On Friday morning, 15 hours after it was first reported that Donald Trump had referred to various sovereign nations as “shithole countries,” the President took to Twitter to deny it.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” he tweeted. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!” Minutes later, Trump added: “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!”
CNN’s Jake Tapper has reported that Trump did not specifically use the word “shithole” with regard to Haiti but rather with regard to countries in Africa.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was in the Oval Office on Thursday for the now-infamous immigration meeting, spoke out publicly Friday morning to insist that the reporting of what Trump said (and about whom) was entirely accurate.
“You’ve seen the comments in the press,” Durbin said at an event in Chicago. “I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate. To no surprise, the President started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true.”
So, here we are. Who do we believe: the President of the United States or a sitting Democratic senator – and loads of media outlets (including CNN) that have confirmed that Trump used the word “shithole” to describe certain countries that were sending immigrants to the US?
We are now certain to see the disagreement play out.
The problem here for Trump is that he has a massive – the biggest! – credibility problem of his own making.
By The Washington Post’s count, Trump has made more than 2,000 false or misleading statements since being sworn in as President. That’s more than five lies or distortions a day – ranging from his insistence that he had the biggest inauguration crowed ever (he didn’t) to his oft-repeated claim that the US is the highest-taxed nation in the world (it isn’t) to his insistence that he ended Obamacare (he didn’t).
Trump’s casual relationship with the truth extends back well before he became President. His claims about Mexico sending “rapists” and “criminals” across the border, his insistence that he saw Muslims celebrating in northern New Jersey on the night of September 11, 2001, his suggestion that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy, his alleged initial support for the war in Iraq, his longtime belief that President Barack Obama was not born in this country – all provably false. And that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Trump’s lies on the campaign trail. How about his accusation Friday that it was Obama’s decision to move the US Embassy in London? That decision was made during the Bush administration – a fact easily obtainable for Trump. He used the embassy accusation as an excuse to cancel an upcoming to trip to London, where massive protests against him were likely.
This behavior also predates Trump’s career in politics. Never forget that Trump created a character – named “John Barron” – from scratch so that he could brag about the virility and sexual appeal of Donald Trump (aka him) to New York reporters in the 1980s.
Even the specific timeline of events surrounding the “shithole countries” comment undermine Trump’s claim this morning that he never made the comment.
Almost immediately after The Washington Post broke the news on Thursday night, White House spokesman Raj Shah was out with a statement that not only seemed to confirm that Trump had said what he said but also worked to defend it.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said.
Then, soon after Shah’s comment, came this from an anonymous White House official to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, “The President’s ‘shithole’ remark is being received much differently inside of the White House than it is outside of it. Though this might enrage Washington, staffers predict the comment will resonate with his base, much like his attacks on NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem did not alienate it.”
According to Collins, Trump spent Thursday evening making calls to friends and associated to gauge how they believed the “shithole countries” story was playing. One White House official told Collins that Trump’s calls amounted to a “victory lap.”
If Trump had really not used the word “shithole” (or something very like it), then why would the White House not come out and issue a blanket denial and a condemnation of the reporting? Why, rather than doing that, would they issue a statement that sought to own his “shithole countries” comment and make political hay out of it?
The answer, of course, is because he said it.
Trump is someone who is has spent his entire adult life telling himself a story of that life in which he is always the underappreciated hero. Whether that story he tells himself comports with accepted facts – and it often does not – is entirely besides the point for Trump. And, he surrounds himself with people who tell him that whatever he says or does – up to and including “shithole” – is “right on, boss” and “great move, Mr. President. Nailed it!” So, his own tendency to live in a world of his own creation is reinforced by a positive feedback loop – the worst of all possible scenarios for someone who is the President of the United States.
In short: Nothing in Trump’s political or professional life lends him the sort of credibility that should convince you he didn’t say what we all know he said on Thursday in the Oval Office. In fact, everything we know from even the most surface-level study of Trump’s 71 years on Earth suggests he absolutely, 100% said “shithole countries.”