Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:15 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. We’re pleased to see that the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through 25,000 for the first time ever today. The President’s economic agenda of lower taxes, less regulation, and more opportunity for all is already paying off, and American families and workers are the big winners.
With that in mind, we have a message from a special guest that I’d like to share with you. With that, I’ll ask you to tune into the screens, and then I’ll continue from there.
(A video of President Trump is played.)
“Thank you for being with us today. The historic tax cut I signed into law just two weeks ago, before Christmas, is already delivering major economic gains. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are seeing larger paychecks, bigger bonuses, and higher pension contribution, and it’s all because of the tax cuts and the tax reform.
And I want to thank all of the companies that worked so hard to do it. Workers at AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and many other companies are receiving bonuses of $1,000 or more. Aflac and others are investing more in employees’ 401(k)s. CVS announced it will hire 3,000 new workers. Boeing, another great company, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in employee training and infrastructure.
More than 60 companies have announced they are raising wages, including many that have voluntarily raised their minimum wage to $15.00 per hour — and I mean they did that voluntarily, which many politicians said could only be achieved by government mandate.
Investing in the American worker is the most important investment a business will ever make.
I want to thank all of these companies for putting their tax savings to the best possible use by creating more jobs and higher wages for the American family. These great results are just the beginning.
When the dreams of the American people are unleashed, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — we can’t achieve. We are going to make America great again, and it’s happening a lot faster than anyone thought possible.
Thank you, Mr. President. As he said, this is only the beginning, and we are excited to see the economic growth and optimism continue to soar in 2018. Earlier today, the President hosted Republican senators to talk about responsible immigration reform. He reiterated our view that any action on DACA must come with action on the President’s immigration reform principles, which were released last year.
These include a physical border wall on the southern border; interior enforcement, which includes more ICE and Border Patrol agents; as well as a crackdown on sanctuary cities; and reforms to our legal immigration system, like ending chain migration and the visa lottery program in favor of a merit-based immigration system.
Next week, the President is inviting a bipartisan group of senators to the White House to discuss next steps on responsible immigration reform and to continue that discussion.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Jeff.
Q Sarah, a follow-up on the Steve Bannon issue. Did White House staff, including Steve, have to sign nondisclosure agreements when they came to work at the White House?
MS. SANDERS: There’s an ethics agreement. Beyond that, I can’t get into any additional details.
Q Does the President want to have Steve’s support for anti-establishment political candidates going up into the midterm elections?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants all Americans’ support. He hopes that every American in this country wants to see us do bigger and better things. That’s his focus. He’s not trying to single out the support from any one individual, but he wants to bring everybody together to move this country forward. That’s what he campaigned on, and that’s what we’ve done over the last year, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do for the next seven years.
Q The White House has said there were false statements in this book. The President’s lawyer has said there are libelous statements. Could you just give a few examples of things that have been said in this book that are false, that you would like set the record straight on?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to go through every single page of the book, but there are numerous examples of falsehoods that take place in the book. I’ll give you one, just because it’s really easy. The fact that there was a claim that the President didn’t know who John Boehner was is pretty ridiculous considering the majority of you have seen photos and, frankly, some of you have even tweeted out that the President not only knows him but has played golf with him, tweeted about him. I mean, that’s pretty simple and pretty basic. Ages of employees, which would be super easy to fact-check, are wrong.
Again, there are numerous mistakes, but I’m not going to waste my time or the country’s time going page by page, talking about a book that’s complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip, because it’s sad, pathetic, and our administration and our focus is going to be on moving the country forward.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. I read the cease-and-desist letter that was sent by the President’s lawyers to both Michael Wolff and Henry Holt, the publisher of his book, which seeks to stop the sale of his book. Did the President’s lawyers share with the President the idea that this is a prior restraint, and that prior restraints are generally unconstitutional?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure about specific details of the conversation between the President and his personal attorneys, but I would refer you to them for questions regarding that matter.
Q Does the President believe in the First Amendment? Does he believe in prior restraint such as the one that’s contemplated here?
MS. SANDERS: The President absolutely believes in the First Amendment. But as we’ve said before, the President also believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact when it certainly and clearly is not.
Q What’s the President’s reaction to the growing number of suggestions, both in this book and in the media, that he’s mentally unfit to serve as President?
MS. SANDERS: The same way we have when it’s been asked before: that it’s disgraceful and laughable. If we was unfit, he probably wouldn’t be sitting there and wouldn’t have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen. This is an incredibly strong and good leader. That’s why we’ve had such a successful 2017 and why we’re going to continue to do great things as we move forward in this administration.
Q Yeah. Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, the book repeatedly says that candidate Trump, his family, and the top officials of the campaign did not believe he would be elected. It was the farthest from their mind. You said yesterday you believed in this campaign and felt he would win. Can you name anyone else who said at the time, on the eve of the election, they felt he would win? And did the President himself believe he would not win?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we’ve stated many times before — go back and look at some of the interviews, specifically Kellyanne Conway. I know she did several leading up to the days just before the election, saying directly that the President can win and would win. I know there were a number of other campaign officials that echoed those same sentiments.
The President, the First Lady, his family — they wouldn’t have put themselves through that process if, one, they didn’t believe they could win, and two, they didn’t want to win. This was something they were very committed to and have been committed to since taking office, and will continue to do so over the next seven years.
Again, it is absolutely laughable to think that somebody like this President would run for office with the purpose of losing. If you guys know anything, you know that Donald Trump is a winner, and he’s not going to do something for the purpose of not coming out on top and not coming out as a winner. It’s just — I mean, that’s one of the most ridiculous things I think — the claims in the book.
Q My other question is: Tomorrow, can we expect a major personnel change? And I particularly ask, is Gary Cohn going to stay where he is?
MS. SANDERS: I have no reason to know of any personnel change whatsoever. Gary has stated he’s committed to being here. We just have come off of a very successful win on the tax cut and reform package, which Gary was one of the key leaders of that effort. And we’re moving full force ahead into 2018 to make sure we get a lot accomplished.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to follow up on something you said yesterday. The last time that the President spoke to Steve Bannon was early December, at least to your knowledge, you said. So that’s one thing. But secondly, the President said today, I don’t talk to Steve Bannon, I don’t talk to him. So how much were they in contact from the time that he left the White House to that early December call that you mentioned?
And also, how close were they when they were in the White House? One of the claims that was made in the book was that he frequently dined with Mr. Bannon unless he was already in bed.
MS. SANDERS: The book also says that he had been sidelined by April, which I think goes further to indicate that he had very little credibility to give much information, particularly after that point, which most of the book is based after that timeframe.
Again, this book is mistake, after mistake, after mistake.
Q So is that correct? Was he sidelined? Was he sidelined by April, Sarah? Were they not close by the time that he left?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware that they were ever particularly close. I would certainly say that they’ve spoken a few times since he left the White House, but it’s not like there were regularly scheduled calls and certainly no meetings between the two of them.
Q Thanks, Sarah. This is regarding the election commission and the President’s tweets that follow that. On voter ID, does the President favor a national voter ID?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re still going to continue to review the best way forward. Just because the election commission is no longer in existence, we are going to send the preliminary findings from the commission to the Department of Homeland Security and make determinations on the best way forward from that point.
Q And on that, why the DHS instead of the DOJ, which would seem to be more of an investigative body?
MS. SANDERS: That was the agency that was best determined by the administration. And we’re moving forward and letting them take over the process.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you. First, does President Trump see marijuana as a states issue or a federal issue?
MS. SANDERS: The President believes in enforcing federal law. That would be his top priority, and that is regardless of what the topic is. Whether it’s marijuana or whether it’s immigration, the President strongly believes that we should enforce federal law.
The move that the Department of Justice has made — which, my guess is, what you’re referencing — simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law. The President’s position hasn’t changed, but he does strongly believe that we have to enforce federal law.
Q Without getting ahead of the President, the meeting this afternoon with the RNC chairwoman, do you imagine they will be discussing a potential run by Mitt Romney in Utah? Is this something that the President would like to discuss with Mitt Romney’s niece?
MS. SANDERS: Like you said, I’m not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t taken place and try to guess what may be discussed. And, you know, maybe we can follow up with that question at a later time.
Q Sarah, it’s an incredibly high bar for a public figure to win a libel case — a public figure, especially like the President. So I was hoping you could explain why the President thinks it’s an appropriate use of attention and resources to marshal both his West Wing and his legal team against the book’s author, the book’s publisher, and a former staffer.
MS. SANDERS: In terms of a legal argument, I would refer you to the President’s attorneys. But in terms of the merits, I think it’s pretty clear: I don’t think we have been tiptoeing around our feelings on this. It’s completely tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims. And I would refer you to the President’s attorneys on what that looks like in the court of law.
Noah. Or Brian, sorry. Brain is slow today.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Will the President go to court to stop the publication of this book?
MS. SANDERS: Again, that’s something that I would refer you to the President’s attorneys, but our position is very clear, that we think it is full of false and fake information.
Q The book is going to be published on Tuesday. I mean, how far is the President willing to go to prevent this book from being published?
MS. SANDERS: He certainly believes that it shouldn’t be, but in terms of the legal process, I would have to refer you to his legal team on that front.
Q Sarah, I know we’re talking a lot about Steve Bannon, but he’s not the only person quoted in this book. Katie Walsh, who worked for this White House, was quoted on the record extensively —
MS. SANDERS: Who I believe has also put out a statement denying that those quotes are attributed to her.
Q Is there any kind of action being taken by the White House against any of these individuals? Is there outreach to these individuals who are quoted to verify whether, in fact, they made these statements or not?
You know, there are these reports that there are going to be, perhaps, implications for her, potentially being pushed out of groups that work to help support the President from the outside.
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not aware of any specific action being taken. I do know that she has come out and said that the quotes were not attributed to her, as have many other people that this has been — that they’ve been quoted in this book.
Q Can you take them at their word? And there won’t be implications?
MS. SANDERS: Well, absolutely — particularly people like Secretary Mnuchin, who has pushed back on this, and several others. I think you have to look also at this author’s track record in which he’s had a real problem with this in the past. And I think that that is something that has certainly laid a foundation for us to make the assumption that he is definitely — this is a practice that he is used to doing.
Q And no further legal action against any of those individuals?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of at this time.
Q Sarah, thanks. Just a couple. I just want to ask you, broadly speaking, what is your level of exhaustion when you have to have this issue out there when there are other policy issues you’re trying to get to and trying to communicate to the American people? How do you balance that? And I guess the obvious would be, did you speak to the President specifically about what has been said, or at least has been released about this book?
MS. SANDERS: I have spoken to the President about some of the specifics that have come up.
In terms of the level of exhaustion, I’m less concerned about my exhaustion as I am with the people of this country who, frankly, probably could care less about a book full of lies and would really like to hear more about the booming economy, the crushing of ISIS, all of the great things that are happening in this country, or all of the big problems that we’re focused on tackling.
I don’t think they really care about some trash that an author that no one had ever heard of until today, or a fired employee wants to peddle. This is — the focus of this administration is moving our country forward, and hopefully everybody in this room will join us in that effort and focus on some of the policy components instead of some of the ridiculous lies that we have to spend all of our time in here focused on.
Q If I could follow on immigration very quickly. Is it your impression that something will be done vis-à-vis the wall, and there will be a grand announcement of some sort that the President would like to make on that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’d like to make sure that we have responsible immigration reform, as I said at the front. We’d like to have a deal where we have DACA as well as those priorities and principles that we laid out last year met. And that’s the reason that the President is inviting members from the Democrat Party to come over next week so that we can have that discussion and see if we can move the ball forward in that process.
MS. SANDERS: Sarah, thank you. As a candidate, President Trump threatened some twenty lawsuits and followed through with two of them. So why should Steve Bannon and Michael Wolff be concerned?
MS. SANDERS: I think that regardless of whether or not there’s a lawsuit, they should be concerned about peddling fake stories. They should be concerned about putting out information that’s not true. They should be concerned about the fact that we’re spending all of our time here focused on talking about this instead of things that people in this country care about.
I think that’s a really sad process, and I think that that should be everyone’s concern.
Q But is the President committed to following through with these lawsuits?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s a question you’d have to talk to his attorneys about, and whether or not that moves forward and what that looks like.
Q Doesn’t it just run the risk of increasing book sales, though, Sarah? Drawing more attention to this?
MS. SANDERS: I think you guys are the ones that are drawing the attention. Every question, basically, that I’ve been asked has to do with that. It’s not like I came out here and read excerpts from the book. So I don’t think that I can be responsible for the questions that you ask. In fact, if I tried to do that, I’m sure I would certainly be attacked for trying to — because I did that once and it didn’t go over very well.
Q So is the cell phone ban a response to the revelations in this book?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely not. That’s a ridiculous characterization. This is about the security and the integrity of the technology systems here at the White House. This is something that has been in process and in the works for over six months. And we were making sure that all of the information and the ability for the government phones to increase their ability for other application so that we can comply with Presidential Records Act — that was a big piece of making sure that this was done. Now that that process is completed, we can move forward and that will start next week.
Q How would you describe the President’s relationship with the Mercer family?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q The President’s relationship with the Mercer family, how would you describe that?
MS. SANDERS: I believe it’s good. I haven’t heard otherwise, but I’m not aware of anything specific.
Q You were eager to call on ESPN to fire one of its sportscasters for criticizing President Trump.
MS. SANDERS: It wasn’t just criticizing; it was a little bit different from that.
Q Well, should Breitbart part ways with Steve Bannon after the comments in these books?
MS. SANDERS: I certainly think that it’s something they should look at and consider.
Q Thanks. I’d like to drill down on something that Peter asked yesterday. And I profess my ignorance in this, but next week when he goes for his —
MS. SANDERS: You said it, not me.
Q Don’t smile. (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: I mean, if you want to call yourself ignorant, I’m not going to argue.
Q I am. (Laughter.) So, enlighten me, make me smarter. So, next week, when he goes to his physical, are there mental acuity tests that go along with that, or is it purely physical in nature?
MS. SANDERS: We’ll discuss, as I said when I announced that he was going to be doing the physical, we’ll have a readout of that after that is completed and we’ll let you know at that time.
Q And the second question I had for you is, yesterday you said Steve Bannon was entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. This administration has said, on many occasions, that they are entitled to alternative facts. So how is that different with Steve Bannon?
MS. SANDERS: This administration has not said on numerous occasions that they’re alternative facts. I know that there was one reference in which they were saying there’s basically two sides to the story. I think that’s very different than completely false information and an opinion.
Q Sarah, thanks. The President said today that Steve Bannon changed his tune about him last night. Does the President feel that the cease-and-desist letter had the desired effect on Steve Bannon?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure what aspect made him change his tune, but I think that there was certainly a difference in some of the language that he used for this book versus the language that he used last night.
Q And a second question on oil drilling, please? Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, is re-expressing concerns about the administration’s new oil drilling — offshore oil-drilling plan which would allow, obviously, drilling under most coastal waters. Can the President afford to cross this important political ally? And what do you plan to say to Governor Scott about the whole plan?
MS. SANDERS: Our goal certainly isn’t to cross Governor Scott. We have a great relationship with him. We’re going to continue working with him on a number of issues. Just because we may differ on issues from time to time doesn’t mean that we can’t still have an incredibly strong and good relationship. We’ll continue those conversations with him and hopefully all come to an agreement.
I’ll take one last question. Jim.
Q Sarah, you were calling the Michael Wolff book a book full of lies. Didn’t this White House give Michael Wolff all the access that he wanted to write the book?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely not. In fact, there are probably more than 30 requests for access to information from Michael Wolff that were repeatedly denied, including, within that, at least two dozen requests of him asking to have an interview with the President, which he never did. He never discussed this book with the President. And to me, that would be the most important voice that you could have if you were looking to write a book about an individual, would be to have some time with him. He never did. He was repeatedly denied that. I think because we saw him for what he was, and there was no reason for us to waste the President of the United States’ time.
Q Can I just ask one quick follow-up?
MS. SANDERS: And, frankly, since we were unable —
Q Sarah, other folks got a follow-up, so if I may, just quickly.
MS. SANDERS: I’ll let you have one follow-up.
Q Okay, I appreciate that. Should the letter from the President’s lawyers aimed at Steve Bannon and aimed at the publisher be interpreted as a threat from the United States government, from this administration to not publish this book? Is it an attempt to censor a book?
MS. SANDERS: It’s not from the United States government; it’s from the President’s personal attorney. And I think it is very clear what its purpose is. And there’s nothing to add beyond that. If you have specifics on that, I would refer you to the President’s attorneys.
Thanks so much, guys.
2:37 P.M. EST