White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday thought she could answer one question about Rob Porter’s alleged history of domestic violence at the top of her press briefing and then move on. She was sorely mistaken.
For close to twenty minutes, Sanders struggled to respond to questions from reporters who couldn’t square her blanket condemnations of abuse with several statements from President Trump last week painting Porter as both “innocent” and “falsely accused.”
“Above all, the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process,” Sanders said in response to a question from Fox News’ John Roberts. “We've addressed this situation extensively and we have nothing more to add at this time on the topic.”
It turned out she had a lot more to add as the White House correspondents from various outlets hammered her with questions about the matter.
Asked why we haven’t heard the president say that he takes domestic violence “very seriously,” as Sanders suggested he did, the press secretary said those were his words, dictated to her before the briefing. “Does he believe Rob Porter’s accusers or are they lying?” Sanders would not answer that question directly, instead repeating that Trump takes domestic violence “very seriously” and believes “all allegations need to be thoroughly investigated.”
What about those comments Trump made week wishing Porter “success” in his future endeavors? “I think the president of the United States hopes that all Americans can be successful in whatever they do,” Sanders said. “And if they’ve had any issues in the past—and I’m not confirming or denying one way or the other—but if they do, the president wants success for all Americans.”
When Sanders was asked to comment on the security clearance issues raised by Porter’s alleged actions, she brazenly turned the question around and found a way to blame the media instead. “If you guys have real concerns about leaking out classified information, look around this room,” she said. “You guys are the ones that publish classified information and put national security at risk.”
At every turn, Sanders repeated the line that the president cares about the victims of domestic violence. But the reporters in the room were unwilling to accept that assertion given Trump’s history of giving men the benefit of the doubt. Given the chance to offer sympathy to the women who say they were assaulted by Porter, Trump decided instead to wish his former aide the best last week.
By the end of the relatively short briefing on Monday, Sanders could not have seemed more relieved to get a question about the national debt.