The Slatest

Sarah Sanders Tries to Walk Back Her Admission to Mueller That She Lied About Comey

Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to reporters.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders speaks with reporters at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 4, 2019.
Jim Watson/Getty Images

In a contentious interview Friday on Good Morning America, Sarah Huckabee Sanders vehemently denied admitting to Robert Mueller’s team that she had lied on behalf of President Trump.

Sanders insisted Friday that the lies depicted in the Mueller report were simply harmless mistakes she made “in the heat of the moment,” not, as she seemed to have admitted to investigators, intentional falsehoods meant to twist the narrative.

The first lie Sanders addressed on GMA had to do with the president’s reasons for firing FBI Director James Comey. As the report made clear, the president from the beginning was motivated by his frustration over the Russia investigation and Comey’s unwillingness to publicly state that Trump was not under investigation. After some urging from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and support from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump drafted a letter that made it explicitly clear the firing had to do with the investigation. But in her comments to the press in May 2017 after Comey’s firing, Sanders explained that Trump, the DOJ, and various members of Congress in both parties lost confidence in Comey, “[a]nd most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”

After a reporter indicated that the majority of the FBI supported Comey, Sanders replied, “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI saying very different things.” It was a statement she repeated twice more in media appearances.

But according to the report: “Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.’ She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”

When George Stephanopolous pressed her Friday on how she could call the line a “slip of the tongue” when she repeated it twice the next day, Sanders denied his assertion that it was a “deliberate, false statement”:

Actually, if you look at what I said, I said the slip of the tongue was in using the word ‘countless,’ but there were a number of FBI both former and current that agreed with the president’s decision. And they continued to speak out and say that and send notice of the White House of that agreement with the president’s decision. James Comey was a disgraced leaker.

But, as Stephanopoulos pointed out, Mueller had concluded that that assertion was baseless. “That’s what you talked to the special counsel about when you were facing criminal penalties if you didn’t tell the truth, but now you’re trying to walk away from it. Why can’t you acknowledge that what you said then was not true?”

She responded:

I said the word I used, ‘countless,’ and I also said if you look at what’s in quotations from me, it’s that and it’s that it’s in the heat of the moment, meaning it wasn’t a scripted talking point. I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot like the Democrat party.

Her second falsehood had to do with a statement Trump dictated on behalf of his son Donald Trump, Jr., to respond to a New York Times report about the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials, including Don Jr., and a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Sanders told reporters at the time that Trump didn’t dictate the letter but instead “weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.” In interviews with the special counsel, the president’s lawyers said Trump did dictate the letter.

“So why did you tell the press that the president did not dictate that statement, when he did?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“I’m not denying that he had involvement in what the statement said,” she responded. “That was the information I was given at the time and I stated it to the public.”

“Sarah, that’s just not what happened,” Stephanopoulos said. “You said the president didn’t dictate the statement. The president’s lawyer said that he did dictate the statement. That’s what they wrote.”

“My understanding at the time was that he hadn’t dictated but that he weighed in, George,” Sanders responded.

Meanwhile, as the Washington Post noted, on Fox News on Thursday night, just after CNN pressed Sanders on the apparent culture of lying in the White House, Sean Hannity gave Sanders “more than three uncontested minutes to roast ‘Democrats and members of the liberal media’ and to insist that Trump had been ‘totally vindicated.’”