Of the full cast of characters who make an appearance in special counsel Robert Mueller’s just-released report, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is hardly the most prolific. But buried within the 400-page document is a revelation that sheds light on the White House’s relationship with the media and the truth.
According to the report, Sanders lied to reporters at a press briefing about the White House’s rationale for firing former FBI Director James Comey, making comments about Comey that she later told the special counsel’s office “were not founded on anything.”
The passage in the report refers to a specific incident in May 2017, the day after President Donald Trump fired Comey. The White House denied that Comey’s firing was in any way an effort to stymie the ongoing investigation into Russian interference, but had thus far been unable to give a straight answer on why exactly he had been removed from his position.
The White House eventually settled on the notion that Comey had lost the confidence of the Justice Department, members of Congress, and — as Sanders told reporters during the briefing in question — “most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
“Accordingly, the President accepted the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General to remove James Comey from his position,” Sanders said.
Except as reporters quickly pointed out, that wasn’t the case. Within hours of his firing, journalists had spoken to scores of FBI officials, most of whom expressed their deep admiration for Comey and the job he did as director. When one reporter pressed Sanders on this point in the White House briefing room, informing her that in fact the “vast majority” of FBI agents supported Comey, she replied, “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
According to Mueller’s report, Sanders was well aware she was lying to the press, and by extension to the American people. Sanders chalked up her “countless members” quip as a “slip of the tongue” during an interview with Mueller’s investigative team, and dismissed a similar comment she made in a different press event as an off-the-cuff remark made “‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”
The Mueller report sheds light on the apparent ease with which Sanders and the rest of the White House have lied to the American people. In numerous other examples throughout the report, Mueller details instances in which White House officials said one thing to news reporters, and another once they were facing possible perjury charges.