Sanders in 2019
|29th White House Press Secretary|
July 26, 2017 – July 1, 2019
|Preceded by||Sean Spicer|
|Succeeded by||Stephanie Grisham|
|White House Deputy Press Secretary|
January 20, 2017 – July 26, 2017
|Preceded by||Eric Schultz|
|Succeeded by||Raj Shah|
Sarah Elizabeth Huckabee
August 13, 1982
Hope, Arkansas, U.S.
|Education||Ouachita Baptist University (BA)|
Sarah Elizabeth Sanders (née Huckabee; born August 13, 1982) is an American campaign manager and political adviser who served as White House Press Secretary under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019. She previously served as White House Deputy Press Secretary to her predecessor, Sean Spicer, in 2017. Sanders is the third woman to fill the position.
A staunch defender of President Trump, as press secretary, she frequently spread misinformation and falsehoods to defend the administration. While interviewing by the Mueller Special Counsel investigation, she admitted to investigators that she had made false statements to the public as press secretary. She hosted fewer press conferences than any of her 13 predecessors.
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Sarah Elizabeth Huckabee was born on August 13, 1982, in Hope, Arkansas. The youngest child and only daughter of Mike Huckabee and Janet (née McCain) Huckabee, she has two brothers, John Mark Huckabee and David Huckabee. Following graduation from Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Huckabee attended Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. There, she was elected student body president and was active in Republican organizations. In 2004, she graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in political science and minoring in mass communications.
Early political career
Sanders was involved in her father's first campaign for the United States Senate in 1992. Describing the unsuccessful bid in an interview for The Hill, she said: "He didn't really have much of a staff, so our family has been very engaged and very supportive of my dad. I was stuffing envelopes, I was knocking on doors, I was putting up yard signs." Her father described her childhood, saying: "I always say that when most kids are seven or eight years old out jumping rope, she was sitting at the kitchen table listening to political commentators analyze poll results." Huckabee said that he and his wife spoiled Sarah at times. He called her "doggone tough" and "fearless" due to having grown up with two brothers.
Sanders was a field coordinator for her father's 2002 reelection campaign for governor of Arkansas. She was a regional liaison for congressional affairs at the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush. She also worked as a field coordinator for President Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio in 2004.
Sanders is a founding partner of Second Street Strategies in Little Rock, Arkansas, a general consulting services provider for Republican campaigns. She worked on national political campaigns and on campaigns for federal office in Arkansas. Sanders was also vice president of Tsamoutales Strategies. She was national political director for her father's 2008 presidential campaign. She was also a senior adviser to Tim Pawlenty in his 2012 presidential run. She was involved in the campaigns of both U.S. senators from Arkansas, managing John Boozman's 2010 campaign and serving as an adviser to Tom Cotton's 2014 election. After her father's 2008 campaign, she worked as executive director of Huck PAC, a political action committee. She also was national campaign manager for the ONE Campaign, an international organization aimed at ending global poverty and preventable diseases.
In 2016, after managing her father's presidential campaign, she signed on as a senior adviser for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, handling the Trump campaign's communications for coalitions.
After Donald Trump was elected, Sanders was named to the position of deputy White House press secretary in his new administration. On May 5, 2017, she held her first White House press briefing, standing in for Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was serving on Naval Reserve duty. She continued to cover for Spicer until his return to the podium on May 12. She stood in for Spicer during the dismissal of James Comey and the controversy following it. Her defense of the Trump administration's actions led to some speculation that President Trump was considering promoting her to replace Spicer. This was denied at the time by her father, Mike Huckabee. However, on May 26, The Wall Street Journal again suggested that Sanders was being considered as a possible replacement for Spicer, in the context of wider staff changes and the investigation into alleged communications with Russia. She continued to fill in for Spicer occasionally.
After the dismissal of James Comey by President Trump in May 2017, Sanders said that she "heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the President's decision" to fire the FBI director. However, emails show that several FBI heads of regional field offices and high-ranking FBI members reacted with dismay to Comey's firing. After Trump sought to discredit Comey and the FBI, Sanders was questioned on a tweet she had sent during the 2016 presidential election that "when you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing". After Comey accused Trump of lying about the circumstances in which Comey was dismissed, Sanders defended Trump: "I can definitively say the president is not a liar, and I think it's frankly insulting that question would be asked."
On June 27, 2017, during a press briefing, Sanders criticized the media, accusing them of spreading "fake news" against Trump. Sanders cited a video created by James O'Keefe. Although she was unsure of the video's accuracy, she said, "I would encourage everyone in this room and, frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it." The video features CNN's health and medical producer, John Bonifield, saying that CNN's coverage of the Trump campaign's alleged links to Russia are "mostly bullshit" and driven by ratings.
On June 29, 2017, Sanders said during a press briefing that the "president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence." However, in February 2016, Trump said during a presidential campaign speech: "So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? ... I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise." Politifact also "found at least seven other examples in which Trump offered public musings that showed a tolerance for, and sometimes even a favorable disposition toward, physical violence."
On July 21, 2017, following Spicer's announcement that he was going to resign, newly appointed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci announced that Sanders would take the role of White House press secretary. Sanders is the third woman to hold the role of White House Press Secretary after Dee Dee Myers in 1993 and Dana Perino in 2007.
In August 2017, Sanders said President Trump "certainly didn’t dictate" a statement released by Donald Trump Jr. regarding the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Sanders also said that President Trump "weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do." In January 2018, President Trump's lawyers wrote to the special counsel investigation that "the President dictated" the statement released by Donald Trump Jr. In June 2018, Sanders was asked by the media to explain the discrepancy in the statements, but she repeatedly refused to answer the question, saying: "I’m not going to respond to a letter from the president’s outside counsel ... We’ve purposefully walled off, and I would refer you to them for comment", as well as: "I'm an honest person".
In October 2017, Sanders was asked by CBS News' Jacqueline Alemany whether the official White House position was that all 16 women who accused President Trump of sexual harassment were lying. "Yeah, we've been clear on that since the beginning, and the President has spoken on it," Sanders replied without elaborating.
In November 2017, President Trump retweeted three unverified anti-Muslim videos by Britain First, a far-right British group with a history of posting misleading videos. Sanders defended Trump's position, “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about, that’s what the president is focused on, is dealing with those real threats and those are real no matter how you’re looking at it." British Prime Minister Theresa May was among those to criticize Trump's actions.
In February 2018, when Rob Porter left the White House over domestic abuse allegations, Sanders said that Porter's background check was "ongoing, and the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check". However, after FBI director Christopher Wray testified that the FBI had finished and submitted its security-clearance investigation on Porter to the White House earlier in July 2017, Sanders instead claimed that it was instead the White House's personnel security office's investigation that was ongoing, which contradicted her earlier statement that the clearance process "doesn't operate within the White House". Sanders said that Porter had made a "personal decision" to leave the White House, while White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said that Porter was "terminated".
In March 2018, Sanders said regarding the Stormy Daniels–Donald Trump scandal, "there was no knowledge of any payments from the president" to Daniels. However, in May 2018, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that Trump had repaid his lawyer Michael Cohen $130,000 after Cohen paid Daniels. In response to questions regarding the discrepancy, Sanders claimed that she did not know of this development and that her earlier statement was based on the "best information" she had at the time.
In mid-June 2018, when questioned on the Trump administration's immigration policies resulting in the separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexico–United States border, Sanders blamed "legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close", but stated, "it is very biblical to enforce the law". Christian leaders such as Daniel DiNardo and Franklin Graham strongly disagreed with the policy, calling it "immoral" or "disgraceful", while Bible scholar and professor Matthew Schlimm said that the Bible was being misused just as slave traders and Nazis had done historically.
In July 2018, Sanders said the Trump White House would discuss allowing Russian agents to interrogate former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. The Russian government had harassed and intimidated McFaul for years, without specifying what criminal allegations they would interrogate him in connection to. US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that she could not answer on behalf of the White House, but that the State Department considered the Russian allegations against McFaul "absolutely absurd." Several current and former diplomats condemned the White House's willingness to entertain Russian interrogation of a former U.S. ambassador.
In an August 2018 press conference, Sanders was asked multiple times to say that the media was not the "enemy of the people", and Sanders opted not to do so. That same month, The Washington Post reported that Sanders and her deputy Bill Shine strategized optimum times to release announcements that the security clearances of various Trump critics and officials involved in the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election had been revoked. The announcements were intended to be released to distract from news cycles that were unfavorable to the White House.
The morning after publication of the September 5, 2018 New York Times op-ed "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration", Sanders used her official government Twitter account to tweet that the anonymous writer was a "gutless loser" and to charge that those in the newspaper's opinion department are "the only ones complicit in this deceitful act". Sanders' September 6 tweet specified the telephone number of the newspaper's opinion desk, and two former White House ethics chiefs declared that Sanders's tweet had violated federal law in an abuse of power, similar to her June 23, 2018 tweet specifically naming the restaurant that had refused her service in the Red Hen restaurant controversy.
In early November, CNN's Jim Acosta engaged in a verbal argument with Donald Trump. As Acosta was in the process of asking the president a question, an intern, at the direction of Trump, tried to take away his microphone. Later in the day, Acosta's White House credentials were suspended, in a move which was widely criticized as unprecedented. The following day, in order to justify the White House's actions, Sanders released a video of the moment the intern tried to grab the microphone from Acosta's hand. The video originated from conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson of the far-right website Infowars, and was allegedly altered to make Acosta seem aggressive and excluded him saying "Pardon me, ma'am" to the intern. Watson denied that the video was doctored in any way.
CNN Communications Executive called Sanders' sharing of the video "shameful" and the White House News Photographers Association said they were "appalled" by her actions and called video-manipulation "deceptive, dangerous and unethical." and said that what Sanders did was "equally problematic."
During the 2018-2019 government shutdown caused by Congress's refusal to fulfill President Trump's demand for $5.7 billion in federal funds for a U.S.–Mexico border wall, Sanders argued that a border wall was necessary, claiming that the CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists when they crossed the Mexico border in 2018. Data obtained by NBC News contradicted Sanders's assertion, showing that from October 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018 only six immigrants on the No Fly List (also known as the terror watch list) were encountered at the ports of entry on the Mexico border. In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, Wallace countered her claim of nearly 4,000 terrorists, saying "I know the statistic. I didn’t know if you were going to use it, but I studied up on this. Do you know where those 4,000 people come—where they are captured? Airports."
In January 2019 Sanders said on the Christian Broadcasting Network that she thinks "God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president".
On June 13, 2019, President Trump tweeted that Sanders would be leaving her role as press secretary for his administration on June 30. Under Sanders, the White House has set at least three records for the most days between formal press briefings. The White House had a 41-day streak which ended in January 2019, then a 42-day streak which ended in March 2019, followed by 94 days and counting without a formal press briefing when Sanders' departure was announced.
Career after the White House
During the December 2019 Democratic presidential debate, Sanders mocked former Vice-President Joe Biden's stutter, tweeting "I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about. #DemDebate." Biden replied, "I've worked my whole life to overcome a stutter. And it's my great honor to mentor kids who have experienced the same. It’s called empathy. Look it up." She apologized the following day.
Mueller report findings
On April 18, 2019, the first volume of Mueller Report, the Special Counsel Investigation report compiled by Robert Mueller, revealed that Sanders admitted that she had lied when giving a press conference, when she described various things regarding James Comey, the former FBI director. This included lying about the firing of former attorney general Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's connection to the Comey firing, and when she claimed that "countless" FBI agents had lost faith in him. She repeatedly told the press that "countless members" of the FBI had contacted her to complain about Comey, but admitted to investigators that her claims were "a slip of the tongue" and "not founded on anything". When a redacted version of the special counsel's report was publicly revealed, Sanders defended herself, saying that her comments about the FBI agents were made in "the heat of the moment" and unscripted.
Sanders also had lied about President Trump being in charge of a statement regarding the Trump Tower meeting. He worked on said statement with his advisor Hope Hicks, and when the emails about that statement were made public, it was reported that he had helped with it himself. According to the report, Sanders also made false statements about when Trump decided to fire James Comey, as well as lying about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's involvement in the Comey firing. The revelation of false statements was described by The New York Times as showcasing a "culture of dishonesty" within the White House. Regarding Sanders defending her comments on FBI agents, The New York Times wrote: "It has been a hallmark of the Trump White House never to admit a mistake, never to apologize and never to cede a point. This case was no different."
Sanders' rhetoric about the report was found to be misleading or false. In March 2019, after Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Sanders falsely claimed that the investigation's findings were "a total and complete exoneration." The summary of the report explicitly stated it "does not exonerate him." Sanders repeated her suggestion that the report exonerated Trump in May 2019, as well as falsely claimed that Mueller "closed the case." The Associated Press noted, "Mueller did not fully exonerate Trump or declare that a possible case against Trump to be “closed.” While announcing his work was now finished, Mueller specifically left it open for Congress to decide on possible charges of wrongdoing."
In popular culture
Huckabee met Bryan Sanders during her father's 2008 presidential campaign. She was the campaign's field director, and Sanders was hired as a media consultant. The couple married in 2010. They have three children.
On Friday, June 22, 2018, a co-owner of a 26-seat restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, 200 miles from Washington, D.C., asked Sanders to leave the restaurant because Sanders worked for the Trump administration, giving rise to the Red Hen restaurant controversy. Sanders, using her White House Press Secretary Twitter account, named the restaurant that refused to serve her, and former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub tweeted that Sanders had violated ethics laws by "discouraging patronage" and "using her office to get public to pressure it".
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