White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been caught saying untrue things many times, but she’s often relied on a convenient excuse. “We give the best information that we have at the time,” has long been a go-to line for Donald Trump’s chief spokesperson.
The subtext, which has never been especially subtle, has always been that Sanders doesn’t necessarily lie, so much as she’s lied to. When the White House press secretary passes along information that proves to be false, it’s not her fault if she’s merely a conduit for others’ falsehoods.
This defense won’t help Sanders when responding to her latest mess.
On May 10, 2017, Sarah Sanders, then the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters that “countless” FBI agents had told the White House that they had lost confidence in James Comey, who had been fired as FBI director the day before by President Donald Trump.
But special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released Thursday, says that she simply made the assertion up.
The report says Sanders, since promoted to press secretary, told investigators she had no evidence to make that claim.
It was not the only example of the Mueller report shining a light on deceptions from one of Trump’s press secretaries, but it was the most dramatic instance – in large part because Sanders effectively admitted to investigators that she made up her claim.
The presidential spokesperson would probably face an unpleasant grilling if she still hosted routine press briefings, but instead, Sanders turned to Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night and said she had “a slip of the tongue.”
As a rule, that’s reserved for routine slip-ups, such as saying “Iran” when one meant to say “Iraq.” Making up conversations with FBI officials, in order to justify the improper firing of an FBI director, is generally something altogether different.
Underwhelming defenses notwithstanding, it’s difficult to make the case at this point that Sanders can remain a credible White House spokesperson going forward. Kurt Bardella wrote a compelling analysis piece for NBC News:
The job of White House press secretary is more than just a spokesperson advocating for the president of the United States. It is a position that embodies the trust that should exist between the American people and their government.
The press secretary serves as a living, breathing reminder of the free press’ constitutionally protected right to question the most powerful office in the world. More than that, the White House press secretary is the person we turn to in times of emergency or tragedy for the truth. We must have faith that they will understand when the politics of the day should be suspended, and when the national need for unfiltered and untainted information takes precedent.
It is not an easy job, as Thursday’s release of the redacted version of the 448-page Mueller report makes clear. And not everyone is up for the task.
Credibility is a difficult thing to earn, but it’s an even more difficult thing to recover once it’s gone.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders was not a trusted source for accurate information 24 hours ago, but her trustworthiness has now reached new depths.