The Slatest

Trump’s Saturday of Lies: President Says Official Who Briefed Reporters “Doesn’t Exist”

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn upon return to the White House on May 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn upon return to the White House on May 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

President Donald Trump seems to have woken up on Saturday in the mood to tell a few lies on Twitter. The most easily disproven tweet came as part of what has become a common theme for the commander in chief: blasting the New York Times. Saturday’s attack on the paper started with the president calling it “Failing and Corrupt,” claiming there is “ZERO disagreement within the Trump administration as to how to deal with North Korea.”

A dubious statement, to be sure, but the whopper came in the following tweet: “The Failing @nytimes quotes ‘a senior White House official,’ who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN!” The president then went on to give some advice to the paper: “Use real people, not phony sources.”

As many reporters were quick to point out, the source the Times used in its story wasn’t only real but he talked from a podium of the White House briefing room to dozens of reporters who were present—and even some who had joined in on the phone—for a background briefing. The ground rules for background briefings state that the name of the official must remain anonymous.

The president seemed to be taking issue with this sentence in a Times piece: “On Thursday, for example, a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” Those present note that while the official didn’t use the word “impossible,” the overarching message was just that. “There’s a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down to actually meet and talk and negotiate, and hopefully make a deal. And June 12 is in 10 minutes, and it’s going to be – you know,” the official said, according to a White House transcript reported by Politico. “But the President has said that he has—someday, that he looks forward to meeting with Kim.”

One reporter who was not part of the call revealed the name of the source as Matt Pottinger, a foreign policy aide to Trump. “The only reason I tweeted Matt’s name is because I’m not a White House reporter and I was not on this call,” Yashar Ali wrote explaining his decision to out the source.

The decision to make it seem like the Times was lying about its sources came shortly after the president blamed Democrats for separating children and their parents at the border. Just as the decision to split up families is causing increased outrage across the country, the president seemed to want to wash his hands of the problem. And he did it with a common misspelling to boot. “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.,” he tweeted. Yes, the commander in chief wrote “there” instead of “their,” but more importantly wrote something that is pretty much nonsense.

It is unclear exactly what Trump was referring to since there is no actual law that mandates the separation of families at the border. The Wall Street Journal, for example, speculates Trump may have been referring to the 1997 Flores settlement agreement that required migrant children not to be held in jail. Others have said Trump may have been referring to the “catch and release” policy the president and his administration love to hate and was signed into law in 2008 by then-president George W. Bush.

Details aside, it is undoubtedly thanks to Trump’s policies that children are being snatched away from their parents’ hands. Before Trump, minors who crossed with their parents were usually processed together but that has changed under the administration’s desire to criminally prosecute all migrants who cross the border illegally. The ACLU was one of many to express surprise at Trump’s tweet: “No law requires this—separating parents and children is your administration’s choice.”

Even though his attempt to shift blame on Democrats for his own policies may be galling, it was hardly new. Earlier this month he did the same while talking to California officials about immigration policy. “I know what you’re going through right now with families is very tough but those are the bad laws that the Democrats gave us,” Trump told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law. It’s a horrible thing where you have to break up families.” Factcheck.org declared that statement was “false.”