WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told investigators it was a “slip of the tongue” when she falsely said in 2017 that countless members of the FBI had lost confidence in James Comey, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Sanders made the comments May 10, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump fired Comey as FBI chief. In a separate news interview, she made similar comments, later claiming they were made “in the heat of the moment” and weren’t founded on anything, according to the report released Thursday.
The passages on Sanders’s comments illustrate how the White House tried to justify the firing amid reports that Trump was trying to quash the investigation. Comey himself claimed that the president had tried to get him to pledge his loyalty and to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, over his ties to foreign countries.
Comey’s ouster played a central role in Mueller’s investigation into whether the president obstructed the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. 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.
According to the report, Sanders spoke to Trump about his decision to fire Comey on May 10. Sanders then told reporters that Trump, the Justice Department and lawmakers from both parties had lost confidence in Comey. She followed that with, “Most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
When a reporter suggested that Comey enjoyed wide support within the FBI, Sanders said: “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
She acknowledged to Mueller’s team that her comments weren’t true.
According to Mueller’s report, Sanders spoke to the president after the news conference. Trump told her she had done a good job and didn’t mention any inaccuracies.