With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the southeastern United States, one might expect to find the president of those United States huddled with the advisers and experts responsible for coordinating the aid the government will make available to those areas which are in the storm's path.
But such an expectation requires the aforementioned president to agree with his advisers as to the areas in question.
Instead, Donald Trump — a man who delights in defying expectations — has spent the past five days trying to convince the entire world that the list of states under threat from Dorian included Alabama, which he mistakenly mentioned in a Sunday tweet warning to residents of affected states.
Alabama’s inclusion must have come as a surprise for meteorologists at the National Weather Service’s Birmingham, Alabama office, because 20 minutes later, the office’s official Twitter account posted a tweet with precisely the opposite message.
Most presidents would probably admit to making a blunder, but Trump is not most presidents. Instead, he took to Twitter to assail ABC News’ Jonathan Karl for pointing out the obvious mistake.
And despite having declared the story about his fake news “fake news”, Trump still didn’t let it go. On Wednesday, he used the occasion of a briefing on Dorian preparations by Homeland Security officials to once again claim that he, and not the experts of the National Weather Service, had been right about the storm’s path. He even brought his own evidence.
When reporters were called into the Oval Office to witness brief remarks by Trump, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, Trump displayed a National Weather Service map showing Dorian’s projected path…with a twist. The so-called “cone of uncertainty” had been extended to include Alabama by way of a curious pair of lines drawn by a black marker.
To longtime Trump watchers, the black lines were an obvious sign that the president, who is known to be so fond of the Sharpie brand that he commissioned a set of custom-made black-barreled markers branded with his signature and the presidential seal, personally doctored the map.
It was the second time in as many weeks that the Trump administration had tried to fabricate evidence to support what the president wanted.
Just one week before, Justice Department lawyers representing Trump and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham appeared in a Washington, DC courtroom to defend Grisham’s decision to suspend a reporter’s White House press credentials.
That reporter, Playboy’s Brian Karem, had been pulled into a verbal altercation with former Trump advisor (and recent fish oil pitchman) Sebastian Gorka, after the latter took issue with a joke Karem had made following an event in the Kennedy Rose Garden (disclaimer: this reporter witnessed the event in question and submitted a sworn declaration in the case).
In a letter explaining her decision, Stephanie Grisham, who has a history of trying to exclude reporters who vex her employers, alleged that a statement by a Secret Service agent who’d been present indicated that the agent had found Karem’s behavior so disruptive that he’d been forced to intervene.
During last week’s court bearing, Justice Department lawyers alluded to the agent’s statement to support Grisham’s contention that Karem’s conduct warranted suspension of his credentials. But after a judge ordered the White House to provide him with a copy for his review, they had to “respectfully inform” him that no such statement existed.
Fabricating evidence (or implying that evidence exists when it doesn’t) won’t fly in a federal District Court. Only actual evidence matters, and Karem’s attorneys had that in spades. After reviewing that evidence in the form of multiple videotapes, the judge issued an opinion ordering that Grisham restore Karem’s press pass, writing that he “[did] not find the evidence to support the conclusion that a reasonable person would have believed Karem to be genuinely threatening a physical altercation.”
As of this morning, Trump is continuing to argue that his fabricated evidence justifies the mistake he made on Sunday, and until next November he’ll be able to argue his case in the court of public opinion. But with his poll numbers declining in key swing states, he might soon find that American voters, like American judges, are only receptive to evidence that actually exists.
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