Politics

Sarah Sanders Tangles with Russia-Obsessed Media Types

After three days of controversy about the president's Helsinki comments, White House press secretary faces a pack of Trump critics

Spokesperson Sarah Sanders told combative members of the White House press corps on Wednesday that President Donald Trump is “working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections” ever again.

“We certainly believe that we are taking steps to make sure [the Russians] can’t do it again,” Sanders said. “Unlike previous administrations, this president is actually taking bold action and reform to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But he does believe that they would target certainly U.S. elections again.”

Sanders faced the bevy of Russia-obsessed media figures a couple of days after Trump’s appearance with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. The flap that began Monday in Europe continued Wednesday in the nation’s capital when ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked Trump if he believed Russia is “still targeting the U.S.” Trump replied, “Thank you very much. No.”

Trump’s comment sparked yet another apoplectic round of outrage among mainstream media members and Democratic lawmakers, claiming the president was again denying the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and is doing so again in the 2018 midterm elections. But Sanders insisted that wasn’t what Trump meant at all.

“I had a chance to speak with the president after his comments. The president was … said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and was saying ‘no’ to answering questions,” Sanders insisted. “The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past.”

But outraged media types remained unconvinced. In a particularly testy exchange, Sanders and NBC News’ Hallie Jackson battled back and forth over what Trump really meant.

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Jackson claimed that this represented the second time in three days that Trump or White House officials have “come out and reversed what the president has said” about Russia. Sanders corrected Jackson, saying, “Actually, I’m interpreting what the president said. I’m not reversing it.”

“I was in the room as well, and I didn’t take it the way you did,” Sanders told Jackson.

The NBC News reporter continued, asking, “But why should this president have any credibility to Americans in what he says if in fact 24 hours, or in this case, three hours later, the White House comes out and says, ‘Just kidding?'”

“First of all, that’s not what I said. I was interpreting what the president’s intention was in stating the administration’s policy. It’s not exactly what you just explained. We never said, ‘Just kidding,'” Sanders replied.

Related: Trump Throws Server Wrench Into Mueller Indictment Machine

“And I think that you can take the fact that the president has credibility because he saw that he had misspoken and he wanted to clarify that yesterday, which he did. So when he sees that he has misspoken, he comes out and he says that,” Sanders continued.

Trump clarified Tuesday that he has “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies” and has pledged to “repel” any future election interference attempts.

“And I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the [2016 U.S. presidential] election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump continued, emphasizing that “there was no collusion — at all.”

When asked Monday about Putin’s denials of Russian election interference, Trump replied that Putin “just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Trump clarified Tuesday that he meant to say “wouldn’t,” not “would.”

“And I realized that there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said. “In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia.'”

Sanders noted that Trump and his officials believe the Russian threat “still exists, which is why we are taking steps to prevent it. Again, you wouldn’t go through that lengthy process if you weren’t.”

Related: Trump Clarifies Controversial Helsinki Remarks on Putin’s Meddling Denial

“Let’s not forget that [the meddling] didn’t happen under President Trump’s watch. This happened under the Obama administration,” Sanders reminded the reporters. “But to act like [Trump] hasn’t been tough on Russia, that he hasn’t called them out, is simply not true.”

“[Trump] wants to create a more stable world, a more peaceful world. And we can’t do that if we don’t get along with Russia in some capacity,” Sanders said. “So certainly we’ve called them out. We’ve been tough. We’ve approached this in a totally different fashion than has been previously done because what’s been done in the past hasn’t worked. So we’re trying a new approach.”

April Ryan from American Urban Radio Networks, also a political analyst for CNN, interrupted Sanders without being called upon during the briefing to ask her about voter suppression.

“I’m just asking you a question because you choose not to call on me,” Ryan said. “Are you not going to answer that?”

Sanders replied, “If I call on you, I’ll be happy to answer your question.” Sanders moved on before returning to Ryan later.

CNN’s Jim Acosta also wanted to know if Trump actually brought up Russian election interference face to face during his meeting with Putin Monday and warned the Russian president to cease it immediately.

“The president has made clear to Vladimir Putin that he should stay out of U.S. elections,” Sanders replied.

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