White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended President Trump’s mocking remarks about Christine Blasey Ford, telling reporters during a Wednesday press briefing that Trump was simply “stating the facts.”
“Every single word Judge Kavanaugh has said has been picked apart. Every single word, second by second, of his testimony has been picked apart. Yet if anybody says anything about the accusations that have been thrown against him, that’s totally off-limits and outrageous,” Sanders said in a forceful tone. “This entire process has been a disgrace.”
Trump has received blowback after he taunted Ford Tuesday night during a rally in Mississippi, mimicking testimony the California professor gave to a Senate panel last week in which she detailed her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.
“Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” Trump said in an imitation of Ford, as the crowd applauded. “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The comments drew backlash from GOP Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake, who are considered key votes on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
However, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell defended Kavanaugh on Wednesday and said the Senate will vote on his nomination this week. Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s remarks, saying Ford has “been treated like a Fabergé egg.”
The following is a transcript of Sanders’ exchange with reporters during today’s briefing, as provided by the White House:
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Ambassador Bolton. A couple of quick reminders:
FEMA, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission will conduct a nationwide, integrated public alert and warning system test of the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alerts later today.
This will take place in two parts: The WEA portion starting at 2:18 p.m. Eastern, followed by the EAS portion at 2:20 p.m. Eastern. This is the first nationwide WEA test and the fourth for the EAS. The overall test will assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message, and determine whether technological improvements are needed.
Looking ahead to Monday, President Trump will travel to Orlando, Florida to address the International Association of Chiefs of Police. As the largest gathering of police leaders, the President will speak about the work of the administration to protect American communities by restoring law and order, supporting local law enforcement, and securing the border.
Lastly, on the night President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Senator Schumer declared the Democrats would oppose this nomination with everything they had. Before a single document was produced, a single meeting with the senator, or a hearing was ever scheduled, Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats telegraphed a strategy to throw the kitchen sink at the Judge with no regard for the process, decency, or standards. They’re not opposed to Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial views; they’re literally trying to undercut the voice of the American people when they elected Donald Trump.
They have questioned his legitimacy, and casually tossed around vicious accusations of perjury -- all false and baseless. But now they’ve sunk lower, as they sprang these 11th-hour accusations and a full-scale assault on Judge Kavanaugh’s integrity.
This is a coordinated smear campaign. No evidence, no independent corroboration, just smears. Here are just a few of the examples:
Chuck Schumer said, and I quote, “There’s no presumption of innocence or guilt.” Chris Coons, who sits on the committee, said Kavanaugh, and I quote, “now bears the burden of disproving these allegations, rather than Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez.” Mazie Hirono, who also sits on the Committee, said that Judge Kavanaugh does not deserve the presumption of innocence because of his judicial views.
One thing is clear: Democrats want to block Kavanaugh and hold the seat open until the 2020 election. This is about politics and this is about power -- pure and simple. And they’ve destroyed Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation, undermined Dr. Ford’s privacy, and tried to upend our traditions of innocence until proven guilty in the process. It’s a complete and total disgrace.
We will receive and submit the FBI’s supplemental background investigation on his nomination to the Senate. As Leader McConnell said, Judge Kavanaugh deserves a prompt vote and we expect him to get one. And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Sarah, the three people who are most important in this whole process are Senators Murkowski, Collins, and Flake. This morning, two of those Senators -- Flake and Collins -- were extremely upset about how the President described Christine Blasey Ford at that rally in Mississippi. Knowing how sensitive this issue is and how important it would be if the FBI investigation shows no other compelling evidence to keep Judge Kavanaugh from the court that these people need to be comfortable with voting for him, why did the President say what he did last night in the way that said it?
MS. SANDERS: The President was stating the facts -- and, frankly, facts that were included in special prosecutor Rachel Mitchell’s report. He was stating facts that were given during Dr. Ford’s testimony. And the Senate has to make a decision based those on facts and whether or not they see Judge Kavanaugh to be qualified to hold the position on the Supreme Court. Every single word Judge Kavanaugh has said has been picked apart. Every single word, second by second, of his testimony has been picked apart.
Yet if anybody says anything about the accusations that have been thrown against them, that’s totally off limits and outrageous. This entire process has been a disgrace, and the only reason that it’s been that way is because Senate Democrats didn’t do this the way that it should’ve been done and they circumvented the entire system. And, frankly, they’ve undermined our entire judicial branch by the way that they’ve acted and the inappropriateness with which they’ve conducted themselves.
Q Well, pointing out inconsistencies --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, go ahead.
Q Pointing out inconsistencies in testimonies is one thing. But the tone with which the President did it last night clearly had an effect on two key swing votes for his nomination. Is the President concerned that he may have put those votes in danger by doing what he did last night?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so. The President is very confident in his nominee, as he’s stated time and time again. And we expect the Senate to vote, and we hope they do that soon.
Q Two quick questions and then I’ll come back to Kavanaugh. First, does the White House have any response to the reported mailings of Ricin to Pentagon officials? And also the President -- has the President been briefed on this investigation? Any updates?
MS. SANDERS: The President has certainly been made aware. But as we stated yesterday, I would refer you to the U.S. Secret Service to respond to those.
Q Do you have any update on the President’s meeting with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that was supposed to be held last week? Does the President still have confidence with him?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we don’t have any updates on that front. If there’s a meeting, we’ll let you know. But at this point, they continue to work together and both show up every day and do their jobs.
Q And just one more back on Kavanaugh. You said a couple minutes ago -- you criticized Democrats for undermining Dr. Ford’s privacy, and when the President referred her last night, aren’t you there trying to have it both ways -- by sort of attacking Democrats for doing something that wasn’t in your interest, and then the President was out onstage last night, essentially mocking her testimony?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. We’re pointing out the hypocrisy. Again, none of these this would be taking place if Democrats had done this in a normal order, and not exploited Dr. Ford and attacked Judge Kavanaugh in such a public manner. All of this could have been handled completely differently. And the Senate Democrats hold all of the responsibility for that process.
Q The New York Times reported yesterday that the President had engaged in outright tax fraud throughout the ‘90s with suspect tax schemes, and -- you know, basically getting more money from his parents than he said, using thousands of documents. You rebutted the story. Can you explain what is inaccurate about that story -- if there’s anything that is actually inaccurate about it?
MS. SANDERS: It’s a totally false attack, based on an old recycled news story. I’m not going to sit and go through every single line of a very boring, 14,000-word story.
Q Can you give us anything --
MS. SANDERS: The only thing -- I will say, one thing the article did get right, was that it showed that the President’s father actually had a great deal of confidence in him. In fact, the President brought his father into a lot of deals and they made a lot of money together, so much so that his father went on to say that everything he touched turned to gold.
The President’s lawyer addressed some of the specific claims and walked through how the allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100-percent false and highly defamatory. There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone.
He went on much further and I would encourage you to read every word of his statement, which completely undercuts the accusations made by the New York Times.
Q Are the President’s taxes still under audit?
MS. SANDERS: I know that a number of his taxes are still under audit.
Q Are the ones from the ‘90s and the early-2000s -- are those as?
MS. SANDERS: I’d have to check and get back to you.
Q Would the White House be willing to provide any of his tax returns?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any plans to do so.
Q Thank you, Sarah. It was just a couple of days ago that the President called Christine Blasey Ford “a very credible witness.” A “very credible,” “very compelling” -- but now he’s basically making her out to be a liar, so which is it?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the testimony by Dr. Ford was compelling, but you can’t make this decision based on emotion. It has to be based on fact. They have to determine what the facts are of this case. That’s one of the reasons that they asked and begged for the FBI and delayed a hearing vote, is so that they could get more facts on this case.
We expect the FBI to turn those facts over to the Senate and they can make a determination based on that. That’s all we’re asking for.
Q You said that he was stating the facts at that campaign rally, but this was so much more than stating the facts. This was a full-scale campaign rally assault on a woman who says she is victim of sexual assault. But what do you get out of that? Is that to help Kavanaugh’s nomination? Is this to rally the base? Is this going to help with the midterms? Like what’s the point in doing that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I dispute that it wasn’t anything other than the President stating facts -- in fact, facts that were laid out in the prosecutor’s memo that she put forward to the Senate.
Each of the things that he called out were things that were laid out in that memo.
Q Thanks, Sarah. There’s conflicting feelings on Capitol Hill right now over whether the FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh should be made public or not. Does the White House commit to transparency on this effort and let the American people see the full reign of this investigation, regardless of the findings?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve been very open and transparent through the process. The President is the one that ordered the FBI investigation to take place and has allowed the Senate to actually control and dictate the terms and scope of the investigation. We’re continuing to do that and allowing the FBI to actually do what it is they do best, and that’s their jobs to do this investigation.
Q Another question for you, if I may, on declassification, since we haven’t spoken in a while. The President has said that --
MS. SANDERS: I missed you guys too. (Laughter.)
Q The President said that he would refer the declassification process to the DOJ inspector general, but he wants to see that happen quickly. What does “quickly” mean? Are we going to see these documents before the midterm elections?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to walk through a timeline, but we’re continuing to work through that process. And when we have an update on it, we’ll certainly let you know.
Q Sarah, why did you say earlier this year that Michael Cohen was acting on his own in an arbitration proceeding to prevent Stormy Daniels from doing a television interview when the President actually directed that move?
MS. SANDERS: As you know, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth. That’s an issue for the President’s outside counsel. I’d direct you there to answer it.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions: First, the impact and meaning of the President’s comments in Mississippi notwithstanding, it is a fact that Senators Collins, Murkowski, Flake, and Manchin are the undecided votes critical to the nomination. Are there any plans for the President to call any of them between now and next week and make one final pitch? Perhaps explain his remarks a little bit more.
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of a specific scheduled call. But we’ve certainly been in close contact with a number of members, and we’ll continue to do so up until the vote.
Q The other thing I was going to ask was, two of the President’s early supporters in the House -- Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California -- are running under indictment. There are rules of the National Republican Congressional Committee barring support for members who are under indictment. Does the President still support both of them for reelection?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t get into a lot of details, one, for Hatch Act violation, but also, with an ongoing investigation, I’m not going to be able to comment on that from up here.
Q Yes, Sarah. Thank you. As this briefing was beginning, Bloomberg put out an article about the FBI background investigation. And Bloomberg is reporting right now that the FBI hasn’t interviewed Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford because the White House hasn’t given investigators clear authority to do so. Is that indeed the case?
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve said several times, the President has indicated that whoever the FBI deems necessary to interview, he’s fine with that. But he’s also asked that the Senate be the ones that determine the scope of what they need in order to make a decision on whether they vote Kavanaugh up or down.
I can also tell you that both Kavanaugh -- Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford were questioned in the most public way possible by the members of the Senate who are ultimately the ones who have to make the determination on whether or not they vote for Judge Kavanaugh. If they had additional questions for either one of them, they had a time and an opportunity certainly to ask those.
Q Does the White House believe it is appropriate then --
MS. SANDERS: Ayesha -- sorry?
Q Does the White House believe it is appropriate for these two -- I know you’re saying that the FBI --
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re going to allow the Senate to make the determination of the scope.
MS. SANDERS: Ayesha, go ahead.
Q Thank you. So President Trump talked a lot yesterday about this issue of being concerned about men being guilty before -- being thought guilty before proven innocent and this idea of due process.
But in the past, with the Central Park Five, he put out an ad basically calling for the death penalty before they had been found convicted. And even after they were exonerated, he still basically said that they may be guilty. And, even as President, he has talked about -- presided over rallies where people say, “Lock her up,” talking about Hillary Clinton. So I guess, is there a disconnect between when the President is interested in due process for some, but not for others?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. The President actually encouraged the Senate to hear Dr. Ford’s testimony in the same way he encouraged them to hear Judge Kavanaugh’s. He is simply stating the fact that we are a country of law and order, we are a country that still believes that you’re innocent until proven guilty, and we want to see that process go through in its entirety. And it should be on a fair playing field. That’s simply the only point he’s making.
Q (Inaudible) guilty. He said --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry.
Q He said the Central Park Five was guilty.
Q And he -- does he feel that now?
MS. SANDERS: I’d have to look back at those specific comments.
Q But that’s a real question in the midst of this. The President has taken this moment --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Dave, go ahead.
Q This President has taken this moment to say that he’s been affected personally by all of these allegations, and he’s picking and choosing -- just as this question was. He said the Central Five -- Park Five was guilty, and then he has made Bill Clinton guilty. Has he decided to change his mind on the Central Park Five, as they have been exonerated?
MS. SANDERS: It’s interesting that you bring up Bill Clinton. Nobody wants to hear those accusers’ voices be heard, but you’re certainly happy to hear all the others.
Dave, go ahead.
Q No, he had them -- the President had them at the debate.
MS. SANDERS: I addressed this. I don’t have anything else to add.
Q The President had them at the debate.
MS. SANDERS: Dave, go ahead.
Q Is he still talking to them?
Q Thank you, Sarah. Several times in the last week, the President has tried to reassure voters that he’ll protect people with preexisting conditions from losing their health insurance. Is that a sign that he’s worried Republicans are losing the argument on healthcare in this election?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s a sign that the President wants to protect people with preexisting health conditions. I think it’s pretty simple. He said that he supports that, and he wants to make sure that that’s not something that gets lost.
Q Sarah, I wanted to go back to this -- I mean, it was pretty obvious that the President was mocking Christine Blasey Ford last night. He said:
”How did you get home?” “I don’t remember.” “How did you get there?” “I don’t remember.” “Where is this place?” “I don’t remember.”
He seemed to be, to the delight of the crowd there in Mississippi, mocking her repeatedly. Isn’t there something wrong with the President of the United States mocking somebody who says she was sexually assaulted?
MS. SANDERS: It seemed to me that he was stating facts that Dr. Ford, herself, laid out in her testimony. Once again, every single word that Judge Kavanaugh has said has been looked at, examined, picked apart by most of you in this room, but not -- no one is looking at whether or not the accusations made are corroborated, whether or not there’s evidence to support them.
Every person that she named has come out and said either they didn’t recall it, or it didn’t happen, or they weren’t there. Every single bit of evidence and facts that we’ve seen in this moment have supported Judge Kavanaugh’s case. And the President is simply pointing out the facts of the matter. And that is what the Senate will have to use to determine whether or not they vote to support him or not.
Q Are you saying Judge Kavanaugh --
MS. SANDERS: Jon.
Q -- are you saying Judge Kavanaugh is the victim in all this?
MS. SANDERS: I think both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh are victims at the hands of the Democrats. I think it is absolutely disgraceful what they’ve done and exploited this process. They exploited Dr. Ford. They’re exploiting all of the women that have come out to make any type of accusation.
This is isn’t the process that should have been done. And certainly, everybody deserves to be heard. But that includes Judge Kavanaugh, and that should be part of this process. And the facts have to be looked at. And I think you have to look at the prosecutor’s memo. Those are where you see all of those facts laid out, and I think she makes a very compelling case.
Q And you don’t have any problem at all with defending the President’s comments last night?
MS. SANDERS: Jon, go ahead.
Q You don’t have any problem defending the President’s comments last night?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any problem stating facts. No.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Just five days ago --
MS. SANDERS: I know that’s something you probably do have a problem with, but I don’t.
Q Actually, Sarah, we do state the facts, and I think there have been many occasions when you don’t state the facts, if I may respond.
MS. SANDERS: John, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Just five days ago on Friday, the President, when asked about Dr. Ford’s testimony before the Senate, said that “she was a very credible witness.” And we saw a different tone, a different substance last night in those remarks to that campaign rally audience in Mississippi. Why the change in tone? And does the President still believe what he said on Friday that “she was a very credible witness”?
MS. SANDERS: I’ve addressed this a number of times. The President also said she had a “very compelling” story. And nobody disagrees with that --
Q (Inaudible) the credible --
MS. SANDERS: Hold on --
Q -- the credible part.
MS. SANDERS: And nobody disagrees with that. But the President is simply stating the facts that she laid out in her own testimony and that the prosecutor laid out in her memo. At the end of the day, the Senate has to make a decision on where they stand.
I’ll take one last question. Weijia, go ahead.
Q But to the point about whether he believes she is still credible -- does he still -- but does the President still believe that Dr. Ford’s testimony was credible when she testified under oath in the Senate hearing?
MS. SANDERS: The President believes that Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed. He has a lot of confidence in him and he’d like to see a vote to see that happen.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A couple questions. President Trump has seemed to link the credibility of a claim with how much time has passed since the individual made it. President Trump has also called the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church “very sad,” but many of those victims waited decades before coming forward. Why does the President seem to assume men who are claiming abuse but wait to come forward are telling the truth, but not women?
MS. SANDERS: That’s just completely untrue. The President has supported, again, throughout this entire process, Dr. Ford’s ability to come forward and tell her story. He’s the one that ordered the FBI to do a background -- further supplemental background check to look into each of the accusations and allegations that the Senate deems necessary before making a vote. He’s also been more than happy to give a platform to the accusers that have come out against then-President Bill Clinton. To say that he’s never sided with women is just ridiculous
Q No, but he has implied that they’re coming out of the woodwork all of a sudden and cited that as a reason why, even though he has called for an investigation, even though --
MS. SANDERS: He’s saying that because after Judge Kavanaugh has been in public service and in the public eye for over 26 years, been through six backgrounds investigation -- now part of a seventh -- that this is the first time you’re ever hearing of any of these allegations.
The fact that, through all of those background checks, not even an inkling of any of those things has ever come up, despite the fact he was one of the top prosecutors for Ken Starr and in a major public position, none of these things came up. When he was nominated to be on the federal bench, none of these things came up.
He has been a public figure, and there has been a lot of opportunity for people to raise this issue, and it never has. And now, at the 11th hour, the Democrats have exploited this process and done so publicly. And it’s a shame, and he’s simply calling that out.
Thanks so much guys. We’ll see you soon.