The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump claimed he witnessed Harvey’s devastation ‘first hand.’ The White House basically admits he didn’t.

President Trump has been accused of keeping the focus on him as Texans respond to the record devastation from Hurricane Harvey. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

President Trump clearly and unmistakably exaggerated the “horror and devastation” he witnessed in Texas. The White House's response? To pretend words don't mean what they mean.

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he had seen this horror and devastation “first hand.”

But reporters quickly took issue with that. This is from the Dallas Morning News:

And this is from Agence France-Presse's Andrew Beatty, who traveled with Trump:

A reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about this later Wednesday, and her answer was … something:

He met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster. He talked extensively with the governor, who certainly is right in the midst of every bit of this, as well as the mayors from several of the local towns that were hit hardest. And detailed briefing information throughout the day yesterday talking to a lot of the people on the ground. That certainly is a firsthand account.

No, it's not. That's a *second*hand account — the very definition of one, in fact.

Merriam-Webster defines firsthand as “obtained by, coming from, or being direct personal observation or experience.” Secondhand is defined as “received from or through an intermediary.” Those intermediaries in this case were the state and local officials, the governor, the mayors and the people on the ground. Those people may have been witnessing the devastation firsthand, but passing along that information doesn't make Trump's account firsthand.

In the scheme of things and given Trump's habitual exaggerations, this seems like a rather small point — an easily disprovable assertion made in one tweet. Maybe he doesn't know what the word “firsthand” means?

But Trump's tweet leaves an incorrect assessment of his initial trip to Texas after Hurricane Harvey and his level of direct engagement with the storm's effects. And rather than correct the record and admit the mistake, the White House decided to double down — and try to rewrite the English language.

Update: It turns out Trump's Instagram promoted the "first hand" claim by showing Trump looking at a picture of a radar -- which, again, is not firsthand observation.