Sarah Sanders admitted to lying to reporters about Comey firing

Sanders said her claim that countless members of the FBI opposed former director James Comey was ‘not founded on anything’

After Trump fired James Comey, the White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders repeatedly claimed in live press briefings that the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in the FBI director, and that “we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI” who did not support him.

Those statements had no basis in fact, Sanders later admitted in interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

The redacted version of the special counsel’s report released on Thursday included multiple examples of Trump’s current and former press secretaries making false claims to journalists, particularly in the days after Comey’s firing.

Sanders, the current White House press secretary, told the special counsel’s office that a statement she had made to journalists about the Comey’s lack of support within the FBI “was not founded on anything”.

Sign up for the US morning briefing

Sanders’ claim on 10 May 2017, the day after Comey was fired, that “countless members of the FBI” opposed Comey was “a slip of the tongue”, Sanders told the special counsel’s office in an interview last year.

Sanders repeated that “slip of the tongue” during a press briefing the following day, when skeptical White House reporters questioned her on her claim that Comey did not have support within the FBI’s rank and file. One reporter asked what basis the White House had for that conclusion, given that the FBI’s acting director had publicly said that Comey still had the support among the FBI’s agents.

“I can speak to my own personal experience,” Sanders told the White House press. “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.” She went on: “I’ve certainly heard from a large number of individuals. And that’s just myself. And I don’t know that many people in the FBI.”

“You personally have talked to countless officials, employees, since this happened?” another reporter asked later.

“Correct,” Sanders said.

“I mean, really?” the second reporter asked.

“Between, like, email, text messages – absolutely,” Sanders said.

“Fifty? Sixty? Seventy?” the reporter asked.

“Look, we’re not going to get into a numbers game. I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said they’re very happy with the president’s decision. I don’t know what else I can say.”

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

A year later, in interviews with the special counsel’s office, Sanders said “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”.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary at the time, also made a false claim to reporters about Comey’s firing, telling journalists that night Comey was fired that the decision to fire him “was all” Rosenstein.

Rosenstein said in an interview with the special counsel’s office that he had told other justice department officials that night that he would not participate in putting out a “false story” that Comey’s firing had been his idea.

Sanders replaced Spicer as White House press secretary in July 2017.

A year ago, when comedian Michelle Wolfe mocked Sanders for lying at the White House correspondents’ dinner, the comments about Sanders sparked outrage and condemnation for conservatives, as well as criticism from some national political reporters. Spicer called the criticism “disgusting”.

“Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited,” the comedian had said. “I’m not really sure what we’re going to get, you know? A press briefing, a bunch of lies or [being] divided into softball teams.”

Wolfe also called Sanders “very resourceful”.

“She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies,” the comedian said.

The White House Correspondents Association backed away from Wolfe’s comments in response to criticism, calling her monologue “not in the spirit” of the association.

The White House’s public press briefings to journalists have become increasingly rare and increasingly brief, another issue of concern for the American press.

Contributors

Lois Beckett and Joanna Walters

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sarah Sanders reiterates Comey claims despite admitting to lying
Press secretary defended past statements she made in an interview on Friday that Mueller’s team said had ‘no basis in fact’

Joanna Walters in New York and Lois Beckett

19, Apr, 2019 @2:23 PM

Article image
Trump memo on Comey firing was 'tinfoil helmet material', Mueller prosecutor says
Andrew Weissmann will publish memoir next week, in which he says ‘You could almost feel the spittle coming off the paper,’ he writes

Martin Pengelly in New York

23, Sep, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
DoJ report faults Comey on Clinton email inquiry but finds no political bias
Former FBI director failed to follow protocol, inspector general finds, but no evidence of ‘improper considerations, including political bias’

Sabrina Siddiqui andLauren Gambino Washington

15, Jun, 2018 @7:16 AM

Article image
Donald Trump under investigation for potential obstruction of justice – reports
Federal investigation into Trump campaign’s ties to Russia has expanded to include whether the president tried to thwart it, the Washington Post reports

Ben Jacobs in Washington and Lois Beckett in New York

15, Jun, 2017 @9:56 AM

Article image
Trump threatens Comey with 'years in jail' over FBI Russia report
In Fox News Sunday interview followed by presidential abuse, former director admits ‘sloppiness’ in surveillance of Trump aide Page

Ed Pilkington in New York

15, Dec, 2019 @7:15 PM

Article image
Tracking Trump: more Russia, more Comey, and more 'witch hunt' whines
This week in Trumpland: Sessions went before the Senate, and reports emerged that Robert Mueller is investigating whether the president obstructed justice

Paul Owen in New York

17, Jun, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Comey farewell letter emerges as Senate subpoenas Michael Flynn – as it happened
Join us for all the latest news and reaction as Trump dumps Comey as FBI director

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco and Tom McCarthy in New York (earlier) and Graham Russell

11, May, 2017 @6:36 AM

Article image
Trump fires FBI director Comey, raising questions over Russia investigation
US president cites Comey’s handling of Clinton email investigation, as ‘Nixonian’ move condemned by Democrats and civil society groups

David Smith in Washington

10, May, 2017 @1:21 PM

Article image
Andrew McCabe says officials discussed removing Trump after Comey firing
Ex-acting FBI director said there were meetings to discuss whether president could be removed under 25th amendment

Erin Durkin in New York

14, Feb, 2019 @3:27 PM

Article image
'There's nothing there': White House staff deny Comey sacking is linked to Russia
Apparently taken aback by scale of political firestorm, White House sent out Sean Spicer, his deputy and Kellyanne Conway to defend its position

David Smith in Washington

10, May, 2017 @3:43 AM