Sarah Sanders grilled on her contradictory statements highlighted in Mueller report

The report found that Sanders' claims were "not founded on anything."

April 19, 2019, 11:47 AM

In a tense exchange on "Good Morning America," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to defend statements she made to the press that she later told Robert Mueller's office were a "slip of the tongue."

"That's not a 'slip of the tongue,' Sarah, that's a deliberate false statement," ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos said.

They were referring to Sanders' May 2017 claims that FBI members had "lost confidence in" former FBI Director James Comey. A redacted version of the Mueller report released Thursday said, "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."

"Actually, if you look at what I said, I said the 'slip of the tongue' was in using the word 'countless,'" Sanders replied to Stephanopoulos, "but there were a number of FBI, both former and current, that agreed with the president's decision, and they've continued to speak out and say that and send notice to the White House of that agreement with the president's decision."

"James Comey was a disgraced leaker and used authorization to spy on the Trump campaign despite no evidence of collusion," she continued. "I stand by the fact, George--"

"Sarah, hold on a second," Stephanopoulos said, pushing back on Sanders' claims, which contradict what's in Mueller's report.

"The special counsel writes that those comments were 'not founded on anything.' 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?" he asked.

"I said that 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 was 'in the heat of moment,' meaning that it wasn't a scripted talking point. I'm sorry that I wasn't a robot like the Democrat Party," Sanders said.

Sanders, however, didn't only reference the comments once in a "heat of the moment" environment. She made the same comments again the day before in a Fox News interview and in the next day's White House press briefing.

"In fact, Sarah, what you did -- Sarah, hold on a second. I let you speak," Stephanopoulos said, as Sanders talked over him.

I'm not denying that he had involvement in what the statement said. That was the information I was given at the time and I stated it to the public.

"What you did repeat, time and time again, is that statement. You said that 'countless' FBI officials came to you. You repeated it on separate days, on separate occasions, and this was not the only instance the special counsel reported," Stephanopoulos continued.

According to the report, while Sanders told the press the president didn't dictate a statement about a June 2016 meeting with Trump campaign members and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York after it was revealed by the press, the president's lawyers later said otherwise in interviews with the special counsel.

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

"I'm not denying that he had involvement in what the statement said. That was the information I was given at the time and I stated it to the public," Sanders said.

Stephanopoulos pushed Sanders on the question again. She responded that the president "weighed in as anybody would do, and that seems consistent with what took place that day."

"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.

"Well then you're saying the president's lawyers weren't telling the truth when they wrote that the president dictated the statement?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"I'm telling you the information I had was that the president weighed in on the statement, which he clearly did," Sanders responded.

Sanders also argued that the "big question here was whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia -- and they didn't," she said.

"The big takeaway that I think we saw yesterday, and that we've seen over the last two-and-a-half years, is that there wasn't collusion with Russia, and it should be a day that every American can celebrate and not be sorrowful like we've seen over the last 48 hours from the Democrats that are actually sad that the president didn't work as a foreign agent," Sanders said, adding that she hoped ABC News would push House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and other Democrats "just as hard" in interviews for evidence.

The investigation did, according to the report, identify "numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign," though Mueller did not find enough evidence to support criminal charges.

In an interview minutes later on "Good Morning America," House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who issued a subpoena for the full report Friday morning, called the instances documented by Mueller "disturbing."

"One of the things that the special prosecutor finds is that the Russians were clearly out to help Trump, that the Trump campaign knew about it and welcomed their assistance, and in some cases knew about what they were going to do, what WikiLeaks was going to do in advance. They couldn't prove criminal conspiracy but they certainly proved cooperation," Nadler said on "GMA." "That is very disturbing to cooperate with a foreign power."

The investigation also found that "several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters," and that those lies "materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference."

Despite those portions of the report, however, Mueller found "the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election," according to the report.

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