White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told special counsel Robert Mueller's team that the reasons she gave during a 2017 press conference for the firing of FBI Director James Comey were "not founded on anything."
Her comments to investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign were included in a redacted version of Mueller's final report released on Thursday.
In May 2017, Sanders told reporters that "the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director." When a reporter pointed out that a vast majority of the agency's employees supported Comey, Sanders then said that she and President Trump's White House staff had "heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things."
In his report, Mueller wrote that Sanders told his team that her reference to hearing from “countless members of the FBI” was a "slip of the tongue." And, according to the report, her assertion of lost confidence "was a comment that was made 'in the heat of the moment' that was not founded on anything."
Trump also told Sanders after the press conference that she did a "good job" and and did not take issue with any "inaccuracies," the report adds.
Sanders' comments were then repeated by Trump in his dismissal letter to Comey.
"It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission," Trump wrote in 2017.
During his public testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Trump and the Russia investigation in June 2017, Comey referenced the "lost confidence" comments, calling them lies and an effort to "defame" him.
"The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them."
Sanders did not return a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
Speaking to Fox News later on Thursday, Sanders acknowledged she had made a "slip of the tongue" by claiming countless FBI employees had lost confidence in Comey. But she said she stood by her earlier sentiment.
"It's not untrue," she said. "A number of both current and former FBI agents agreed with the President: James Comey was a disgraced leaker."