Why Barr exposed Trump's 'bunker inspection' claim as a lie

Trump implausibly claimed he recently went to an underground bunker for an "inspection," not for his safety. Even Bill Barr has exposed this as a lie.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Washington, as Attorney General William Barr listens.
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Washington, as Attorney General William Barr listens.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

Protests around the White House were quite intense the evening of Friday, May 29, and there were multiple reports that the Secret Service took Donald Trump to an underground bunker as a security precaution. Yesterday, Attorney General Bill Barr commented publicly on the developments for the first time.

"Things were so bad that the Secret Service recommended the president go down to the bunker," Mr. Barr said in an interview with Fox News. "We can't have that in our country."

Whether the attorney general realized it or not, he was effectively telling a national television audience that the president lied about what transpired that night.

As we discussed last week, the reporting that Trump was forced to hide in an underground bunker led many of the president's detractors to start calling him "Bunker Boy" -- among other, more colorful phrases -- which in turn likely contributed to the decision to have Trump walk across Lafayette Square last week, as a way of proving he wasn't cowering in fear.

A couple of days later, the president appeared on Fox News' Brian Kilmeade's radio show and elaborated on what happened -- or at least what he wanted people to believe happened. Trump insisted that the news reports were "false," adding, "I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time."

Referring to his visit to the underground bunker, the president went on to say, "It was much more for an inspection."

When the host asked specifically if the Secret Service told him he needed to head to the bunker, Trump said, "No, they didn't tell me that at all. They said it would be a good time to go down, take a look because maybe some time you're going to need it."

To be sure, to know anything about this president is to know he says foolish things with extraordinary frequency, but this was among the dumbest. It was simply impossible to believe Trump's ridiculous version of events: the president is many things, but "bunker inspector" isn't one of them.

And now his own attorney general, perhaps inadvertently, has exposed the president's story as a lie.

We're left with a couple of lingering questions: why did Trump peddle such an absurd falsehood and why did Bill Barr make his boss look even worse?

On the former, it's likely that the president wants to be seen as wildly popular with the American public, and the idea that protesting citizens of his own country forced him to flee to safety -- while inside the White House -- is at odds with his preferred narrative.

But on the latter, it's important to remember that the attorney general has his own troubles. Barr and the White House have contradicted each other over his role in the Lafayette Square scandal, and he has an incentive to characterize the protests in D.C. that evening as dangerous and enraged.

In other words, with his comments to Fox News yesterday, Barr may have made Trump look worse, but Barr was eager to make himself look better.