There was an exchange between press secretary Sarah Sanders and reporters in Tuesday’s White House daily(ish) briefing that boggled my mind in its dishonesty and lack of self-awareness.
Reporters questioned Sanders repeatedly on why she refused to address the fact that she had, from behind the same podium where she stood Tuesday, insisted last August that President Donald Trump had not dictated the statement by Donald Trump Jr. about a meeting between top Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower.
“He certainly didn’t dictate, but he – like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do,” Sanders said then.
That claim, as we now know from a 20-page memo the Trump legal team sent to special counsel Robert Mueller in January, is false. Trump did dictate the Don Jr. statement. Sanders at the time either lied or misinformed the media because she was relying on bad information passed along from above her.
“Once again, I don’t know how many times I have to address this, but I work every single day to give you accurate and up-to-date information. And I’m going to continue to do that. Frankly, I think my credibility is probably higher than the media’s. And I think that, in large part, that’s because you guys spend more of your time focused on attacking the President instead of reporting the news. I think that if you spent a little bit more time reporting the news instead of trying to tear me down, you might actually see that we’re working hard trying to provide you good information and trying to provide that same good information to the American people.”
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Also: No!
To be clear: What the White House press corps is doing here is simple: Sanders, the official spokesperson of the White House and Trump administration, said something in that official capacity back in August 2017 that has now been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be false.
And it’s not a minor thing, either. Sanders said the President of the United States did not dictate a statement in the voice of his eldest son regarding a meeting between top Trump campaign officials and Russians that was agreed to because the latter party promised dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That meeting, in June 2016, is a focus of Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election and the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to help the billionaire real estate man to win.
What Sanders is trying to do is have it both ways. She answered the question about Trump dictating the statement last summer when she denied he did it. Why then is she now arguing that she can’t address it now?
“Once again, I’m not going to go into detail and go into a back-and-forth. And I know that you guys would love to engage on matters of conversations between the special counsel and the outside counsel, but we’ve purposefully walled off and I’m not going to comment on the outside counsel.”
That’s not it at all! You can’t hide behind the outside counsel argument now – when the truth doesn’t favor you – if you felt totally fine talking about it when the truth, you thought, did favor you!
What’s even worse is Sanders’ remarkably cynical attempt to spin reporters doing their jobs – asking an official White House spokesperson about an obvious misstatement – as having some sort of a vendetta against her. This sentence, to me, is just stunning: “I think that if you spent a little bit more time reporting the news instead of trying to tear me down, you might actually see that we’re working hard trying to provide you good information and trying to provide that same good information to the American people.”
No one is trying to tear Sanders down. No one. Everyone in that White House briefing room is trying to get Sanders to explain two contradictory statements – both relating to a critical moment of both Trump’s presidency and the Mueller investigation. Reporters asking Sanders about the fact that someone, somewhere in the chain of command, wasn’t telling the truth about Trump’s role in Don Jr.’s statement last summer are doing exactly what journalism is supposed to do: Hold public officials accountable for what they say or do.
I get it. Demonizing the media – even when that demonizing makes absolutely no sense – has been a winning strategy for this White House. Donald Trump cries “fake news” about stories that are 100% accurate but that he doesn’t like. Senior counselor Kellyanne Conway touts the value of “alternative facts.” And Sanders casts herself as the victim of a media campaign to “tear” her down.
This White House can say what it wants. But facts are stubborn things. And in this case, the facts aren’t on their side.