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White House Daily Briefing; Trump Remains Silent on Stormy Daniels; Commerce Department Adds Citizenship Question to Census. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


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[14:31:01]

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: (In progress) -- changes its behavior.

As you all saw, last week the president once again showed his clear commitment to tackling the opioid crisis by signing an appropriations bill that includes over $4 billion in funding to combat this epidemic, through treatment, education and enforcement.

SANDERS: If you follow the White House on Twitter, you've also no doubt seen the heart-wrenching stories of Americans who have been deeply affected by this crisis. Courageous addiction survivors, along with family members, friends and law enforcement officers, are sharing their personal stories through crisisnextdoor.gov.

And today I'd like to say that the White House, along with the National Park Service, will host the National Safety Council's Opioid Memorial on the Ellipse in President's Park.

This stirring exhibit will be open to the public from April 12th through the 18th to educate visitors on the devastating impact of the opioid crisis.

Within the exhibit, 22,000 engraved pills display the faces of Americans tragically lost to a prescription drug overdose. These stories are tough to hear, and this exhibit will be an intensely emotional and somber experience. But it's also a reminder that lives are at stake and we must take action to end the plague of addiction that is ravaging communities all across our nation.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

(inaudible)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

I want to talk a little bit about the census decision here. A lot of critics have concerns that including a citizenship question will discourage immigrants from participating. Can you talk us through how the government's going to address those concerns? SANDERS: Look, this is a question that's been included in every census since 1965 with the exception of 2010, when it was removed. This is -- we've contained this question that's provided data that's necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters, and specifically to help us better comply with the Voting Rights Act, which is something that's important and part of this process.

And again, this is something that has been part of the census for decades and something that the Department of Commerce felt strongly needed to be included again.

QUESTION: Has there been any talk of -- of trying to do some (inaudible) campaign or some other type of outreach to ensure that immigrants participate so states like California, for instance, that have large immigrant populations, are counted appropriately?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of those specifics, but I'd refer you to the Department of Commerce.

(inaudible)?

QUESTION: Yeah, Sarah, the president in the last few weeks has reached out to a number of high-profile lawyers to take him on as a client in the Russia probe. Dan Webb took a pass recently. Ted Olson took a pass recently. Others have as well.

I'm wondering why the president has had so much trouble finding an experienced lawyer willing to take him on, and who at this hour is his lead counsel in negotiating with Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

SANDERS: Look, the president has a highly qualified team with several individuals that have been part of this process, Ty Cobb, Jay Sekulow.

For specific details on any search process outside of the White House, I would refer you to his outside counsel.

QUESTION: (inaudible) his lead counsel now?

SANDERS: I would refer you to...

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SANDERS: ... outside -- outside of the White House, I would refer you to Jay Sekulow, who can address any detailed questions on that front.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Ambassador Nikki Haley said, in reference to Syria, that Russia cynically negotiated a cease-fire it instantly denied. You say the only way that we can cooperate with Russia is if they changed their behavior.

What about their actions recently speak to them changing their behavior?

SANDERS: I didn't say they had changed their behavior. I think that's why you're seeing the United States, along with over 25 countries, step up and take action. And why we expect to see another -- other countries follow our lead on that front.

Kevin (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

A question about Russia, and a follow if I might.

On Russia, I heard you say previously that we, as an administration, have been exerting maximum pressure on North Korea, for example.

I'm curious: Is the administration applying maximum pressure on Russia? Do you believe that that's what's happening by way of what we saw yesterday and beyond? And if not, why not?

[14:35:00]

SANDERS: We're certainly applying pressure on Russia. We're certainly encouraging and working with our allies and partners also to do so. And I think you've seen an unprecedented number of countries step up and join the United States in that effort.

QUESTION: Let me ask a quick follow, if I might. And I understand the irony in asking you this, so if you'll indulge me anyway.

The president, at least on social media, has been somewhat silent, dating back more than 15, 17 hours. And I only ask because with all the things going on, Russia and Stormy Daniels, usually he likes to communicate directly with the American people. He has chosen not to.

Is that part of a new strategy that the White House is employing? Or is it just the president taking a break?

SANDERS: Look, the president's still been incredibly engaged. He gives us messages to come out and deliver on his behalf on the regular basis. But he's also put out a number of tweets over the last week, and I think you can expect that he'll continue to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... of silence, we asked Raj yesterday why it is the president and those associated with him offer payments to people to, essentially, buy their silence? Raj said that, "False claims are settled out of court all the time."

I'm hoping you can explain why the president's attorney paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the days before the election if her claims were false?

SANDERS: Look, that's a question you would have to ask the president's attorney. I certainly can't speak for him, I can only speak on behalf of the White House.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: The president's attorney's not here, and you -- as you say, you do speak for the president. Can -- can you explain why this payment was made in the week before the election?

SANDERS: Look, I can tell you the president's denied the allegations. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel and his attorney, David Schwarz.

QUESTION: One more question, if I may, on this topic.

The president's attorney, Michael Cohen -- there was a line for "DD" that Donald Trump was supposed to sign. Why did he not sign on that line on the NDA?

SANDERS: Once again, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel on that matter. I can't speak to the particulars...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Sarah, one very quickly to follow up, and then one on the census.

To be clear, he continues to deny the fundamental charge that she has, which is that she had this sexual encounter with him in 2006? He denies that?

SANDERS: Yes. The president has denied those allegations.

QUESTION: And on the census, Sarah, what do you say to critics who argue that ultimately this is a way to target immigrants; that it's going to be fewer resources for immigrant communities?

SANDERS: Once again, I would argue that this has been practice of the United States government.

The purpose is to determine individuals that are here. It also helps to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Without that information, it's hard to make those determinations.

And that information needs to be gathered. And it has been part of the United States Census every time we've had a census since 1965, with the one exception of the 2010 census.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Well, but -- but there's a sense that, ultimately, this is going to disproportionately affect blue states. Do you acknowledge as much when you talk about voting rights?

SANDERS: I think that it is going to determine the individuals in our country, and provide information that allows us to comply with our own laws and with our own procedures.

QUESTION: The census ultimately determines how resources are allocated. So doesn't this mean fewer resources are going to be allocated to immigrant communities? That's one of the big concerns. SANDERS: No.

I mean, I think we have seen this in practice before. And this is something that the Commerce Department has -- feels should be part of the census. And for anything specific and further information, I would refer you to them.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Sarah, I wanted to ask one about the wall but first, the president's meeting now, or just finished a meeting, with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.

And I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about what was on the agenda for that meetings, and specifically if they're discussing the president's request to find new ways to limit Chinese technology investments. We know that that's something that certainly has been on his -- on the forefront of his mind (inaudible).

SANDERS: I don't have any specific announcements on that.

The president spoke with the secretary on a number of issues: trade certainly, the economy. There were quite a few topics that were discussed.

SANDERS: But beyond that I don't have any specific detail to share at this point.

QUESTION: So -- on the wall, I wanted to ask about the president's tweet over the weekend about the military building the wall. And I'm wondering if the president believes he can reprogram funds from the Defense Department for wall construction without a vote of Congress, or if he's asked anybody at the White House to examine that.

And what military programs that were included in the omnibus that he would -- he could see cutting in order to -- to pay for what he says (inaudible) the wall?

SANDERS: You know, I can't get into the specifics of that at this point. But I can tell you that the continuation of building the wall --

[14:40:00]

-- is ongoing and we're going to continue moving forward in that process.

Cecilia?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... I want to follow up on that, and then something else you said earlier.

But -- but did that tweet this weekend, does he mean that he wants the military to pay for the border wall? Can you speak generally to that? SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of that.

But I can tell you that the wall is continuing to be built currently, and we're going to keep pushing forward until it's fully completed in the way that the president feels is necessary to defend the country.

QUESTION: And isn't it true at this point that Mexico's just not going to pay for that wall?

SANDERS: I'm not going to go beyond what the president's already said. I think he still has plans to look at potential ways for that to happen.

QUESTION: You -- you had said earlier that the president gives you messages to come up here and convey to the American people. Have you sat down with the president to talk about Stormy Daniels? What has he told you that he wants us to know about this topic?

SANDERS: As I just said, and as we've addressed on a number of times, the president's denied these allegations.

And I don't have anything else further to add on that front.

QUESTION: You've also called him a counter-puncher many times. Why has he not punched back on this one?

SANDERS: Look, the president -- I didn't say he punches back on every single topic. If he did, he would probably be addressing a lot of the stories that most of you write every single minute of every single day.

He also has a country to run, and he's doing a great job with that. That's why the economy is booming, ISIS is on the run, we're remaking the judiciary. He's focused on pushing his agenda through.

Sometimes he chooses to specifically engage and punch back, and sometimes he doesn't.

(inaudible)?

QUESTION: Thank you.

So, dozens of Chinese naval vessels and an air -- Chinese aircraft carrier participated in exercises in the South China Sea in a large show of force.

Does the U.S. have any response to these exercises that they're participating in? Has the U.S. government been monitoring what's going on there? And does -- do you (inaudible) have any concerns?

SANDERS: We're always monitoring these situations, but I don't have anything specific to announce at this point.

David?

QUESTION: Sarah, the New York Times reported -- reports that President Trump is still speaking with Rob Porter, and is even talking about bringing him back to the White House. (inaudible) is that true?

SANDERS: There are no plans for him to come back. They have spoken one time; I'm not aware of any other conversations beyond that.

QUESTION: One time?

SANDERS: Just one time since his departure.

Jeff (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, on...

SANDERS: That I'm -- that I'm aware of, there was just one time (ph).

QUESTION: I still don't know that I understand why the president's response has been so different this case.

On October 13th, 2016, he said, "These claims are all fabricated." The next day he said these -- "I have no idea who these women are. They're lying."

Mrs. Trump has said, "He will push back 10 times as hard. No matter if you're a man or a woman, he treats everyone equal."

Why the silence? Is someone advising him to be silent? Or is he following his own advice here (ph)?

SANDERS: I don't think it's silent when the president has addressed this. We've addressed it extensively. There's just nothing else to add.

Just because you guys continue to ask the same question over and over and over again doesn't mean that we have to keep coming up with new things to say.

We've addressed it. We've addressed it extensively. And there's nothing new to add to this conversation.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving (ph).

(inaudible)?

QUESTION: So can you give us an update on the trade talks with South Korea?

SANDERS: Sure.

We have come to an agreement in principle, and we expect to roll out specific details on that very soon.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

SANDERS: John (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.

Back to the border wall, which, of course, was one of the president's biggest campaign promises, $655 billion has been earmarked for defense spending in the omnibus spending bill, and the president appears to believe that he can take some of that money to build the border wall with Mexico.

Is the president aware that he would be overstepping his executive authority if he did such a thing without congressional approval?

SANDERS: As I said, I don't have any specific announcements or details on that front at this point.

QUESTION: Has the White House counsel informed him that, notwithstanding that tweet that he put out over the weekend, it may be unconstitutional to do what the president is contemplating?

SANDERS: The president would certainly work with White House counsel to make sure any action he takes is fully within his rights and his executive authority.

Trey (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

On Kim Jong-un, has President Trump been briefed on the North Korean leader's reported trip to China? And does this affect the way in which he is preparing for a potential summit with Kim Jong-un in the future?

SANDERS: The president is, obviously, being kept up to speed on a number of fronts when it comes to North Korean preparations. But as of right now, I'm not in a position to confirm or deny those reports from the podium.

QUESTION: And if I could follow up briefly on the question about the border wall, could you give us a few specific ways in which the president is still considering having Mexico pay for the wall?

I think a lot of the base is wondering, and a lot of his supporters have come out and asked questions. People such as Ann Coulter have said that the president is not keeping his promise on this.

So I'd like to ask you: What ways is he considering to have Mexico pay for the wall?

SANDERS: When we have an announcement on that I'll let you know.

John?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

[14:45:00]

One question. Secretary Ross, while he was in business school, worked on the 1960 census when this question about citizenship was included. Is this his idea to revive it after 22 years, or did that originate in the White House?

SANDERS: This is something that the Department of Commerce oversees, but it also takes into account suggestions and recommendations from the Department of Justice and others. The Department of Justice certainly played a role in this process.

QUESTION: But not the White House?

SANDERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Not the White House?

SANDERS: The White House supports it, but the decision was made at the department level.

(inaudible)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

Jared Kushner's attorney said yesterday that the White House counsel had conducted an investigation into loans that were given by companies (inaudible) they cleared him, said no issues (ph) were involved.

Can you confirm that, that there was an investigation and that the counsel's office cleared those loans (ph)?

SANDERS: While the White House Counsel's Office does follow up with staff to assist with compliance with various ethics standards, it is not probing whether Jared Kushner violated the law.

The White House indicated to OGE that we are aware of news reports and would proceed as appropriate. Beyond that, we do not, and will not, have any further comment.

QUESTION: One follow-up, though (ph). The Democrats on the Oversight Committee requested some information on this investigation today. Do you plan to comply with that request?

SANDERS: As I just said, the White House is not probing whether Jared Kushner violated the law. And we don't have anything further beyond that front.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an op- ed today where he called for the Second Amendment to be repealed.

First of all, did the president see that, have a reaction to it?

And in the current political climate, after Parkland, Florida, does the White House feel there's any chance that that kind of a movement can take hold in Washington?

SANDERS: The president and the administration still fully support the Second Amendment. We think that the focus has to remain on removing weapons from dangerous individuals, not on blocking all Americans from their constitutional rights.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Sarah, people -- former President Jimmy Carter said on CBS that most people want to see a president with some basic moral values. What sort of reaction does the White House have to that?

SANDERS: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear the last part.

QUESTION: What sort of -- what sort of reaction does the White House have to Jimmy Carter's statement about most people wanting a president with basic moral values?

SANDERS: Look, I think that the people of this country came out in -- by the millions to support Donald Trump, support his agenda and the policies that he's pushing forward. And he has been delivering day in, day out on that front. He's kept a number of his campaign promises, and that's only been within the first year and a half.

I think the people that voted for and came out and supported him still do so, and do so because they believe in the agenda that he was driving. And he's been delivering on that since he came into office.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

Two questions on trade. The first one is on a tweet the president sent last night saying, "Trade talks went on with numerous countries that, for many years, have not treated the U.S. fairly. In the end, all will be happy!" What does he mean by "all will be happy"?

SANDERS: We're continuing to negotiate with a number of different leaders and countries to make sure that we have good deals, but primarily that American workers and American trade deals are actually good for this country. But the president wants to continue wants to continue working with a lot of our partners and allies to make sure that both sides have success in our trade negotiations.

QUESTION: So both sides, the partners and the U.S., because all will be happy -- all the countries (ph)?

SANDERS: Yes, certainly the president's priority is going to be protecting American workers and making sure that there's a good deal for this country and for our economy. That's his top priority.

But he certainly wants to be able to have good relationships with other countries, and continue to work with them on a number of different fronts even while these trade negotiations are ongoing.

QUESTION: And the press release on the conversation he had with Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday focused on the Russian diplomats. But the -- on the Canadian side, they also said that they discussed NAFTA and that the Canadian prime minister reiterated his relief that the two countries would benefit from a -- an agreement quickly signed.

Does the president share this point of view that things should go faster from now on?

SANDERS: Look, we want to continue to work with our Canadian partners. But at the same time, like I just said, the president --

[14:50:00]

-- is focused on making sure that it is a deal that is good for this country.

He wants to be able to continue working with Prime Minister Trudeau, and we're going to keep pushing forward and hopefully have an announcement on that front soon.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Sarah, yesterday, Raj was careful to say that the meeting with Kim Jong-un would happen in the next couple of months -- in some months. Does the White House still stand by its May deadline for that meeting between the president and Kim Jong-un?

SANDERS: We are continuing to move forward. The offer was extended and accepted, and we're continuing to move forward in that process.

We still don't have a set time or date on that front.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.

[14:50:39]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. We've got a lot to talk about between Stormy Daniels, the border wall, and the president floating the military pay for it. Why so many lawyers are taking a pass.

Nia-Malika Henderson and David Chalian are with me.

Nia, let me start with you on Stormy Daniels. What I jotted down what she said because she dodged a lot of questions on all things Stormy, why won't he punch back, he continues to deny. She says Trump is incredibly engaged but he won't counterpunch on anything. What did you make of that?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: This is all she can say pretty much. She did say that she carries messages from the president. The reporter asked, have you really sat down with the president and talked about this, and she basically said, we've said all we're going to say on this, which is to say nothing really and refer to outside counsel, Michael Cohen, presumably, or whatever other lawyers, and continue to say that the president denies these allegations. She is in a very difficult position at this point. If you recall before, she kind of messed up in terms of putting the president, mentioning the president in terms of the arbitration and the president felt like he won that arbitration. They want to try to redraw a really firm line between this president and Stormy Daniels. There's one question about why the president didn't sign this. There was a line for him, D.D., his pseudonym in this lawsuit or settlement, presumably. She dodged. That's what this White House, in the form of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is going to have to do.

But that explains why the president has been so silent. Not only on Twitter but just giving an interview or any sort of real press conference. Because these are the questions he's going to have to answer if he were to sit down at this point. Sarah Huckabee Sanders doing it.

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Not just a dodge, but it's also a factually untrue statement. In addition to all the dodging, she says the president has talked about this and answered this extensively.

BALDWIN: He hasn't. Right.

CHALIAN: That's just not true. He has not talked about this or answered these questions extensively. So, she may want to portray it as that because, essentially, she has nothing else to say. That's just factually untrue if you look at how the president has spoken about this issue.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's move on. I want to get into what she was saying about the census. It's become this huge story. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has reinstated this question on the census, are you a U.S. citizen? Critics are saying it's basically the perfect way for the Trump administration to target immigrants and perhaps then lead to less resources in immigrant communities and that kind of thing.

When she was talking about it, Nia, she said the census question had been included in 1965 up to the point of 2010. But checking our facts, we're reporting that that question hasn't been on the census since like the 1950s. Can you explain that?

HENDERSON: Right. It's unclear. There is a community survey that comes out every couple of years and there is a citizenship question on that. Maybe that's what she was talking about, sort of conflating the two. You're right. In terms of a straight-out citizenship question on the census, every 10-year census --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: It's been decade.

HENDERSON: It's been decades. It's been since the 1950s since it was on that. You heard someone ask, what will it mean in terms of blue states in terms of representation and resources, and it would likely mean a lot. It'll be a devastating effect, possibly, in terms of federal money, in terms of representation, right, in terms of seats in Congress. So, you know, this is the White House doing what they feel like needs to be done in terms of adding that question. But it's stoking a culture war conversation, which is something they also have tempted to do.

CHALIAN: And no concern whatsoever of -- what is the real concern that critics have said, the low response rate --

BALDWIN: Right.

CHALIAN: -- that people would be scared to respond.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: When asked about, is there going to be some kind of ad campaign or something from the government to encourage people to fill out the census, even one with a citizenship question, she said you have to talk to the Department of Commerce about that. And she had no concern to express about the detrimental impact perhaps in the overall response rate and getting a full participation in the census.

[14:55:06] BALDWIN: Yes.

David Chalian, Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you both so much --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: -- on the top headlines coming out of the briefing today.

Coming up on CNN, much more of what we just heard from the White House.

Also ahead, a CNN exclusive, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress. Details including how he reached this decision coming up.

Also, breaking news out of California. The state's Justice Department now says it will oversee the investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black man by police. We'll have a live report on that.

And mystery train. Did Kim Jong-Un make this secret trip to China ahead of a planned meeting with the leader of South Korea and also President Trump?

We'll be right back.

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