President Trump’s surrogates are defending his latest attack on Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accuses Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. They’re claiming that Trump’s mockery of Ford, delivered at a political rally on Tuesday night, was “factual.” You may not like the president’s tone, the argument goes, but everything he said about Ford’s testimony was true.
No, it wasn’t true. Trump lied about Ford. And his supporters, in defending him, are doing the same.
At the rally, Trump mocked Ford by pretending to re-enact a question-and-answer session with her:
“How did you get home?”
“I don’t remember.”
“How’d you get there?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Where is the place?”
“I don’t remember.”
“How many years ago was it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What neighborhood was it in?”
“I don’t know.” …
“Upstairs, downstairs, where was it?”
“I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”
Trump’s allies say this depiction of Ford’s testimony was accurate. On Wednesday morning, at a forum hosted by the Atlantic, Sen. Lindsey Graham declared, “Everything he said was factual.” In an interview with Fox News, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted, “The president is pointing out factual inconsistencies.” At an afternoon briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed that Trump’s re-enactment “wasn’t anything other than the president stating facts. … He was stating facts that Dr. Ford herself laid out in her testimony.” Sanders referred reporters to a memo released Sunday in which Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor who interrogated Ford on behalf of Senate Republicans, summarized Ford’s testimony. “Each of the things that he called out were things that were laid out in that memo,” said Sanders.
The press says these arguments miss the point. What matters, reporters argue, is Trump’s tone. “You said he was stating the facts,” a reporter told Sanders at the White House briefing. “But this was so much more than stating the facts. This was a full-scale campaign-rally assault on a woman who says she’s a victim of sexual assault.”
Yes, Trump’s mockery of Ford was contemptible. But let’s not lose sight of the fundamental dishonesty of his remarks. What he said at that rally wasn’t more than stating the facts. It was less. It was full of lies.
Ford doesn’t recall exactly when the alleged assault happened or how she got there. She has described the interior of the house, but she doesn’t recall whose house it was. That much is true. But the rest of Trump’s riff was sheer fabrication. It misrepresented Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh’s testimony, and Mitchell’s memo.
Start with Trump’s claim that Ford said she didn’t know in “what neighborhood” the attack occurred. In her testimony, Ford described the location as “a house in the Bethesda area … somewhere between my house and the [Columbia] Country Club.” Kavanaugh, in his testimony, added the address: “Dr. Ford has said that this event occurred at a house near Columbia Country Club, which is at the corner of Connecticut Avenue in the East-West Highway in Chevy Chase, Maryland.” Mitchell’s memo repeated Ford’s description.
You could argue that when Trump joked about Ford not knowing the neighborhood, he was using a strict definition of neighborhood. But that would be absurdly generous, especially after Kavanaugh specified an intersection. Let’s be real: The reason Trump made the joke is that he didn’t pay attention to Kavanaugh’s testimony, Ford’s testimony, or Mitchell’s memo. He just made it up.
Trump’s next line was about where in the house the attack occurred: “ ‘Upstairs, downstairs, where was it?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ” Here, there’s no interpretation that can rescue the president’s lie. In her initial letter, her interview with the Washington Post, and her testimony, Ford explicitly said the attack happened upstairs. Mitchell, in her memo, repeated that point. Anyone who has paid attention to Ford’s story, sympathetically or skeptically, knows that the upstairs/downstairs distinction is central to her description of the attack and to witness testimony for or against her. There are only two possible explanations for Trump joking that she didn’t know on which level the attack took place. One is that he didn’t read the memo or watch the testimony. The other is that he doesn’t care.
Trump’s last line—“I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember”—is false on its face. It’s a dismissal of everything Ford recalled in her testimony. It’s also a brushoff of Mitchell’s memo.
So when Graham says “everything [Trump] said was factual,” he’s lying. When Sanders says Trump’s riff “wasn’t anything other than the president stating facts,” she’s lying. When Sanders says “each of the things that he called out were things that were laid out in [Mitchell’s] memo,” she’s lying again. And when Conway says Trump was just “pointing out factual inconsistencies,” she’s lying, too. Nothing Trump cited in his riff was an inconsistency. Everything he said was either a fabrication or a caricature of vagueness in Ford’s testimony.
It’s true that Ford can’t recall important details about place and time. It’s true that she can’t recall how she got to the house or how she left. It’s true that every accused person is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But Trump’s portrayal of Ford’s testimony wasn’t true. It was a pack of lies. And people who defend it, like Lindsey Graham, are liars too.