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White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders did her best on Monday to push back against former White House strategist Steve Bannon's stinging criticism of President Donald Trump, including his claim that the president's May decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey was "the biggest mistake in modern political history."
"It's been shown in the days that followed that the president was right in firing Director Comey," Sanders told reporters at the White House press briefing. "Since his firing, we've learned new information about his conduct that only provided more justification for that firing," she said, "including giving false testimony, leaking privileged information to journalists, [and] he went outside the chain of command and politicized an investigation into a presidential candidate."
Sanders said the president had watched clips of Bannon's interview, which aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes." It was the first time Bannon had spoken publicly since he was fired from the Trump administration in August as part of a broader purge of some of the most hardline nationalist voices in the West Wing. Sanders said she thought the president had spoken to Bannon at least once since he left the White House.
For Bannon, the interview offered an opportunity to vent and cast blame upon establishment Republicans who Bannon said were actively working to undermine Trump's populist economic agenda.
In response to a question about whether the president believes that members of his party hope his economic plans fail, Sanders would say only that Trump "wants to work with all members of Congress, and that means Republicans and Democrats."
She notably did not defend House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both of whom have become frequent targets of Trump's wrath on Twitter in recent months, as the president's legislative agenda has stalled.
Bannon also told CBS's Charlie Rose that he believes immigrants enrolled in the DACA program should prepare to leave the country voluntarily, now that the Trump administration has suspended the protections under DACA. The question over what to do about the program, Bannon said, could spark a "civil war" within the Republican party.
Again, Sanders sought to gently disagree, while tamping down Bannon's hyperbole. "Steve always likes to speak in the most extreme measures, and I'm not sure that I agree with that," she said of the "civil war" prediction. On DACA, she added, "The administration has been clear, we're hoping Congress will step up and address [DACA] with comprehensive immigration reform."
Answering question after question about Bannon clearly grated on Sanders, who was visibly relieved when the press conference ended. "We're happy to answer any questions you might have," she said to reporters as she left the podium, "particularly if you have anything beyond Steve Bannon."