White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was caught in a fact-checking controversy over the weekend after she misstated a statistic during a Friday appearance on “Fox and Friends” about how many known or suspected terrorists had been caught at the southern border.
After being challenged by Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday, Sanders clarified her statement to say 4,000 terrorists had been caught entering the country “by land,” “by sea,” and “by air.” But the media continued to use Friday’s quote against her over the course of the next few days, compelling the press secretary to admit on Wednesday that she “should have said 4,000 at all ports of entry, not just at the southern border.”
“Should have said…”
Near the end of an appearance Wednesday morning on “Fox and Friends,” Sanders was asked about her “discrepancies” with the numbers regarding terrorist apprehensions by border and immigration officials, specifically as to how many were apprehended at the southern border versus how many were apprehended at international airports or other ports of entry.
Sanders replied, “I should have said 4,000 at all ports of entry, not just at the southern border. But the bottom line is, whether it is one, whether it is four, whether it is 14 or 4,000 — one terrorist coming into our country in an illegal fashion to do us harm is one too many.”
“And we have to take every step possible to prevent that from happening, including protecting our most vulnerable points of entry, and we know that to be the southern border,” she added. “We have to do what is necessary to protect our border, to protect the people, and that is exactly what President Trump has done and that is exactly what he laid out in his speech last night.”
DHS speaks up
In the wake of the confusion, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo clarifying the terminology and numbers of “known or suspected terrorists” versus “special interest aliens.”
“The bottom line is that significant numbers of threat actors have attempted, and continue to attempt, to enter the United States surreptitiously and without authority,” the DHS memo concluded.
One terrorist is one too many
Later on Wednesday morning, Sanders also briefly touched on the misquote while speaking with a pool of reporters outside the White House. One reporter asked why there was so much focus on the open and undefended sections of the southern border when government statistics showed that most drugs and terrorists were apprehended at official border entry points.
Sanders replied, “That’s not the only place. What we know is that the southern border is the most vulnerable point of entry into our country and is something we have to protect. Even if one terrorist comes across the border, that is one too many, and we have to do everything we can to stop that, prevent it, and that’s what the president is trying to do.”
Question: “If there truly is a crisis at the border, why didn’t the President declare a national emergency in his speech?”
— The Hill (@thehill) January 9, 2019
By virtue of being the official spokesperson for the Trump administration, Sarah Sanders is always catching heat from the media — particularly when they think they’ve caught her in some sort of “lie” — but this particular media firestorm was a bit overblown.
Sanders admitted her mistake … but didn’t concede her point, saying that whether it is one terrorist or 4,000 terrorists coming across the southern border, there should be none. And stopping “known or suspected terrorists” isn’t the only concern — as White House counsel Kellyanne Conway pointed out, an unsecured border also allows drugs, human traffickers, and other criminals an easy way in and out of the country.