Trump administration officials who demanded that they not be named used a false cover story to explain away a bizarre tweet by President Donald Trump on supposed “additional sanctions” against North Korea, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.
The hubbub started with Trump’s tweet on Friday, which inexplicably said he had “ordered the withdrawal” of “additional Sanctions” on North Korea announced by the Treasury Department “today” — even though no such sanctions existed.
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
Some analysts thought Trump was talking about sanctions the Treasury Department had imposed the previous day, Thursday, on two Chinese shipping companies accused of helping North Korea dodge existing sanctions.
For example, The Washington Post reported following Trump’s tweet:
In fact, Trump was referring to a future round of previously unknown sanctions scheduled for the coming days, said administration officials familiar with the matter. The officials declined to specify what those sanctions would entail.
When asked to explain the tweet, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders simply noted that “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
Administration officials said Trump is determined to prevent his more hawkish advisers from undercutting what he considers his biggest foreign policy accomplishment: reducing tensions with North Korea and creating the opportunity for a historic deal.
And NBC News reported:
But late Friday, a U.S. official and a personal familiar with the situation both told NBC News that Trump was talking about a plan to roll out a major new round of sanctions on Pyongyang that he scuttled before it could be publicly announced by his lieutenants. That is, he tweeted that he was killing a sanctions plan the public didn’t know about until he announced he wasn’t acting on it.
Bloomberg reported that no additional sanctions were in the works at the time of Trump’s tweet. The claim otherwise from the administration — which “initially request[ed] no attribution to anyone” — was an attempt, in Bloomberg’s words, “to explain away the move with a statement.”
That means the unnamed “administration officials” claiming otherwise to reporters last week had relayed false information.
Asked about the Bloomberg report, the White House press office would not comment on the record.