President Donald Trump lies. President Nixon lied. President Clinton lied. Every president we’ve ever had has told a lie to the American people. It is not earth shattering news, news worthy on any given day nor is it totally unexpected. The ability to operate a ship of state requires a certain amount of subterfuge even at the expense of those being governed in order to be efficient and assist those being governed. It is, in other words, sometimes a necessary evil.
This is a typical tactic of every administration I’ve covered since Ronald Reagan quit appearing in movies like Bedtime for Bonzo and took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is an understandable move. The administration wants to speak with one voice: the president’s voice. So while we get information on the record, the nation hears one person steering the ship. That’s not unusual, and it isn’t unprofessional, and every reporter covering the president understands why it is done. We don’t agree and some of us—including in this case White House Correspondents Association president Margaret Talev, as well as myself—asked for the latest meeting to be on-camera and the senior administration official to be named. We were denied.
We also expected John Bolton to show up to brief us, though he did not. In this case, President Donald Trump had just published his middle-school style break-up letter with Kim Jong-un, in which he said, “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” Trump went on to say he “felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me,” and that canceling the summit was a “truly sad moment in history.”
His lies are different than others we’ve experienced in the past from presidents because when he lies, it is to protect himself, undermine the foundations of the Republic and keep us away from uncomfortable truths about his administration.
Later in the briefing, our senior official told us the administration was working hard to ensure the summit would occur at some point in time, but meeting on June 12 was going to be next to impossible due to all the prep work that needed to occur now the original meeting had been called off. Among other things, the senior white house official said "the ball is in North Korea's court right now, and there's really not a lot of time." Then he added, “June 12 is in 10 minutes.”
There were perhaps 85 reporters and photographers from all over the world in the briefing room, representing everyone from The Daily Caller, Fox News and Breitbart to CNN, NBC, CBS, the Associated Press and many others. There were many more reporters who could not attend the briefing who listened to it on the telephone. The news Trump might cancel the summit was not unexpected; after all, it is North Korea and dealing with that rogue nation has confounded the best and the worst of most world leaders since 1953.
Everyone dutifully reported what the senior administration official told us. It didn’t appear to be particularly newsworthy or even surprising—until Trump spoke up. By the next day, the president was talking about rescheduling the summit and how it might still occur on June 12. The New York Times, among others, pointed out the difference between what the senior administration official said and what the president said. The president responded on Saturday by saying the New York Times made up its source and the senior administration official didn’t exist. "The Failing @nytimes quotes 'a senior White House official,' who doesn't exist, as saying "even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed." WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources,” our president told via his latest Twitter litter.
The president can take issue with the word impossible but not with the senior administration official. He cannot defend what he tweeted on Saturday by saying he didn’t know what happened in the West Wing on Thursday either unless he’s so completely out of touch with his own staff he has no idea what goes in the White House, which is frightening on an entirely different level. No, the president lied. And as CNN's Brian Stelter pointed out Saturday when I appeared on the network alongside him, “It's a flagrant example of Trump's problem with the truth.”
In an article published by CNN, Stelter also pointed out, “The president frequently claims, without evidence, that journalists make up sources.” In this case, the president took advantage of the fact that his administration conducted a background briefing for reporters in which we promised not to identify the senior administration official responsible for giving us the information so the president could claim the official didn’t exist. By doing this, the president tried to make every reporter complicit in maintaining his lie. I refuse to do this.
I have protected sources and have gone to jail for them. I’ve burned sources who have lied to me. The president deserves the same treatment everyone else receives. He lied to me. By taking advantage of the fact that the information the New York Times and the rest of us obtained was done with the understanding we would not name the official, the president has compromised the press while accusing us of being “Fake News”. So I named the senior administration official.
Raj Shah, the deputy press secretary introduced Matthew Pottinger, the National Security Council's Senior Director for Asian Affairs who conducted the briefing. It wasn’t fake media. It wasn’t made up. A transcript of the briefing and audio exists. I was not the only one to name Pottinger, and I did not do it lightly.
The president has been promoting unconfirmed reports of a “Deep State” and has tweeted out accusations against his own Department of Justice, and has accused the press on numerous occasions of being “fake news.” His lies are different than others we’ve experienced in the past from presidents because when he lies, it is to protect himself, undermine the foundations of the Republic and keep us away from uncomfortable truths about other members of his administration.
In the president's first interview after his election, with Lesley Stahl, she asked him why he continued to attack the press. "I said, 'You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You're doing it over and over. It's boring and it's time to end that,'" Stahl said on stage alongside PBS Newshour anchor Judy Woodruff. In a statement thus far unchallenged by Trump, Stahl recounted, "He said, 'You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
Words have meaning. Presidential statements have consequences and Donald Trump does not understand the world is far larger than himself. Facts deserve to be told. The people of the United States deserve factual information about what our government is doing and why. We do not deserve to be taken on a bumpy ride of buffoonery when the consequences are very real. I refer to the question I asked in the briefing room regarding the nuclear threat from North Korea; if the American public cannot tell when the president is telling the truth and when he is lying, how can those who lead other nations trust us or our word? How can they tell when Trump is lying? If his lies are as nefarious as they’ve been—in essence, “trolling” the electorate, planting seeds of doubt about the press, the Justice Department, Congress and everyone but himself—how can we be sure of what he’ll do regarding our nuclear arsenal? If all we have to count on are his narcissistic survival instincts...forgive me for wanting a little more sanity from the leader of the free world. After all, Pottinger told us the North Koreans were actually threatening us with nuclear bombs. What to make of that?
By Tuesday morning the White House had once again (seemingly) confirmed that all bets are off for a June 12th summit, thus indicating Pottinger was correct. Now the president will meet with the Prime Minister of Japan at the White House on June 7. North Korean Vice Chairman of the Central Committee, Kimg Yong Chol, is traveling to New York and will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week. We still haven’t had a briefing in the White House in more than a week. The president is tweeting his actions, limiting his interaction with the press and raising more questions than answers. And the bottom line: the president lies. Beware.