During the White House news briefing on Monday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was pressed to defend two lies President Trump told last week — that women who were traveling with a group of undocumented immigrants through Mexico were “raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before,” and that “millions and millions” of illegal votes are cast in a typical presidential election.
After mentioning Trump’s claim about undocumented immigrant rape, NBC’s Hallie Jackson told Sanders, “you actually, last fall, admonished reporters to make sure that we hold ourselves to a high standard of accuracy. Does the president also need to be held to that same standard of accuracy?”
Sanders began her response by saying “absolutely,” but then immediately pivoted to making a desperate defense of the president’s baseless claim about rapes among a “caravan” of undocumented immigrants — a remark Trump made in an attempt to justify calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” during his campaign-launching speech in June 2015.
“It has been well documented that a number of those individuals going back even to 2014 where there were multiple articles and studies put out that said 80 percent of the women that make that, ah, that go through that process and try and enter the country are raped through that process,” Sanders said. “Something certainly that should be concerning to all of us and certainly something that the president has voiced concern about.”
While a Fusion story from 2014 estimated that around 80 percent of women and girls crossing into Mexico are raped on their journey to the U.S. border, reporters embedded with the “caravan” of undocumented immigrants that Trump specifically referred to said that saw no evidence of anyone being raped.
So in an effort to justify her boss’ baseless remark, Sanders ended up defending a different claim entirely. More broadly, studies show no evidence that immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born Americans.
Jackson followed up by asking about Trump’s voter fraud lie.
“And what about the voter fraud claim that the president made last week as well? Also not backed up by evidence,” Jackson said.
Sanders replied by talking about Trump’s feelings.
“The president still strongly feels that there was a large amount of voter fraud and attempted to do a thorough review of it, but a lot of states didn’t want to cooperate or participate,” Sanders said. “We certainly know that there were a large number of instances reported but we can’t be sure how much, because we weren’t able to conduct the full review that the president wanted.”
But Trump’s feelings aren’t evidence, and during a recent federal trial, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) — a Trump ally who has claimed that academic studies back up his claims about illegal voting — was unable to defend the notion that the 2016 election was plagued by large-scale voter fraud.
During testimony, expert witnesses who Kobach previously relied upon to corroborate his claims couldn’t cite a single instance in which illegal votes swung an election, and they admitted that studies indicating otherwise haven’t been peer reviewed and rely on small sample sizes.
Before it was embraced by Trump, the claim that millions of illegal votes were cast during the 2016 election was popularized by InfoWars, a site that has spread conspiracy theories about mass shootings and pedophilia rings. InfoWars sourced the claim to a “report” on VoteFraud.org that made baseless claims about “more than three million votes cast by non-citizens” without providing any evidence in support.
Last summer, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was pressed about Trump’s voter fraud lie during a CNN interview. She defended the president by saying he “doesn’t think he’s lying about those issues, and you know it” — as if the mere fact that Trump believes the conspiracy theory is true makes it true.