During Monday’s press briefing — the first the White House has held this month — Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tried to justify President Trump’s call for the Department of Justice to investigate the origins of a New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous administration officials that portrays the president as unhinged and unfit to serve.
There’s just one problem — thanks to America’s freedom of the press, it’s abundantly clear no laws were broken by the op-ed. But even after a reporter repeatedly pointed this out to Sanders, she insisted that the DOJ should look into the matter, citing nothing beyond vague “concerns.”
“There is no violation of the criminal code that goes along with the publication of this op-ed, so I’m a little curious as to what it is that the president believes may have been violated in the law as it relates to the publication of this op-ed?” Fox News Radio’s Jon Decker asked Sanders.
“Once again, we would consider someone who is actively trying to undermine the executive branch of our government, ah, inappropriate, and something to cause concern, and they should look at it,” Sanders replied.
“What’s the criminal violation there?” Decker followed up.
Sanders couldn’t cite one.
“Once again, we’re just saying this gives a great level of concern and they should look into it,” she said.
“But it’s not a violation of the law, though,” Decker repeated. “Just having concern is not a violation of the law.”
Sanders ultimately fell all the way back to the position that she’s not a lawyer, so it’s not for her to say.
“I’m not an attorney,” she said. “It’s [for] the Department of Justice to make that determination, and we’re asking them to look into it and make that determination. And they certainly are fully capable of doing that. But someone actively trying to undermine the duly elected president and the entire executive branch of government, that seems quite problematic to me, and something that they should take a look at.”
During a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One last Friday, Trump said, “yeah, I would say [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] should be investigating who the author of this piece was because I really believe it’s national security.”
Like Sanders, the president did not specify which law he thinks might have been violated.
The New York Times responded with a statement saying the paper is “confident that the Department of Justice understands that the First Amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power. The President’s threats both underscore why we must safeguard the identity of the writer of this op-ed and serve as a reminder of the importance of a free and independent press to American democracy.”