A usually calm Mike Pompeo was sweating. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, usually a verbal giant, was at a loss for words. The secretary of State and the Press Secretary sat impatiently in the outer lobby of the Oval Office, awaiting for the President to call them in. It was time for major back pedalling, and they were intent on making the President do it. At that moment he summoned them.
"Mr. President," Pompeo began, not waiting for the President to speak first, "We've got a monumental amount of damage control to do as a result of your post-summit press conference yesterday in Helsinki. Only you can straighten it out."
The President seemed confused by Pompeo's plea. "What was the matter with the press conference? I was on a roll."
Sanders intervened. "You insulted our intelligence community. You sided with Putin on the issue of election meddling by the Russians despite overwhelming evidence - and an indictment - that proves they meddled."
Pompeo added: "Specifically, you said 'I don't see any reason why it would be Russia'D who meddled. And you backed it up by saying that 'Putin was extremely strong in his denial today.' Your remark was a direct slur against our intelligence people."
Unconvinced, the President said he was willing to consider a correction. But how to correct the gaffe?
Sanders had a solution. "Say you were misquoted, that what you really said was that 'Putin was extremely WRONG in his denial today.' That puts you on the side of our spies."
Pompeo bristled. "We are not spies. Well, we have a few, but most in the CIA, which i headed - and that's why I'm particularly peeved by the gaffe - are experts at hacking and in other ways gaining information about Russian activity. Anyway, the tape will show that he said 'strongly,' not 'wrongly.' "
Sanders sat staring at the press conference transcript for a long minute. Then came the Eureka moment, "I've got it," she shouted.
"What you meant to say was that 'Putin wasN'T extremely strong in his denial today.' That shows that you think the Russians might indeed have meddled in the 2016 election. That puts you on the side of the CIA, the NSA, and any other intelligence agencies we may have. That sounds like you agree with Mueller's indictments of the Russian generals."
"Great," said Pompeo. "Now let's make a tape in which you admit you made a sloppy off the cuff remark and let's square this with the intelligence agencies."
And so it was, that the President publicly admitted his error and made things right with some of his critics.