President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that not only was Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) wrong about his conversation with the widow of a soldier killed in Niger, but also that he had “proof” of it.
Yet some eight hours later, Trump still hasn't produced any proof. And on Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to admit that there was no “proof” after all.
Asked whether the White House had a recording of Trump's call with the widow, Myeshia Johnson, Sanders said it didn't.
Wilson claimed in interviews that Trump crassly told Johnson on the call that her husband, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, “knew what he signed up for.” Wilson also said the widow was dismayed that Trump didn't even seem to know Johnson's name. Johnson's mother confirmed the account to The Washington Post, but Trump disputes it.
While declining to talk about the specifics of their conversation, Sanders said that it was “completely respectful, very sympathetic” and that Trump “expressed . . . condolences.” She also appeared to confirm at least one claim Wilson had made, saying, “Just because the president says ‘your guy’ doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his name.”
While admitting that there was not a recording, Sanders noted that other top officials, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, were on the call. But that's not proof — or anything close to it. The only thing that could be proof would be a recording of the call. Nothing else will allow for any definitive verdict about what was said or the context of it.
This all harks back, of course, to the time when Trump suggested there might be tapes of his White House conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Trump and the White House left open that possibility for weeks — apparently to put pressure on Comey — before revealing that they weren't actually aware of the existence of such tapes.
In that case, Sanders wouldn't say whether there were actually tapes. (Eventually, after six weeks, Trump himself said he didn't know of any such tapes.) In this case, Sanders is nipping that possibility in the bud right away.
Another key difference is last time, Trump didn't directly claim to have tapes; he just suggestively talked about whether they might exist. In this case, he said directly that he had “proof.”
Yet again, the record shows he was bluffing. And it should lead everyone to ask why Trump claimed to have proof that his own spokeswoman says he doesn't.
Correction: This post briefly misidentified the woman confirming Wilson's account as Myeshia Johnson's mother.