The day after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, then-deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders stood at the podium in the White House briefing room and told reporters that the president had had "countless conversations" with members of the FBI who said morale at the bureau was low and they had lost confidence in Comey. "James Comey was a disgraced leaker who tried to politicize and undermine the agency he was supposed to run. Why can't you acknowledge that what you said then was not true?" he asked.
The redacted Mueller report that was released on Thursday revealed that Sanders had acknowledged that her repeated claim in 2017 that she had personally communicated with "countless" Federal Bureau of Investigation officials who told her they were happy with President Donald Trump's decision to fire James B. Comey as the agency's director was a "slip of the tongue" and not founded on any facts, reports The New York Times. "Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything".
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".
"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. "I'm sorry that I wasn't a robot like the Democrat Party", Sanders said. "Can we just take a step back and focus on the fact that this is a almost two-year investigation that has swirled around the president since day one of his presidency".
How Mueller's decision on obstruction helped save Trump
Trump obstructed justice with his repeated attempts to shut down and thwart investigations into Russian election interference. US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report details Australia's role in sparking the FBI's 2016 investigation.
"Sarah, that's just not what happened", Stephanopoulos said. "The premier intelligence community in the world, they were hurt by a few at the top, and they're angry about it, and you said that, but explain".
"My understanding at the time was that he hadn't dictated but that he weighed in, George", Sanders responded. "And certainly, you just echoed exactly the sentiment and the point that I was making, is that a number of both current and former Federal Bureau of Investigation agents agreed with the president". While Attorney General William Barr found that the president's conduct didn't support charges, Mueller recounted 10 episodes of potential obstruction in his report, ultimately deciding neither to charge nor exonerate Trump.
In an interview minutes later on "Good Morning America", House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who issued a subpoena for the full report Friday morning, called the instances documented by Mueller "disturbing". "They couldn't prove criminal conspiracy but they certainly proved cooperation", Nadler said on "GMA".
Trump's firing of Comey - who had been overseeing the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election - led to Mueller's appointment.