White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended President Trump’s summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Sunday, and also said the two leaders are of like minds when it comes to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
On NBC’s Meet The Press Sunday morning, Sanders responded to a tweet Trump sent stating he trusts Kim and that praised the North Korean state media’s scathing assessment of Biden as a “fool of low IQ.”
“I think they agree in their assessment of former vice president Joe Biden,” Sanders said.
The press secretary clarified the president’s position when host Chuck Todd asked her, “Can you explain why Americans should not be concerned that the President of the United States is essentially siding with a murderous, authoritarian dictator over a former vice president of the United States?”
“The president’s not ‘siding’ with that,” Sanders said. “But I think they agree in their assessment of former vice president Joe Biden. Again, the president’s focus in this process is the relationship he has, and making sure we continue on the path to denuclearization.”
North Korea’s state-run media recently referred to Biden as an “imbecile,” “thoughtless guy,” and “fool of low IQ” after the candidate criticized Kim in a campaign speech. Rüdiger Frank, a North Korea expert at Austria’s University of Vienna who spoke with Vox’s Alex Ward about the insults, said, “I think if Trump reads the commentary, he’ll be happy about it.”
Trump was happy, tweeting he “smiled” while reading the insults, which seem almost to tailor-made to curry favor with the president, who uses similar language when ridiculing his political adversaries.
Sanders also addressed the recent short range missile tests Trump referred to in his tweet. “The president’s focus in all of this process is on continuing the very good relationship that he has with Chairman Kim. And he feels good that the Chairman will stay firm with the commitment that he made with the president, and move toward denuclearization,” she said.
North Korea reiterated this week that it wants the US to make changes to its negotiating strategy before denuclearization talks resume. Previously Kim said he planned to give the US “till the end of this year” to present him with negotiating terms he finds acceptable.
Despite these warnings and recent weapons tests, Sanders called the Trump administration’s North Korea policy successful, arguing that critics need to readjust their focus.
“For a significant period of time, there was no missile testing, we got hostages back home to the United States, and remains of American war heroes,” Sanders said. “To me that is certainly something.”
It’s worth noting, however, that one of those repatriated American hostages was Otto Warmbier, a college student who was returned to the United States in a coma, and later died at the age of 22. Trump initially said he didn’t hold Kim responsible for Warmbier’s death, but soon reversed that position after facing public backlash.
An investigation into the Russia investigation
Todd also asked Sanders about the Trump administration’s latest reaction to the Russia investigation: authorizing Attorney General Bill Barr to declassify information related to how the investigation was begun and conducted.
“We already know that there was an outrageous amount of corruption that took place at the FBI,” Sanders claimed. “They leaked information, they lied. They were specifically working, trying to take down the president, trying to hurt the president. We’ll leave the final call up to the attorney general, and he’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Sanders, Barr, and the president himself have attacked the FBI and the Obama-era Department of Justice in recent weeks, accusing the agencies of “spying” on the Trump campaign. Although no evidence has been offered to suggest this was the case, the president has stated the accusation as fact, and a little over a week ago, took to Twitter to accuse individuals he believes were involved in this “spying” with treason.
As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has explained, the US Constitution maintains a deliberately narrow definition of the word “treason” itself, in order to prevent the charge from being abused against political opponents:
Sanders was more cautious than the president when asked if the public should expect Obama-era officials like former FBI director James Comey to be charged with crimes and imprisoned.
“We’re gonna let the attorney general make that determination, as he gets to the conclusion of this investigation,” Sanders said.