Seven days before national security adviser H.R. McMaster “resigned,” President Donald Trump insisted that reports that McMaster was on his way out as part of a broader staff shakeup were totally and completely wrong.
“The story was very false,” Trump said last Thursday in response to a slew of reports – including by CNN – that, in the wake of the removal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, more changes were coming, with a focus on McMaster.
“They wrote a story about staff changes that was very false,” said Trump. “It was a very false story … a very exaggerated and false story.”
Except that it wasn’t.
Later that same Thursday – in the wake of even more reports that Trump had decided it was time for McMaster, specifically, to go, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders took to Twitter to push back.
“Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC,” she tweeted.
The following day, which was exactly one week ago today, at her daily press briefing, Sanders was pressed on her tweet and the reports about McMaster. Here’s how she responded (I am excerpting her answer in full because it’s a wow):
“I — again, like I said last night, and I’ll echo it again, I spoke directly to the President last night. He asked me to pass that message along to General McMaster. I know the two of them have been in meetings today. Whether or not that came up, I don’t know.
“But again, our focus is not on a lot of the news stories that you guys would like us to be focused on, but we’re actually focused on what the American people want us to do, and that’s to come here and do our jobs.
“General McMaster is a dedicated public servant, and he is here not focused on the news stories that many of you are writing, but on some really big issues: things like North Korea; things like Russia; things like Iran. That’s what he’s doing, and that’s what we’re going to continue to be focused on every single day that we show up for work.”
That also wasn’t true.
And this is hardly the first time the White House has cried “fake news” about a story of staff turmoil that later – and not even much later – wound up being 100% accurate.
On Saturday March 10, The New York Times wrote a story detailing unrest within Trump’s legal team and reporting on the possibility of Emmet T. Flood, a lawyer on Bill Clinton’s team during his impeachment, signing on to help Trump. The piece contained these lines: “But there have been signs in recent months that Mr. Trump may be looking to shake up his legal team and change his approach to Mr. Mueller’s investigation.”
At 10:41 am on Sunday March 11, Trump launched into this pair of tweets:
“The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and … have shown conclusively that there was no Collusion with Russia..just excuse for losing. The only Collusion was that done by the DNC, the Democrats and Crooked Hillary. The writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access.”
Not true. Again.
Eight days after the original New York Times report, Trump brought Joseph di Genova, a lawyer and conservative talking head, onto his legal team. Three days after that – aka Thursday – John Dowd resigned as Trump’s top personal lawyer.
We’ve long known of President Trump’s casual disregard for the truth. In the course of his first year in office, he said more than 2,000 – 2,000! – things that were all or mostly false, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.
“The President is not a fact-based president,” acknowledged Newsmax CEO (and Trump confidante) Chris Ruddy on Thursday. “He is a salesman. He is probably the greatest salesman the country has ever produced. … Having known him for many years, when I hear him say something that I take as an exaggeration, I see it as a rhetorical device.”
But there’s a very fine line between exaggerating and just plain old lying. And Trump seems to stray across it fairly frequently.
What the events of the past 10 days should remind us of is that anything and everything that comes from this president and this White House – especially denials of so-called “fake news” – needs to be looked at very, very skeptically. In fact, their track record suggests that we should not assume that what the White House is saying on virtually anything is based on take-it-to-the-bank facts and reality.
Which is a very scary proposition.