President Trump claims he has proof that a Democratic congresswoman is lying, but if his proof is anything like the evidence he’s promised to offer for some of his other controversial assertions, the nation will believe it when — or if — it sees it.
The latest controversy follows the deaths of four U.S. soldiers who were ambushed by militants while on patrol in Niger. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., said Tuesday night that Trump, in a condolence call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, remarked that “he knew what he was getting into.” The president’s reported comments, which Wilson said she overheard on a speaker phone in the car with Myeshia Johnson and the fallen soldier’s mother, were widely criticized as insensitive, leading to a Trump retort via tweet Wednesday morning: “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”
Since that tweet, the fallen soldier’s mother confirmed to the Washington Post that Wilson’s account was correct, telling the newspaper, “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.” Will we see Trump’s promised “proof”? Asked for it shortly afterward, the president said, cryptically, “Let her make her statement again and then you’ll find out.” The White House said Wednesday afternoon that while the call was not recorded, chief of staff John Kelly was also on it.
But the president, whose favorite praise is to call something “incredible,” has a history of saying things that are, literally, that. Whether it’s accusations of sexual assault, the birther movement or private conversations with the FBI director, the president has hinted at the existence of, or even promised to provide, evidence that never came to light.
The Comey ‘tapes’
After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May, stories began to leak about their conversations, including one in which the president reportedly asked for a loyalty pledge from Comey. Trump responded by tweeting, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Those “tapes” became a monthlong distraction, as members of both Congress and the media sought clarification whether the White House had indeed recorded conversations between the president and the FBI director, whom he fired over the handling of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. On June 9 — nearly a month after the initial “tapes” tweet — Trump said he’d have something “next week” but that everyone would be disappointed. It took until June 22 for Trump to confirm what everyone assumed by then, that no such tapes existed.
Charges of sexual misconduct
In October 2016, a number of women came forward to accuse Trump of sexual harassment and assault, following the publicizing of the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump boasting he had touched and kissed women without their consent. At his campaign events in the wake of the allegations, the GOP nominee defended himself in a variety of ways, including the assertion that his accusers were not attractive enough for him to have harassed. He also claimed he had proof that “the claims are preposterous, ludicrous and defy truth, common sense and logic” at a Florida rally. “We already have substantial evidence to dispute these lies, and it will be made public in an appropriate way, and at an appropriate time, very soon.”
That rally was on Oct. 13, 2016, and in the year-plus since, the Trump camp has not released any evidence disproving the claims against him. If he has any, it may come to light as a result of a subpoena by one of the accusers seeking “all documents concerning any woman who asserted that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”
Birtherism and wiretaps
Trump has also claimed to have evidence that former President Barack Obama was born outside the United States and wiretapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In 2011, Trump claimed on camera that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to look at the circumstances of Obama’s birth, “and they cannot believe what they’re finding.” Perhaps because the investigators couldn’t believe it, Trump never disclosed what it was they supposedly found. The following year he tweeted that “an ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.” He never provided this supposedly “credible” information, but his leadership in the birther movement helped his popularity with portions of the Republican base that would help fuel his successful run through the GOP primaries.
On Sept. 16, 2016, five and a half years after Obama released the “long form” birth certificate that proved he had been born in Hawaii, Trump said, without apology, that he accepted that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States.”
Once he took the White House, Trump claimed that he had “just found out” Obama had ordered his campaign to be wiretapped. Trump has supported that assertion in part by citing the incidental collection of calls from another investigations. Others have said that the fact that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was wiretapped vindicates the president, but that investigation began in 2014, well before Trump had announced his intention to run for president and Manafort had joined the team. After six months of congressional inquiries and questions from the press yielding no evidence to support the claim, the Justice Department reported in September that it couldn’t find any evidence that Trump Tower had been wiretapped.
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