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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

As Mueller prepares to testify, Trump flubs every relevant fact

07/23/19 11:20AM

During a brief Q&A on Friday afternoon, a reporter asked Donald Trump if he planned to watch Robert Mueller's congressional testimony. "No, I don't," the president replied. "I don't.... No, I won't be watching Muller."

Asked yesterday if he's "worried" about what the former special counsel might say, Trump said, "No, I'm not going to be watching. Probably. Maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I'm not going to be watching Mueller."

Well, that certainly cleared things up.

The president quickly added:

"We had no collusion, no obstruction. We had no nothing. We had a total 'no collusion' finding. The Democrats were devastated by it. They went crazy. They've gone off the deep end. They're not doing anything. [...]

"And Robert Mueller, I know he's conflicted -- he had a lot -- there's a lot of conflicts that he's got, including the fact that his best friend is Comey. But he's got conflicts with me, too. He's got big conflicts with me. As you know, he wanted the job of the FBI Director. He didn't get it. And we had a business relationship where I said, 'No.' And I would say that he wasn't happy. Then, all of a sudden, he gets this position. But you know what? He still ruled -- and I respect him for it -- he still ruled 'no collusion, no obstruction.'"

It's not easy to pack this many lies into 90 seconds of rhetoric, but when it comes to deceiving the public, Trump gets a lot of practice.

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

As his boasts are debunked, Trump gets defensive over border-wall failure

07/23/19 10:50AM

Donald Trump's claims about a border wall are among his strangest lies. For months, the president has insisted that he and his administration have expanded a physical barrier along the U.S./Mexico border, and those rascally fact-checkers who say otherwise are not to be believed.

The Republican has even instructed his followers at various rallies to stop chanting, "Build the wall," and start chanting, "Finish the wall." Implicit in the directions is the idea that Trump has already made great progress in completing his goal.

In reality, he hasn't. The Washington Examiner, a conservative online outlet, reported over the weekend that the administration "has not installed a single mile of new wall in a previously fenceless part of the U.S.-Mexico border in the 30 months since President Trump assumed office."

The Examiner added, "In a statement last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency overseeing border barrier construction, confirmed that all the fencing completed since Trump took office is 'in place of dilapidated designs' because the existing fence was in need of replacement."

It's not complicated: old barriers have, in some cases, been replaced with new barriers, but the parts of the border in which there was no structure separating the two countries haven't changed since Trump took office.

And that's apparently led the president to try to move the goalposts a bit. Here was his tweet on the subject last night:

"When we rip down and totally replace a badly broken and dilapidated Barrier on the Southern Border, something which cannot do the job, the Fake News Media gives us zero credit for building a new Wall. We have replaced many miles of old Barrier with powerful new Walls!"

And this was the follow-up this morning:

"When an old Wall at the Southern Border, that is crumbling and falling over, built in an important section to keep out problems, is replaced with a brand new 30 foot high steel and concrete Wall, the Media says no new Wall has been built. Fake News! Building lots of Wall!"

Trump is playing a tiresome little game in which he wants to apply his own creative definition of the word "wall" -- and the word "new."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Despite reality, Trump denies the existence of 'racial tension'

07/23/19 10:12AM

Over the weekend, Fox News' Chris Wallace conducted an interesting interview with the White House's Stephen Miller, and the host described what he sees as the core problem with Donald Trump and the issue of race.

"It's when he goes into stoking racial fears," Wallace said of the president. "I've never called any of his tweets racist, but there's no question that he is stoking racial divisions."

Trump offered a very different perspective yesterday, when a reporter asked him specifically about whether he's "stoking racial tensions." The Republican replied:

"No, I don't think — no, no, no racial tension. No, no, there's no racial tension.

"Look, I had my best numbers recently, and it's because of the economy and what I've done for the African American.... We have fantastic relationships with the African-American community. I think you'll see that. Certainly, you're going to see that in 2020, I believe."

I should note that the phrase "done for the African American" is how the president's words were officially transcribed by the White House. If you watch the clip, it's what he actually appeared to say.

Stepping back, there are a couple of problems with Trump's assertions. Right off the bat, the idea that Trump has "fantastic relationships with the African-American community" is very difficult to take seriously. Not only has the president been at the center of far too many racist incidents, but a recent poll found his approval rating among black voters at just 13%.

At a rally in August 2016, Trump boasted, "At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95 percent of the African-American vote. I promise you."

Now would probably be a good time for him to start lowering his expectations.

As for Trump's confidence that "racial tension" does not exist, there's some striking evidence to the contrary.

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Democratic representative from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an event with Democratic members of Congress and national organization members to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 30, 2019.

Renewing his offensive against 'the squad,' Trump embraces projection

07/23/19 09:20AM

Around this time yesterday morning, Donald Trump published a tweet announcing that he was on his way to the Supreme Court to pay his respects to the late Justice John Paul Stevens. Just 16 minutes later, while en route, the president returned to the issue that was actually on his mind.

Renewing his offensive against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Trump tweeted that the congresswomen of color are "a very Racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart."

Part of what made this notable was its familiarity: those credibly accused of racism routinely try to argue that its their detractors who are the "real" racists. As a Washington Post analysis explained yesterday:

Trump is claiming that allegations of racism directed at himself and his policies — and the supporters who embrace them — are themselves examples of racism. Analysis by The Washington Post found that Trump is three times as likely to accuse nonwhite people of racism as he is white people.

This isn't a new phenomenon. When segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace was asked if he considered himself to be a racist during a 1968 interview, he offered a similar deflection.

"No sir, I don't regard myself as a racist," Wallace said, "and I think the biggest racists in the world are those who call other folks racist. I think the biggest bigots in the world are those who call other folks bigots."

And since so much of the president's far-right base is convinced that "reverse racism" from minority communities is a societal scourge, it's likely Trump is accusing his critics of being "very racist" at least in part because he expects his followers to agree.

But just as notable is Trump's go-to defense mechanisms. Let's call it the president's "no-puppeting" problem.

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Trump forgets the rule about not making up quotes from real people

07/23/19 08:42AM

In the Oval Office yesterday, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was asked about Donald Trump possibly playing a diplomatic role in Kashmir. Sitting alongside the American president, Khan voiced his support for White House intervention, expressing confidence that Trump would "push the process."

It was at this point that the Republican made some dramatic news, announcing that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had personally invited Trump to participate in negotiations. From the official transcript:

TRUMP: So I was with -- I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject. And he actually said, "Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?" I said, "Where?" He said, "Kashmir." Because this has been going on for many, many years. I was surprised at how long; it's been going on a long —

KHAN: Seventy years.

TRUMP: And I think they'd like to see it resolved. And I think you'd like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It shouldn't be — I mean, it's impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can't solve a problem like that. But if you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that.

The American leader went on to again say that Modi "asked" him to help resolve the conflict, adding, "I've heard so much about Kashmir. Such a beautiful name."

At face value, Trump's claims were impossible to believe. India has never wanted outside involvement on Kashmir, and the idea that its prime minister would reach out directly to an American president -- an easily confused amateur who knows nothing about the dispute -- and ask him to serve as a mediator, seemed bizarre.

And that's because the exchange Trump described apparently didn't happen in reality. It wasn't long after the president made his public comments that Indian officials delicately contradicted the American leader, explaining, "It has been India's consistent position ... that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally."

Or put another way, no one should take Trump's rhetoric seriously.

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Does Trump understand what it means to 'win' a war?

07/23/19 08:00AM

About two years ago, Donald Trump delivered a prime-time address on his administration's "new" strategy for the war in Afghanistan. As we discussed at the time, the remarks included plenty of words, though they didn't amount to much.

The president, using language that was effectively identical to George W. Bush's war rhetoric, presented a plan in which the war in Afghanistan would continue indefinitely, with undetermined troop levels, until we "win" -- which was itself problematic, since Trump never explained what a victory would look like or how his latest strategy would achieve this goal.

Two years later, the president sat alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Oval Office, where he shed new light on his perspective on the longest war in American history.

"If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don't want to kill 10 million people.

"I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in -- literally, in 10 days. And I don't want to do -- I don't want to go that route."

He added soon after, "If we wanted to, we could win that war. I have a plan that would win that war in a very short period of time.... If we wanted to be soldiers, it would be over in 10 days. One week to 10 days, if we wanted to. But I have not chosen that."

This made far less sense than Trump seemed to realize. To hear the president tell it, there's a secret plan available to him that would entail killing 10 million people in Afghanistan and effectively wiping the country "off the face of the Earth."

And while I'm delighted Trump doesn't want to do this, it's unsettling that he repeatedly yesterday described this scenario as a way in which the United States could, at least in theory, "win" the war quickly.

Putting aside questions as to how, exactly, the Republican would go about killing 10 million people in 10 days -- perhaps he was referring to nuclear weapons? -- the president seemed to be operating from a rather twisted definition of "victory."

Obliterating a country we're trying to help and "winning" a war are not the same thing.

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