White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on Thursday that she would be leaving the Trump administration at the end of the month. The announcement came on the 94th day since she last held a daily press briefing.
The death of the White House’s daily press briefing, while unprecedented, is hardly the most destructive element of her tenure. It was rather a symptom of a much broader and frustrating reality that illustrated the changing dynamic between the executive branch and the free press that has come to define the Trump presidency.
Sanders knew exactly what she was getting into. And it wasn’t going to involve a lot of transparency or honesty.
Sanders said back in 2018 that she hoped she would be remembered as being a “transparent and honest” press secretary. Maybe that’s true. But make no mistake about it, Sanders knew exactly what she was getting into when she agreed to be the definitive spokesperson for the man who openly declared that the press was “the enemy of the people.” And it wasn’t going to involve a lot of transparency or honesty.
Trump seemed to see in Sanders a kindred or at least very loyal spirit, someone who would defend anything he said or did without hesitation or reservation. Someone like him, who was not particularly concerned with a fidelity to truth.
Think about this exchange Sanders had in October of 2017, back when the White House press secretary still held routine press briefings, with then-CBS White House correspondent Jacqueline Alemany. Sanders was asked if the White House stood by the position that the 16 women who had come forward to accuse President Donald Trump of sexual harassment was “totally fake news.”
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Her response: “Yeah, we've been clear on that from the beginning.”
Even in the era of #MeToo, Sanders was willing to sell out the constituency of women to defend Trump, a man who was caught objectifying women on tape and went on to win a presidential election.
In August of 2018, Sanders claimed that, "President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did (for African-American employment) in eight years." As it turned out, African-American employment gains under Obama were four times higher than the gains on Trump’s watch at that moment in time.
In February of that year, Sanders made the outrageous statement that “I certainly don’t think that the president at any point has done anything but condemn violence against journalists or anyone else.” This despite the fact that the president tweeted a doctored video depicting himself physically attacking a person with the CNN logo superimposed on a person, and has done little to discourage the aggressive anti-media posturing of supporters at his raucous rallies.
And then there was page 284 of the Mueller report, which exposed Sanders as an unapologetic liar. In the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, Sanders told reporters that the rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey. However, according to the Mueller Report, she made that declaration “in the heat of the moment” and it “wasn’t founded on anything.”
In other words, the chief spokesperson for the president of the United States admitted that she had invented interactions with members of the FBI that did not happen. While we can never definitively prove intent, it certainly seems like she did so in order to undermine the credibility of the person who had been running the nation’s premier law enforcement investigative organization.
This isn’t someone who prioritizes the best interests of the American people ahead of her own. This isn’t someone who respects the free press or the Constitution that protects them. This isn’t someone who feels much duty or responsibility to protect the institutions of our Republic.
As former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart told me on Thursday night, “Sanders did a disservice to the Office of the Press Secretary and the American public from the moment she took the job.” Far from being remembered for her honesty, Lockhart countered that Sanders’ “legacy is enshrined in the Mueller report.” Sanders only finally told the truth about Comey when she was worried about going to jail.
While serving Donald Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied openly, flagrantly and repeatedly to the American people. She has shown no remorse, remarking on Thursday that she has no regrets. Consistent to the end, she’s still lying: “I still contend that we are the most accessible White House.”
Sanders had a front row seat to what Trump was doing and she did nothing to stop him. She allowed herself to become an instrument of propaganda and an amplifier of extremism. That is her legacy. She could have walked away anytime. But she didn’t. She waited until the damage was already done. And this country should never let her forget it.