Opinion

Sorry, Jim Acosta, Sanders’ Answers Were Really Kind of NBD

Oh, can we please just stop? It seems that even as my own outrage fatigue is threatening to lull me into an analytical coma, news outlets the nation over are declaring our press secretary’s Monday comments to be “epic” and “unreal.”

CNN’s Jim Acosta even pronounced Sanders’ comments to constitute “one of the biggest dodges in briefing room history.”

There’s a lot about the Trump administration that truly is next-level; today’s comments from the podium, however, were: 1) smart 2) appropriate and 3) absolutely, totally, and in every way predictable. Jim Acosta knows that.

While I get the (unfortunately, near-constant) need for members of the press to call out Team Trump for inconsistency and evasion, I’d appreciate it more without the hyperbole.

Some backstory. Last July, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said that neither he nor the President had been involved with the drafting of Don Trump Jr.’s statement regarding the infamous Trump Tower meeting (you know—the one that was about Russian adoptions getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources). Sekulow said that Trump “was aware of nothing” and surmised:

“I’m assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr. and his lawyers. I’m sure his lawyer was involved, that’s how you do it. To put this on the President, I think, is absolutely incorrect.”

Shortly thereafter, Sarah Sanders markedly changed the official tune when she told the press:

“The statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There’s no inaccuracy in the statement. The President weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.”

As it turns out, “no inaccuracy,” actually meant, “no truth whatsoever,” and, “weighed in as any father would,” actually meant, “drafted the whole thing, word for word.” A letter set from Team Trump to Team Mueller in January 2018 was published in the New York Times on Sunday, and that letter clarified:

“The President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.”

Without a doubt, the shift from “Huh? What statement?” to “Oh yeah, I wrote that whole statement, but it was short” is kind of a big change (not to mention, weirdly reminiscent of that time when Trump dictated a letter purported to have been drafted by his own doctor). Any White House correspondent who missed that avenue of questioning would be asleep at the wheel. But realistically, it would have made almost no sense for Sanders to have answered.

Sarah Sanders strikes me as ruthless as she is perceptive, and as self-preserving as she is evasive. There’s no way in hell she’s going to blatantly cop to lying at a presser. Similarly, there’s no way she’s going to blame the president or his team for lying. What she is going to do is listen to the advice of counsel (both her own and the president’s) and to do precisely what they advise her to do. Not stunning.

Inconsistent statements are to lawyers what prior existing conditions are to doctors: they’re to be accepted, managed, and mitigated. Trump’s team, Sanders’ counsel, and any other lawyer worth a dime know that; the most obvious piece of advice for a client caught in double talk is not to compound the problem. In other words, when you’ve been caught in a lie, the only thing you should say when questioned is, “no comment.”

On the topic of what actually is “epic,” though, it’s the looming federal investigation into all things Trump/Russia. If there were ever a time to zip it and let the lawyers sort it out, it’s in response to investigative details on that topic. Donald Trump might be an erratic stream-of-consciousness communicator who can be trapped into a damaging off-the-cuff remark; but Sarah Sanders is a whole other animal.  Frustrating as it is to have a press secretary who values protection of her own interests above informing the public, it’s time to stop acting surprised.

[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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