Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders began the question-and-answer part of Tuesday’s press briefing by claiming that President Trump does now in fact acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Minutes later, however, Sanders backtracked and criticized the FBI for wasting time and resources investigating a “hoax.”
The first question Sanders faced was about special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of a number of Russian individuals and organizations on Friday for interfering in the 2016 election. Sanders replied by insisting Trump “absolutely” acknowledges Russian meddling, and falsely claimed that he always has.
“I think one of the places where you guys seem to get very confused, and it seems to happen regularly — the president hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle, what he’s saying is that it didn’t have an impact, and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign,” she said. “It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election, it’s also very clear that it didn’t have an impact on the election, and it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.”
As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made clear during a news conference on Friday, however, the question of collusion remains very much open.
Sanders had no response to the reporter’s follow-up question about why, if Trump takes Russian meddling so seriously, he hasn’t then implemented sanctions approved by Congress.
The next question Sanders faced was about a tweet Trump posted on Saturday that seemed to pin blame for the Parkland shooting on the FBI in general and the bureau’s investigation of the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia in particular.
Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
“The president doesn’t really think that the FBI failed to stop the Parkland shooter because it was too involved in the Russia investigation, does he?” a reporter asked.
Sanders didn’t directly answer the question, but said Trump is “making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the Trump campaign and its involvement.”
The reporter pointed out how that statement is at odds with Sanders said two minutes earlier.
“You just agreed that the evidence is there that the Russian interfered with our election!” he reminded her. “Now that you’ve said the president agrees, the national security adviser says the evidence is incontrovertible — what is the president going to do about it? What is he specifically doing about the fact that Russian interfered in our election and has every intention, we are told, of doing it again?”
Sanders replied by alluding to meetings Trump administration officials are purportedly having where they are “discussing this process.” She then pivoted to trying to blame President Obama.
“Everybody wants to blame the Trump administration, let’s not forget that this happened under the Obama administration,” she said, echoing a narrative Trump repeatedly tried to push over the weekend.
As she ended the briefing, Sanders ignored a question about whether Trump still believes Vladimir Putin’s denials about Russian having any involvement in election interference.