TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump leaves after speaking during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the...
SAUL LOEB

The White House keeps editing its transcripts in curious ways

Updated

Donald Trump covered a fair amount of ground in his press conference yesterday, though one of the more memorable exchanges came when the president took a gratuitous rhetorical shot at ABC News’ Cecilia Vega:

But as the Daily Beast  noted, if you read the back and forth in the White House’s transcript, you didn’t quite get an accurate reflection of what happened.

After President Trump was caught on camera telling a reporter she “never” thinks, the White House moved to retroactively alter the president’s attack at a Monday afternoon press conference by changing a word in the official transcript.

While the president told ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega, “I know you’re not thinking. You never do,” the White House transcript reads, “I know you’re not thanking. You never do.” While Vega did thank the president for calling on her to ask a question before Trump made the remark, his comment prompted her to ask “I’m sorry?” before the president dismissed her. “No, go ahead. Go ahead,” the president said in response, urging her to move on and ask her question.

Note, at issue is a White House transcript that was distributed to the media, as opposed to the transcript officials posted to the White House’s website. In fact, for some reason, Team Trump still hadn’t published an online version of the transcript as of this morning, which is itself unusual.

I will gladly concede that it’s possible that yesterday’s misleading edit to the transcript was accidental. Sure, that’d be quite a coincidence, touching up the transcript in such a way as to obscure Trump publicly belittling a woman reporter for no reason, but I can’t definitely say whether this was an inadvertent error or a deliberate attempt at deception.

What I can say is that this president and his team haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt – because this wasn’t the first instance of the Trump White House making convenient edits to official transcripts.

There was, for example, the incomplete transcript from Trump’s infamous press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And as we discussed at the time, this was part of a larger trend. Regular readers may recall a story from January, during a White House discussion on immigration policy in January, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Trump if he’d support a “clean” bill on DACA, extending protections to Dreamers, with a commitment to then begin negotiations on comprehensive immigration reform. The president said he had “no problem” with that.

“We’re going to do DACA and then we can start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive,” Trump added. “Yeah, I would like to do that. I think a lot of people would like to see that, but I think we have to do DACA first.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) quickly interjected, reminding the president of what the Republican position is supposed to be, but just as important, if you relied on the White House transcript to learn what was said, you missed a key detail: the president’s “Yeah, I would like to do that” line was missing from the official White House transcript.

Several months earlier, during Anthony Scaramucci’s not-quite-two-week stint as White House communications director, he appeared in the press briefing room to gush about how impressed he was with Trump’s limitless abilities, and marveled at the president’s ability to sink “three-foot putts” while playing golf.

The official White House transcript was edited to say “30-foot putts.”

Now, it’s possible these were all benign mistakes. But it’s also possible someone in Trump World believes touching up official transcripts is an acceptable practice.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum had a good piece a while back, explaining, “Transcripts are not supposed to be ‘revised’ after the fact. Official White House transcripts record exactly what the person said, regardless of ‘what they meant to say.’”