Sanders fends off questions about alleged White House dysfunction in first briefing since NYT op-ed
In her first briefing since the Trump administration was hit with a one-two punch from revelations in an anonymous New York Times op-ed and journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said it's business as usual at the White House while slamming the media for focusing on the continuing controversy.
“We’re focused on things that actually matter,” Sanders said on Monday. “It’s sad and pathetic that a gutless, anonymous source receives so much attention from the media.”
She added: “The American people would be better served if we talked about really important things facing the country.”
Sanders added that there has been no discussion within the White House about administering lie detector tests to find out who is responsible for the New York Times opinion piece, in which a senior administration official described a Trump administration mired in dysfunction, with aides disparaging the Republican president and working to prevent him from making disastrous decisions.
The press secretary, however, did not say whether or not the president would attempt to file a lawsuit against the New York Times for publishing the piece nor did she elaborate on Trump’s tweet that the Justice Department investigate but added there would be cause to investigate if the writer was involved in discussions where national security was talked about.
“If that individual is in meetings where national security is being discussed or other important topics, and they are attempting to undermine executive branch - certainly that’s something Justice should look into,” Sanders said.
The New York Times piece did not reveal any classified information or breaches of national security and it is unclear what grounds the administration can take – if any – in regards to a lawsuit or official investigation by the Justice Department.
On Woodward’s book, which will be released on Tuesday, Sanders reiterated the that many of the sources quoted in the book have denied what the Washington Post journalist reported and called Woodward’s book “careless” and “reckless.”
“A number of people have come out and said Woodward never even reached out to corroborate, which seems incredibly reckless for a book to make such outrageous claims, to not even get a $10 fact checker,” Sanders said.
Earlier in the day, Woodward appeared on NBC's "Today" show, where he said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "are not telling the truth" when they deny making disparaging statements about President Donald Trump attributed to them in his new book, "Fear."
In the book, Kelly is quoted as saying of Trump: "He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown."
In a statement, Kelly flatly disputed maligning the president.l "The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true, in fact it's exactly the opposite." He added, "He and I both know this story is total BS."
The book also quotes Mattis, after a contentious National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, as saying Trump acted like and had the understanding of "a fifth or sixth-grader."
Mattis issued a statement, tweeted at least twice by Trump, saying, "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence." Mattis called the book "the product of someone's rich imagination."
"They are not telling the truth." Woodward said, adding that the comments by the administration officials "are political statements to protect their jobs."
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist staunchly defended the integrity of his reporting and said the book "is as carefully done as you can do an excavation of the reality of what goes on."
Trump fired back on Monday with a tweet, calling Woodward’s book “a Joke - just another assault against me, in a barrage of assaults, using now disproven unnamed and anonymous sources. Many have already come forward to say the quotes by them, like the book, are fiction. Dems can't stand losing. I'll write the real book!"
Trump also insisted that the White House is a "smooth running machine."
When questioned about the president’s credibility in light of the New York Times op-ed and a recent poll that found Trump’s ratings on character traits such as honesty and intelligence from voters fell to their lowest number since November 2016, Sanders said she would rather take “take the actual on record account” from White House staffers than from “disgruntled former employees that refuse to put their name on things.”
The Quinnipiac University poll, which was released Monday, showed that only 32 percent of respondents answered "yes" to the question, "Would you say that Donald Trump is honest, or not?", the lowest since November 2016, and down from 38 percent in July.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.