White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictments of several Americans and Russian individuals and institutions made it “absolutely” clear that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
“Absolutely,” she told a reporter who asked Tuesday, during a press briefing, whether “the President now acknowledges what the special counsel indictments made clear, which is that Russians not only tried to meddle but interfere and influence the 2016 election?”
Sanders continued: “And the President has acknowledged that multiple times before. He acknowledged it during the transition. He acknowledged it during a press conference in Poland and he acknowledged it for a third time at a press event in Poland.”
“He has stated several times — I think one of the places where you guys seem to get very confused and it seems to happen regularly — the President hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle,” she said.
Despite Sanders’ claim, Trump in December 2016 explicitly questioned whether Russia interfered in the election. In an interview with Time magazine, Trump said, “I don’t believe they interfered.”
“It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey,” Trump said at the time. “I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”
Sanders on Tuesday said Trump was actually saying that Russian interference “didn’t have an impact and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign.”
“It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election,” she claimed. “It’s also very clear that it didn’t have an impact on the election and it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.”
Pressed several times on why the President hasn’t instituted congressionally -mandated sanctions on Russia, then, Sanders was evasive. At one point, she said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had met with relevant stakeholders to discuss “this process and going through and looking every single day at the best ways forward.”
Separately, she said “we have spent a lot of time working on cyber security, working on protecting the fairness on [sic] our elections,” and “This has been a topic of conversation with multiple foreign heads of state.”
“He criticized Obama, he criticized the FBI and didn’t even criticize Vladimir Putin,” one reporter objected.
“He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined,” Sanders said. “He has imposed sanctions, he’s taken away properties, he’s rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia.”
“Just last week there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days, and another way that the President has been tough on Russia,” she added, without further explanation.
This post has been updated.