The persistent Donald Trump has failed to convince media fact-checkers that he opposed the Iraq War before it started. Such visionary opposition to a disastrous invasion was a central plank of Trump’s Republican primary campaign — a way to distinguish himself from the Republican crowd. “I said it loud and clear, ‘You’ll destabilize the Middle East,’” Trump said at a February 2016 primary debate.
Oh no he didn’t, says FactCheck.org, the Post Fact Checker, BuzzFeed and just about anyone else who has examined the record. In fact, he supported the invasion. In a September 2002 interview with Howard Stern, Trump was asked if he was in favor of the move. “Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
Pressed on this contradiction, Trump has cited an Esquire story that came out in 2004 and just generally blustered his way through the lack of corroboration for his contentions. No one has bought it.
Yesterday, in a chat with Howard Kurtz on the Fox News program “Media Buzz,” Trump introduced a wrinkle in his Iraq War defense. “I spoke to other people and if you look also … Speak to Sean Hannity, who’s a terrific guy by the way, speak to him, and he and I used to have arguments about the Iraq War,” said Trump. “As, you know, Sean wanted — he believed in the Iraq War and, you know, that’s — that’s what his belief was. We used to have arguments about it, big arguments, and you could speak to Sean and that was before the war started.”
The platoons of journalists who’ve examined this question have never excavated a corroborating transcript from the “Hannity & Colmes” show (its name before the Alan Colmes left the show in early 2009). So did Trump stake out this anti-Iraq-War position in private discussions with Hannity? We’ve asked the Trump campaign about that and are awaiting an answer. We’ve also asked Fox News about any input from Hannity himself:
@seanhannity Donald Trump said he had “big arguments” with you about the Iraq war, in which he opposed it b4 it happened. That true?
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) September 19, 2016
If Trump really said such things to Hannity, it’s a wonder that he waited this long to make the claim. In February, Anderson Cooper of CNN pressed Trump on BuzzFeed’s revelation that he’d expressed mild support for the war in the Howard Stern interview. “I could have said that,” responded Trump. “It was probably first time anybody asked me that question. By the time the war started … I was against the war and there are articles, I mean there are headlines in 2003, 2004, that I was totally against the war. And actually a couple of people in your world, in terms of the pundits, said, ‘You know, ‘There’s definite proof in 2003, 2004 Trump was against it.’”
No mention of Hannity, who now finds himself in quite a spot. As the media’s No. 1 cheerleader for Trump, he has to explain one of two things: 1) That, yes, Trump indeed expressed such opposition, but Hannity didn’t feel that was newsworthy over these many months; or 2) that Trump, in fact, never expressed such opposition. Should be interesting.