During a string of media appearances following the release of the Mueller report on Thursday, Sanders has faced questions about a claim she made during a May 2017 press briefing that she later admitted was false during testimony to Mueller’s team. In an attempt to justify President Donald Trump’s decision to fire then FBI director James Comey, Sanders told reporters that “countless members of the FBI” had contacted her to say they had lost confidence in Comey, when in fact that wasn’t the case.
On Thursday evening and Friday morning, Sanders repeatedly downplayed that lie as a mere “slip of the tongue.” But as ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed out to her in an interview on Friday morning, she used the line about “countless members of the FBI” multiple times in the days following Comey’s firing — a revelation undercutting her claim that she merely misspoke.
“You said it was a ‘slip of the tongue’ when you talked about ‘countless FBI members,’ yet you repeated it twice the very next day,” Stephanopoulos said. “That’s not a slip of the tongue, Sarah, that’s a deliberate false statement.”
Sanders, however, refused to own it, and bizarrely blamed her lie on Democrats.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot like the Democratic Party that went out for two-and-a-half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign, that they had evidence to show it, and that the president and his team deserved to be in jail,” she said. “That he shouldn’t be in office, when really they were the ones that were creating the greatest scandal in the history of our country.”
Pressed repeatedly on her comments on FBI agents, Sarah Sanders tells @GStephanopoulos, "It was the heat of the moment, meaning that it wasn't a scripted talking point. I'm sorry that I wasn't a robot like the Democratic Party" was about Mueller probe. https://t.co/mOQZNKl1wy pic.twitter.com/y3xcNwVYHg— ABC News (@ABC) April 19, 2019
The idea behind Sanders’s lie was to provide a rationale for Comey’s firing that had nothing to do with President Donald Trump’s frustrations about the Russia investigation, and thereby allowed him to deny he was trying to obstruct the FBI’s active investigation of his campaign.
Even at the time, Sanders’s claim was implausible. It was almost immediately contradicted during congressional testimony by Comey’s successor, Andrew McCabe, and reporters made it clear during a press briefing following McCabe’s testimony that they didn’t buy what she was telling them.
Mueller's report said Sarah Huckabee Sanders told investigators she made comments to reporters that were "not founded on anything." Here's that moment pic.twitter.com/cqrnTqKDLa— POLITICO (@politico) April 18, 2019
When it came time for Sanders to offer testimony to Mueller’s team, she admitted her statement about the FBI rank and file not being fans of Comey actually “was not founded on anything.” But now that she’s no longer under oath, she’s making a tortured attempt to walk it back.
As Stephanopoulos noted during his interview of Sanders on Friday, the “culture of lying” that emerges from the Mueller report goes beyond Sanders: It began with Trump himself.
Mueller’s report indicates that Trump lied about about a range of topics, from Trump Tower Moscow (Trump said he had no business dealings in Russia on the campaign trail even as the Trump Organization pursued a lucrative real estate deal there) to his role in Comey’s firing (Trump asked McGahn to say he never directed him to fire Comey when in fact he had).
Mueller’s team wasn’t afforded the opportunity to interview Trump. So while Sanders may have been compelled into telling the truth for once, Trump still hasn’t been.