In a new interview with ABC News, Donald Trump's recollection appears to differ with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s account of their meeting last week when it comes to a key subject: Whether Peña Nieto actually said that Mexico wouldn’t pay for Trump’s proposed border wall.
Trump said at a news conference following the meeting that the two had not discussed Trump’s campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall between the United States and Mexico.
But shortly after the meeting, Peña Nieto’s spokesman clarified and Peña Nieto himself tweeted that he had, in fact, brought up the wall and had told Trump in no uncertain terms that Mexico would not be paying for it.
Perhaps Trump could be forgiven for saying it hadn’t technically been discussed. Maybe Peña Nieto only mentioned it briefly, and that was that.
Now, though, Trump seems to say this didn't happen either. Here's the full exchange from his interview with ABC anchor David Muir, recorded Monday and released Tuesday night.
MUIR: Governor [Pence], you know what the Clinton team will say though — that Mr. Trump has talked often about Mexico paying for that wall and that this campaign returned with Mexico saying, ‘We’re not paying for it.’PENCE: You know, what you have in Donald Trump is not a —TRUMP: By the way, he didn’t say that. He tweeted that long after the meeting was over. He didn’t say that.MUIR: You tweet a lot too, though.TRUMP: I do.MUIR: And we take you at your word.TRUMP: You have 25 million people with Facebook. Why wouldn't I take advantage of something? But the fact is, he didn't say that. He tweeted that after I left.
Muir didn’t press Trump on the issue, and Trump’s comments didn’t get much notice on Tuesday, the day after the Labor Day holiday on which the interview was conducted.
But Trump seems to say pretty clearly that Peña Nieto didn’t say anything about Mexico not paying for the wall — in contrast to what Peña Nieto and his staff said after the meeting.
Trump’s comments Monday also notably contradict what his top backer, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, said about the meeting last week. Giuliani said that Peña Nieto didn’t bring it up at the start of the meeting, but that he mentioned payment for the wall.
“Maybe the president’s staff didn’t brief him on it, maybe the president forgot it, but, I mean, he brought it up. It wasn’t right at the very beginning — it was sort of in the middle of a sentence. And I just briefly said, ‘That’s not on the table.’ And the reality is they have a disagreement over that,” Giuliani said.
For what it’s worth, in the week since the meeting, neither the Trump campaign nor Trump himself appears to have suggested Peña Nieto's account was wrong. Instead, they merely said it wasn’t the time or place — a first meeting — to discuss a sensitive topic.
"Today was the first part of the discussion and a relationship builder between Mr. Trump and President Peña Nieto," Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Aug. 31 in response to Peña Nieto's comments. "It was not a negotiation, and that would have been inappropriate. It is unsurprising that they hold two different views on this issue, and we look forward to continuing the conversation."
The meeting was largely seen as a positive moment for Trump, but the exchange — or lack thereof — over payment for the border wall was a notable and conspicuous omission. As Muir notes and as we wrote at the time, Trump’s decision not to press the issue on one of his signature policy proposals doesn’t exactly speak to his strength as a negotiator or his intention to follow through on it.
Philip Bump and I wrote at the time:
But for a guy whose proposal to have Mexico pay for the wall has largely been dismissed as a ridiculous assertion, not bringing it up in a meeting with the Mexican president will only further that perception.
And Peña Nieto himself had reason to make the case to his voters that the topic of payment for the wall was broached. After all, Trump's plan to force Mexico to pay for the wall involves halting remittances that send billions of dollars from the United States back to Mexico. So Peña Nieto certainly had reason to assure people that it was mentioned.
In the end, Trump's comments from Monday suggest his meeting with Peña Nieto isn’t settled history.