In an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, President Trump claimed former national security adviser Susan E. Rice broke the law — without saying which law or providing any evidence.

But that's only the second strangest claim he made.

Also in the course of the interview with Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, Trump maintained that Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings had told Trump that he would rank among the best presidents ever.

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”
TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”

There is precisely zero chance this is true. None. Zip. Nada. As journalists, we are trained to be circumspect — to always allow for the possibility of something we don't know to be 100 percent true. It's why journalists don't accuse Trump of lying when he says things that are clearly untrue. But there is just no chance, unless Cummings's whole political career is a lie and he's a secret sleeper agent for Republicans who is really, really playing the long game after 20 years. Flattery is a big part of the game in politics, and you can guarantee all kinds of disingenuous praise is offered in private settings. But, just, no.

The most logical explanation is the one offered by Cummings, a Congressional Black Caucus member from Maryland.

He explained in a statement to The Fix: “During my meeting with the president and on several occasions since then, I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if … if … he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on.”

This is Trump's fabulism in action. He hears a comment like that, lops off the all-important “if” part, and takes it as a compliment. And then he takes that perceived compliment and amplifies it by a factor of about four; “great president” becomes “one of the great presidents in the history of the country.”

The question, as with all of Trump's falsehoods, is whether it's subconscious or deliberate — the “Stupid or Liar” theory. Either he doesn't comprehend what Cummings was saying to him — which is a big problem in a president — or he chooses to completely misrepresent it — which is a big problem in a president.