President Donald Trump at the White House. AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Time magazine’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer, confronted President Donald Trump over his history of making statements without providing evidence, saying in an interview published Thursday that “people in your position in the Oval Office have not said things unless they can verify they are true.”
Scherer pressed the president to explain controversial allegations, most recently his claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, which law-enforcement officials have rebutted.
“There’s other things you said that haven’t panned out,” Scherer said. “The peg for this story is the wiretapping hearing on Monday, in which Comey and Rogers testified about your tweets there,” he added, referring to FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.
Trump argued that he had predicted many events of the past year, including his election victory and Brexit, although in June he appeared to be unfamiliar with Britain’s referendum on its membership in the European Union.
He also dismissed Scherer’s questions about the veracity of the wiretapping claim, made on Twitter, saying he had tweeted the word wiretapping in quotes. Trump also said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters that law-enforcement officials may have “incidentally collected” communications about Trump’s transition team members.
“A lot of information has just been learned, and a lot of information may be learned over the next coming period of time,” Trump said. “We will see what happens. Look. I predicted a lot of things that took a little of bit of time.”
The bureau chief asked Trump whether he employed “disputed” statements as a tactic, saying that “the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further.” He pointed to the president’s unfounded claim that millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election.
“One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election,” Scherer said.
“Well I think I will be proved right about that too,” Trump replied.
“The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9/11 in New Jersey,” Scherer said.
“Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in The Washington Post,” Trump said. The Post said in late 2015 that it could not confirm the claim.
Scherer also asked whether Trump saw any downside in perpetuating claims without providing evidence and whether he regretted implying last year that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“Why do you say that I have to apologize?” Trump said. “I’m just quoting the newspaper, just like I quoted the judge the other day, Judge Napolitano, I quoted Judge Napolitano, just like I quoted Bret Baier, I mean Bret Baier mentioned the word wiretap. Now he can now deny it, or whatever he is doing.”
The president also denied that making disputed claims damaged his credibility, blasting a Wall Street Journal editorial that questioned whether Americans would believe Trump in the event of a national-security crisis.
“Let me just, the hypothetical they started with, you have to announce to the country or to the world that some serious national-security event has happened, and—” Scherer said.
“The country believes me,” Trump said. “I went to Kentucky two nights ago, we had 25,000 people in a massive basketball arena. There wasn’t a seat, they had to send away people. I went to Tennessee four nights ago. We had a packed house, they had to send away thousands of people. You saw that, right. Did you see that?”
The Trump administration’s latest attempts to back up the president’s claims drew international backlash.
Trump last week refused to apologize to the British government after UK officials expressed fury over press secretary Sean Spicer’s claim that Britain’s intelligence agency may have spied on Trump at Obama’s request. The claim was based on an assertion by the Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, whom the cable network reportedly has suspended.
“We said nothing,” Trump said in a press conference last week. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.”