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White House Briefing Coverage Continues. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Although he's disappointed to see that Democratic senators who had previously expressed their support for Alex Acosta, the labor secretary designee, nonetheless -- while they previously supported him, seem to have stuck to a party- line vote.

[14:00:00]

The president looks forward to having them officially on the team and in the Cabinet as soon as possible.

SPICER: Also this morning, the Department of Commerce and first responder network authority FirstNet announced that AT&T will build the first nationwide broadband network dedicated to America's first responders.

This step was part of the 9/11 Commission's recommendation on improving the ability of our police, fire and emergency medical personnel to communicate seamlessly across jurisdictions, which is critical to their missions. It's also a sign of the incredible ability of public-private partnerships to drive innovation and solve some of our biggest problems, while also creating jobs and growing the economy.

Back to the schedule, this afternoon, the president hosted a legislative affairs lunch on opioid and drug abuse. The lunch was an opportunity to discuss the goals and agenda of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis which he established yesterday. The commission, which is going to be chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is a next step in the president's promise to the American people that he would take real action to keep drugs from pouring into our country and corrupting our communities.

Under Governor Christie's leadership and working closely with the White House Office of American Innovation, the commission will bring together leaders on both sides of the aisle to find the best ways to treat and protect the American people from this ecedemic -- epidemic, rather.

Many members in attendance of the lunch played a key part in passing the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, also known as CARA, the first major federal addiction legislation in over 40 years, which authorized over $181 million to fight the opioid epidemic.

Part of the mission of the president's commission will be to ensure that those funds are spent efficiently and effectively. Too many lives are at stake to risk wasting any money on this effort.

Moving on, later this afternoon, the president will welcome Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark for a working visit. We'll have a readout on their bilateral meeting for you at its conclusion.

A couple follow-ups from yesterday.

I know Hunter asked about the House and Senate passage disapproving of the Federal Communications regulations on privacy rules from last year, so let me just expand on that a little and get to your question.

The White House supports Congress using its authority under the Congressional Review Act to roll back last year's FCC rules on broadband regulation.

The previous administration, in an attempt to treat internet service providers differently than edge providers such as Google and Facebook, reclassified them as common carriers, much like a hotel or another retail outlet, and opened their door to an unfair regulatory framework. This will allow service providers to be treated fairly, and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be viewed on an equal playing field.

The president pledged to reverse this type of federal overreach in which bureaucrats in Washington take the interest of one group of companies over the interest of others, picking and winning -- winners and losers.

The president signed more legislation under the Congressional Review Act ending job-killing rules and regulations than all previous presidents combined already, and he'll continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth.

Jeff (ph) was here yesterday and Roberta's (ph) here now, but following up on Jeff's (ph) question, he asked about the administration's position on the Paris climate treaty. We are currently reviewing issues related to the agreement and expect to have a decision by the time of the G-7 summit, late May-ish, if not sooner.

Before I take your questions, I want to speak quickly about Judge Gorsuch again and the process behind his nomination and confirmation.

From the beginning, I think the president's been clear and 100 percent transparent about his choices, had -- what -- if he had been elected, who he would choose from. As a matter of fact, I'd say that the level of transparency is probably unprecedented, in modern times at least. He -- during the campaign, he gave the American people a list of 21 judges which he would pick his choice for the Supreme Court from. The American people sent him to the White House to nominate one of those judges and he did it.

Prior to the president making his final decision, the White House spoke with 29 senators, more than half of whom were from the Democrat side of the aisle, including every Democrat member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to seek their advice and consent on the nomination. The consensus was that the president's pick should be a respected mainstream judge.

As I've laid out many times before, from unanimous consent of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to the extraordinary low rate of majority opinions accompanied by dissents, Judge Gorsuch is a definition of a mainstream, respected judge. He has offered the Senate plenty of material to vouch for that. Since his nomination, Judge Gorsuch met with nearly 80 senators.

In response to requests from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch provided the following: over 80 -- 70 pages of written answers about his personal records in response to 299 questions for the record by Democrats on the committee, the most in recent history, which he submitted within six days of receiving the questions; over 75,000 pages of documents, including speeches, case briefs, opinions and written work going back as far as college; and over 180,000 pages of e-mail and paper records related to the judge's time at the Department of Justice.

[14:10:09]

SPICER: In fact, the Department of Justice provided access to many documents that would normally be guarded by various privileges in a -- in -- in a historically unprecedented move in the spirit of cooperation with Senate Democrats.

And the judge sat for three rounds and nearly 20 hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which he was asked nearly 1,200 questions, almost twice as many as Justices Sotomayor, Kagan or Ginsberg.

The White House and the judge did all of this in the hopes that Senate Democrats, many of whom already had announced their intent to filibuster Judge Gorsuch's nomination, would look beyond their political game and see for themselves how eminently qualified he is to sit on the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, it looks more and more like Senate Democrats would rather do all that they did in reading and questioning for nothing more than to -- in political theater.

Finally, before I take your questions, a letter was transmitted just recently to the ranking member and chairman of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that said, "In the ordinary course of business, national security staff discovered documents that we believe are in response to your March 15, 2017, letter to intelligence community seeking, quote, 'documents necessary to determine whether information collected on U.S. persons was mishandled and leaked,' end quote. We have and will invite the Senate and House ranking members and chairmen up to the White House to view that material in accordance with their schedule."

With that, I'm glad to take a few of your questions.

Cheryl (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sean. I'm trying to gauge the probability of a government shutdown at the end of April. Are your directions to the -- Capitol Hill to hold firm on the spending cuts that the president wants, or to try and wheel and deal and get a bill that can keep the government open?

SPICER: I don't know that they're mutually exclusive.

I think we want...

QUESTION: (inaudible) pushback on Capitol Hill...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Well, I -- there generally is.

But I think that we want -- we want both. I think we want to maintain some of the spending priorities as well as some of the reductions in the 2017 budget. We want to do so responsibly and do so within the priorities that the president has laid out.

I think his funding request and priorities are laid out in the budget that Director Mulvaney detailed and sent up for the remainder of 2017. There's some key things in that, and I think that -- that it is going to begin a conversation that we will continue to have with the House and Senate.

But I don't think both of those goals are mutually exclusive. Obviously, we don't want the government to shut down. But we want to make sure that we're funding the priorities of the government.

Jon Decker?

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sean.

I wanted to ask about some news that the president made today with a -- a tweet that he put out on Twitter.

He seemed to be picking a fight with the Freedom Caucus. And the Freedom Caucus, as you know, has 30 members. Does the president realize how important this caucus is -- this coalition is in terms of passing a replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act and passing the rest of his legislative agenda?

SPICER: Well, of course he understands that the goal of all legislation is get to a majority in the House, majority in the Senate. And so -- but at the end of the day, he recognizes that he has an -- a bold and robust agenda that he is trying to enact, that the ran on and told the American people that he would do when he was president. And he's going to get the votes from wherever he can.

QUESTION: Can he pass that agenda without the help of the Freedom Caucus?

SPICER: Well, there's two questions.

One is -- I mean, mathematically, yes. But secondly, I think that there's a few members of the Freedom Caucus, both prior to last Friday's vote and since then, who have expressed a willingness to want to work with him rather than necessarily as a bloc. And I think that there continues to be some promising signs in that -- with -- with that.

So, again, I think part of it is is that I think if people are more concerned with voting as a bloc, then -- in -- in what's in the best interest of their constituents and the American people, he's hoping that people will see the bigger picture, the goals that we outlined. And -- and then sometimes, not let the really good be the enemy of the perfect.

QUESTION: But he seems to imply in that tweet that he would be in favor of primarying some individuals in the Freedom Caucus who oppose his agenda. Is that correct? Did I read that correctly?

SPICER: I -- I -- I am going to say I'm going to let the tweet speak for itself. For -- for those of you who think -- or just for your understanding, it would be improper of me to discuss the election or defeat of any candidate from this podium.

Matt?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.

Two questions, if you don't mind.

SPICER: I want phenomenal questions from you.

QUESTION: That's what I'll give you.

First, we know now...

SPICER: You get...

QUESTION: I know, I got it.

(LAUGHTER)

Two White House officials, according to New York Times reporting, provided Representative Nunes with the information that he spoke about last week. And according to the Times, the senior director for intelligence on the NSC, who was hired by Michael Flynn, started going through these documents after the president's tweet -- the wiretapping tweet.

[14:10:07]

QUESTION: So I'm wondering if the White House thinks it's appropriate for national security officials to be conducting what's basically a political task, which is trying to find information that then validates something the president said?

SPICER: Yes. So I've read the report, and respectfully, I think you're question assumes that the reporting is correct. QUESTION: It does.

SPICER: And so, I'm -- I would just suggest to you that the letter that was submitted earlier to the ranking -- the chairmen and the ranking members of the two committees, two intelligence committees on the Hill, the reason that the White House has asked them to come up is to view that information.

And again, I don't want to get in front of that, as I've said before. I don't -- I -- we are not as obsessed with the process as much as the substance. And I think that our goal is to make sure that the ranking members of both committees, as well as the chairmen, see the information; that the materials that are important to this; and then worry about the -- the outcome at the end.

QUESTION: And then on a different topic, with Ms. Walsh's departure today, are you expecting any more staffing shakeups in the West Wing?

SPICER: No.

Katherine (ph)?

QUESTION: Sean, are you saying that the (inaudible) today is not correct?

SPICER: I'm saying that in order to -- in order to comment on that story, would be to validate certain things that I'm not at liberty to do.

QUESTION: (inaudible) tell us who he met with...

SPICER: And I understand that. And again -- and I think that there is an assumption, as I've said before, we cannot condone the -- I mean, in the same way that you protect sources when I call you and say you've got 18 anonymous sources, and you go "I can't reveal my sources." Chairman Nunes in conducting an investigation and a review has an opportunity to have his sources. Our view was that the smart move was to make all the materials available to the chairman and the ranking member of the relevant committees. And I understand the obsession with the process piece, but we are focused on the substance of it. And I think the goal is to make sure that people have the substance that are looking into this; that we have asked to look into this, and go...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (inaudible) the White House (inaudible).

SPICER: No, no -- they -- we've sent a letter within the past few hours to both of those committees, informing them that we wanted to make that available to them.

QUESTION: What kind of message do you think this sends (inaudible)?

SPICER: We want them to look into this. As we have maintained from all along; that I think there's a belief that the president has maintained that there was surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election that was improper. And that we want people to look into this, and take the appropriate legal responsible steps to both understand it and then address it.

Major?

QUESTION: I want to read to you something you said here at the podium on March 23rd, when you were originally asked if the White House might have had any role in providing information to Chairman Nunes.

You first said it didn't make any sense to you, and you went on to say, and I'm quoting you here, "I don't know why he" -- Chairman Nunes -- "would brief the speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on; it doesn't seem to make a ton of sense, so I'm not aware of it; it doesn't really pass the smell test."

There's now reporting, which I can't tell if you're disputing or not, that identifies two people within this White House as the sources of this information. So I'm just trying to put these things together.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: Where you said it doesn't pass the smell test on March 23rd. Now there's reporting (inaudible) the White House that they were the sources of this. I'm just trying to put those two things together.

SPICER: All right. So number one, the first quote that you're reading, if you actually go back, I was responding to -- I was very clear that I said based on what Chairman Nunes has said, I believe the following doesn't make sense.

QUESTION: OK (inaudible) that. So I'm gathering that... (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... you've learned something new since then. So please tell us...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Right. And again -- no, no, because again, Major, I commented on this both yesterday and today, that your obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer. It should be the substance. In the same way as when you guys print a story with 18 anonymous sources, your obsession is the substance. It seems now that you continue to look at it from a backwards prism, which is, you know, what happened, who drove in what gate, who did they meet with, what were they wearing that day.

As opposed to what's the underlying substance of this. Did something happen in the 2016 election? Was leak -- did leaks occur? We are not going to engage actively in that kind of leaking that has been a problem. In fact, if you look at the Obama's deputy assistant secretary of defense that is out there, Evelyn Farkas, she made it clear that it was their goal to spread this information around; that they went around and did this. And she said, quote, "that's why there are so many leaks." They have admitted on the record that this was their goal, to leak stuff. And they -- literally she said on the record, Trump's team. There are serious questions out there about what happened and why, and who did it. And I think that's really where our focus is in making sure that that information gets out.

[14:15:01]

QUESTION: But can't the process, from your vantage point, validate the importance of the substance?

SPICER: Well, I think there's a review that we've asked for probably...

QUESTION: And you told us that you're willing to look into and ask questions...

SPICER: And I am.

QUESTION: ... about the process and provide us answers.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: And -- no, no, no. Please don't put words in my mouth. I never said I would provide you answers. I said we would look into it.

Our -- the responsible thing for us to do is to provide the individuals in the committees who are doing the review the materials that they're looking for. Or some of them; we don't know how many -- what they're exactly looking for, what they've seen, what they haven't.

Our goal is to be as forthright as possible. They asked the -- the intelligence communities and others in a March letter for information. We have -- we have -- are willing to provide them with the information that we have -- the materials that we have come across, and I think that is an important step.

Again, it is not -- our obligation is to make sure the review is done both in the House and the Senate as we asked for a few weeks ago, not to make sure that we illegally leak out information to you.

QUESTION: And when you say "We have information," are you disputing the reports in the New York Times?

SPICER: I am not commenting on the reports, Major. I just -- I just got asked the same question.

QUESTION: But you're saying "we," so I just want to point out...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No, no, no, I'm saying -- no, "we" meaning "the White House."

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: It's not -- it's not going to start confirming...

QUESTION: ... for the first time.

SPICER: I get it.

We are not going to start commenting on one-off anonymous sources that publications publish.

QUESTION: If it were wrong, would you tell us?

SPICER: I'm not -- I'm not going to get into it. As I've just said, I get it, how many times you can ask the same question.

Hunter?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.

I have two questions.

The first, President Trump is pushing for a major tax cut, increases in defense and infrastructure spending, and the border wall. Does he think this agenda has to be deficit-neutral or is he open to plans that might initially add to the debt?

SPICER: Well, I think when it comes to tax reform, he's got three underlying goals: One is tax simplification, two is to lower the rates and three is to grow jobs in the economy.

And I think part of it is is that if you look at it dynamically, as the plan develops -- and again, as I mentioned earlier, we're not there yet. We are beginning that process of engaging with the stakeholders.

As the plan develops and there's a cost put on it, that's going to be a decision that gets looked at, as well as what are the economic- growth and job-creation aspects to it.

So to answer that question without knowing what the -- what the full scope of it is, is looking at something and answering it in a -- in a vacuum.

QUESTION: And then just a clarifying one thing with the New York Times story. I know you won't identify Congressman Nunes' sources, but isn't it abundantly clear that at least some White House officials had to be involved in him getting information here, because they would need to help him access the complex?

SPICER: I -- I cannot get into who those individuals were.

QUESTION: Right, but it was someone at the White House that must have helped him out (ph). SPICER: Well, again it's -- again, if I start going down the path of confirming and denying one thing, then we're going down a very slippery slope. I've made my position very clear on that.

Francesca (ph)? QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.

Thank you for announcing the visit of the Chinese president. I have a couple of questions about that visit, if you'd entertain me.

Can you talk about the location and how it was chosen for this visit?

SPICER: There is -- as you can imagine, on any trip, no matter who the -- the foreign leader is, there's a lot of discussion that goes back and forth between the White House, State Department and the equivalents of the other head of government's -- you know, their -- their appropriate counterparts. And those are the kind of things that go back and forth in terms of how long, the activities, what will be discussed, every single thing is -- is discussed on both sides.

And so, that was a long and ongoing negotiation with the government of China and with their representatives lasting several weeks now.

QUESTION: So how did you arrive at Mar-a-Lago instead of the White House?

SPICER: I'm not going to get into the back and forth. I would just suggest to you that both sides discussed various locations and topics and agendas and length, et cetera, and aspects to the trip, and this is what we've arrived at.

QUESTION: So what is the goal for the White House to accomplish during the visit?

SPICER: Well, I think there's -- there's a few things.

One is I think this is an opportunity for President Trump to develop a relationship in person with President Xi. He's spoken to him on the phone a few times, but we have big problems and -- I mean, everything from the South China Sea to trade to North Korea. There are big issues of national and economic security that need to get addressed, and I -- I think there's going to be a lot on the table when it comes to that over the two days that they will talk.

QUESTION: And lastly, the Chinese are expecting the White House to provide some sort of framework for the relationship to be viewed for (ph). Are you prepared for that? And can you talk a little bit about what that framework might be?

SPICER: Can you expand on that a little?

QUESTION: Kind of a -- put a floor under the relationship, looking for how to view the relationship. Obviously, you had the -- the rebalance and the pivot in the prior administration. Is there a tagline or a vision for U.S.-China relations that you will roll out during this visit?

SPICER: We'll -- we'll see. I'm not -- if you have any hashtags, let me know.

(LAUGHTER) But I think right now we're not worried so much about slogans as much as progress. There's a lot of big things that we need to accomplish with China, and I think that we will -- we will work on them.

SPICER: Kristen?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.

Did the president direct anyone in his White House or in his national security team to try to find information or intelligence to back up his assertion about wiretapping?

SPICER: I don't -- I'm not aware of anything directly. I'd have to look into that in terms of -- again, there's two sides to this. One is the information side, and two is the policy and the activities, and the -- the legal piece of what -- what happened. And I -- and I don't -- there -- there's -- those are big buckets, if you will.

QUESTION: So it's possible.

SPICER: I -- I'm not going to comment on it.

QUESTION: And -- and one more.

Don't, sort of, the daily questions about this make it necessary to have some type of outside independent investigation to lift any lingering clouds that there may be?

SPICER: No.

QUESTION: Why?

SPICER: I think you have two committees looking into this. The FBI's been looking into this, as they mentioned at the hearing. I mean, how many do you want?

I -- I understand that you may not -- that there's...

QUESTION: Do you think the House Intelligence investigation is still valid given all of these questions?

SPICER: How -- how is it not valid? I mean, I'm asking -- I mean...

QUESTION: There are all these questions about where Devin Nunes got his information from...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: And that's why I think we have invited all of the relevant...

QUESTION: ... that cloud, would it not be smart to have an outside independent investigation?

SPICER: No.

Well, again, I'm not -- right now, I think you've got the FBI, other -- probably other intelligence committees (sic) that looked -- (inaudible) 17 of them issued a -- a report earlier in terms of involvement in the 2016 election. And then you've got two -- two congressional committees looking into it. So, I'm not really sure the -- the exact need.

I think that people are doing -- I understand sometimes there's a need for you guys to have more information and more sources. I think this is being done in a responsible way, where people are being -- discuss what they know at an appropriate classification level, and the information's being shared.

QUESTION: Can you just quickly talk about the timing of inviting the (inaudible) investigation to the White House now? Is it because of this report? Why not do that initially?

SPICER: Well, I think a couple things.

One is, they -- they asked -- they tasked the various committees in mid-March to -- or -- the, you know, agencies rather, to provide information. We felt we had information that was relevant. And -- and I think there was some, you know -- there's a desire to make sure that -- that both sides of the aisle who are looking into this, as well as both chambers, had that information. I don't -- Anita?

QUESTION: Eric Trump gave a interview a few days ago to Forbes Magazine, in which he said that he would update hid father regularly, perhaps quarterly, on the business, including giving profitability reports. So, I have two questions about that.

One is: Have they spoken about the business since January?

And two, how does this not violate what the president set out as the protocols for how he would deal with the business?

SPICER: Well, two things.

I -- I don't know if they've spoken. It's not -- you know, that's maybe a question better directed to the Trump organization.

But secondly, I think everything that he's done is in accordance with what the counsel's office and the ethics folks...

QUESTION: And just following up, I -- I believe he said that he wasn't going to talk to his children -- his sons about the business. So...

SPICER: But (inaudible)...

QUESTION: ... how is that...

SPICER: I --I -- again, I -- I -- I think everything that is being done in terms of reports or -- or updates is being done in consultation with -- with the counsel's office. So, I -- I think that's -- Justin?

QUESTION: Can I -- I have two things I want to ask. SPICER: Of course.

QUESTION: It's just -- just follow on Major and ask about the substance. It's, sort of, unclear what you guys are telling the -- the chairmen and the ranking members that you have. Is it information that would validate the president's claims about surveillance during the 2016 campaign? Or is it information about the broader Russia investigation?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Yeah, again -- and I'm not here to -- to share that.

That's -- that's why we've invited them up to view it in a classified setting, in an appropriate setting. It's -- it's not -- not to be shared with people that don't have the appropriate clearances and -- and access...

QUESTION: But you're not -- you're not intending to imply that this is the information that -- that Chairman Nunes has been talking about.

SPICER: No, I -- I'm -- what I'm suggesting is, is that the -- that there has been information that has been material that has been made -- come to -- to light, and that we want to make sure that the people who are conducting the review have that information, have access to it.

QUESTION: All right.

And then, Westinghouse Energy filed for bankruptcy yesterday. I'm wondering if that's prompted national security concerns within the administration and if there is any effort within the administration to, sort of, help them navigate out of this bankruptcy, considering that the...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I'll have to check on that. I think there's obviously a couple departments that would be interested in that.

Steve?

QUESTION: Sean, want to ask you to elaborate more on what you have so far told us.

You said that, "In the ordinary course of business, the national security staff discovered documents." Can you explain how these documents were uncovered? What is -- what does it mean...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I -- I don't think -- no, I'm not -- I'm not -- that's -- that's why we've invited them up for a classified -- into a classified setting is to -- for them to see these materials, to understand it's not -- this is not the setting that is appropriate to discuss that.

QUESTION: Who in the national security staff then uncovered the documents?

SPICER: Good question.

That is not -- again, I -- as I've mentioned multiple times, we're not here to go through the process. Our job is to get to the substance of this and to make sure that the people who have the appropriate access and authority to look into this matter, and then take appropriate steps to have that.

QUESTION: Are you in a position right now to deny or rule out the possibility that the national security staff (inaudible) informed the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I'm not -- I'm not going to get into any further details on this. I would just suggest to you -- again, if I can go back for a second to something that the Obama administration's deputy assistant secretary of defense noted very clearly on the record that they were engaged in an effort to spread information about Trump officials that had come up in intelligence.

That's not -- I mean, that is several networks, Evelyn Farkas made that proclamation about what was going on during the Obama administration regarding the Trump team. So that -- that is something that they made very clear on the record.

John?

QUESTION: A couple of things, Sean. First of all, on the Freedom Caucus, in response to the president's tweet, Congressman Amash of Michigan responded on camera saying, "Most people don't like to be bullied"; in response to the president also saying that setting out such tweets is constructive in the 5th grade; it may allow a child to get his way, but that's not how government works.

Could you take a moment to respond to Congressman Amash? Was the president trying to bully the Freedom Caucus?

SPICER: No, I think there's -- this is consistent with everything that he has said since Friday of last week. And I think that he is looking for members on both sides of the aisle who want to be constructive to achieve the goal of a patient-centered health care system. That's it, plain and simple, and I think that his comments and his tweets speak for themselves with respect to how he feels and why.

John?

QUESTION: Following on that, is this a divide-and-conquer strategy?

SPICER: No, it's a math strategy, which is to get to 216 and pass (inaudible) and continue to move the agenda forward.

QUESTION: And then if I could, following what Major said, you've accused the people in this room several times of being more interested in process than actually in the substance of things. But when information is discovered by the Intelligence Committee chairman in the House at the White House that is potentially exculpatory to what the president has tweeted out, and it's reported that one of the people who was involved in uncovering that information is a White House staff member who was kept in his position over the request of the national security adviser, by the political leadership here at the White House, does the process not then take on some relevance?

SPICER: Well, the process in the sense that we are, as I've noted, we have invited the chairmen and the ranking members who are looking into this and reviewing the matter up here. That doesn't mean that we allow uncleared members from the media to come in and look at it.

That mean...

QUESTION: I'm not asking that question.

SPICER: No, you are. You said -- but I think it is because...

QUESTION: I'm not asking that question. That's not what I asked. What I asked was when you have that connection of dots all the way along, does the process -- does the provenance of this information not become relevant to the overall investigation?

SPICER: It's up for the people who are conducting the review to decide that, not -- not for the people in this room to decide it. It is up to the people who are cleared to look at that information and that material, to look at it and make their evaluations. And I think they are conducting the review. You've seen very clearly both on the House side and then starting today on the Senate side, them looking into this matter.

That is the appropriate venue, forum and personnel to be reviewing it. Plain and simple.

QUESTION: Sean, a quick followup on that.

SPICER: Zeke? Zeke? Zeke?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... you mentioned it a couple of times, but...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Thank you.

QUESTION: When (inaudible) president even briefed on this information (inaudible)?

SPICER: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you.

QUESTION: Has the president been briefed on this information that you're now inviting the congressional committee chairs to come and view? And when was he briefed on it?

SPICER: I will look into that. I'm not entirely sure when or what the status of that is, but I can follow up on that.

QUESTION: And why would you brief -- why would the White House brief...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I -- I understand the question. Like I said, I will look into whether or not -- where that stands.

Blake?

QUESTION: (inaudible) so the timeline here had been health care first, tax reform second. There is a Fox poll out released yesterday that 73 percent of Americans want tax reform to happen this year. With health care now at least being on hold, is health care the number one priority for this administration -- is tax reform the number one priority for this administration at this point, or is health care still kind of taking up some of the oxygen?

SPICER: Well, I don't know that it's taking up oxygen. I think there's plenty of oxygen for both to go on. I think the president would still like to see it done. But I think there's no reason that we can't -- and if you look at the timeline for tax reform, you're talking several months. And so I think that the process is beginning on that. And I think you can have a dual-track strategy. It's not an either-or proposition.

QUESTION: And you described what was going on at the meeting today as the first phase.

[14:30:00]

Can you lay out to us what is somewhat entailed (inaudible)?

SPICER: Yeah.