Travel pool report #6 / Transcript of Tom Bossert gaggle

From: "Bennett, Brian"
Date: July 14, 2017 at 2:49:59 PM EDT
Subject: Travel pool report #6 / Transcript of Tom Bossert gaggle

Tom Bossert, President Trump’s homeland security advisor, came to the back of Air Force One during the flight from Paris to Newark. He spoke to reporters for about 20 minutes. It was all on the record. Bossert was in the extended bilateral meeting between President Trump and President Macron in Paris on Thursday. On Friday, he was in Trump’s entourage at the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Elysees.

Your poolers Brian Bennett and Rebecca Ballhaus compiled a transcript of the Q and A as best we could given the challenge of hearing over the airplane noise. As always, please check quotes against any transcript released by the White House later.

Here are some highlights.

On the travel ban ruling:

“I don’t know if we have a formal administration response to that, but I will offer that I do have concerns with the early reporting. I haven’t read the entire court ruling, so I would say that as it was reported to me, it seemed to be fairly broad and something that would trouble me if it was as broad as it was reported.”

On climate change during the Trump/Macron meeting:

“We didn’t discuss any climate issues at the extended bilateral conversation that I attended. The topic didn’t chill or infect or in any way come up verbally or through non-verbal queques in our conversations. They were very positive conversations and very upbeat relations between the two foreign leaders.”

On whether the U.S. and Russia will partner on cybersecurity:

“I’m not nitpicking your question but I would say we are not discussing a partnership here…. The distiction I made was that a partnership indicates your relationship is in a place where you believe you have a trusted relationship and you have some common framing on ideals and goals and behaviors. I don’t believe that the United States and Russia have come to that point yet in cyberspace. And until we do, we won’t have a conversation about partnership. But we’ve got to have a dialogue. And that’s what we’ve started.”

Tom Bossert, homeland security advisor:

That was a really great day, wasn’t it? That’s about the coolest parade I’ve ever attended.

Are you going to have a parade like that at home?

Oh I have no idea. But for today’s sake I’m just pretty personally taken by that parade.

Let me just start the conversation by saying that President Trump and President Macron had private conversations yesterday but also an extended bilateral conversation. I wanted to talk to you about that and give you a readout and answer questions.

On Trump-Macron counterterrorism talks

Among other things in the bilateral conversation yesterday, the presidents discussed Syria, defeating ISIS in general but in Syria specifically, and our desire to have a political solution outside and after our military solutions prevail. They discussed counterterrorism in general as it will be an enduring and ongoing problem after our defeat ISIS campaign takes the physical caliphate from ISIS.

They discussed limiting and containing and ultimately reducing and removing Iranian sponsorship for terrorism and regional influence. They discussed current relations with Qatar. They discussed what to do after our short-term objectives are met in reducing their financial contributions to terrorism, and three or four other topics. In general, the conversation was detailed. The conversation was fairly involved. We discussed terrorism largely.

President Trump thanked President Macron for France’s continued and pretty extensive support for not only American efforts but for global efforts to counter terrorism in North Africa and throughout the Sahel region. That’s something the French have been committed to and doubled and redoubled their efforts I think in the last three to five years, and President Macron has shown leadership there in that regard.

On whether there are any kinks in the US-France intelligence relationship

There are no kinks in that relationship. In fact, intelligence sharing and the counterterrorism sharing between the two countries has never been better. I can tell you that from my perspective of my service at the White House under President Bush and now my service again under President Trump. The comparative analysis is unquestionable. We’ve got the strongest relations, in fact the strongest security relations – the strongest counterterrorism security relations – with the French, ever.

On U.S.-France intelligence sharing

The intent to share, the intent to cooperate, collaborate is there, and has been reaffirmed, which is a very reassuring thing for the people of France and America. But I think the relationship that the two presidents have forged will increase the trust that’s required for that information sharing and that intelligence sharing relationship.

The conversations particularly in the extended bilateral I attended put some additional details and framework on the strategic objectives for the sharing of that information and the vital interests that we’re seeking to protect.

Content and nature of conversation between presidents

The content and nature of the conversation between the two presidents in the bilateral yesterday had to do with removing terrorist propaganda from social media sites on the Internet, open Internet in general—something, an objective that both countries share. The approach and the details now are going to require some additional work. Both presidents agreed, and I’ve agreed to help at the staff level coordinate some additional conversations in that regard.

I think some of the conversation now in the community of like-minded centers around whether we need to compel that removal and if there’s a way to do such a thing, or whether we can work collaboratively and cooperatively with the companies and their providers to remove that kind of counterterrorism—or terrorism propaganda from the Internet. I think that remains to be seen, but that was the nature of the conversation.

Was that propaganda conversation about Russia?

The conversation about Russia didn’t take place in the context of yesterday’s bilateral conversation. The context of propaganda and its removal from the Internet was centered on the global jihadi problem.

On Iran and reports that administration is planning to certify that Iran is in compliance with nuclear deal

No it didn’t come up, and I’m unable to comment on the additional information you asked about. I’m not completely read into what you’re hearing or what you’re reporting. But I do know that the president and the secretary of state and others have discussed the matter but I have no details to update you on today.

Security talks

So the future security of the region in terms of troop presence but also generic commitments to partnership were discussed, but the details of which I’ll keep between the two presidents, as I would the details of most of these topics, as they got into not only a detailed conversation but a fairly complex one. All I would say to that is regional stability it has sustained … did come up. But the details of that are to be continued.

Travel ban ruling

I don’t know if we have a formal administration response to that, but I will offer that I do have concerns with the early reporting. I haven’t read the entire court ruling, so I would say that as it was reported to me, it seemed to be fairly broad and something that would trouble me if it was as broad as it was reported.

In terms of connection with any group, any refugee organization, it might be read – if the early reports that I looked at were accurate – as something so expansive as to cover every refugee, and that certainly couldn’t be the interpretation the Supreme Court tended. So we’ll have to go back and have the attorneys read it and interpret it further and decide whether this is another productive or unproductive step in this saga as we try to secure our country.

Vetting visa applicants

As you know there’s a number of efforts ongoing to implement the presidents’ executive order, especially now that it has been freed from legal constraint by the Supreme Court. The question you asked is about vetting. Of course we’re improving constantly, regularly our policies and our capabilities to better vet people seeking entry in to the United States and that’s ongoing. We’re unapologetic about that, and it contributes not only to our security but to the hopeful relook in a comprehensive, strategic way at our immigration policy, not just our counterterrorism policies.

Pressed for more specifics…

So it’s less about countries and more about the ability for people to demonstrate the paperwork and background information that we need to appropriately demonstrate that they have or don’t have a security past that would concern us. So no additional conversations about countries, but conversations about people’s backgrounds and whether they represent a security threat.

DHS Sec Kelly has mentioned some visa applicants may be asked to hand over social media passwords for vetting procedures. Any progress?

Actually I can’t add to that. I would say that Secretary Kelly owns and is responsible for that portion of the policy and for implementing it. If he commented on it, you’ve got it right from the horse’s mouth and I can’t add to it. I don’t have anything I would try to add to that. But I would refer you back to Secretary Kelly on that.

SYRIA

Any talks about expanding the safe areas/ ceasefire area in Syria?

Sorry, I don’t have much to add to that. At the time of the extended bilateral conversation the presidents had on this trip to Paris, we were on our fifth day of successful ceasefire. And both presidents both publicly and privately were quite pleased with that development and had hoped that would continue.

Any next steps planned with regard to your conversation with the French on Syria? Where did you leave things off in terms of where we go?

We left things off with a continued commitment to continue conversations. Unfortunately that is about as much as I can add to it. I would say that President Trump pointed out and I would reiterate that continued conversations even with countries who you don’t always agree with sometimes produce positive results. In this case the ceasefire has been a positive result. Both the French and American presidents on this particular trip agreed on that approach to Russia and also agreed that is a positive result.

The French and American relationship on Syria and throughout the Middle East and  the international one should continue in a very strong way. In fact what we will do together is develop our counterterrorism strategies together with other like-minded allies as well as we both come into power here at about the same time and the new friendship with the American administration starting on a good footing.

I think our counterterrorism strategy should start on a kinder footing as well.

PARIS ACCORD

Can you elaborate on what the President said about the Paris accord yesterday and what they discussed about climate change, he and Macron?

I can’t elaborate except to just suggest, to tell you that we didn’t discuss any climate issues at the extended bilateral conversation that I attended. The topic didn’t chill or infect or in any way come up verbally or through non-verbal queques in our conversations. They were very positive conversations and very upbeat relations between the two foreign leaders.

MORE ON SYRIA

What do you say to critics who say when it comes to Syria the U.S. is letting Russia set the agenda, yes you had the ceasefire but the U.S. and France have backed away from saying Assad has to leave, that basically Russia can continue to have their influence in the country and the U.S. is just going along with what they want to do?

I don’t agree with that assessment. I do agree that it is a positive development that there’s a ceasefire and I do believe that the French are very strong in their commitment as is President Trump through his demonstrated airstrikes in not allowing anyone in the regime Assad to use chemical weapons against anyone. Any additional attempt to do that, any additional use of chemcial weapons in the future I’m sure will be met with a strong response both from President Trump and President Macron.

RUSSIA CYBERSECURITY

Can you give us any more of the back story of when Trump and Putin met at the G2 and decided they were going to have this initative on cybersecurity and President Trump tweeted that was never going to happen.  Can you just give us a better understanding of what that agreement actually was? Is it true that is never going to actually get off the ground? What happened here?

I didn’t attend the G20, so what I would tell you on that is President Trump I believe is right in his continued association with countries with whom we have friction or disagreements. We have a responsibility on behalf of the American people to have those conversations to the extent that they can yield a positive result. And as his senior most cybersecurity advisor I will help him  coordinate the cabinet, Secretary Tillerson and others, Secretary Mattis and Tillerson and others, as well develop the appropriate level and contours of those conversations. We’ll have to set the rules for that. I think it’s pretty important reminder that President Trump started that conversation by pointedly and exactedly telling President Putin that we will not have our elections messed with, that’s unacceptable. Moving past that we have to have a conversation about rules of the road on cyberspace, norms and expectations. I’d like those same rules, norms and expectations to be part of our conversation as we discuss any potential future dialogue with the Russians on cybersecurity and I’ll help the president coordinate that as the staff level in departments and agencies.

Given your expertise and the position you hold, do you feel Russia is sincere in their efforts to partner on cyber, particularly after everything we’ve heard in the past year? Do you feel confident they can actually pull this off in a sincere way?

I’m not nitpicking your question but I would say we are not discussing a partnership here. That is not what President Putin left the room for. That is certainly not what President Trump suggested. That is not what I am suggesting today. Partnership is a much different topic. That G20 conversation as I understand it was a promise to continue a dialogue  one that was in the best interests between the two countries, and I think one that we could persue in the future with the appropriate reservations and the appropriate expections. We at least start with what are acceptable behaviors in cyberspace and what norms we have going forward. Long before we get into enforcement of those rules or anywhere near where you get into a partnership. Again, the instinct to make some progress on behalf of the American people and their security online, that’s a good instinct on President Trump’s part.

Why so prematurely announce a dialogue if nothing is agreed upon on the subject?

I don’t think anything was prematurely announced. The president was clear in saying the conversation was raised, that the idea was suggested and he was open to it, and I’m going to help him put the contours on that, give him some advice back on how we can frame it in a productive way, without giving up any US security and certainly without giving up any election security, which is President Trump’s priority.

Can you tell us more about you didn’t want to use word partnership. Can you tell us how you deal with the Russians, at the lower, not the presidential level, when you are dealing with these delicate issues, how that’s changed?

The distiction I made was that a partnership indicates your relationship is in a place where you believe you have a trusted relationship and you have some common framing on ideals and goals and behaviors. I don’t believe that the United States and Russia have come to that point yet in cyberspace. And until we do we won’t have a conversation about partnership. But we’ve got to have a dialogue. And that’s what we’ve started.

CHINA CYBERSECURITY

DHS and DOJ has conversations last year with China about rules of the road for cyber security. Are you continuing that process and is that a roadmap for discussions with Russia on rules of the road for hacking and cyber security?

It’s not a road map. Every country have their own unique conversations they have to have on cyber security.  The non-binding agreements China made with the United States are still in place. The United States have every expections they will continue to meet those non-binding agreements. The thrust of which was that no government engage in cyber espionage directed at commercial practices, commercial industry. That is something we would expect the Chinese to continue to honor. The United States is very serious about that. It is important to note that President Trump and President Xi continue to have a growing and strong relationship.

So I would have no expectation that that would be reneged upon and if it were it is something that I would advise the president that he raise with President Xi. But for now, the conversation with the Chinese is one that’s productive and one that is built on some mutual common objectives and interests. That is not a template or anything that I would use to compare our conversations with the Russians.

Do you see signs that China is abiding by those agreed upon norms?

I don’t have any trained analysis to report today on whether China does or doesn’t observe the norms. That’s a very difficult thing to answer. But I believe that they have the commitment. I believe that they have the resolve to meet that commitment. If I were to see trends that they were not meeting that commitment I would advise the president to follow up on that.

MIGRATION/ REFUGEE ISSUE

Did immigration or refugee issues come up with President Macron come up and if so in what context?

No immigration or refugee issues came up specificially.  But both presidents did note of course that we have to be mindful of any fighters migrating into or returning from areas of active conflict in the global jihadi conflict in which we are on our 17th year. Thank you very much.

Brian Bennett

Los Angeles Times

Cell (202) xxx-xxx-xxxx

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