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Sanders Sidesteps Questions On Don Jr. Memo, Her Own Credibility

White House spox had denied president dictated misleading statement

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was under fire Monday, but opted against defending herself. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was under fire Monday, but opted against defending herself. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday declined to clarify a matter that could bring legal trouble for President Donald Trump while also sidestepping questions about her own credibility.

Sanders and Trump’s personal legal team for months denied the president, while returning from an overseas trip on Air Force One, dictated a misleading statement about a June 2016 meeting his oldest son had at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. But that claim was directly contradicted by a confidential memorandum sent earlier this year by the president’s lawyers to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

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The initial statement contended the participants of the meeting — which included Donald Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner — “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” But news outlets quickly reported the father was involved in preparing the initial statement, and the son later told a Senate committee his father might have dictated it to then-White House aide Hope Hicks.

But, publicly, Trump’s top spokeswoman and lawyers continued to deny the president’s involvement.

“He certainly didn’t dictate, but he — like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion[s] like any father would do,” Sanders told reporters from the White House podium on Aug. 1, 2017.

Fast forward five months, and this is what Trump’s legal team admitted in their 20-page letter to Mueller that also claimed broad presidential authorities in relation to federal investigations:

“You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.,” according to the January letter.

“His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion,” the lawyers told Mueller.

On Monday, Sanders showed up for her daily press briefing about 40 minutes after its initial scheduled start time. She then refused to address the contradictory statement during several heated exchanges with reporters.

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When pressed, she merely repeated slightly varying versions of this response: “This is a letter from the outside counsel and I direct you to them to answer that question.”

And when one reporter tried to follow up, he said he would like to ask another question about the matter. Sanders rebuffed him as she moved onto another questioner: “You may not.”

Another reporter asked why anyone should believe her, given what she said last summer and what the attorneys told Mueller in January. Sanders opted to ignore the question.

Earlier, she tried to sidestep a question about whether Trump believes the authorities that U.S. Constitution grants the office of the president make him essentially above the law.

She finally replied: “Certainly not,” adding later “nobody is above the law” when asked about the president’s morning tweet contending he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself. He also tweeted that the very existence of the special counsel is “UNCONSTITUTIONAL,” part of his team’s ongoing effort to discredit Mueller’s probe.

Legal experts say the courts likely would have to decide the legality of any self-pardon. But the party that controls the House would have to decide whether to begin an impeachment process.

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