“We give the very best information that we have at the time.”
That was White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ response when ABC reporter Jonathan Karl asked her in Thursday’s press briefing how the American people could trust a president and White House that “show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth.”
It was a line she repeated again and again in her 17 minutes of taking questions from reporters in the briefing, the first since it was revealed that President Donald Trump had repaid Michael Cohen for the $130,000 in hush money the lawyer delivered to porn star Stormy Daniels -- something both Trump and Sanders had previously denied knowledge of.
Not just in Thursday’s briefing, but overall, “the best information we have at the time” has become something of a go-to line for Sanders—her version of apparently throwing up her arms in the face of a president who has proved not only impulsive and prone to changing his mind, but who has exhibited an unprecedented propensity for falsehoods. As his official spokesperson, Sanders’ performance in Tuesday’s briefing left some reporters further questioning not just the president’s credibility, but also that of his press secretary and the entire White House.
"Circle May 3rd on your calendar, because this is the day that we will look back on, in this briefing, where Sarah Sanders made it so painfully clear that she has lost credibility with the American people, with the reporters in that room,” CNN political director David Chalian said on air, just after the briefing ended.
Outgoing Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said on CNN: “I guess at some point you have to ask the question: ‘How does Sarah Huckabee Sanders go to work every day if she was sent out there to mislead the American people?’ ”
After the briefing, ABC’s Karl called his question to Sanders, “the most pointed question I've ever asked in that room,” and noted that she did not challenge its premise.
Notably, Sanders also acknowledged in the briefing that she did not know of Trump’s involvement in the payouts until his outside lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, revealed it in an interview on Fox News last night.
Asked if she was caught off-guard by Giuliani’s statements, Sanders said, “I’m not part of the legal team and wouldn’t be part of those discussions.” She later added, “The first awareness I had was during the interview last night.”
And when asked whether Cohen was still representing Trump, Sanders replied, ‘I’m not aware of specific places where he’s representing the president.” She also referred several other questions to Giuliani, Trump’s outside counsel.
It added up to a briefing more notable for what wasn’t answered than what was.
Karl was not the only one to challenge Sanders’ credibility in it.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, a frequent Sanders sparring partner, noted how in March she said that the president had no knowledge of any payments to Daniels and denied her allegations, and asked, “Were you lying to us at the time or were you in the dark?”
Sanders replied, “Again, I’ve given the best information I had at the time.”
When Acosta pressed her, she repeated the line two more times.
And when CBS’s Major Garrett pointed out that the “best information” she has often turns out to be inaccurate, Sanders replied, “I’m giving the best information I have. Some information I am aware of, and some I’m not. When I can answer, I will.”
The briefing came at a time when Sanders and her role are in the spotlight, on the heels of a controversy over jokes made about her during the White House Correspondents’ dinner.
Normally noted for her calm, smooth delivery, Sanders fired back at April Ryan when the American Urban Radio Networks reporter characterized Sanders as having said she was blindsided by Giuliani’s statements last night.
“With all due respect, you actually don’t know much about me in terms of what I feel and what I don’t,” Sanders said.
In her response to Garrett, Sanders maintained that she does not intentionally deliver false information.
“I would always advise against giving false information,” she said. “As a person of human decency, I do my best to give correct information.”