Latterly
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Latterly

Trumpocalypse Now

The White House lied

Read this press release the White House issued Saturday:

Now read this excerpt from a Washington Post story, which broke last night, about what Trump actually told Turnbull:

President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”

It’s not unusual for a readout of a presidential phone call to be vague or misleading. Obama’s readouts were vague, too. We have to assume every White House characterization of a private conversation is a false version of events. That’s worth keeping in mind as the Trump administration releases any kind of information: It’s probably inaccurate, or it’s half the story. The steady stream of leaks and FOIAs will help us understand what’s real and what’s spin.

But I have another theory about this one. I don’t think it was a real leak. Less than an hour after the Post published its story, Trump tweeted this:

Obama had agreed to resettle 1,250 refugees in the United States from its offshore prison camps in Nauru and Manus islands, where conditions are unspeakable. (I wrote about Nauru at length last year.) On the phone with Turnbull, Trump called it “the worst deal ever.”

I think—and I have no evidence to support this—that the press office sent out its vague, false readout as is customary, and then Trump or Stephen Bannon, who was in the Oval Office during the phone call, ordered details of the conversation to be leaked. Then, instead of denying the content of the reports, Trump gave them a boost with his “dumb deal” tweet. By leaking select quotes from Trump’s childish bullying of Turnbull, the White House could soften the diplomatic crisis and still put Australia on notice, while turning far-right Americans against the resettlement.

If I’m wrong about this, we’re still left with the clear difference between the readout and the leaked quotes. It’s best not to take anything this administration says at face value.

Updated 10:54 p.m. Feb. 2, 2017, for clarity

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