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Sarah Huckabee Sanders pleads ignorance as the Rob Porter mess worsens

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Feb. 13 faced repeated questions from reporters about the White House’s response to allegations of abuse against Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary. (Reuters)

We’ve reached the stage in the Rob Porter saga where the White House’s previous statements now appear so blatantly false that all press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders can do is suggest she didn’t know they were false.

“We’re giving you the best information that we’re going to have,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday. “Obviously the press team’s not going to be as read-in, maybe, as some other elements, at a given moment, on a variety of topics. But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have, and we get those from those individuals.”

Translation: Don’t blame me for bad info.

Sanders made a cursory attempt to square Tuesday’s congressional testimony by FBI Director Christopher A. Wray with what she has said in recent days about the White House’s knowledge of domestic violence accusations against Porter, who resigned last week as White House staff secretary.

For example: Sanders had said Monday that “the process for the background was ongoing, and the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check” for Porter. Yet Wray testified Tuesday that the FBI had, in fact, completed its security-clearance investigation of Porter and submitted a report to the White House in July.

Addressing the media a few hours after Wray’s testimony, Sanders said it was not the background check but rather the White House’s own personnel security process that was ongoing — acting as though that’s what she had said all along and that there was no inconsistency with her statement Monday that “this is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House. It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.”

Sanders seemed to recognize the flimsiness of her explanation because she said repeatedly that White House spokesmen try their best to tell the truth, based on what they are told.

“You’ve talked multiple times about, sort of, wanting to give us the best information that you have,” Bloomberg News’s Toluse Olorunnipa said at one point. “This scandal has been going on for a week now, and we still don’t have answers to the basic questions of, sort of, who knew what when.”

“I’ve done the best I can to talk you through that process,” Sanders replied, returning to the defense Olorunnipa had just pointed out.

“So, I want to ask you whether you’ve spoken specifically to Gen. John Kelly and to the White House counsel to ask them these questions,” Olorunnipa followed up. “Because you’ve said ‘I’m not aware’ or ‘I’m not sure.’ ”

“I have, and this is the information that was given to me by those individuals,” Sanders answered.

Sanders reemphasized that she simply relays what she is told by higher-ranking officials such as Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

This is about as close to acknowledging falsehoods as the Trump White House gets. Recall what Sanders’s predecessor, Sean Spicer, said during the first media briefing after his false claim about Trump’s inauguration crowd.

“We’re going to do our best every time we can,” Spicer told reporters. “I’m going to come out here and tell you the facts as I know them.”

Sanders is now doing the same thing Spicer did — saying she does her “best” while implying that any inaccuracy she speaks is the result of faulty information supplied to her.

The White House faced questions about former staff secretary Rob Porter’s Feb. 7 resignation, after two of his ex-wives accused him of abuse. (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
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