- The White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested on Tuesday that news reports will surface “in the coming days” demonstrating how “tough” President Donald Trump has been on Russia.
- Sanders’ took questions after Trump’s weekend firing off an unprecedented barrage of tweets about the Russia investigation.
- Sanders said multiple times that Trump has been tougher on Russia than former President Barack Obama.
- She declined to answer why Trump has not yet enforced the sanctions on Russia that he signed into law last August.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, doubled down Tuesday on a disputed claim from the White House that President Donald Trump has been tougher on Russia than his predecessors.
ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl asked Sanders during the White House press briefing about what, specifically, Trump has done to penalise Russia for interfering in the 2016 US election. Sanders said Trump “has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.”
She said that Trump has “imposed sanctions, he’s taken away property, he’s rebuilt our military, he’s done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia.”
Then, she added, “Just last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days in another way that this president was tough on Russia.”
It’s unclear what Sanders was referring to when she made the cryptic statement.
Her back-and-forth with reporters came after Trump fired off an unprecedented 14 tweets this past weekend about the Russia investigation. He declared his innocence, suggested the FBI could have prevented last week’s Florida school shooting if it hadn’t been so focused on Russia, blamed Democrats and Obama for Russia’s interference in the election, and accused the former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia.
The tweets came following special counsel Robert Mueller’s office’s announcement of charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, which accused them of conspiring to use a social-media disinformation campaign to influence the 2016 race.
NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker asked Sanders on Tuesday whether Trump acknowledges that Russia meddled in the election in light of the highly-detailed list of allegations released by Mueller’s office last week. Sanders said Trump “absolutely” concurs with the assessment and had done so on many previous occasions.
‘It’s very clear that Russia meddled’
Referring to the reporters, Sanders added, “I think one of the places where you guys seem to get very confused – and it seems to happen regularly – is the president hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle. What he’s saying is that it 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 said.
Welker asked why, if Trump believes the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered, he hasn’t enforced the sanctions he signed into law last August which were passed by Congress to punish Russia for its actions.
Sanders said the characterization was “not completely accurate,” and reiterated that Trump has been “tougher on Russia” than his predecessor.
“There’s a process that has to take place, and we’re going through that process, and the law also says that the countries have to violate something in order for those sanctions to go into place,” Sanders said.
The State Department said earlier this month that just the law’s existence deterred Russian defence sales and that it did not need to be additionally enforced.
Sanders later said that Trump has been focused on penalising Russia on a number of fronts, including approving lethal arms sales to Ukraine and shoring up the US’s cyber defences, critical election infrastructure, and the defence budget.
“He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined,” Sanders repeated. “He’s imposed sanctions, he’s taken away property, he’s rebuilt our military, he’s taken a number of actions to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia.”
The sanctions Sanders was referring to were initially announced by Obama in early 2017, as the intelligence community was concluding with high confidence that Russia had meddled in the election. Obama also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two diplomatic compounds as an additional countermeasure. Nearly eight months later, the Kremlin responded by kicking out 755 US diplomats. In a retaliatory decision, the Trump administration decided to shut down three Russian diplomatic facilities in August 2017.
Sanders also said during Tuesday’s briefing that Trump wasn’t speaking literally when he tweeted last weekend that the FBI could have stopped the Parkland, Florida, high school shooter if it hadn’t been so involved with the Russia investigation.
Sanders said Trump wasn’t implying the FBI’s failure to follow protocol was the cause of the shooting.
“I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision tot ake the lives of 17 other people. That is the responsibility of the shooter, certainly not the responsibility of anybody else.”
Asked whether she was indicating that Trump had misspoken in his tweet, Sanders said: “I think he’s making that point that we would like our FBI agencies [sic] to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the Trump campaign and its involvement” with Russia.
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