Return to Transcripts main page


DACA Deal or No DACA Deal?; Trump Creates Confusion Over FISA Surveillance Program. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:01] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I said, it was top of mind. DNI also put out a new policy on FISA this morning.

This is something that's been ongoing, a regular topic of discussion. And the president wanted to put something out. There's not much more than that.

QUESTION: Sarah, I'm not sure I got a clear answer from the treasury secretary to my question about what this administration hopes to achieve with additional sanctions on Iran, so I want to give you a crack at that.

SANDERS: I'll wait until additional sanctions are made before I weigh in on what that would look like.

But as the treasury secretary said, we anticipate that that's likely to happen. And we'll keep you posted as it does, and what that process will look like.



SANDERS: Yeah. We haven't made a final decision on--



QUESTION: (inaudible) new ones would be outside of that?

SANDERS: Obviously, yeah.


QUESTION: Not necessarily.

QUESTION: Back to -- back to immigration, real quick?

So yesterday, I guess, a group of House Republicans put out a -- an immigration plan that would deal with DACA but would also do a whole lot of things that weren't, kind of, under the umbrella of the four things that you guys outlined in the meeting yesterday.

Was that helpful? Was that not helpful, to -- to getting to a -- a deal, ultimately?

Do you -- does the president with that they, you know, take that off the table so that you can focus on what might be happening with Senator Flake or others in the Senate?

How does -- how does a competing package--

SANDERS: No, I think that's what -- we think it's a great starting point. We think it's a great, great place.

QUESTION: Even though it went beyond what -- the parameters that the president very specifically, and then you later, after--

SANDERS: He laid all the things he felt had to be included, not just what could be included.

Certainly, we think that this is a good starting point; part of the negotiation process.

If we could get everything done, we think that's much better than just getting part of it done. But we're OK with getting a deal done, as long as it falls into the parameters that the president laid out.

QUESTION: But -- but he understands -- right? -- that -- that adding the extra things are what makes -- what -- what has the potential to make this more difficult. Because various constituencies think of those things as poison pills that are actually going to make that more--

SANDERS: I think that's why it's called a negotiation.

Everybody puts everything on the table they want. You figure out what you're not willing to give up, which we've laid out. And you try to come out with everybody winning. Which that's what we're hoping to do, both Republicans, Democrats, the House and the Senate. We've laid out those non-negotiables for us, and we're going to move forward in that process. Hope to get there.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you get that by the -- by the end of -- by the next week or so? Or does -- or do you guys--

SANDERS: I'm not going to put a time frame on it, but we certainly hope to get it done. I think the priority is making sure that we get it done, and we get it done right.


QUESTION: (inaudible).

Secretary Mnuchin said that this White House has been working with businesses as it relates -- for a while, as it relates to his tax plan.

And when it comes to Walmart, have they -- has this White House been talking to Walmart about a safety net for the employees that were going to lose their jobs today? Because I'm looking at a sign right now from Sam's Club, that says, "This club will be closed on January 11th, 2018." That's today, the day that Secretary Mnuchin talks about how wonderful -- there will be increases in pay for Walmart workers.

SANDERS: I'm not aware of a conversation about a specific safety net.

I can tell you that we're excited about the fact that they've raised minimum wage, they have increased opportunities when it comes to paid family leave, and that they are increasing salaries to over a million American workers. We think that's a positive.

SANDERS: In terms of specifics on a safety net and conversations around that, I couldn't speak to that.

QUESTION: I want to move on (ph) on a performance status report. As I understand it, Ryan and McConnell are not together on issues of welfare performance as it relates to education. Where does the president stand on this back-and-forth?

SANDERS: We're having conversations about that. We think it's important policy to look at.

And -- but right now our focus primarily is on the budget and secondary is getting a deal done in regards to immigration on DACA and border security. And most likely moving on to infrastructure from there.


QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions.

The president said yesterday that, and I quote, "We are going to take a strong look at the libel laws." Now, many lawyers said that was an unusual statement, because all libel laws are at the state level and not the federal level.

Was he referring to states should take a look at libel laws or something else?

SANDERS: I think certainly states should take a look at it.

Look, the president's frustrated with the misreporting and fake news that has regularly takes place. He is tired of the media's obsession over recent fictitious book on the president and his administration. And he thinks that when things like that happen, there should be some action or recourse. He's simply stating that it should be looked into.

Francesca? Sorry.

QUESTION: But I mean, he meant the states, not that there should be federal libel laws.

SANDERS: I think he was speaking generally that libel laws should be looked at.


My other question is does the administration have any reaction to the reports of the arrest of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who was leading a protest movement against the regime?

SANDERS: Not at this time. No, I don't.


QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

About -- on the president's first tweet this morning on FISA, when he said that it may have been used, the FISA Act, to surveil and abuse his campaign, what specifically was he talking about there when he said "may" and "abuse" and "surveil"? Could you point me in that direction?

SANDERS: Look, I think that this is something we've talked about many times before. There are a lot of things that indicate that there was surveillance at Trump Tower, and I'm not sure what the clarification is needed on that front.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you.

First, a few days ago you said the White House did not have any reaction to the transcript that was released by Senator Feinstein related to Fusion GPS.

Is the president aware of this transcript? And does he have any reaction to the FBI references within the transcript on what was said by that gentleman?

SANDERS: We certainly think it's a gross overstep by Senator Feinstein to release that transcript.

There's been a lot of comments about obstruction of justice. And, frankly, the only people that we've seen try to influence the investigation are former Director Comey and Democrats in Congress. And that would include Senator Feinstein, Representative Schiff, who have both selectively leaked to the media witness interviews. We see that to be a big problem and something that certainly should be considered and looked at.

QUESTION: And my follow-up question: Today, Ecuador announced that it's granting nationality to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Does the president agree or disagree with this decision by the Ecuadorians?

SANDERS: I haven't spoken to him about that.


QUESTION: Sarah, can I ask you, on -- on Iran again?

When the president went through the exercise in October of decertifying (inaudible) sanctions waivers, he said words to the effect of fix it, or he wouldn't do this again.

The fix was supposed to include some legislation, which hasn't happened yet. Is the president comfortable with where the fix it part of this process is right now? And -- and what -- what is his feeling about what a fix would look like?

SANDERS: Look, the president still strongly believes this was one of the worst deals of all time. And one of the single greatest flaws is that its restrictions leave Iran free in the future to openly develop their nuclear program, and rapidly achieve a nuclear weapons breakout capability. Obviously we see big problems with that.

The administration is continuing to work with Congress and with our allies to address those flaws. And we will keep you guys posted as a decision on that front is made.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

I want to ask actually about offshore drilling. But before I do, I'm hoping you can clarify something that you said a couple of times now, which was that a lot of people were confused by that tweet. So my--


SANDERS: Actually, I didn't say a lot of people. You guys said a lot of people were confused.

QUESTION: I think your quote was, "We weren't confused but some of you were," is what you said.


QUESTION: So I want to ask about that, because Mike Pompeo was obviously out talking about this, pushing for this, (inaudible), a lot of people in the president's administration were representing the president's on this, that he wanted this to pass.

His tweet today was confusing. It was contradictory. It just was.

So how are people supposed to trust -- not us as reporters, but lawmakers, stakeholders, policy-makers -- that the people representing the president's position actually are?

SANDERS: I think that the premise of your question is completely ridiculous and shows the lack of knowledge that you have on this process.


SANDERS: I -- I've tried several times. I'll do it a 10th time here.

Look, the president supports the 702, but he has some very strong concerns about the FISA program more generally. Again, this is why he put out a memo last week outlining such, and why the DNI director put out a new policy this morning.

I -- I'm not sure what the confusion is there.



QUESTION: -- that you definitely are saying that the president's tweet this morning was, in your view, not at all confusing and not at all contradictory. You think that's an accurate statement; I just want to be very clear about this.

SANDERS: No, it wasn't confusing to me. I'm sorry if it was for you.


QUESTION: Let me ask about the offshore drilling ban, Sarah, because--


QUESTION: -- there has been a lot of questions about what's happening in Florida. There have been other states that have pointed to the reason this administration has given for exempting Florida, saying that they also are not -- they also would like to be exempt.

So how is exempting Florida from the ban anything other, in critics' view, than giving a political favor to White House allies in a key battleground state?

SANDERS: Look, the president is a massive advocate for America not just being energy-independent, but being energy-dominant. That's just part of that process is the offshore drilling.

It's why it's opened up for public comment. These are going to continue to be negotiations. We're going to continue to look for places and ways that we can make America more energy-dominant. If that's one of them, then we're going to continue forward in that process. That's why we've opened up drilling in ANWR, the Keystone pipeline, and cut a lot of job-killing regulations that have to do with that.

We're going to continue moving forward in that process. It's an open comment period. And we'll continue to talk with other stakeholders as we make decisions for other areas and other states.


QUESTION: Was it or was it not a political favor?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any political favor that that would have been part of. So, no.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

On prison reform, the president recently commuted the sentence of a first-time offender, a father of 10 children, who had been sentenced to in excess of 27 years. What kind of injustices does the president view as priorities?

SANDERS: Look, the president is looking -- one of the big topics of conversation for today specifically is looking at reducing the rates of recidivism specific to helping reduce violent crime.

This is a beginning conversation. This is a listening session. And we're going to continue working through this process.

But that was the number one topic at today's meeting. And -- and that's the big priority he has on that front at this point.

QUESTION: And there have been reports out -- and if you can please clarify -- what is Mr. Kushner's role in the prison reform initiative exactly?

SANDERS: He's helping to lead that conversation and put stakeholders together from a number of different areas that have expertise on this matter.

I'll take one last question. Anita (ph)?

QUESTION: Can you just -- going back to immigration, can you just shed a little bit of light on what -- what the hold-up is?

Members of the Republican Party who were in the negotiations, they are the ones who are saying they agree with Democrats. The administration has been in the meetings, at least some of them, so what is the -- what do you all not like?

SANDERS: I believe there is only one member that said that there was a deal reached, and the other members are well in sync, we're on the same page. That we haven't quite gotten there, but we feel like we're close.

And, again, we're going to keep having these conversations. The president had a meeting here today with a number of members, both from the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, as a follow-up discussion on immigration. And, again, we feel very strongly that we can get a deal made.

QUESTION: (inaudible) piece that the president talked about missing, is that the issue? Or is there not enough funding? Can you shed a light on that?

SANDERS: I think it's Democrats agreeing to the other side of the deal. I think that's where we are. HUCKABEE SANDERS: And, again, we're confident and feel like we're going to get there. Thanks so much, guys.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, so two big headlines from today's briefing. One, the House says that there is not a deal on dreamers, despite one

Republican senator saying, in fact, that there is. And also, number two, that the White House is saying that there was no contradiction, no confusion by the president this morning when he slammed this reauthorization of FISA, this key U.S. surveillance program that was voted on and passed, by the way, by the House this afternoon. The White House had just endorsed it hours before.

He did this before the House again voted on the program, which in part allows the intelligence community to monitor foreign communications. It has been credited with stopping terror plots, while critics say it allows warrantless surveillance.

Here is the reality. It did create confusion. It just did.

Lawmakers said so themselves, including Republicans. Republican Mark Meadows said it gave everyone pause. Democrats begging Republicans to delay the vote because of the president's tweets this morning.

So, just in short, the normal line from the White House, nothing to see here.

So let's go to Jim Acosta. He's our senior White House correspondent, who had a couple of questions there to the briefing.

But on FISA, Jim, it was just confusing. The tweet was confusing this morning.


BALDWIN: How are they -- she's obviously saying we're wrong, it wasn't.

ACOSTA: They're telling us that two plus two does not equal four. They're telling us that the sky is not blue.

That is what happens here at White House under this administration. It happened sometimes under other administrations. It seems to happen frequently during this administration that we are told two and two does not equal four.

Obviously, those were contradictory tweets this morning from the president of the United States on the FISA program, tweets, by the way, which were posted at around the same time he was watching "FOX & Friends" essentially tell him, no, Mr. President, don't do this.

And so it raises the question -- and we brought this up during the briefing -- does the president essentially live-tweet his policy positions after watching a television program? That obviously should cause concern to people when they're wondering what the president of the United States is up to on any given morning.

It appears this morning he was watching a program and then tweeting policy. That obviously caused a lot of concern up on Capitol Hill, caused a lot of concern here at the White House, because, as we all know, the House was voting to reauthorization the FISA program, which is obviously very important for countering espionage here in the United States.

It's very important for uncovering and detecting potential terrorist attacks or terrorist plots here in the United States. And so it's a hugely important program.


And it caused a lot of concern up on Capitol Hill. We just know that. We know it caused concern on Capitol Hill because we're talking to our sources. There are people over here at the White House acknowledging that to us privately.

And yet we have the White House secretary, Sarah Sanders, essentially telling us that two plus two does not equal four and that the sky is not blue. That occasionally happens over here.

The other that did happen we do have some confidence, the White House press secretary said that there was not a deal on DACA. We also believe that to be the case, because you hear from other members of that gang of six, like Lindsey Graham, saying, no, we don't have a deal yet, we're working in that direction.

And you heard Sarah Sanders say at the very tail end of this briefing that they did have a meeting over here at the White House with a bipartisan group of lawmakers where they appear to be moving in that direction.

But to dreamers out there who are wondering what is going to happen to them, they just don't have a solution at this point -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, chief White House correspondent -- forgive me -- Jim Acosta -- congrats on that, by the way, chief White House correspondent.

ACOSTA: That's OK. Sure. Thank you. You bet.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much for that.

ACOSTA: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Let me bring in my panel.

And, just Chris Cillizza, to you just staying on the two plus two equals four and the sky is blue notion, you could also -- let me throw in another of the same theme, whether it was the FISA tweet this morning or what the president said at that news conference with the Norwegian Prime Minister when he was asked about whether he would sit down and do the Mueller interview.

And then you have the -- basically over these two different issues, you have a chief of staff and some members of Congress and his legal team playing cleanup for the president today.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, I just -- I get frustrated watching these things, Brooke, because the truth of the matter is all White Houses try to spin bad news as better news to good news.

This White House denies that the bad news happened at all and, if it did, it was actually good news. There is a level that goes beyond spin and just goes into outright incredulity, falsehood. They are just saying things that are not true.

We know -- as Jim Acosta just laid, we know, point of fact, that Donald trump's tweets caused confusion among Republicans. This is not just Democrats trying to jump on something. They caused confusion among Republicans, which makes sense, because guess what, Brooke? It was confusing.

It seemed as though he was saying this FISA bill was used to warrantless wiretap Trump Tower, and therefore it's a bad thing and we need to look into it, when in fact this administration was saying that they should vote in support of it.

So, I just don't know. When you have someone saying this is your right hand, and calling it your left hand, and insisting it's your left hand, even though you know it's your right hand, what do you do?

BALDWIN: You know it's your right hand.

I mean, we all know it's our right hand. Right? It's just incredibly -- I think your incredulity, you hit on it. You hit the nail on the head.

Kristen Soltis Anderson, how do you see it?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: So, typically, when someone uses the phrase the White House, that implies the president, that the White House thinks X, therefore, the president thinks X.

And this administration is unique because that's not always the case. Take an issue like Russia, which didn't really come up in today's briefing, although it's related to the FISA question, where you have a president who will tweet nice things about Putin or say kind of positive things about Russia.

But, meanwhile, you have someone like Ambassador Nikki Haley or the National Security Council putting out papers being very tough on Russia. There is this theme with this White House where there is often a divide between what the president says and what the White House believes.

You saw a little bit of that in the discussion over DACA where you had President Trump being very positive about the idea of, sure, sure, Dianne, let's get DACA done, but the White House, which would include advisers such as Stephen Miller, folks who are much more hard-line on immigration, would probably have a slightly more -- a different view, which is why you are also seeing this confusion today over, is there a DACA deal or not?

BALDWIN: What do you think of some of the confusion over DACA? Again, just moving on to another issue, but again other sort of confusion. You have Lindsey Graham -- so you have this gang of six, these three

Democrats and these three Republican senators from our own reporting saying that they do have this initial deal, and, yes, there is skepticism from the White House and, yes, there's even skepticism from Republican leaderships.

But it's first thing out of the gate, needs to be taken seriously. Jeff Flake is saying, I think we have a deal, but yet the White House says no.

JOSH GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, at the heart of the matter, the confusion is really President Trump's confusion. Doesn't understand.

We see now two days in a row Trump come out and publicly show that he doesn't understand his own position on the issue at hand. Yesterday, there was the public meeting on immigration. Trump seemed to endorse the idea of passing a clean DACA bill, which is what Democrats would like to do.

The Republican majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, had to step in and say, no, no, sir, that's not what you believe, we want to do this.

And today you see with FISA extension, apparently because of a FOX News segment, Trump tweeted against it, when in fact the White House position and his own position is supposed to be in favor of it.


And not only that, but they had sent Jeff Sessions and Chris Wray to Capitol Hill to lobby for passage of this FISA bill. And so I think it's understandable there would be a little confusion in Congress about what is really going on here.

I think the issue with the DACA bill today is that the gang of six, Jeff Flake, has come out and agreed on something. They haven't had time to sell it to the caucus yet.

And Bloomberg is reporting that the White House has already turned it down, that Marc Short, the congressional liaison, has said there is still a ways to go. So, while the gang of six may have a deal, it doesn't sound like there is anything that's going to be close to getting passed by the Trump White House.

CILLIZZA: Which is it remarkable, by the way, Brooke, just to add to Josh's point. It's remarkable, given that the meeting that Josh is talking about on Tuesday, that immigration meeting.


BALDWIN: Two days ago.


Remember what Donald Trump said. And I'm quoting here. "I will sign it. I will sign it." I mean, at another point in that meeting, he said something like--

BALDWIN: He said, I will take the heat.

CILLIZZA: I will take the heat on comprehensive immigration reform.

He also said there may be things in it that I don't like, but that's not the important thing.

So, you know, I think what they are trying to do is rig a lot that box that the president put the White House in, which is if a deal emerges in Congress, then we will be for it, because this deal obviously doesn't have exactly what they want in it.

You heard Sarah Sanders say we have some non-negotiables that aren't in here. OK, but again a classic example of the president getting way over his skis in terms of his agreeing on policy issues that he just doesn't understand well enough to really agree on.


And just on this, Kristen, just staying on DACA for a second, I'm just curious, because on this skepticism, and we don't know what's going to happen with this gang of six deal, do you think if the Democrats say you have to keep DACA, we know the president keeps saying we need border security, AKA, we need a wall, do you think compromise is possible?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, it's not just Democrats saying that we want DACA.

Even Sarah Sanders in the briefing right now, she responded when asked, should the dreamers be worried? She said, no, we're going to get this done. The president wants to get this done.

Every piece of polling I have ever looked at that asks Republican voters what they think about the dreamers specifically, you have enormous margins saying, yes, let's do something about the dreamers, that this is just viewed as a very different issue than the overall question of what do you do about illegal immigration.

And so it seems as though, what I think is happening here is not that most Republicans don't want to do DACA, not even that the president doesn't want to do a DACA fix, but rather they are trying to figure out how much border security can we get.

And there seems to be real opposition, sort of surprising opposition to me, coming from Democrats for even some border security measures that are not, as Kellyanne Conway mentioned on this very network this morning, a full and complete wall across thousands of miles of border, that border security doesn't have to mean the wall is a physical thousands-of-miles-long wall.

BALDWIN: She says there's rivers, and maybe it's fencing, and it just seems a little -- it seems maybe a little watered down. Close us out.


GREEN: Kristen is right. There's also an issue on the Democratic side.

And the reason that Democrats are reluctant to agree to some of these Republican demands is they don't want to make concessions, all the concessions on a DACA bill, when Trump has said and Democrats are very much hoping that after a DACA bill passes, it will be followed by a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

And so they're worried about giving away the store before they get to the big debate.

BALDWIN: That's precisely question I asked of a Democratic congressman earlier at the top of the show.

Josh, thank you so much. And, Chris and Kristen, thank you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.


BALDWIN: More breaking news here on this Thursday afternoon. We're just getting word that fired White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has been basically disowned by everyone after criticizing the president, has now lawyered up for the Russian investigation.

Stand by. You are watching CNN.



BALDWIN: Breaking news amid major confusion in Washington, D.C.

The White House moments ago said there is no deal to help dreamers. This is after we were told a bipartisan group of senators, three Democrats and three Republicans, had just reached a deal on the future of dreamers.

These are the 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought into this country as children who are on the verge of losing their legal status unless Congress acts.

The fact that there is a deal came from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, but then came the White House statement, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican South Carolina, also denied a deal as well.

The two senators just talked to reporters. Here they are.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: An agreement that we're -- the bipartisan group I'm talking about, the six of us working -- that we are talking among our colleagues now. We don't want to release details until we talk to more of our colleagues. QUESTION: And the White House's response so far?

FLAKE: Ask Lindsey. He was there. I wasn't. So, I would ask somebody who is there.

QUESTION: Are you confident? It didn't seem like it went very well with your proposal?

FLAKE: Well, all I can say is, it has to get 60 votes. We are the only bipartisan deal in town. This is--

QUESTION: But, Senator, that's not right. There is another group, the number twos that are all sort of working together. How do you square these two things?

FLAKE: I would ask -- ask Senator Durbin. He's part of both of those, the bipartisan group, and see if the other group has a deal.

I hope they do. I wish they would, I should say. But right now, this is the only bipartisan agreement out there.


There has got to be one, because we are running out of time. So our group, our working group, came up with a bipartisan proposal in principle. We are sharing it with our colleagues. It deals with all of the four areas that Kevin McCarthy outlined, border security, DACA, chain migration and diversity lottery.

The president challenged that group that he met with a couple of days ago to come up with an idea. We have an idea. It's bipartisan.

There is no deal.