Mnuchin: Trump's falsehoods in Oval Office address were 'misinterpreted'

For an administration sorely lacking in credibility right now, Mnuchin's attempts at clumsy spinning only reinforces broader concerns.
Image: Steve Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks in the briefing room at the White House on July 15, 2019.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

By any fair measure, Donald Trump's Oval Office address last week did not go well. In fact, the Washington Post reported that, behind the scenes, the president and his team realized that the effort was a failure. Specifically referring to the president's mistaken announcement about halting European trade and cargo, the article added, "Even Trump -- a man practically allergic to admitting mistakes -- knew he'd screwed up."

And yet, there was Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yesterday, pretending otherwise.

"People misinterpreted his comments," Mnuchin said on ABC's "This Week" after the president misstated several elements of a new policy restricting travel from Europe to combat the spread of the virus during an Oval Office speech. "And we immediately put out a statement to clarify that."

The cabinet secretary went on to say that the president was "very clear," adding, "I don't think he got things wrong at all."

There are so many better ways to deal with a situation like this. Team Trump could suggest the president's misstatements were minor and quickly corrected. Officials could argue that Trump's mistakes weren't important in the grand scheme of things.

But it's ridiculous to argue that people "misinterpreted" Trump's errors -- as if his mistakes were our fault, not the president's -- and that the president's blunder didn't actually happen. Indeed, for an administration sorely lacking in credibility right now, Mnuchin's attempts at clumsy spinning only reinforces concerns that these folks are not reliable sources of information.

The errors in the Oval Office address were plain. Trump inadvertently said new travel restrictions would apply to "tremendous amount of trade and cargo," which wasn't his actual policy. He added that private health insurers have agreed to "waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments," which wasn't true, either.

A CNN report noted the other day that the president "complained about the teleprompter from which he read the speech, blaming it for various stumbles." That's not exactly persuasive -- see the old adage about good craftsmen and their tools -- but it's better than saying Americans "misinterpreted" what Trump got wrong.

Aaron Blake added yesterday, "This is a time in which the American people need to have confidence in their leaders to tell the truth. It's also a moment in which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin set himself up to be a voice of credibility within the administration, via his efforts to secure a bipartisan coronavirus deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). On Sunday, though, Mnuchin squandered the opportunity."