Transcript: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders interview on 'The Investigation' podcast

PHOTO: Sarah Sanders appears on "Good Morning America," April 19, 2019.PlayABC News
WATCH Tensions escalate as Congress calls to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast. A transcript of Sanders' interview as it appears in this episode of the podcast follows here:

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SARAH SANDERS: Thank you for having me.

ABC NEWS’ KYRA PHILLIPS: We appreciate it. So of course one of the big questions we all have is Robert Mueller going to testify?

SANDERS: You know I think that's something that we'll see what happens over the next couple of weeks. But I think the president feels like as I think most of America feels like that this is over. We have had two years. Millions of dollars in taxpayer money, hundreds of hours of testimony from White House officials former campaign staff etc., one point four million pages of documents submitted, and they all came to the same conclusion at the culmination and the end of that, that there was no collusion which was the whole point of the investigation in the first place that's been determined it's been decided Democrats shouldn't get a do over. And as far as we see this it's case closed and it's time for Democrats and everybody will be able to move on particularly because there are some real problems that face our country that we'd like to see addressed. And Democrats are so busy attacking the president and trying to undermine his win in 2016 that they can't focus on some of the big problems facing us like infrastructure, lowering drug prices, making things better for our veterans there are a lot of things that Democrats and Republicans actually agree is a problem and should be addressed. But because of this they've refused to sit down at the table and really make any progress.

PHILLIPS: I don't think anyone is going to argue there are a lot of topics that that Americans want to dig into and hear more about and you just named them I don't think there's any argument there. But just one more follow up. You know Bill Barr in his testimony admitted that even he wasn't quite sure why Mueller didn't make a decision on obstruction. So with regard to Mueller testifying, how possibly could the public not hear from Robert Mueller himself to just clear up those differences? And he could do that by simply testifying.

SANDERS: I think it's laughable the idea that the American people haven't heard from Robert Mueller. They did. 400 pages worth of Robert Mueller and his finding and his conclusion. And again let's go back to what the purpose of this entire thing was about and that was whether or not there was collusion. Robert Mueller's goal was to make that determination. He did. He left the obstruction part. He couldn't make a decision on that. And in due process followed that to the attorney general and he was able to make a determination and he made that determination based off of the evidence in Mueller's report. So it's not like he just came up with this on his own. He made it based off of the information that Mueller put in front of him and that Mueller provided again after two years of looking into it. If you can't find it after two years then it's not there.

ABC NEWS’ JOHN SANTUCCI: But we'll, we'll get to obstruction in a second but just to narrowcast back to a cure was asking about Robert Mueller testifying. The president tweeted over the weekend that he should not. The president obviously is the commander in chief. He runs his cabinet. He could order his attorney general who controls whether or not Robert Mueller would testify to not allow him to testify. So should we take the president's tweet from this past weekend as in order to Bill Barr to not allow Robert Mueller to testify?

SANDERS: I think that's a determination to be made at this point. I think that's the president’s –

SANTUCCI: But he said it though -

SANDERS: But that's the president's feeling on the matter and the reason is because we consider this as a case closed, as a finished process. And I again I think that most Americans think that this is finished. They’re sick and tired of hearing about it.

SANTUCCI: So, so. Right. But now what has been the dialogue though between the president and his attorney general about this. Has he said to Bill Barr, hey, don't let Bob Mueller testify?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any conversation between the two of them on that matter.

SANTUCCI: Do you expect something like that to happen?

SANDERS: Again. I'm not aware that a date has even been set for that conversation to need to take place so we'll see what happens. But again, this matter in our eyes is over and done with and it's time to get back to America’s business.

SANTUCCI: But if you had your crystal ball right now you would believe that Robert Mueller is not going to testify?

SANDERS: If I had a crystal ball I probably wouldn't be sitting in this studio. I'd be betting on every big race including the Derby race that just took place.

SANTUCCI: You’d be a real millionaire if you bet on that one.

SANDERS: Some of the other, some of the other big sporting events going on I probably would look at some other options in terms of what I would look at.

PHILLIPS: So Sara either yes or no. Is Trump trying to silence Mueller?

SANDERS: Again. I think it is absolutely absurd. The idea that the president is silencing Mueller. He cooperated for two years. His staff cooperated, spent hours upon hours of time with Mueller. They turned over millions of pages in documents. I think that all of this process gets lost. The bottom line here is Democrats wanted something to be true. That wasn’t. They spent two years telling the American people a lie and now they're trying to justify it. And at some point they have to realize they lost in 2016. They lost in the absurd collusion battle. And now it's time to move on and look at a way maybe they could get a win. I think they could if they would work with the president and stop being the losers that they look like right now.

ABC NEWS’ CHRIS VLASTO: But Sarah, you know, Mitch McConnell I think is coming out this morning and he's gonna basically recite basically what you said and he's going to say its case closed. But I think he's also going to say that you know our society is its unhinged partisanship. But in some ways isn't it partisan on both sides isn't it. You know you were collateral damage in the Mueller Report. There is, there is sections in the Mueller report that says you weren't forthcoming from the podium. And some people have said you lied.

SANDERS: That’s actually not true. That’s the interpretation that reporters have made.

VLASTO: Okay. But, but even still in the heat of battle, in the heat of battle, press secretaries for the last 50 years, of course, in the heat of battle things are said from the podium that may not be true or right. You’re not the first one who did or not. Why not just say hey I made a mistake? I was in the heat of battle. Let’s just kind of stop all this nonsense.

SANDERS: That's actually what I did say. And if you pay attention to the words that I used you would notice that that's what I said. But the interpretation of others has been taken differently. I said I shouldn't have used one word. Look I've addressed this extensively. I feel very comfortable about my credibility from the misspeak of one word versus the narrative that the media and Democrats have pushed for two years. Let's not forget the severity of the accusation that they made against the president of the United States. They literally said that he was guilty of treason and betrayal of his country. This isn't just a minor like oh we think he did something but this is an insane idea to accuse the president of the United States of colluding with another country and not just any country with Russia. And the fact that the media played right into the hands of the Democrats and helped perpetuate and give a platform to this and breathlessly covered every single minute and every single moment of this investigation is an embarrassment to the country. I feel extremely good about the job that I've done and that the job that the president has done over the last two and a half years of helping build a booming economy, creating an environment where companies are coming back into this country, where they're investing, where our veterans are being taken care of. Where, where our enemies actually fear us and our allies respect us. We're in a whole new playing field under this president than we were under the previous administration. Let's also not forget that the failures of this election interference took place under Obama not under President Trump. We've actually done things to prevent this from happening again, taking a whole of government approach, worked with all 50 states to try to ensure the integrity of our elections when this was ignored in the previous administration.

VLASTO: But let me just ask you Sarah -

SANDERS: And I just think it is just outrageous to continue to attack not just this president but the entire administration over this absurd narrative.

VLASTO: But in a personal man - in a personal – in I talk about the Clinton administration a lot on this podcast and during the Clinton administration Mike McCurry and you know Joe Lockhart separated themselves from the investigative part and they had a whole different team dealing with that issue. Do you regret not doing it that way?

SANDERS: I don't regret standing up for what is right and pushing back against something that I felt to be an outrageous lie about the president. No.

PHILLIPS: Can I ask you a question. Why did the briefings go away? This is so unconventional because you're the press secretary. And as long as I've known it, we've, we depend on those brief those briefings every single day. First question are they ever going to come back?

SANDERS: Yeah I think absolutely we'll continue to do briefings we’ll also continue to do what we do every single day, take questions from the media on a variety of formats. The briefing was created at a time when there weren't so many other mediums in which to communicate the information and the positions of the White House that we have today. That's I think one of the most incredible things about the way that government has modernized and moved forward. And one of the un - unconventional greatness is of this president is the American people get to hear directly from the president which I think is far better than hearing from me. I think everybody would agree that hearing from President Trump is better than hearing from the press secretary. He engages with the media more than probably any president in modern history both through Twitter, through more interviews than his predecessors have done, as well as informal Q and A sessions that he does nearly every single day whether in the Rose Garden, the Oval Office, to and from Marine One, but also the staff does that at a number of different formats whether it's a gaggle on the driveway which I did two of just on Friday. And do several times a week as well as other senior administration officials on specific policy matters. I think the biggest thing is that a lot of folks in the media they're frankly more upset that they're not on TV. Not that I'm not –

VLASTO: Let me ask you.

SANDERS: this is this is a platform that they've used to create the sense of stardom for themselves. And that's not in existence on the day to day basis that it was in the beginning of the administration. But at the same time the level of access and transparency between the White House and the media couldn't exist at a higher level than it does.

VLASTO: But Sarah you're coming on two years, I think in July as press secretary. And I think very few press secretaries, I think that would maybe be one of the longest tenures of a press secretary. Do you ever want to say I'm done, enough? I gotta, I gotta let this all go? And -

SANDERS: Yeah there are days I think everybody that has a job probably has moments where they think oh I don't know if I can take this anymore. I think for me the biggest part is I have three young kids one that'll be seven this week, a five year old, and an almost four year old. And so for me the hardest part is when I'm in this job it takes so much time away and a sacrifice from being with my family and having to find that balance can be very difficult at times but because I believe in our country, I believe in what we're doing. And frankly I love America. I want to be part of this process.

PHOTO:President Donald Trump speaks with members of the US Customs and Border Patrol as he tours the border wall between the United States and Mexico in Calexico, Calif., April 5, 2019. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO:President Donald Trump speaks with members of the US Customs and Border Patrol as he tours the border wall between the United States and Mexico in Calexico, Calif., April 5, 2019.

VLASTO: But the, yeah I hear that, but also the investigations are not going to go away. Even if Mueller let's, let's concede your point that the Mueller investigation is over. The House Oversight Committee is going to investigate. The Judiciary Committee is going to investigate other things not related to Mueller. Are you prepared to stay on for two more years and fight these battles every day?

SANDERS: Look I wake up every day thankful that I have a job and I take things day by day and I'm grateful for the opportunity that the president has given me to work in his administration. And that's certainly something that he has to consider as well if at some point he no longer deems me to be effective or if at some point I determine that it's not the best thing for my family, I have to make that decision. But at this point in my life I'm, I'm honored to serve in the administration. Again I'm very proud of the work we do and I'll continue to do that and take things one day at a time.

PHILLIPS: Let me pick up on that. You said that if the president deems you effective. This is another thing that I've learned about you and noticed you're in the Oval Office a lot. When you're not in your office when we're looking for you. You're in the Oval. So here's what I want to know. Are you more involved with policy now versus communications? Has your role changed because of how you described this president is? It’s true. He comes out and he talks to reporters and he tweets and he makes himself accessible quite a bit. I was there for that first impromptu press conference when everybody was you know how – it was like a scrum crazy scrum. Is, has your role changed. Are you more involved with policy than you are communications?

SANDERS: I don't know that I think those two things are separated. I think in order to be an effective communicator you have to understand the policy. And the easiest way to understand the policy is to be in the room as its being made and being discussed and being talked about and understanding the pros and the cons of it. So I see those two things to be very much in tandem with one another. And again I'm grateful for both the president and a chief of staff that understand that being in the room and being able to effectively communicate what our policy is an important part of our job. And they include us on the regular basis in those conversations and I think it makes a real difference of us being able to tell the administration story.

SANTUCCI: I -

PHILLIPS: I'm sorry. One quick follow up. Do you ever feel pressured Sarah to say anything you don't want to say?

SANDERS: I don't ever feel pressured to say anything that I don't believe in or that I think is not the right thing. Sometimes you may disagree on how we got there, but at the end of the day nobody elected me to anything. They elected Donald Trump. They elected him and his platform and his policies and my job is to go out there and talk about what his administration is doing. And if I didn't believe in that and if I didn't feel like it was the right thing and that we were making progress and making life better for every American, then I wouldn't be involved and I wouldn't do the job that I do.

SANTUCCI: Congress. There's the back and forth every day they are asking for documents. They're asking for witnesses to come. What is the White House's plan with Congress? It feels like every time we see a request come down the response. Eh. No thanks.

SANDERS: Look if the Congress wants to make reasonable and frankly lawful requests we'd certainly be willing to discuss those, but so far we haven't seen that be the case particularly with Chairman Nadler. He's making requests for documents that he knows, not only does he not have a right to, but legally he can't have. This is nothing more than a big dog and pony show. You know it's frankly it's beneath Congress and I think they should do better.

SANTUCCI: But, but you don’t believe though - you don't believe though that Congress has the right of oversight? I mean that's what the branches are designed for. To check each other.

SANDERS: Certainly Congress again has the right of oversight, but they don't have the right for information that's frankly grand jury information it would be illegal for them to take that. And it would be illegal for the Department of Justice to give them that so when they ask for things like that. No. I think they know that that is not something that they should have. And again I think that it just goes to further the circus that Jerry Nadler is trying to be the ringmaster.

SANTUCCI: There's a deadline today for former White House counsel Don McGahn to turn over documents and information. Something bouncing out of Robert Mueller's 400 page report. We're waiting to see if that's actually going to happen. The White House is very heavily involved in that. Based on our understanding do you believe that Don McGahn is going to comply with that request from Congress to turn over the documents they've asked for?

SANDERS: I believe that Don McGahn has complied with Robert Mueller.

SANTUCCI: That's not what I asked, I asked about Congress.

SANDERS: I’m getting there and that, that information has been processed, gone through, and the determination has been made that there was no collusion. Look let's not let's not kid ourselves. Robert Mueller spent two years, millions of dollars, millions of pages and documents, hours of testimony, and couldn't find collusion. Do we honestly think that Jerry Nadler who wasn't even capable of asking the attorney general questions is going to find something Robert Mueller didn’t?

SANTUCCI: But congress -

SANDERS: I mean the idea of that is truly like just sad.

SANTUCCI: Congress though - We all know that he's not going to find anything he couldn't even do his own job and asking questions he's certainly not going to be able to do something that Robert Mueller was incapable of doing and that's finding collusion.

SANTUCCI: I'm going to cede to you that Robert Mueller is done Congress is there. Congress is asking for information. They're asking for the other half of that big report which was obstruction of justice. They are asking for Don McGahn to turn over documents. Is the White House going to allow him to comply? Yes or no.

SANDERS: I don't anticipate that that takes place. No.

SANTUCCI: Why?

SANDERS: Again we consider this to be a case closed and we're moving forward to do the work of the American people.

SANTUCCI: Is there any investigation.

SANDERS: There's also the idea. Let's not forget to you have executive privilege which still matters in this country the institution

SANTUCCI: But the president hasn't declared executive privilege.

SANDERS: Hold on. No but it's still important and it's something that we have to consider in this process. The institution of the presidency is at stake. This isn't just about Donald Trump. This is about protecting every president after this. If you don't have those protections where staff and the president are able to communicate and work together without the idea of the Jerry Nadlers of the world inserting themselves into that, then it makes it an institution like the presidency unable to fully function. And I think that's a problem for the future. I think it's something Democrats are forgetting and they just don't care because they hate this president so much that they're willing to destroy the entire like idea of the institution of the president if that for them.

SANTUCCI: But if that's the feeling then why not declare executive privilege?

SANDERS: Again we'll see what happens over the next several days and in this process as we move forward. But I think I've made pretty clear what the White House position is.

VLASTO: As I say I covered Bill Clinton for 10 years and I held him accountable.

SANDERS: And you're still here.

VLASTO: And I'm still around. And you know and I got a lot of criticism for, for holding him accountable. And I would go to everybody saying that he lied to the American people and that it was all about truth telling. Isn’t the story now also about truth telling? Isn’t that the problem? Not about you but the president isn't - isn't that why people get so angry at him? Because I mean even he lies about things that he doesn't need to lie about.

SANDERS: I think they get so angry at him because he proves them wrong time and time again. I think that they have tried to put the president into a box that fits a story that they wanted to write. And every time they put words on the paper he changes them and he has controlled the narrative from the beginning that he got into the race when they said he would never run and he did. They said he would never win. He did. They said there was collusion there wasn't. They said the economy would collapse. It didn't. It's booming. They - everything they've predicted about this president has been wrong. If anybody is pushing something that is untrue I think you have to look no further than the Democrats and the media that have given them platform to tell all of the things about the president that has turned out to be wrong.

PHILLIPS: Sometimes I think the president is trying to goad Congress. I really do. So they'll overreach and then I think the White House is just terrified with this idea of impeachment. Which is it?

SANDERS: Look I don't think we're afraid of that. As the president has said when you have the success he has and you haven't done anything wrong. There's no need for that. I think that even the American people, you look at the polls. They don't want to see impeachment. They want to see progress. They want to see people sit down and solve problems. And we saw a tiny glimpse of that when we had a meeting on infrastructure not too long ago. And sadly, you know, the next day the Democrats move on and start attacking the president again. But look, I think the American people want solutions. They care a whole lot more about what happens to them than this bickering that we see in Washington D.C. every day. And we'd love to see more of that type of cooperation and hopefully we will.

VLASTO: Who does the president want to run against? Who's his favorite candidate of the, of the candidates there?

SANDERS: I think there's so many. Such a large cast of characters that you have. But I think the president would be happy to run against any of them. He feels very comfortable about the message that he has, the story that he has to tell, and the successes of the first two and a half years that he's got a great platform to campaign on and the successes of the country. And I think most of the individuals that are running are going to have to defend the failures of their party. They're going to have to defend this crazy, far left, agenda that a small percentage of their party is, you know, driving. And I think that's going to be really difficult for any of the Democrat candidates and we feel very comfortable about the president's policies and the success that we've had and very good moving forward.

SANTUCCI: One last question on matters happening up on the hill we saw just in the last 24 hours, Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said no to the House Ways and Means request for Donald Trump's tax returns. Do you see that battle and all of these battles back and forth between the White House ultimately heading to the courts?

SANDERS: I guess that's certainly possible. I think that's probably a question better left to the Democrats how far do they want to take these political games.

SANTUCCI: But for the White House, you have a new white house counsel. You have staffed up that team, you still have an outside legal team working with the president. We've seen a new law firm come on board to work with him for the fight over tax returns. Do you believe right now as the White House as the Trump team everyone is gearing up to go to court to deal with Congress?

SANDERS: I don't think that should be necessary but I think that's certainly possible. KP: Sarah, we need to ask you about Trump and the new China tariffs. Last week it looked like you were close to a deal with China…is that coming apart? We know there are meetings this week, what do you expect?

SANDERS: We've got a couple of meetings I believe they start Wednesday and Thursday and finalize on Friday. This is just another series of meetings I believe. This is the 11th or 12th time that our delegations have set down. We continue to make progress but we'll see what happens. The president's been very clear that there are certain things that he expects, that he wants, and if it's not a great deal he's not going to make it. And we'll see what happens there's a lot of a lot of time left on the clock in this process. And I think at the end of the day, the president will get something done that benefits American workers particularly with an emphasis on helping our farmers, protecting intellectual property, and making sure that enforcements are in place should we move forward on a deal.

PHILLIPS: I just have one final personal question if you don't mind.

SANDERS: Good, let's end on something more fun and exciting.

PHILLIPS: Yeah well -

SANDERS: Than crazy Russia collusion which I know you guys love.

PHILLIPS: This goes back to, and I know how you feel about being a mom and a wife and it's been tough for you to find this balance. I also know your religious background as well and you're a very strong Christian women, woman and you, you know, my background in religious studies. I just am curious to know and I think a lot of people because it does. It comes up at church, it comes up in personal circles, it comes up at dinner parties. You know, we know Trump cusses OK. We know he says things that you know a good Christian woman doesn't necessarily want to hear. I'm just curious for you Sarah personally how do you handle that? How do you deal with that?

SANDERS: Oh I think it's very simple. The entire essence of faith and Christianity is knowing that none of us are perfect. Not me. Not Donald Trump. No one is perfect and only by the grace of God and the redemption can you become that way. And that's why faith is so important. And that's why - it's the only way I think you can get through any day to day job particularly one that is can sometimes be stressful like this one.

PHILLIPS: sometimes be stressful?

SANDERS: Sometimes it's easier than others, but that's why faith is so important not just in this but in everything that we do. And I think a recognition of that is what makes us better people.

PHILLIPS: Sarah thanks so much.

SANDERS: You bet. Thank you guys for having me.

VLASTO: Thank you very much.