CNN: CNN's Chris Cuomo presses Sarah Sanders on her false statement that President Donald Trump did not dictate a misleading letter about a Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.
Full transcript, via CNN:
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The most visible member of the administration outside of the president himself is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and she is here.
Sarah, it is good to see you.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE: Good to see you.
CUOMO: I respect you taking the opportunity.
SANDERS: Thank you. Thanks for being in D.C.
CUOMO: Well, I came for you.
What do you think about this as a positive pivot? Let's take a look at this situation and see if we can get to a place, mutual respect, both sides think credibility counts, and we move forward. What do you say?
SANDERS: All right. We'll give it a shot.
CUOMO: All right. Where's the sticking point? This meeting matters, you know it does. I understand the reference to counsel. I get it. Not just because I’m an attorney, but you don't want to answer for the lawyers, you don’t want to answer for an operation that you're not a part of. I get it.
But you can answer for what you said. You don't have to refer to counsel for that. Sekulow is not your lawyer. He's the president's lawyer. You're saying, he didn't dictate this. He did what any father would do.
That turns out not to be true. You agree with that?
SANDERS: Once again, I know I answered this question on Monday. I answered it on Tuesday, and I’m going to answer it the same way today and you're probably not going to like it anymore on Wednesday than it sounds like you liked it on Monday or Tuesday. But this is a legal matter and the appropriate individuals to answer questions on a legal matter are the outside counsel.
And I would direct you to them. And frankly, I did direct you to them. And you had them here on your set and asked them that question and I would refer you back to that statement.
CUOMO: I get it. I didn't have them. But I understand what you're saying about CNN.
Why is it a legal matter, what you said?
SANDERS: Again, this is an illegal process and I would refer you to the appropriate venue to answer questions on a legal back and forth. And that is the president's outside counsel. And that's who you should ask those questions of.
CUOMO: So, even --
SANDERS: If you guys want to talk about questions that have to do with White House policy and substantive policy, I’m happy to try to answer those and do the best I can to provide you that information. If you want to talk about things that don't have anything to do with me and that are the venue of --
CUOMO: Except it does, right, because this is what you said.
SANDERS: -- the outside counsel, that's who should answer those questions.
CUOMO: I get it. I get that that's the answer. But you also get it's unsatisfying, right? That's why we're frozen.
SANDERS: I mean, I don't understand having to answer the same question over and over and over again.
CUOMO: Because you haven't answered it. That's why.
CUOMO: In all due respect, it's because you didn’t answer.
SANDERS: No, that’s not true. I’ve answered it, you just didn’t like the answer. There's a big difference between me answering it and you not liking the answer.
CUOMO: There can be -- no, fair point. There can be a difference. However, I don't know that there is here, because this is about something you said.
You could have said this then. When people asked you, hey, what Sekulow says, is it right? Why didn't you say then it's a matter for counsel?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into a back and forth with you. I’ve addressed it. The outside counsel has addressed it. They've answered this question over the last couple of days and I would refer you back to those comments.
CUOMO: Let's look at it a different way. Do you wish that the White House had corrected the error between where it started and where it wound up with Sekulow in this letter sooner?
SANDERS: I wish that we spent a lot less time focused on things the American people don't care about. I wish we spent a lot less time talking about this witch hunt and that we talked about things that impact everyday Americans. I wish we spent a lot more time talking about the economy.
I wish that your network had spent a lot more time today covering a very important piece of legislation that the president signed when he spent a good bit of time this afternoon talking about the importance of Veterans Choice Act that he signed into law today. And your network didn't even take that.
I wish those were the things that we spent time talking about that.
CUOMO: We didn't take the whole V.A. -- look, we did take Kudlow's whole symposium. A lot of people did not. You have to make choices in this business. But --
SANDERS: And I understand if you guys didn't want to put the veterans as the choice that you made and I think that’s a sad decision you made.
CUOMO: You know that's not what it's about.
SANDERS: I know that that's something that’s important to you, and I think it's sad that we don't spend more time on those topics. You and I have had that conversation both on camera and off-camera.
SANDERS: And it's not different on camera than it is off with me. I think you know that. And that’s why I think we should be talking about issues that people care about.
CUOMO: Right, but credibility is something that people care about. The truth is what people care about. Nobody thinks, except for really, right now, the president and maybe you in this moment, that this is a witch hunt.
These are real questions. It's a real investigation. We see real indictments and lots of different threads to this story. But I understand that spin.
The credibility of it matters. When something that appears to be a lie, because the idea that the president's lawyer doesn't know what his client's role was in the drafting of that response, it just strains credulity. Common sense tells you, that can't be.
And how do we know? Because it wasn't. Sekulow changed his story. The letter came out, only when exposed.
Why wasn't this story changed sooner?
SANDERS: Again, that's a question you would have to ask the outside counsel. I’m not going to have a legal conversation with you here. If you want to talk about issues again that matter to the American people, I’m happy to do that. But --
CUOMO: You really don't think this matters to the American people?
SANDERS: I’ve answered this question multiple times. And no matter how many times I answer it for you, it's not going to change. It's the same one.
CUOMO: Look, it's got to be frustrating for you -- I'll try it one other way.
SANDERS: It's got to be frustrating for me to answer the same question over and over again?
CUOMO: To be put in a position where you can't answer it. You seem to be in a position where you feel that you are constrained to not be able to --
SANDERS: We are purposefully walling ourselves off and allowing the outside counsel to do their job. And we're doing ours.
CUOMO: But you did initially answer it, right?
SANDERS: I did. And again --
CUOMO: Do you regret that?
SANDERS: No, I don't. But I am starting to regret sitting here, because I’ve answered the same question a million times --
CUOMO: I just wanted to give you -- I wanted to give you a lot of chances at it, because I think it matters. I think it hurts your credibility. I think it hurts the dynamic.
But I gave you the opportunities. You made of them what you wanted, all right? It’s not the only reason I brought you.
SANDERS: I’m very comfortable with my credibility and the fact that I think by sitting here right now and taking questions from you --
SANDERS: -- shows the type of person I am, shows my effort to provide information. And frankly, to be in an environment that's not exactly friendly, that's not exactly one that I think a lot of people in my position would come and sit in. And I think that speaks a lot to my credibility.
And if you want to focus on my credibility, I think that's something you should certainly look at.
CUOMO: I started the interview by saying, I respect you taking the opportunity.
Let me ask you something else that winds up being a pattern of this. What the president calls spygate, all right? You've now had a list of people including the speaker of the House, Gowdy, Nunes, Burr say, we looked at the information that is relevant, the FBI did nothing wrong.
Is it time for the president to stop saying that the FBI spied on him wrongly?
SANDERS: Look, the president has got some real concerns. We know that the FBI certainly participated in a number of things that I think, frankly, the American people are concerned about, not just the president, and we think they should be looked at. And that's what's taking place.
CUOMO: Right. But he keeps saying it like it may have happened and these people from your own party have looked at it and said it didn't happen.
SANDERS: The president feels strongly about this and that it should be fully looked at. And I think he's got some real reasons to be concerned. There's no question that there was a lot of foul play that went on in the FBI. We've seen evidence of that.
And certainly -- look, people were fired over the inappropriate actions that they took while they were at the FBI. And certainly, the president has a right to be concerned about that.
CUOMO: Nothing connected to what he says, though, about spying. That's why I’m just saying, why don't you just drop that and move on to another area where you don't know the facts?
SANDERS: Chris, there very a lot of reports that caused -- that raised a lot of cause for concern. And the president is asking that those be looked at.
Look, there's been nothing, literally nothing that has come out of the year and a half-long witch hunt that you guys have been on. Yet, everybody --
CUOMO: Why do you keep calling it that?
SANDERS: -- wants to spend plenty of time looking at that.
CUOMO: Why do you keep calling it that?
SANDERS: The president is simply asking that this being looked into as well.
CUOMO: I'll ask you a third time. I don't know why you keep calling it that.
SANDERS: Because --
CUOMO: Bob Mueller is one of the most respected people in your party. He’s a decorated veteran.
SANDERS: Because there is --
CUOMO: Everybody stood up and cheered when he got this job.
SANDERS: I’m glad you want to mention the veterans now, but didn't want to cover it when we were actually --
CUOMO: Have I ever taken you a cheap shot at you? Why would you say that we wouldn't support the veterans?
SANDERS: That's not what I said.
CUOMO: You were the one who didn't want to invite one of the biggest veterans groups who was in favor of the Choice Bill to the ceremony today, the IAVA, one of the largest population, just because they haven’t been as affectionate (ph) to the Trump administration.
SANDERS: We wouldn’t have known that they went there based on the coverage by CNN today.
CUOMO: No, but I’m saying, look, I think that we have a very strong case to make that we cover veterans issues as well or not better than anyone. I don't think we need a cheap shot. I ask you the questions. You answer them the way you want.
The spying, I laid it out there for why I would think it would time to let it go when your own people say so. You had a shot at that.
Let me ask you about the economy in the first 500 days. That was a priority for you in coming on. What do you believe the case is for the American people, as we enter the midterms that if you look at the first 500 days, winning?
SANDERS: Absolutely. The economy, without question is one of, I think the president's signature moments in the first 500 days. Over 3 million jobs have been created. Certainly, the fact that unemployment is at the lowest that it's been in decades. Multiple people have said that we have the strongest economy that we've had since World War II. We now have more jobs available than we have people looking for them.
No one can argue the fact that the economy is in a better place under this president and under his leadership, in large part due to the tax cuts and jobs act that he helped orchestrate and get through Congress. And also, the massive deregulation. And just the environment that he has created for businesses to want to go out, grow their companies, hire people, and not just hire them, but pay them good wages.
We are in one of the best moments that we could possibly have economically. And it's a huge success for this president.
CUOMO: A couple of questions about, at what cost to the growth. The tax bill was fundamental, according to the administration and certain economists for juicing the economy. I don't mean that in a cynical way, but it did come at a cost, because you have a deficit that we haven't seen in a long, long time.
2017, I think it was $666 billion, the number of the beast. Much up from 2016, which was the last year you weren't responsible for. The estimates go up from there.
CUOMO: Trump was so strong on being anti-deficit when he campaigned. Your party is so strong on being anti-deficit. Why balloon it now?
SANDERS: Look, the president's working hard. That's one of the reasons that he's so emphatically focused on fixing the trade deficit that we have across the globe. He's making sure that we're protecting American workers and that we're putting more money back into American's pockets and we're not allowing countries to rip us off anymore.
The president is the first person in a long time to stand up to countries like China and say, not anymore, not on my watch. We're closing the gap. We’re bringing the wealth back into the United States.
Look, we've grown $7 trillion, $7 trillion in wealth here in this country under this president. The deficit wasn't created in a day. It's not going to be fixed in a day. But the president is certainly focused on reducing that.
One of the big problems we had is the fact that previous administrations had let our military just drop down. And they had to have a huge surge in military funding and spending to rebuild our military and make sure that the president did his number one job, which is to protect the people across this country. And he did that by making sure our military was fully funded. And he did that by going off of what General Mattis and the folks at DOD said had to be done in order to put our military in the place it needed to be.
CUOMO: But the growth of the economy winds up being countered and mitigated to a certain point by the deficit. And you mentioned --
SANDERS: I certainly don't think that you can take away the strength of the economy because of the deficit. Don't get me wrong --
CUOMO: That's fundamental economics.
SANDERS: We want to fix that, and we're doing everything we can, but you can't take away --
CUOMO: But debt service --
SANDERS: -- the fact that this company has strengthened our economy and made it better. Ask any economist or individual in this country, are they doing better under president trump or President Obama? And I can tell you, based on the economy and the strength and the growth and the breaking down of barriers that this president has provided, they're better off under President Trump.
CUOMO: Well, certainly, people will say that and some will not. That's what elections are about.
You mentioned tariffs. There's an argument to be made that what people may have gotten back in their pocket from the tax cuts may be erased by the higher prices they're going to pay because of these tariffs. What about that?
SANDERS: We don't think so. The president is making sure he's focused on making good trade deals and not continued to be ripped off by other countries. We have countries like China where we have a $500 billion trade imbalance. And that has to be closed. That gap has to be --
CUOMO: The problem is clear. Whether this is the right solution is the question.
SANDERS: We can't continue to ignore it. And the president is focused on fixing the problem. And that's exactly what he's going to do. Thankfully, he's the best negotiator at the table and we're very confident in his tablet to get the deal we need to make sure we close those gaps.
CUOMO: Just interviewed Chuck Schumer. It will be on after you. He says that the president is a terrible dealmaker and one of his examples is, look at the economy right now. You have more jobs than you do have people. And yet the president said in the immigration negotiation, he wanted to cut legal immigration in half.
Why would you cut legal immigration if you need more workers?
SANDERS: Chuck Schumer is probably the only person in America that could find something wrong with a booming economy that's going on in this country right now.
CUOMO: But that's a good point about why you're cutting the workforce.
SANDERS: Schumer's been on so many different sides of the issue. He was against the Iran deal until the president became the president and got rid of it.
CUOMO: But what about this one?
SANDERS: I missed the last part of --
CUOMO: Well, I’ll say it again. The idea that you want to cut legal immigration in half when you need more workers. Why would you do that?
SANDERS: Nobody here is against legal immigration. The president wants a system that works. He's tired of kicking the can down the road. We want to close loopholes and want to secure the border. There's nothing wrong with that. Those are good things.
CUOMO: But cutting it in half means you'll starve yourself of workers.
SANDERS: Chuck Schumer should quit playing political games and do what his job. He has done nothing.
Look, the Democrats no longer have a message. That's why they continue to drop in numbers and the president continues to go up, because he's actually doing things to help the American people and he's solving problems.
Democrats are going to have to decide, at some point, and they should decide it soon, do they hate this president more than they love this country? Because right now, all they do is attack the president. They offered nothing, they have no solutions, and they have no message.
And there's a reason that they're not going to do well in November and that’s it.
CUOMO: They say they attack the country because they love the country, but again, that's what elections are for.
SANDERS: I can't imagine why attacking a president who has strengthened our economy, built better foreign relations, put national security back on the forefront, and made America respected again, made us feared again by -- and friends of our allies, I just -- I find it laughable that Chuck Schumer would find things wrong with the direction of the country is going right now.
CUOMO: He's not alone in that. You have members of your own party who are against tariffs and other bills right now. So, it's a little bit of a mixed bag.
Let's go back to you. Let's end where we started. Are you enjoying your job?
SANDERS: I am. And even in moments when I come on CNN, because I love our country. I think the president's doing a tremendous job. And we are, I think, moving the ball down the field in a way that it hasn't been done in a long time.
CUOMO: And you're OK with how you're doing it?
SANDERS: I mean, I think things are going pretty well. Again, I think that the country is moving in the right direction and it's doing that under the president's leadership. And I’m proud to be a part of that. And I think some really great things have happened over these first 500 days. And I think a lot of great things are going to take place over the next 6 1/2 years.
CUOMO: Do you believe that this is sustainable? This dynamic where we come at you with questions about what's true and what isn't, and those questions don't get answered. Do you think that by saying, we stink --
SANDERS: I --
CUOMO: -- that we don't like veterans, that we are bad for America, the president says we are enemies of America. Do you think that works for you long-term?
SANDERS: Look, what I think is important to remember is that you guys get to ask the questions, but you can't always complain about the answers. You constantly ask the same question over and over and over again --
CUOMO: That's the job.
SANDERS: -- and expect different answers?
CUOMO: That's the job.
SANDERS: And get mad when the answers don't change.
No, the job is to get information and report the news. Unfortunately, you guys quit reporting the news. When I can read a news story and I have no idea what side of the story the reporter is on, that's a good news story. You'll be hard-pressed to find a lot of news that looks like that.
CUOMO: That assumes that the story is completely evenhanded. That one side isn't more right than other, that something isn't demonstrably true.
CUOMO: That everything is unknown. That's not the truth. That’s not the truth.
SANDERS: The news isn't an opinion.
CUOMO: Of course, the news isn't an opinion.
SANDERS: The news is reporting facts and letting other people make the decision --
CUOMO: That's right. And if you won't answer the question, Sarah, how can people do that?
SANDERS: I answer questions all day, every day. It's what I spend every minute of the day doing. It's why I’m sitting here at 9:00 at night answering questions to you.
CUOMO: But you have to understand the dynamic on the other side.
This is where we'll leave this. Let me tell you what it's like on the other side, OK? I haven't sat here and told you that you hate veterans.
SANDERS: I didn't say that.
CUOMO: Yes, sure, you did. You did that in a little bit more polite way.
SANDERS: Actually, Chris, that’s the problem.
CUOMO: But the president acceptance horrible things about how we does the job and you complain about having a critical press. Come on.
SANDERS: I find it absolutely laughable that you would say to me that you’re upset that the president says you got to do a tough (ph) job --
CUOMO: I’m not upset. I’m telling you that you’re asking for scrutiny is what I’m telling you.
SANDERS: On this network alone, I’ve been called useless --
CUOMO: By me?
SANDERS: -- and so many other outrageous names?
CUOMO: By me?
SANDERS: No, I’m just saying in general.
CUOMO: But not by me. You got to take each of his own, right?
SANDERS: I hope not.
CUOMO: I’m not holding you accountable for everything the president said.
SANDERS: But you're taking things I’ve said completely out of context.
CUOMO: The veteran thing was a cheap shot. I know where you were going with it. I’m just saying, it doesn’t make it a healthy dynamic.
SANDERS: It wasn’t a cheap shot. It was a fact. It was a fact you did not cover this topic --
CUOMO: We cover veterans all the time.
SANDERS: -- in a way that I felt like was important today.
CUOMO: I brought you on here because you said you wanted to talk about 500 days and we would handle the news of the day. Did I keep my word?
SANDERS: For the most part. I mean, a lot more on, you know, the back-and-forth versus the 500 days.
CUOMO: So, it would have gone like this, if you had answered the question.
SANDERS: But I get that it would be hard for you to spend a lot of time talking about the president's successes, of which there are many. And maybe we’ll have a chance to do that --
CUOMO: The job, as you know, anytime, you want. Let's end it on that.
SANDERS: All right. Good to see you.
CUOMO: Anytime you want to come on to address what's important to the American people, you got a spot right beside me.
SANDERS: All right. Thanks.
CUOMO: Sarah Sanders, thank you very much.