Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday released emails detailing a meeting being set up between him and a Kremin-linked lawyer as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump" during the presidential campaign. To which he responded, "I love this."
Later in the day, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was scheduled to deliver the daily media briefing — which is being increasingly restricted. Today's was held off-camera.
Needless to say, reporters asked the Trump administration's spokesperson a lot of questions! And they were repeatedly met with a variation of "talk to the lawyers."
"At what point did the president discuss with Donald Trump Jr. that meeting? Have you had a chance to get a sense of what he feels about this entire story as it continues to unfold? What’s your sense on that?"
"Given these emails, you had somebody who was identified as a Russian government lawyer. You have Don Junior agreeing to meet with him being told in those emails that the Russian government was trying to help the president win the election. Do you stand by a statement that you made yesterday when you said, 'Our position is that no one in the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election?'"
"I do, and again I don’t have — beyond the statements yesterday and what I read today, I don’t have anything else to add."
"So the White House hasn’t disputed any of the following, which is that the president’s son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law had this meeting with the express purpose of receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and with knowledge of the Russian government supporting Trump’s campaign. How is that not collusion?"
"But you’re not disputing any of the facts?"
"I am simply referring you to people who can answer that question."
"In January, the president said that nobody had been in touch with the Russians, and the White House stood by that statement. Was the president misled or was he not truthful?"
"Once again, to repeat myself, I’m gonna refer you to the outside counsel, and I don’t have anything else to add."
"Can we ask you why were you interested in answering the questions yesterday and why the president is not answering the questions either through you or directly today? What changed between yesterday and today?"
"The president gave a statement on the matter which I read to you, and like I’ve said, I don’t have anything else to add beyond that."
"Is the president still of the mind that he would like the investigation by the special counsel and the committees on Capitol Hill to work as expeditiously as possible, and that he wants to cooperate and wants his family members and his top aides in the White House to cooperate?"
"Absolutely, that’s never changed since day one. We’d love to get this matter closed and focus on the big priorities of the American people."
"So by not answering questions directly himself or through you, is that in his mind expediting the investigation, or is it blocking the investigation?"
"I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth on that."
"Sarah, the White House says there was no collusion. What does the White House mean? What is the definition of collusion?"
"The words 'collusion' have been used, other words have been used, 'obstruction of justice.' They're saying now that’s not even half of it. It could be treason or perjury. What does the White House have to say? There are new terms brought into this; new serious — more serious terms brought into this."
"I don’t know how many times we’ll have to address this."
"Asking specifically about actions taken by White House staff recently, so something that should not require you deferring to special counsel. Can you talk about who inside the White House has been involved in your response on this? Has the president been kept in the loop, the chief of staff, others in the administration? Are you looking into potential communications by others on the White House staff, with regards to this matter or similar matters?"
"All of the appropriate parties have been part of that conversation and part of that discussion."
"Jared Kushner was apparently forwarded this same email. Is his security clearance still valid right now?"
"As always, we’ve never discussed the security clearances."
"Yesterday, you said you’d check back on the status of how the president views the US-Russia relationship. Can you update us? Is Russia friend or foe?"
"I haven’t had a chance to have that direct conversation. I’ve been a little preoccupied with other things. But I certainly will check back on that."
"Is the president aware as he speaks about the transparency of his son that he only released those emails after being informed that the New York Times was about to publish them?"
"I want to ask you more broadly about what we spoke about yesterday in terms of the appropriateness of campaigns. Explain to Americans, who are asking this question today, why it’s appropriate for a presidential campaign to accept a meeting with a Russian national after being promised high-level and sensitive information presented as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump. Explain to Americans why that would be appropriate."
"Again I’m not going to get into the details of anything surrounding this, and would refer you to Don Jr.’s outside counsel."
"The vice president, through his spokesman, said today that Mr. Pence is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket. That's been taken by many people in this town to suggest that there is a distance between the president and the vice president on this. Is there such a distance?"
"Not at all. There's absolutely no distance between the president and the vice president."
"Do you know if the president has spoken to the vice president?"
"I don’t know if they’ve spoken directly about this, but they’ve spoken today."
"The stock market sharply declined today on the release of the emails by Don Jr. And so I’m wondering if you’re concerned that these revelations are going to impact the US economy, and if you want to offer any assurances to investors that see this news and are obviously responding."
"Look, the president, as he has been, not just since assuming office but throughout the campaign, is focused on doing everything he can to strengthen and grow our economy, and that certainly hasn't changed today nor will it at any point that he's president, Justin."
"And then, to go back to the statement that you read, the president says that he applauds Don Jr.'s transparency. I'm wondering if you guys would (inaudible) now that he's disclosed any other meetings that happened between Russian nationals and members of the Trump campaign towards that transparency."
"Yesterday, you compared the meeting to Hillary Clinton's campaign coordination with Ukraine. Do you feel like coordinating with any — all countries in the world are pretty much the same? That there's no difference between Ukraine or Russia or any other country?"
"I think it would depend on the nature. I mean, I can't speak about theoretical or hypothetical situations."
"Okay. Well, just take Ukraine and Russia. Do you feel that they're equivalent?"
"In what way? They're very different countries. I'm not going to put them on an equivalent playing field across the board on any matter that could possibly come up."
"Do you consider them both allies, partners of the United States, or adversaries? I mean, in what way are they similar? Because you compared them yesterday."
"I was talking about the process, not the two countries. I was talking about the process that had been gone through by both sides. And that's all — the point I was making."
"Okay, but I thought you were saying if it was okay for Hillary to coordinate with Ukraine, then it should be okay — or to meet with Ukraine about possible information that might be relevant on the campaign, it would be equally okay to meet with Russians about information they may have."
"I was talking about simply the process and nothing beyond that."
"You still think it was okay — put aside the issue of collusion. Is it appropriate to meet with Russians about information they might have during that campaign?"
"As I said earlier, I stand by the comments I made yesterday."
"Senator Rubio said this morning that the entire matter involving Donald Trump Jr. is, and I quote, 'Mueller territory.' In other words, it should be left solely up to the special prosecutor. What’s the White House reaction to that?"
"Again, I would refer you to the outside special counsel, and I think that’s something that they could work on together."
"Whose decision was it to provide relatively limited answers today to the Don Jr. question? Is it a lawyer, or did White House Counsel instruct you not to do this? Is it a communications decision? Who made that decision?"
"As I told Zeke earlier, all the appropriate parties were part of the conversation and that decision was made internally."
"In the conversation that you had with the president, did he give an indication to you that these stories that we see come out day after day, in the New York Times specifically, are in any way self-inflicted? After all, it’s the meeting that Don Jr. had with this Russian lawyer that has precipitated all of this."
"No. And I think the president has made it pretty clear his position on this entire process."
"When you have that conversation with the president, do you ask him — just so you can speak with us and inform us — do you say, what was the nature, from your understanding, Mr. President, about the conversation your son and these other two individuals had with this Russian lawyer?"
"I didn’t have that type of conversation. The conversations I have — the goal is to get information that I can best communicate to you guys, whether it’s on health care or infrastructure or tax reform or any other matter. The way those conversations play out are going to vary from topic to topic."
"Is President Trump now aware of the Russian government effort to influence the campaign in his favor?"
"Is the president now aware of the Russian government effort to influence the campaign in his favor?"
"Again, I’m not going to answer any questions on that matter."
"And a follow-up on that. Yesterday, you were asked when the president learned of the Donald Jr. meeting, and your response was, 'I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.' Is there any reason that we should think that answer would change today? Have you learned anything new that would change your response there?"
No I haven’t. Thanks, guys, so much.
And briefing ended on that note.
Nidhi Prakash is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York
Contact Nidhi Prakash at email@example.com.
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