State Dept: Ambassadors Event Was To Preview SOTU, Not Contain Trump Fallout

on January 18, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia.
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect a correction on a report from Foreign Policy, on which it was originally based, and additional reporting by TPM.

Ambassadors from African nations left a diplomatic event earlier this week disappointed that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway did not address reported comments from President Donald Trump that those nations, Haiti and El Salvador were “shitholes,” Foreign Policy reported Wednesday, based on unnamed sources who attended the event.

However, the outlet’s original report indicated the event had been held in order to contain the fallout from those reported remarks. When Conway spoke about Trump’s achievements in office rather than his comments about African countries, the original report said, the participants were “confused and bewildered.”

The event was not an effort to contain the fallout from Trump’s remarks about African nations, a State Department official told TPM Wednesday, but rather a preview of his State of the Union address.

A correction on Foreign Policy’s report reads: “The original version of this article said that the purpose of the meeting was to address diplomatic concerns of African ambassadors, and described it as a botched effort; it was not. FP regrets the errors.”

The State Department initially referred TPM to the White House for comment on the story Wednesday. The White House initially did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Sean Lawler, the State Department’s chief of protocol and the organizer of the event, told TPM by phone Wednesday that he’d received 120 RSVPs for the event, and that representatives of 100 countries ultimately attended. The purpose of the event was to preview the State of the Union address, he said.

Attendees were asked to submit questions for Conway, who had been invited to attend, and Conway picked five to answer, Lawler said. There were no questions about “alleged comments by the President,” he told TPM, and Conway left after answering the five questions she’d picked.

The Foreign Policy report also included a letter from Trump to the African Union on the occasion of its 30th summit last week.

“The United States profoundly respects the partnerships and values we share with the African Union, member states, and citizens across the continent,” Trump wrote in the letter. “I want to underscore that the United States deeply respects the people of Africa, and my commitment to strong and respectful relationships with African states as sovereign nations is firm.”

The Washington Post first reported on Jan. 12 that, in a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy, Trump questioned why the United States should welcome immigrants from “shithole countries” including unnamed African nations, Haiti and El Salvador.

Foreign Policy noted the Post report caused a “diplomatic firestorm” that included several African nations summoning top American diplomats to answer for the remark.