Yes, I know several new Trump outrages broke over the weekend. In case you missed them, for the early morning tweetstorm of abuse to the former Miss Universe, go here. For the news about the likely possibility that Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes for 18 years, go here. (If it’s false, Mr. Trump can prove it by releasing the tax returns.) For Trump’s decision to both speculate with no specifics about whether his opponent cheated sexually on her husband, and to mock Hillary’s physical problems during her pneumonia attack, and to hear him state that Clinton should be in prison, go here.
But, as regular readers of this space know, I am mildly obsessed with Donald Trump’s Big Lie that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. He didn’t, at least not publicly or in a way that created any proof. And, in fact, he spoke publicly about the war before it started, several times on radio and TV, without arguing against it ever. At least once, on the radio, when host Howard Stern asked, if the decision was up to him whether to invade, what would he do, and he replied: “Yeah, I guess I would.”
His new line of defense
So I wanted to expand the latest news of this falsehood, which occurred during last week’s debate. In the debate, after he made his usual false claim to have been against the war and after moderator Lester Holt said that the record showed he had favored the Iraq war,Trump opened up a new line of defense. It’s not very coherent, but it went like this:
I then spoke to Sean Hannity, which everybody refuses to call Sean Hannity. I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity at Fox. And Sean Hannity said — and he called me the other day and I spoke to him about it and he said you were totally against the war, because he was for the war and that was before the war started. Sean Hannity said very strongly, to me and other people, he’s willing to say, but nobody wants to call him, I was against the war. He said you used to have fights with me, because Sean was in favor of the war. And I understand that side also. Not very much, because we should have never been there, but nobody called Sean Hannity.
I was taken aback. Was there a lost interview on the Hannity program in which Trump opposed the war and argued against it with Hannity? Did I owe Trump an apology for saying that no such evidence existed?
Turns out, no. Trump’s new claim is that he privately expressed his opposition to the war to Hannity. And Hannity, it subsequently turned out, is supporting this claim. Personally, I am not willing to take either of their words for it. Maybe true, maybe not. But if it is true, why would Trump — who was frequently interviewed on TV and radio during this period, and who is certainly capable of renting a hall and a microphone when he wants to say something like cast doubt on President Obama’s nation of origin, and who claims to be a brave, bold teller of inconvenient truths — not have publicly expressed his grave and brilliant opposition to the Iraq war in a way that would have left behind some kind of a record?
You can believe what you want about that. You can believe that he privately told Hannity what he now claims to have privately told Hannity. And if you choose to believe it, you can say this suggests that Trump didn’t lie because he really did (at least privately) oppose the war at some point between the day he publicly guessed he was for it and the day it started.
But if you decide to believe all those things, Trump still lied, bigly or big-league or whatever that adjective or adverb is that he keeps saying. (I know it starts with “big.” And it turns out that if he is saying “bigly,” that that actually is a centuries-old English word.)
The White House reference
He lied bigly because when he first introduced the lie (and I am indebted to Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler for this memory refresher), Trump didn’t just claim to have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but he claims (or used to claim) that he was so outspoken in his opposition to the plan of bombing and invading Iraq that the Bush White House begged him to shut up about it.
Few appear to remember now, but the reason reporters started to dig for evidence that Trump opposed the war is because he used to claim that he received a visit from nervous White House officials who wanted him to keep quiet.
“I was visited by people from the White House asking me to sort of, could I be silenced because I seem to get a disproportionate amount of publicity. I mean, I was very strong, though: ‘You’re going to destabilize the Middle East,’ ” Trump told Fox News on Oct. 6, 2015. In a GOP primary debate on Sept. 16, Trump made a similar claim: “A delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it.”
Yes, he was so vocal about it that it came to the attention of the White House, but not so vocal that it was ever uttered on TV or radio or print or to an audience larger than Sean Hannity’s parlor.
Trump gets a chutzpah award for deciding, in his cute habit of assigning derogatory nicknames to all who oppose or criticize him, to nickname Sen. Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.”
By the way, Fact-Checker had previously tried to confirm that any such White House delegation had been sent to ask Trump to pipe down, but it couldn’t be confirmed. I suspect I know why.
Kessler’s Post piece, by the way, didn’t just document this particular falsehood, but used it to describe the pattern by which Trump introduces his big lies, then defends them, and then, when the lie has been exposed, grasps at straws to suggest that it wasn’t a complete lie, like the “straw” that told Sean Hannity privately that he opposed the Iraq war.
If you would care to see footage of Trump saying a great many things that contradict what he is saying now, this YouTube video has an excellent compilation. It’s nine minutes long and includes analysis and commentary by Kyle Kulinski, who broadcasts under the title “Secular Talk.”