Jan 6, 2019

Inside Trump’s fake news recidivism

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

With the departure of White House chief of staff John Kelly, the misinformation emanating from President Trump has only escalated.

What's happening: Alumni of this White House see a possible reason. Although Kelly was thwarted in many of his efforts to control the president, one place he made authentic inroads was clamping down on the paper flow to the Oval Office. "Anyone who circumvented that process was going to have a serious problem," said a former official who saw the transformation up close.

"It has devolved into anarchy," added another alumnus of Trump's White House.

  • "Someone mentioned to me a few days ago it's like the old [pre-Kelly] days of the administration, just with less people," this former official continued.
  • "The wild, wild west. ... At least during the early days, he had a bit of a buffer with Hope [Hicks] and [longtime bodyguard] Keith [Schiller] there."

Wednesday was Kelly's last formal day in the White House, but his influence had declined since he announced his departure on Dec. 8.

Since then, Trump has made several unusually specific factual assertions that were quickly shown to be inaccurate, suggesting more unvetted information may be reaching him than had been the case in the heyday of Kelly's control:

  • Arguably the most notable one: During Wednesday's devil-may-care, 95-minute Cabinet meeting, Trump said that back in 1979, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan "because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there." A Wall Street Journal editorial scolded: "We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President."
  • Walls as a weapon: Trump tweeted last Sunday: "President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound." The WashPost reported: "Obamas' neighbors [said] there is no such wall. The 8,200-square-foot structure, despite several security features, is completely visible from the street."
  • At the Cabinet meeting, Trump said: "[T]he Vatican has the biggest wall of them all." Dan Scavino, Trump's director of social media, had tweeted during the campaign: "Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls." The NY Times reports: "Vatican City has walls, but they do not enclose the entire territory and visitors can easily enter some parts."
  • Also during the Cabinet meeting, per the NY Times, "Trump mocked India for doing no more in Afghanistan than building a library, which generated ... head scratching [in New Delhi] because, according to Indian news media, the country has not built a library in Afghanistan in many years."
  • And then there's the president's depiction of how tariffs work. "China is paying us tremendous tariffs. We’re getting billions and billions of dollars of money pouring into the Treasury," he said Friday at a Rose Garden news conference. The NY Times points out: "The United States does not send China a bill for the cost of tariffs, which are often passed on to American importers or consumers."

Be smart: The WashPost called the Cabinet meeting "a fact-checking nightmare."

  • Better rest up: The president believes he pays no price for escalating inaccuracies, even ones that have been repeatedly debunked. ("Bottomless Pinocchios," the WashPost Fact Checker calls them.)
  • With most of his human guardrails gone, the unvetted language of Trump's rallies is once again a staple of his governing.

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