Press Briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EDT

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Hello, everybody. So, Secretary Pompeo and I are here today to talk about the President’s new executive order. And after that, we’d be happy to take a few questions.

So, today, the President signed a new executive order which underscores his decisive leadership in fighting global terrorism. This administration has intensified our counterterrorism sanctions effort. We’ve designated more than 230 individuals and entities in 2018, the most designation of any year in the last 15 years.

The new executive order, “Modernizing Sanctions to Combat Terrorism,” which was signed today, greatly enhances our ability to identify, sanction, and deter perpetrators of terrorism worldwide.

Among other provisions, the EO allows the U.S. government to better target terrorist group leaders; provides new tools to pursue individuals who participate in terrorist training; authorizes secondary sanctions on foreign financial institutions that have knowingly conducted or facilitated significant financial transactions with sanctioned persons; and targets those actors for, or on behalf of, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

Utilizing this new executive order, today, Treasury sanctioned over two dozen individuals and entities from 11 terrorist groups. Specifically, we have leaders, operatives, and financiers from over 11 terror organizations, including Iran’s Qods Forces, Hamas, ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates.

The government has taken more action than we ever have before. The U.S. is — Treasury is enhancing our efforts to deny terrorists access to the U.S. financial system. We will continue to make sure that the security of the United States and to protect innocent people from becoming victims of terrorist attacks.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Steven. Today’s executive order marks the most significant update to counterterrorism sanctions authority since September of 2001. It significantly expands authorities to target terrorists and those who finance their activities.

Specifically, today’s action amends Executive Order 13224 by adding clauses that allow the Departments of State and Treasury to first directly target leaders of terrorist groups and their associated entities without having to tie terrorist leaders to specific acts.

Second, it more effectively and efficiently targets individuals and entities who participate in terrorist training, and provides new authorities to impose sanctions on foreign financial institutions that knowingly do business with terrorists.

The Trump administration has already used existing sanctions authorities more aggressively than any administration before us. And now we’re immediately putting these new authorities to good use, as Secretary Mnuchin said.

Today, the Department of State announces the designation of 12 terrorist leaders. They include: ISIS Wali of Iraq and former amir of improvised explosive devices; four senior members of Hizballah’s Jihad Council; and leaders from Hamas, Palestinian-Islamic Jihad, ISIS-Philippines, ISIS-West Africa, and TTP in Pakistan.

Further, we’re announcing the designation of Hurras al-Din, an al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group in Syria, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity.

As these actions show, today’s executive order by President Trump adds further muscle to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. It will help us to ensure that the deadly attacks of September 11 that occurred 18 years ago this week are never repeated on American soil. Never.

At this time, Secretary Mnuchin and I are happy to take a couple of questions on this topic.

Yes, sir.

Q Did John Bolton fire — get fired, or did he quit? And did he leave the White House because he disagreed with you in particular over talks with the Taliban?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So, last night, the President asked for Ambassador Bolton’s resignation. As I understand it, it was received this morning.

Q Was it because of this disagreement?

Q Secretary Pompeo, about Syria —

SECRETARY POMPEO: Go ahead. Yes, ma’am. In the back.

Q Go ahead.

Q Was it because of this disagreement?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave it to the President to talk about the reasons he made the decision.

But I would say this: The President is entitled to the staff that he wants at any moment. This is a staff person who works directly for the President of the United States, and he should have people that he trusts and values and whose efforts and judgments benefit him in delivering American foreign policy. That’s what, as Cabinet members, Secretary Mnuchin and I try and do each and every day. And when the President makes a decision like this, he’s well within his rights to do so.

Q Secretary Pompeo, can you describe your working relationship with John Bolton as it was today?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure.

Q And also, does his departure make it easier for you to do your job and for the administration to accomplish the President’s foreign policy agenda?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I don’t talk about the inner workings of how this all goes. We all give our candid opinions. There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed; that’s to be sure. But that’s true for lots of people with whom I interact.

My mission is always to make sure, as I run the Department of State, is to deliver America’s diplomacy and to work with a team — whether it’s at Treasury or the President’s staff — to make sure we get good outcomes.

I know everyone has talked about this for an awfully long time. There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed.

Q With John Bolton out of the picture, is it now possible to see some less hawkish Iran policy? And does this open the path for the President to meet with Rouhani?

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I would say Secretary Pompeo and myself and the President are completely aligned on our maximum pressure campaign. I think you know we’ve done more sanctions on Iran than anybody. And it’s absolutely working.

Now, the President has made clear he is happy to take a meeting with no preconditions, but we are maintaining the maximum pressure campaign.

Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

Q So, Secretary Pompeo, for clarity on this, can you foresee a meeting between President Trump and the Iranian leader later this month surrounding the United Nations?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure.

Q Would the President support that, and do you support that actively?

SECRETARY POMPEO: The President has made very clear he is prepared to meet with no preconditions.

Q Just to follow up quickly on the original guidance for this briefing: Bolton was on the guidance to be here, so were you two blindsided by what occurred today, that he’s no longer with the administration? Was it news to you today? Because last night you were told he would be here today.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I’m never surprised.

(Laughter.)

Q Well, let me ask it this way —

SECRETARY POMPEO: And I don’t mean that on just this issue. And I think Secretary Mnuchin would say the same thing. We work very closely with the President of the United States. I think we have a pretty good understanding of how he’s thinking about things — I think you’d agree, Steven — at nearly all times.

And so, you know, our mission says not to talk about these inner workings and the palace intrigue that I know you are so curious about —

Q Well, I’m just curious —

SECRETARY POMPEO: — but rather to talk about the things that matter to American foreign policy.

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I would just add that people who knew should know, and don’t get into, you know, the administrative things if a notice went out. Because yesterday, the three of us were (inaudible).

Q Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.

Q Secretary Pompeo, a question about Syria. We reported on Syria and the refugee camps last night. Our David Muir was there. And he talked about how these refugee camps — ISIS fighters are blending in. There’s children dancing around the ISIS flag. Are you concerned about these refugee camps becoming a breeding ground — a training ground for terrorists, for ISIS fighters?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So there’s a long history of just exactly what you’re describing: camps in Iraq, camps other places where prisoners were detained and extremist elements breeding in those places.

But we’ve been working diligently on this. We have conducted enormous operations against ISIS, even after the fall of the caliphate, as recently as the last handful of days. We are very focused on this.

The success that we had moving down the Euphrates River Valley that our Department of Defense led with the SDF forces was truly remarkable. We will not take our eye off the ball, ensuring that whether it’s ISIS or other radical Islamic extremist groups continue to be under pressure from the United States of America. And that was — just to close it up, and that would include in these camps that you’re referring to.

Yes, go ahead.

Q The White House says that National Security Advisor Bolton’s foreign policy was not aligned with the President’s philosophy. How was it out of alignment?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’ll leave that to the White House to talk about. Other than to say, I think President Trump — I watched his campaign. I’ve now worked with him first as CIA Director and now as Secretary of State. Someone asked, “Would the policy be different absent any individual being here?”

These have been the President’s policies. We give him our best wisdom. We share with him our understanding. When I was intelligence director, we did our best to make sure that he had the facts and data available so he could make good decisions. But I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because some one of us departs, that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way.

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: The one thing I would just say to follow up, because the President has been very clear on this: The President’s view of the Iraq War and Ambassador Bolton’s was very different. And the President has made that clear.

Yeah. Go ahead.

Q Mr. Secretary —

SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure. Way in the back. Yes, ma’am.

Q On Venezuela. Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.

Q Are you no longer planning to impose tariffs on Mexico if they don’t continue with the immigration plan?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’re looking forward to our meeting with Foreign Minister Ebrard here in just a little bit. We’re going to talk about the progress that’s been made, which has been substantial and real and material, and has made America more secure.

But at the same time, we know there is still work to do and we’re going to talk about how best we can jointly deliver that. We are deeply appreciative of what the President of Mexico and the Foreign Minister have done to increase the capacity to deter migration into the United States. And you can see the numbers have improved substantially. But we also know, A, it needs to be sustained, and, B, we’ve still got real work to do.

Go ahead, Steven.

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Yeah. You, yes.

Q Can I?

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Yes.

Q On Venezuela, we know that Ambassador Bolton was trying to keep up the pressure in Venezuela (inaudible). And we know that Ambassador Bolton and President Trump disagreed on many things regarding to Venezuela. What can we expect now with the departure of Ambassador Bolton?

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I think you know that the Treasury Department and the State Department have been incredibly active on sanctions. Everything we do in is consultation with the State Department. Again, we have a massive sanctions program that’s working.

But I would just add, we are concerned about the people there and what’s going on, the humanitarian crisis. And I know the Secretary has worked with their neighbors extensively.

Go ahead.

Q Is this national security team a mess?

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Absolutely not. That’s the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard of. So —

Q Well, you’ve had three national security advisors in three years. Three national security advisors in three years.

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Let me just say, the national security team, which is what you asked, consists of the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, myself, the Chief of Staff, and many others. So —

Q Can you disagree with the President without the risk of being fired?

Q What is the way forward in Afghanistan now with (inaudible)?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We’ll take one more. Yes ma’am. In the red.

Q Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes.

Q There were reports this week that the CIA had to pull a top Russian asset out because of concerns that his identity could be exposed. Under which administration was this source burned?. And is there currently an investigation into how his identity got leaked to the media?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I’ve seen that reporting. The reporting is materially inaccurate. And you should know, as the former CIA Director, I don’t talk about things like this very often. It is only the occasions when there is something that I think puts people at risk, or the reporting is so egregious as to create enormous risk to the United States of America that I even comment in the way that I just did.

And I won’t say anything more about it. I know the CIA put out a statement. Suffice to say that the reporting there is factually wrong.

SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Thank you, everybody.

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