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White House claims about terrorism, border unravel in embarrassing fashion

Donald Trump and his team are desperate to convince Americans that terrorists are entering the US through Mexico. The clams have unraveled in embarrassing ways.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

One year ago this month, the Trump administration's Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security issued a report with an unsubtle title: "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States." The document insisted, among other things, that three-quarters of the people convicted on international terrorism charges in the U.S. were foreign born.

In other words, if we want to stop terrorism, we're going to have to stop dangerous immigrants.

It wasn't long, however, before people started reading the report and noticing some rather flamboyant deceptions. In order to arrive at their conclusions, for example, Trump administration officials counted people accused of committing terrorist acts on foreign soil, but who were brought to the United States for prosecution. The administration also arbitrarily decided to exclude instances of domestic terrorism, despite their severity.

The Justice Department eventually acknowledged errors and deficiencies in the findings, but as the Washington Post  reported, "officials declined to retract or correct the document."

That's a problem, of course, but it's an even bigger problem that Donald Trump and his team continue to use fear of terrorism as a justification for a giant border wall.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that Customs and Border Protection picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year "that came across our southern border."But in fact, the figure she seems to be citing is based on 2017 data, not 2018, and refers to stops made by Department of Homeland Security across the globe, mainly at airports.In fiscal 2017, the latest year for which data is available, according to agency data and the White House's own briefing sheet, the Department of Homeland Security prevented nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from "traveling to or entering the United States."According to Justice Department public records and two former counterterrorism officials, no immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.

When Sarah Sanders nevertheless tried again yesterday to suggest the wall would be a counter-terrorism tool, even Fox News couldn't tolerate the deception.

This was the exchange yesterday between the White House press secretary and "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace. In context, Wallace showed a clip of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claiming that Customs and Border Patrol has stopped "over 3,000 what we call 'Special Interest Aliens' trying to come into the country in the southern border."

WALLACE: But Special Interest Aliens are just people who come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist. They're not terrorists themselves. And the State Department says that there is, quote, their words: no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.SANDERS: We know that roughly, nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait – I know the statistic; I didn't know you were going to use it. But I studied up on this. Do you know where those 4,000 people come -- where they're captured? Airports.SANDERS: Not always.WALLACE: At airports.SANDERS: Certainly a large number --WALLACE: The State Department says there hasn't been any terrorists that they've found coming across the southern border with Mexico.SANDERS: It's by air, it's by land and it's by sea. It's all of the above. But one thing that you're forgetting is that the most vulnerable point of entry that we have into this country is our southern border, and we have to protect it. And the more individuals that --WALLACE: But they're not coming across the southern border, Sarah. They're coming and they're being stopped at airports.

The White House is peddling a lie. The president himself pushed the bogus claim at his rambling press conference on Friday, and others on his team, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have done their best to get the public to believe it.

If Trump World is still capable of feeling shame, now would be an excellent time for some.