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Sarah Sanders defends herself against Mueller report on her past Comey claims

ABC News logo ABC News 4/19/2019 By Cheyenne Haslett

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Despite her acknowledgement in interviews with the special counsel's office that certain comments she made to the press were a "slip of the tongue," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to double down on past statements she made that special counsel Robert Mueller's team said were "not founded on anything." 

Those specific claims were that "countless members of the FBI" had lost confidence in former FBI Director James Comey. Despite claiming to the special counsel's office that it was a "slip of the tongue," Sanders defended her specific wording in an interview on "Good Morning America" on Friday.

"Actually, if you look at what I said, I said the 'slip of the tongue' was in using the word 'countless,' but there were a number of FBI, both former current, that agreed with the president's decision, and they've continued to speak out and say that and send notice to the White House of that agreement with the president's decision," Sanders told ABC News' chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

(MORE: Mueller report highlights: Read the top moments from the 448-page report)

"James Comey was a disgraced leaker and used authorization to spy on the Trump campaign despite no evidence of collusion," she said. "I stand by the fact, George ..."

"Sarah, hold on a sec," Stephanopoulos said. "The special counsel writes that those comments were not founded on anything. That's what you talked to the special counsel about when you were facing criminal penalties if you didn't tell the truth but now you're trying to walk away from it. Why can't acknowledge that what you said then was not true?"

a person posing for the camera: Press Secretary Sarah Sanders appears on "Good Morning America" on April 19, 2019, the day after the release of the redacted Mueller report. © ABC News Press Secretary Sarah Sanders appears on "Good Morning America" on April 19, 2019, the day after the release of the redacted Mueller report. Another portion of the report detailed an instance when Sanders minimized the president's role in responding to reports of a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who said in an email she had "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary." While Sanders told the press the president didn't dictate a statement about the meeting after it was revealed, the president's lawyers later said otherwise in interviews with the special counsel.

"After consulting with the President on the issue," the report said, "White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the media that the President 'certainly didn't dictate' the statement, but that 'he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.'"

But Trump's lawyers later told the special counsel "the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr."

"So why did you tell the press that the president did not dictate that statement, when he did?" Stephanopoulos asked Sanders.

"I'm not denying that he had involvement in what the statement said. That was the information I was given at the time and I stated it to the public," Sanders said.

MORE: Here's what we know about obstruction of justice

"Sarah, that's just not what happened," Stephanopoulos said. "You said the president didn't dictate the statement. The president's lawyer said that he did dictate the statement. That's what they wrote."

"My understanding at the time was that he hadn't dictated but that he weighed in, George," Sanders responded. Sanders also argued that the "big question here was whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — and they didn't," she said.

But the investigation did, according to the report, identify "numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign," though Mueller did not find enough evidence to support criminal charges.

Among those "numerous links" was a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, who said in an email that she had "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary," as well as a meeting between then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his long-time business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, "who the FBI asseses to have ties to Russian intelligence," according to the report.

The investigation also found that "several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters," and that those lies "materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference."

Despite those portions of the report, however, Mueller found "the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election," according to the report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for more updates.

This is a developing story. Please check back for more updates.

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