White House press secretary Sarah Sanders last week retweeted President Trump’s inaccurate abridgment of the Mueller report:
Following Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of the Mueller report in March, Sanders also inaccurately summarized the matter:
As the report makes clear, Mueller & Co. did not exonerate the president on the obstruction-of-justice front. In fact, they laid out 10 examples of possible obstruction. In his summary, Barr very promptly decided that the evidence on this front was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
There’s a pattern here: Where the Mueller report advances your cause, cite it authoritatively! Where the Mueller report doesn’t advance your cause, lie about it. Or distort, distract, whatever.
This framing contextualizes Sanders’s response to her own Mueller scandal. As noted widely upon the report’s release, Sanders admitted to investigators that she’d fabricated a talking point in the frenzied aftermath of Trump’s May 2017 firing of FBI Director James B. Comey. The initial media reaction to the move was harsh, and White House aides struggled to put together a defense for an action that had blindsided them. Among the tales that Sanders — then the deputy press secretary — spun was the myth that Comey didn’t have the trust and faith of the FBI rank and file. When a reporter said that FBI officials actually supported the fired director, Sanders said in a May 10, 2017, briefing, “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
The next day, she continued with her protestations about all the FBI people who were expressing support for the dismissal. After she was challenged on the actual number of “countless” FBI supporters, she said, “I mean, I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they’re very happy with the President’s decision. I mean, I don’t know what I else I can say.”
According to the Mueller report, Sanders was lying about this plume of FBI sentiment: The “countless” comment, said the report, was a “slip of the tongue,” as Sanders told investigators. “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,” reads the report.
Well, not according to Sanders herself. “I’ve acknowledged that the word ‘countless’ was a slip of the tongue but it’s no secret that a number of FBI, both current and former, agreed with the president’s decision,” Sanders said in an appearance last week on “CBS This Morning.” “Let’s not forget that James Comey was a disgraced leaker. . . . [He] undermined the own agency that he was supposed to be in charge of and leading,” said Sanders, who also referred to Comey as a “dirty cop.”
Pressed on Mueller’s conclusion that Sanders’s remarks weren’t “founded on anything,” Sanders responded, “Those were Mueller’s words that they weren’t founded on anything. What I said was that it was in the heat of the moment . . . meaning, it wasn’t a scripted thing, it was something that I said, which is why that one word has become a big deal. But the big takeaway here is that the sentiment is 100 percent accurate. The FBI is a better place without James Comey. He disgraced himself and he undermined the agency that he was supposed to be in charge of.”
Check it out: “Those were Mueller’s words ...” Yes, they were Mueller’s words. These are also Mueller’s words: “Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.” Clever how people like Sanders want to credit one finding from the Mueller team and question another.
Such selective accreditation is an old trick, one that gets a lot of rotation on outlets such as Fox News. For instance: When a media organization such as the New York Times writes something unfavorable about a Democratic politician — see the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s server or the overblown Uranium One story — this damaging information comes from THE NEW YORK TIMES, a journalistic giant. When the Times publishes a tough story on Trump, on the other hand, it’s just another corrupt eructation of the “fake-news” media.
Nor is Sanders content to mar the reputation of just one person in this whole episode. Her baseless claim about Comey suggested that he had lost the trust and confidence of rank-and-file FBI personnel, when, in fact, a survey of employees later indicated that confidence in the agency’s leadership declined after Comey’s firing.
Then came April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. In a Friday night panel discussion on CNN, where she serves as a political analyst, Ryan called for the dismissal of Sanders. “She lied,” said Ryan. “She out and out lied and the people, the American people, can’t trust her. They can’t trust what’s said from the president’s mouthpiece, spokesperson, from the people’s house. Therefore, she should be let go, she should be fired. End of story. When there is a lack of credibility, you have to start — and start lopping the heads off.”
Presented with another opportunity to lie and ruin another reputation, Sanders went for it. On “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning, she said this of Ryan’s clearly figurative language: “Look, I’ve had reporters say a lot of things about me. They’ve said I should be choked, they’ve said I should deserve a lifetime of harassment. But certainly never had somebody say that I should be decapitated. This takes us to a new low even for the liberal media. I think it once again proves why this journalist shouldn’t be taken seriously,” said Sanders. So: The White House press secretary, a documented liar, is now delivering opinions on who should and should not be taken seriously.