Here’s how Sarah Sanders defended Trump against accusations of misconduct
As three women who accused President Trump of sexual misconduct spoke out on Monday, questions about the allegations were expected at the afternoon’s White House press briefing.
So how did press secretary Sarah Sanders defend Trump? By using the boilerplate response she has been surfacing lately when answering other similar questions — as well as taking a snippy tone with the press.
When asked for a response to calls for Trump to resign or for a congressional investigation into his actions, Sanders used a familiar refrain:
“The president has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these allegations and this took place long before he was elected to be president, and the people of this country had a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process.”
When one reporter tried to follow up by asking about UN ambassador Nikki Haley saying that Trump’s accusers “should be heard,” Sanders ignored her and instead called on a different reporter — who decided to ask the same question.
“Look, as the president said himself, he thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward, but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course,” Sanders said. “In this case, the president has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses, and several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the president’s claim in this process. And again, the American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process.”
Another reporter then followed up with a question about Trump’s 2005 comments to Howard Stern, in which Trump bragged about some of the special perks he enjoyed while he was owner of the Miss USA pageant.
“Look, the president has spoken about this directly,” Sanders said. “I don’t have anything further to add on the process.”
Sanders also took a defiant tone when a reporter asked about Trump’s treatment of a Washington Post journalist over the weekend.
“Look, the president is simply calling out a very direct and false accusation lodged against him,” Sanders said. “There was nothing more than an individual trying to put their bias into their reporting, and something that, frankly, has gotten a little bit out of control.”
When Sanders called on CNN’s Jim Acosta shortly after, the two did what they do best: Argue.
“I would just say, Sarah, that journalists make honest mistakes and that doesn’t make them fake news,” Acosta said.
“But when journalists make honest mistakes, they should own up to them,” Sanders said.
“We do,” Acosta replied.
“Sometimes — and a lot of times you don’t. But there’s a difference — there’s a very big difference —”
When several reporters tried to cut in, Sanders said in an indignant tone, “I’m sorry, I’m not finished.”
She continued: “There’s a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people, something that happens regularly. You can’t say —”
When another journalist tried to interject, Sanders said sternly, “I’m not done.”
“You cannot say that it’s an honest mistake when you’re purposefully putting out information that you know to be false, or when you’re taking information that hasn’t been validated, that hasn’t been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an instance,” Sanders said.
“Are you speaking about the president?” one reporter quipped.
Read the full transcript from the briefing below:
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. This morning, while New Yorkers were making their way to work, a terrorist set off a pipe bomb strapped to his body in one of Manhattan’s busiest commuter hubs. Thankfully, there were no life-threatening injuries.
Undercover Port Authority Police Department Officer Jack Collins apprehended the terrorist, along with several other officers. These brave first responders and the others who rushed to the scene are heroes. On behalf of the President and a grateful nation, we would like to thank them and commend them for their bravery.
This attack underscores the need for Congress to work with the President on immigration reforms that enhance our national security and public safety. We must protect our borders, we must ensure the individuals entering our country are not coming to do harm to our people, and we must move to a merit-based system of immigration.
Additionally, this attack comes as our coalition continues to make great gains against ISIS. Still, there is more work to be done on the ground in the shrinking ISIS-controlled areas, and the President’s plan to annihilate ISIS is moving forward.
But we must also destroy the evil ideology that is behind ISIS and attacks like today’s. This ideology has no borders but it must be eradicated. The President has successfully rallied the world behind this cause and we will not stop until it is accomplished.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the women who came forward today against the President. They first were on a television show and then they were at a press conference. And they said that he should resign, and then also that there should be a congressional investigation. And I know that you’ve said that this has already been litigated in the last election, but I wanted to get your specific reaction to this idea that there should be a congressional investigation into this.
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these allegations. And this took place long before he was elected to be President. And the people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process.
MS. SANDERS: Sarah, thank you. I want to follow up on that. But first, a little bit of breaking news we just learned about: The Pentagon apparently will now allow transgender people to enlist in the military beginning January 1st. Your reaction to that? And any follow-up action you’re going to take?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, as of right now, they’re simply complying with a court order and preparing to implement a previous policy to remain in compliance. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the legal options to ensure that the President’s directive can be implemented.
And for anything further and any specifics on both of those matters, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.
Q Okay, and one follow-up --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Mara.
Q One follow-up very quickly on -- just very quickly, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Kristen. Mara, go ahead.
Q Can I just ask you about Nikki Haley’s comments saying that the President --
MS. SANDERS: Mara, go ahead.
Q I’ll pick that up for you, Kristen.
MS. SANDERS: She’s going to pick it up for you.
Q Nikki Haley, as I’m sure you know, said, when asked does the election mean that’s a settled issue -- which you’ve been arguing from the podium here -- she said, “I know he was elected, but women should always feel comfortable coming forward and we should all be willing to listen to them,” specifically referring to the accusers of the President. Does the President agree with her?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as the President said himself, he thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward, but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course. And, in this case, the President has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses. And several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the President’s claim in this process.
And again, the American people knew this and voted for the President, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process.
Q But he thinks it’s a good thing that the women who accused him are coming forward now, again?
MS. SANDERS: The President has said that it’s a good thing for women to be able to feel comfortable in coming forward, generally speaking.
Q I just want to go off of that, Sarah. But the President told Howard Stern in 2005 that he had walked into a teen beauty pageant dressing room where he said that teen contestants had no clothes on because he could sort of get away with things like that. Is that not an admission of sexual harassment?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has spoken about this directly. I don’t have anything further to add on the process.
Q And the American public --
MS. SANDERS: We’re going to do one question today, guys, to move around.
Q Two ISIS attacks in New York City -- or ISIS-inspired attacks in New York City just recently. Is the President concerned that there is a growing threat against people inspired by ISIS who have been radicalized online?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the President is certainly concerned that Congress, particularly Democrats, have failed to take action in some places where we feel we could have prevented this. Specifically, the President’s policy has called for an end to chain migration. And if that had been in place, that would have prevented this individual from coming to the United States.
So the President is aggressively going to continue to push forth responsible immigration reform, and ending chain migration would certainly be a part of that process.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President reacted quite angrily over the weekend to a Washington Post reporter’s tweet about crowd size that was quickly deleted. I’m wondering if you could help explain the discrepancy between the President’s reaction to incidents like this, which he calls “fake news” and talks quite a bit about, and his silence on actual disinformation campaigns like Russia ran during the 2016 election to deliberately spread false information. So both his silence on that, and does he recognize the difference between these two?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is simply calling out a very direct and false accusation lodged against him. There was nothing more than an individual trying to put their bias into their reporting, and something that, frankly, has gotten a little bit out of control. We’ve seen it time and time again over the last couple of weeks.
A number of outlets have had to retract and change, and rewrite, and make editor’s notes to a number of different stories -- some of them with major impacts, including moving markets. This is a big problem and we think it’s something that should be taken seriously.
Q Does he see a difference between reporters’ mistakes and a disinformation campaign by a foreign government? Does he see a distinction there?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t spoken with him about that, but certainly we would take any misinformation like that very seriously. But it’s not something we’re comparing the two on.
Q And I would just say, Sarah, that journalists make honest mistakes and that doesn’t make them fake news.
But the question that I --
MS. SANDERS: But when journalists make honest mistakes, they should own up to them.
Q We do.
MS. SANDERS: Sometimes -- and a lot of times you don’t. But there’s a difference -- there’s a very big difference --
Q The President hasn’t --
Q This wasn’t going to be my question.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, I’m not finished.
MS. SANDERS: There’s a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people -- something that happens regularly. You can’t say --
Q You mean like tweeting stuff on the Middle East --
MS. SANDERS: I’m not done. You cannot say --
Q He retweeted something that was completely fake, Sarah. Can he admit it?
MS. SANDERS: You cannot say that it’s an honest mistake when you’re purposefully putting out information that you know to be false, or when you’re taking information that hasn’t been validated, that hasn’t been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an instance.
This is something that --
Q Are you speaking about the President?
MS. SANDERS: I’m speaking about the number of reports that have taken place over the last couple of weeks. I’m simply stating that there should be a certain level of responsibility in that process.
Q This was not --
MS. SANDERS: Brian, I called on Jim.
Q I know, I know.
Q This is not the line of questioning that I was going down, but can you cite a specific story that you say is intentionally false; that was intentionally put out there to mislead the American people?
MS. SANDERS: Sure, the ABC report by Brian Ross. I think that was pretty misleading to the American people. And I think that it’s very telling that that individual had to be suspended because of that reporting. I think that shows that the network took it seriously and recognized that it was a problem.
Q Sarah, if I may though, I was going to ask a question about something else.
MS. SANDERS: Well, you used it on something else.
Q Well, Sarah, if I may, --
MS. SANDERS: Not today. We’re going to keep moving, guys.
Q Sarah, if I can ask about the President’s accusations --
Q The other Jim.
MS. SANDERS: I’m moving to a different Jim. I’m sorry.
Q I know, but I didn’t get a chance to ask the question that I wanted to ask, which is --
MS. SANDERS: Jim.
Q -- can you just say, once and for all, whether these accusations --
MS. SANDERS: Jim, I’m going to say, once and for all, that I’m moving on to Jim Stinson, and I’m not taking another question from you at this point.
Q Sarah, a question about investment -- investment taxes.
Q I think I was within my rights to respond to your attacks on the news media. If that’s okay, I would like to ask the question that I had about these accusations of misconduct against the President. You said that he’s denied them. Can you say whether or not they are false?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to respond to the other question. Go ahead, Jim.
Q Sarah, some investors are saying the tax reform package favors mutual funds over individual investors. Other critics who want tax reform say the bill will cause some tax increases for a few middle-class tax filers. By a few, I mean maybe tens of thousands, but maybe more.
Will the President sign the tax bill, even if there are inadvertent tax increases and some of the criticisms are correct?
MS. SANDERS: As I’ve said many times before, our focus and our priorities are making sure that we provide middle-class tax relief, and simplifying the code, bringing businesses back here to the U.S. We’re going to continue pushing for that and continue working with Congress to make sure that we get the best tax package possible.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Tomorrow there is a special Senate election in Alabama. Back on September the 23rd, the President went down to Huntsville, Alabama -- campaigned alongside of Luther Strange -- and since that time, he never went down in the course of the campaign -- the campaign, alongside the Republican nominee, Roy Moore. Was the President embarrassed in terms of campaigning alongside Roy Moore? Is that the reason why we didn’t see him down there in Alabama?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has spoken directly about this race, and who he supports and who he doesn’t. Due to the legality of that, I’m not going to go any further and would refer you back to his past statements.
Q Sarah, what is the disconnect, as it relates to this White House, when it comes to then-candidate Trump bringing the accusers of Bill Clinton to the debate, against Hillary Clinton, and now the accusers of Roy Moore -- making these accusations -- and his accusers? What’s the disconnect here?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as the President said, he found the allegations troubling. And if they were true, then he should step aside. And ultimately, the people of Alabama will make a decision in that race.
Q Well, what about his own accusers though? He has accusers as well.
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has firsthand knowledge on what he did and didn’t do. He can speak directly to those, and he has, and he’s addressed them. And I don’t have anything further to add.
Q Will he address the American public about this? Because this is spinning, and it’s focused on him now as --
MS. SANDERS: And he’s addressed it directly to the American people.
Q But will he -- it’s coming up new and a fresh, and more people are now speaking out. Will --
MS. SANDERS: April, I’m going to keep moving. Sorry, trying to cover as many of your colleagues today.
Q I understand. But will the President address the nation on this? This is a huge issue, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: I know, and there are a lot of big issues today. I’m trying to cover as many of them as possible by calling on a number of your colleagues. And I’ve called on Trey, and I’m going to move to him.
Q Will the President come out and address this, please?
Sarah, all you have to say is yes or no.
MS. SANDERS: He has, April. I’ve already said -- I’ve already addressed this. The President has addressed it. I don’t have anything else to add.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Today, the suspected terrorist in New York City, he was described as a Bangladeshi immigrant. Bangladesh is not on the President’s travel ban list. Does today’s attack change the way that President Trump is evaluating travel restrictions?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we can -- we do know, and the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed, that the suspect was admitted to the United States after presenting a passport displaying an F43 Family Immigrant Visa in 2011. And so we know that the President’s policy calls for an end to chain migration, which is what this individual came to the United States through.
And if his policy had been in place, then that attacker would not have been allowed to come in the country. That’s why the President has pushed for not one part of immigration policy, but a responsible and total immigration reform. And that’s why we have to look at all sectors and do what we can to make sure we’re doing everything within our power to protect the American people.
Q Thanks, Sarah. At the top of your remarks about ISIS, about the attack today in New York City, you talked about the need to destroy the ideology, intimating would-be attackers and the actual attackers. What policy changes are required to do that? How do you defeat an ideology that’s been attempted since 9/11 with, really, no great success? What are you doing differently? What can you do differently in order to do that?
MS. SANDERS: I think one of the best ways that we have moved forward is in a process where we’re allowing the members of the Department of Defense to aggressively move forward in defeating ISIS and, in hopes, annihilating a lot of that evil ideology through part of that process. We’re going to continue pushing and continue looking for the best ways possible to make sure that we protect Americans.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two quick ones on Korea. Do you have an update on sanctions? Last week, you said it would be coming in a number of days. And secondly, Victor Cha was just nominated to be the Republic of Korea Ambassador. Do you have any comment?
MS. SANDERS: On the first part, we’re working through a legal process and, again, hope to have details further on that. It’s a little bit more complicated. And once we get through that, we’ll be able to walk through a little bit more detail on the reason for some of the delay. And on the other, I don’t have any personnel announcements or comments on that at this time.
Q Sarah, I’m interested in the comment you made about the suspect in New York. Does the White House have any proof that this suspect was radicalized outside of the United States? He’s been a lawful, permanent resident living here for some time.
MS. SANDERS: I can’t get into any further details on that front at this point. But as we have them available, I’ll be happy to let you know.
Q But why would his chain migration be an issue unless you were saying that something happened outside the U.S.?
MS. SANDERS: There are certain parts that I’m allowed to discuss at this point in the process; that’s one of them. Anything further, I can’t get into at this point. But as soon as I can, we’ll be happy to let you know.
Q On the directive on space the President is going to announce this afternoon, will he call for an increase in spending for NASA, or will there be commercial partnerships? Or will he reduce NASA funding in other areas such as earth science, which includes the study of climate change?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s announcement that’s coming later today, but we’ll have further details once that process is completed.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. Who were the eyewitnesses who dispute these allegations against the President? And can you stand here right now and say, without a doubt -- 100 percent certainty -- that the more than dozen women who have come forward to accuse this President of misconduct are lying? Do you wrestle with this personally at all?
MS. SANDERS: I’m here to speak on behalf of the President. And I can say that the President has directly responded and said that these allegations are false, and that’s what I’m doing in relaying that information to you.
In terms of the specific eyewitness accounts, there have been multiple reports and I’d be happy to provide them to you after the briefing has completed.
Q So let me just follow up on that question a little bit. As a woman standing up there talking to us -- I know your job is to relay what the President says -- have you ever been sexually harassed? And do you understand -- and I’m not saying by the President -- I’m saying ever. And secondly, do you have an empathy for those who come forward? Because it’s very difficult for women to come forward.
MS. SANDERS: I absolutely would say that I have an empathy for any individual who has been sexually harassed. And that certainly would be the policy of the White House. I’m not here to speak about my personal experience on that front, but I’m here to relay information on behalf of the President, and that’s what I’m focused on doing here today.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Following up on the President’s announcement last week on Jerusalem, declaring it’s the capital of Israel, we saw days of protests -- sometimes violent protests in the Middle East, changes to the Vice President’s schedule as he goes through the region. Does the White House acknowledge, does the President acknowledge, that that decision increased tensions in an already volatile region?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re continuing to urge calm, and we’re open and willing and want to continue meeting and discussing a peace deal.
Look, violence is always going to be the responsibility of those who carry it out -- not the President or anyone else. And again, we urge individuals and groups to remain calm, and we want to continue working with our partners, allies, and others in the region to continue moving forward on the peace conversations.
Q Sarah, but this is about more than violence. This is about meetings being cancelled. It’s about diplomatic outcry from everyone from -- you know, the governments of the United Kingdom, the Pope, and the like. So why is it beneficial to the U.S. interest, as the President declared, if all those groups, all those countries and allies are condemning that announcement?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is taking a bold and courageous action on a law that Congress passed and had failed to implement for the last couple of decades. The President is simply moving forward and taking that action on legislation that Congress has supported time and time again.
Q Yeah, following up on that, President Abbas, as you know, has said he will not meet with the Vice President next week. Does the President have a reaction to that? And doesn’t this mean that the U.S. has effectively taken itself out of the peace process when one side won’t even show up to meet with the United States?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly hope not. We find it unfortunate that they’re walking away from the opportunity to discuss the future of the region. But the administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan. And we’re going to continue pushing forward.
I’m going to take one last question. Philip.
Q So the last suspects of terrorism were not training in Syria or Iraq. And Thursday, the Russians stopped their operations, said that they’d gotten rid of ISIS in Syria. Saturday, the Iraqi Prime Minister said this fight against ISIS is won. Why would the U.S. still need to fight on the ground?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as long as there’s any member of ISIS left, we want to continue pushing forward and making sure not only that they’re eradicated, but that they don’t quickly turn around and come back. And we’ll continue to push forward in making sure we do what we can to defeat ISIS on all fronts and certainly that we do what we can to protect Americans lives.
Thanks so much, guys.