In early February, White House sources first leaked word that Donald Trump's first phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm had been a disaster. The American president, by all accounts, clashed bitterly with the longtime U.S. ally over a refugee policy Trump thought he understood, but didn't. It was the first meaningful evidence that the Republican was poised to do serious harm to American diplomacy and our standing in the world.
A day later, however, Trump insisted on Twitter that he had a "very civil conversation" with the Australian prime minister and accounts to the contrary were falsehoods created by the "fake news media." We know now, of course, that Trump was lying -- because a leaked White House transcript proves it.
What's astounding, of course, is how routine this has become. On an almost comically regular basis, the president and his White House deny the accuracy of various stories, only to soon after confirm that their earlier denials were wrong and the stories were correct.
For example, one of Donald Trump's private attorneys, Jay Sekulow, said the president wasn't involved in drafting his son's deceptive statement about a meeting last year with Russian nationals. And yet, as the Washington Post reported:
The White House directly contradicted President Trump's own attorney on Tuesday. It confirmed that the president was involved in that misleading Donald Trump Jr. statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer after Trump's attorney, Jay Sekulow, had issued two unmistakable comments asserting Trump wasn't.
The headline on the Post's piece yesterday read, "7 times the Trump team denied something -- and then confirmed it." This morning, it was updated to read, "8 times the Trump team denied something -- and then confirmed it." This afternoon, as more examples came to the fore, it reads, "9 times the Trump team denied something -- and then confirmed it." There's no reason to believe it won't be updated again.
The point, of course, is that anytime the president and the White House deny something, there's simply no reason to accept the claim at face value. Members of Trump World have earned a reputation for lying reflexively, and they've been caught too many times for anyone to consider them credible.
NBC News' First Read explained yesterday that the White House's credibility problem "is getting worse, not better."
* White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Donald Trump was actually involved in drafting his son's misleading statement about his June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, a detail which Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow flatly denied just a few weeks ago.* Sanders also suggested that the original statement by Trump Jr. was "true" even though it omitted crucial details about why he took the meeting in the first place.* After saying earlier this spring that he was unaware of the story, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged meeting with a donor who pushed a conspiracy-laden Fox News report about dead DNC staffer Seth Rich.
The piece added, "It may not feel like news to point out that politicians and Washington operators don't always tell the truth until overwhelming evidence forces them to come clean, but Trump and his allies have taken that dynamic to a whole new level. If the White House wants to know why the press is getting more antagonistic, stop misleading all the time."
That sounds like excellent advice.