One of the difficulties in covering the Trump administration, which the media has yet to solve, is that it is breathtakingly mendacious and constantly willing to make up stories out of whole cloth. Here’s an example which got lost amid the Mueller news: outright fabrication about a failed attempt by Trump to unilaterally change policy on North Korean sanctions.
Last Friday Trump tweeted:
It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2019
Later that day, administration officials were offering a gloss on the tweet that seemed at odd with what Trump actually wrote:
Sources say Trump did not withdraw the North Korea sanctions from Thursday, instead he’s canceling a future round of unannounced large scale sanctions expected for next week. It was a major communications failure as a result of his ambiguous tweet
— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) March 22, 2019
Bloomberg now has an excellent report that clarifies what happened:
President Donald Trump last week intended to reverse sanctions imposed on two Chinese shipping companies accused of violating North Korea trade prohibitions — until officials in his administration persuaded him to back off and then devised a misleading explanation of his vague tweet announcing the move.
Trump stunned current and former government officials Friday afternoon with a tweet saying he had “ordered the withdrawal” of “additional large scale sanctions” against North Korea. For hours, officials at the White House and Treasury and State departments wouldn’t explain what he meant….
Later Friday, in the wake of Trump’s tweet, the administration sought to explain away the move with a statement — initially requesting no attribution to anyone — that said the penalties against the Chinese companies hadn’t been reversed but the U.S. wouldn’t pursue additional sanctions against North Korea.
So to sum up: Trump tried to unilaterally change via a tweet a major plank of North Korea policy. This met with a backlash from his own administration, which then backtracked on his policy change by offering a dishonest gloss on his initial tweet.
This little episode is a microcosm for much that is wrong with the Trump White House: a frequent disconnect between the president and his staff which leads to mixed messages (an especially dangerous thing when it involves relations with foreign powers that could easily ignite into war) which is combined with a general indifference to the truth.
The dishonesty of the Trump administration has, of course, wider implications for how we understand other news events, such as the Attorney General’s letter on the Mueller Report.