Among the many new details in the redacted version of Robert Mueller’s Russia report released Thursday: White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had no basis for suggesting FBI officials had lost faith in then-director James Comey at the time of his firing, as she’d claimed.
After President Donald Trump fired Comey in May 2017, Sanders told reporters that she had personally heard from “countless members” within the agency who were happy with the president’s decision.
In the Mueller report, however, Sanders said her comments were 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.”
This passage appears on pg. 72 of the report.
At a May 11, 2017 press briefing — the “separate press interview” mentioned in the report — Sanders was asked about her recent comments that Comey had lost the confidence of the rank-and-file members of the FBI. At the time, then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe countered Sanders’ claims, saying that Comey “enjoyed broad support” within the agency. That’s when she cited “countless members of the FBI.”
Video by PBS NewsHour
“I’m sure that there are some people that are disappointed, but I’ve certainly heard from a large number of individuals,” she told reporters in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
In a follow-up question, Michael Schear, White House correspondent for The New York Times, doubled down with a question about Sanders’ comment that she had “personally” talked to “countless FBI officials” after Trump fired Comey.
“Correct,” Sanders said.
“I mean, really?” Schear asked, amid crosstalk.
“Between like email, text messages. Absolutely,” Sanders interjected. “Look, we’re not going to get into a numbers game. I’ve heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said they’re very happy with the president’s decision.”
This is not the only inaccuracy provided by Trump’s press secretaries documented in Mueller’s report. By Vox’s count, Mueller’s team notes at least seven instances in which Sanders or her predecessor Sean Spicer presented incorrect information as fact or otherwise misled the public.
Trump administrations officials, including the president himself, have often targeted journalists in their remarks, decrying their work as “fake news” amid the ongoing coverage of the Russia investigation. Trump has referred to journalists as the “enemy of the people.”
Sanders has greatly reduced the number of White House press briefings she holds. The last press briefing — on March 11 — focused on the Trump administration’s 2020 budget proposal.