Yet in between those tweets, the acting U.S. ambassador to Britain, Lewis Lukens, posted a series of messages with a sharply different tone. After tweets in which Lukens expressed his condolences and support and praised the “response from emergency services, law enforcement & officials in Ldn,” he directly hailed the “strong leadership” of London's mayor.
The contradictory messages — one critical and misleading, the other diplomatic and resolute — are only the latest example of how government officials keep having to play cleanup for Trump's tweet storms, often having to clarify, dial back or even directly counter the president's fire hose of tweets and ad-libbed asides.
Trump's tweets since the attack showcase what by any traditional definition would be an unpresidential response — stoking fear rather than calm, criticizing allied leaders amid a crisis rather than supporting them, making any personal attack amid a horrific terrorism episode. The contradiction between the tweets from Trump and Lukens is also a reminder of the lack of message consistency as well as the double duty that government officials often have to engage in after Trump's latest controversial remark.
It's something that his Cabinet and staffers have repeatedly had to do after Trump's tweets and off-the-cuff remarks. Back in February, The Post ticked through a host of examples from the early weeks of Trump's presidency. After Trump called deporting undocumented immigrants “a military operation,” Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said “no use of military force” would be used in such efforts. U.N. envoy Nikki Haley had to say that the United States “absolutely” supports a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians after Trump said he was open to a one-state solution. And Mike Pence went to Europe to reassure allies he is “fully devoted to our trans-Atlantic union” after he rattled them by saying NATO was obsolete.
More recently, his staffers have had to clarify everything from his views on climate change to what he meant by suggesting President Obama had wiretapped his phones. It all makes for an exhausting job for his staff, The Post's Ashley Parker and Abby Phillip wrote recently, “the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles.”
To have an American president openly criticizing a foreign official in the hours after a terrorism incident — whatever their combative history may be — and his ambassador to that official's nation openly conflicting him sends a mixed signal. Lukens may not be Trump's nominee: He was named acting director before the inauguration of Trump, who has announced that he intends to name New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to the job, though he has not officially nominated him. But for now, Lukens is the top representative to Britain from the United States — and reportedly a respected career diplomat. He and his boss should be speaking with one voice.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the conflicting statements is that what looks like a renegade tweet, even if it was in fact meant to correct the president, is actually fairly unremarkable. Commending the actions of an official in an allied country during a crisis is straight out of the diplomatic script. Yet set against a president's misleading attacks, the statement appears rogue — rather than the measured, simply worded, forward-looking message of support that it is.