WASHINGTON - White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in a Friday interview disputed allegations detailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's newly released report that she lied to reporters in the wake of former FBI Director James Comey's firing, saying what Mueller and his investigators labeled as an untruth was merely a “slip of the tongue.”
During an interview with Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos one day after the release of Mueller's full, though redacted, report on his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Sanders defended a claim she made in 2017 that the White House heard from “countless” people who worked at the FBI that agents had lost confidence in then-FBI Director James Comey, which led to his firing.
“Actually, if you look at what I said, I said the slip of the tongue was using the word 'countless.’” Sanders said. “There were a number of FBI, both former and current, that agreed with the president’s decision, and they continued to speak out and say that and send notice to the White House of that agreement with the president’s decision.”
Trump's White House has given shifting accounts of the reason for Comey's dismissal. Sanders had told reporters that Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file members of the FBI who welcomed the president's decision.
Prior to Sanders' verbal defense on Friday, the Mueller report said she did tell the special counsel’s team that her words to the media were a “slip of the tongue.”
But the report also said she acknowledged the comment “was not founded on anything.”
Stephanopoulos pressed her, saying that she was now “trying to walk away” from her comments to the special counsel. He asked, “Why couldn’t you acknowledge that what you said then was not true?”
“I said that the word I used 'countless' and I also said if you look at what’s in quotations from me, it’s that, and that it was in the heat of the moment, meaning that it wasn’t a scripted talking point,” Sanders said.
She added, "I'm sorry I wasn't a robot."
Stephanopoulos countered that Sanders repeated the statement on separate days and on separate occasions. Sanders also said in a Thursday night interview with Fox News that she “used the word ‘countless,’ but it’s not untrue.”
Sanders also pushed back Friday against allegations that the special counsel's Russia report exposed a culture of lying at the White House.
But Democratic House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, also speaking on ABC, said Mueller's report clearly outlines "a culture of lying" at the White House. He also said Congress would also need the full, unredacted report, including the underlying documents.
“We need to determine what the proper course of action is to deal with a president who has been shown in this report, very clearly shown to lie all the time, culture of lying,” Nadler said.
Nadler submitted a subpoena for Mueller’s entire report Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.