Sarah Huckabee Sanders — the combative White House press secretary who unflappably defended President Donald Trump, followed his charge to discredit journalists who cover him, and admitted to lying to reporters — will leave the White House at the end of June.
The news was announced by the president via Twitter on Thursday.
"After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas," Trump tweeted.
Trump said in a follow-up tweet that he hopes she will go on to run for governor of Arkansas. The next election for governor in the state is slated for 2022, when the current Republican governor will be term-limited out of office.
At an unrelated press conference after the announcement, the president thanked Sanders and kissed the side of her head. "She has been so great; she has such a great heart," he said. "She is strong, but with a great, great heart.”
Sanders said she was proud to have served in the Trump White House.
“I’ve loved every minute, even the hard minutes," she said, adding that she was looking forward to spending time with her children.
Sanders is the second press secretary to leave the White House after Sean Spicer resigned from the position in July 2017. Sanders was a more stoic figure at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room podium than her volatile predecessor, who would often grow flustered and yell at reporters during intense confrontations. But her briefings also became something of a rarity — by the end of 2018, there were some months with only one or two briefings, and there have been few briefings at all in 2019. Her last briefing was in March.
Still, Sanders, like other administration officials and the president himself, was caught spreading misinformation and apparent lies while speaking on Trump’s behalf.
Sanders admitted to special counsel Robert Mueller's team that she lied about the reasons for the firing of former FBI director James Comey during a 2017 press conference. According to Mueller's final report about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Sanders admitted she had no basis for suggesting that "countless members of the FBI" had lost faith in Comey at the time of his firing. She told Mueller's team that it was a "slip of the tongue" made "in the heat of the moment."
“I’m an honest person,” Sanders told reporters last June after refusing to address why she had falsely insisted that the president had no role in drafting a statement from Donald Trump Jr. about his 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians.
She once defended criticism of her credibility by saying she provided the information she was given at the time — and acknowledging that it wasn’t always accurate.
“I would always advise against giving false information,” Sanders told reporters during a briefing after Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s disclosure that the president had reimbursed his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, for hush payments made to adult film actor Stormy Daniels over her alleged affair with the president. Giuliani’s revelation directly contradicted Sanders, who had repeatedly insisted that Trump was not aware of Cohen’s payments.
“As a person of human decency, I do my best to give the right information,” Sanders said at the time. “Some information I am aware of, and some I’m not.”
At other times, it was plain to see that Sanders was aware she was spreading falsehoods.
“The president in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence,” Sanders once said of Trump — who threatened violence against protesters several times during his campaign rallies; talked down the actions of white supremacists during a fatal rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; and said police officers should rough up suspects.
And when Trump accused Barack Obama, without any evidence, of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, Sanders falsely said that “multiple news outlets” had reported about it.
Those issues stoked Sanders’ already volatile relationship with the press corps. She occasionally used humor and anecdotes about her three children to defuse the tension in the briefing room, and shed tears more than once while talking about children. But she had repeated heated clashes with several reporters, especially CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta and American Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan.
Sanders often took digs at Acosta, once comparing him to her kids when they “whine,” and on another occasion telling him “it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences.”
With Trump being his own spokesperson on Twitter and often contradicting information given during Sanders’ briefings, she appeared infrequently at the podium toward the end of 2018. Trump said that he had told Sanders “not to bother” to give briefings as “the word gets out anyway.”
The press secretary also toed the White House line of berating the media when it published credible reports that were critical of the administration.
She once said her credibility was “probably higher than the media’s” and accused the press of “purposefully misleading the American people” and endangering national security by reporting on leaked classified information.
“I think that if you spent a little bit more of your time reporting the news than trying to tear me down, you might actually see that we’re working hard to provide you good information,” Sanders told reporters during a particularly heated briefing. She also played along with Trump’s idea of giving out “fake news awards” to reporters.
Sanders was particularly deft at dodging questions during briefings. She often told reporters she would get back to them with more information, said that she hadn’t discussed the specific topic with the president, or redirected questions to other agencies and departments. And unlike her predecessor, she was successful in not making unwanted news.
In a June 2018 interview with Fox & Friends, Trump said that the press treated Sanders “very badly” and that she should have walked out of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where comedian Michelle Wolf joked about her.
“I think Sarah is really a good person, a nice person, very capable,” Trump said, singling out her father, former Arkansas governor and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. “She’s got a lot of the father’s genes. Her father is great.”
Responding to reports in June 2018 that Sanders was considering leaving the White House, Trump said, “At some point I’m sure she’ll leave, like everybody leaves. And we’ll get somebody else. But Sarah’s done a fantastic job. I don’t think she’s leaving.”
In a White House with a high turnover, Sanders herself consistently refused to confirm departures of officials until after they happened. She dismissed reports in 2018 of her own exit, telling reporters in June, “I can tell you I show up here every day, I love my job, I’m glad to work for the president, and each and every day I’ll pray for clarity and discernment on what my future looks like.”