Sanders endures press grilling over Russia

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders clashed repeatedly with reporters on Wednesday over questions related to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' Sanders releases list of how to pay for his proposals MORE's summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Sanders was besieged with questions over the summit during her first briefing in more than two weeks, which came about an hour after Trump contradicted his intelligence director by saying that he did not believe Russia was a threat to the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sanders said Trump had not answered "no" to a question about whether Russia was a threat, but to whether he would take questions from reporters brought in for the opening of a Cabinet meeting. 

During the hourlong briefing, she rebuked reporters' questions on a couple occasions, and took multiple shots at the media for its reporting on the administration.

Reporters asked Sanders multiple times about Trump's reluctance to say unequivocally that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey pressed her repeatedly on the president's refusal to condemn Putin by name over the course of his presidency, despite Trump's claim hours earlier that there has "never been a president" tougher on Russia than him.

“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,” Sanders said. “But to act like he hasn’t been tough on Russia, that he hasn’t called them out, is simply not true.”

NBC's Hallie Jackson noted that the White House has reversed course twice in the last three days on initial statements from the president.

"Why should this president have any credibility to Americans in what he says if in fact 24 hours later or in this case three hours later, the White House comes out and says 'Just kidding,'" Jackson asked.

Sanders said the framing of the question was unfair.

“I was interpreting what the president’s intention was, and stating the administration’s policy. That’s not exactly what you just explained," she said. "We never said 'just kidding,' 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." 

Sanders then attempted to move on to The Hill’s Jordan Fabian before Jackson could ask a follow up question. However, Fabian deferred his question back to Jackson so she could press Sanders on when Trump has been critical of Putin.

April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, did not receive the same courtesy when she attempted to ask a question moments later and was ignored by Sanders. She and the press secretary have often butted heads during past briefings.

"I’ll keep asking a question because you choose not to call on me," Ryan said. 

"If I call on you I’ll be happy to answer your question," Sanders responded.

The press secretary then moved on to another reporter before returning to Ryan toward the end of the briefing to field her question.

Sanders went on the offensive near the start of the briefing when she was asked about an indictment that said a Russian national was attempting to infiltrate and influence American political organizations. 

She said the White House is looking into the matter before claiming that multiple reporters falsely accused a White House staffer of being the woman named in the indictment.

"Which, I think, shows frankly the outrageousness and the, just, desire to find the negative in everything that this president does," Sanders said.

“I think that this has gotten totally out of control,"she continued. "You guys need to take a little bit of a step back, slow down, and quit going after the Trump administration on everything that takes place."

 

Sanders’s briefing on Wednesday was her first since July 2. In the time since then, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers MORE resigned, Trump nominated a new Supreme Court justice and the president traveled to Europe for three separate meetings or summits.