field that day, many of them friends of Mike and myself. They are American heroes, and we salute them.


TRUMP: Fantastic. That is so beautiful. Thank you.

We also salute the members of Congress who acted with such bravery in the face of danger, shielding each other and caring for the injured.

We honor today the emergency dispatchers who directed the first- responders to the scene within seconds. They really acted quickly.

I especially want to recognize all of the personnel from the Alexandria Fire Department and the U.S. Park Police Aviation Unit for providing life support in a crisis where every second mattered.

Thank you for what you did that day and for what you do every single day. Thank you very much.


TRUMP: We also express our deep appreciation for the paramedics, doctors, nurses, and surgeons from MedStar Washington Hospital and George Washington University Hospital for saving the lives of the wounded.

Joining us today is Congressman Scalise's medical team, Dr. Jack Sava.

Where's Jack, Dr. Sava?

Stand up, Jack. Come on.


TRUMP: That's beautiful -- MedStar's director of trauma surgery, and Dr. Robert Golden, the director of orthopedic trauma.

Doctor? Doctor?


TRUMP: Congratulations.