At the end of a 24-hour period in which he contradicted his own White House on a vital national security issue, referred to “shithole” countries like Haiti and accused the FBI of plotting to oust him as president, President Trump finished it off with a healthy dose of nonsense.
After it was reported that the president was skipping his planned visit to London because of the protests he would face, Trump offered an alternate — and extremely familiar — explanation: It's President Barack Obama's fault.
Also familiar about the excuse: It was based on Trump's own dubious version of the facts.
Here's what Trump tweeted just before midnight:
Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
Except the embassy move was announced in October 2008 — when Obama was still just a candidate for president. In a release titled “U.S. Takes First Steps Toward Embassy Relocation,” President George W. Bush's State Department on Oct. 2, 2008, said that it had “signed a conditional agreement with the real estate developer Ballymore to acquire a site in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area in Wandsworth for the construction of a new Embassy.”
The release continued: “The existing Embassy building will be offered for sale almost immediately.” If you are giving Trump the extreme benefit of the doubt, you could say that the embassy wasn't technically sold at the time; the decision to relocate had simply been made, and it was put up for sale. “It is still possible that the Embassy will remain at the current location if for whatever reason the site acquisition and acceptable planning consent do not materialize,” the release said.
It would indeed be sold in 2009, when Obama was in office. But the decision to build a new one and the location for it had already been determined by the Bush administration, and it was not contingent on getting a good sale price, but rather on whether the new location would work out. So a large part of what Trump objects to in celebrating the new embassy had been decided not by Obama, but his predecessor.
And even if you set that aside, it's an exceedingly strange excuse. This all happened a long time ago — certainly before the Trump administration planned its Britain trip — but Trump suddenly became aware of the embassy situation and decided he couldn't associate his brand with it? This is also an extremely important ally, and this is the kind of diplomatic snub you wouldn't even pull on one of your most insignificant allies.
The move also led to plenty of derision across the pond. The former leader of Britain's Labour Party, Ed Milliband, tweeted this:
Nope it’s because nobody wanted you to come. And you got the message. https://t.co/9xV7bFZQgL
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) January 12, 2018
Prime Minister Theresa May's office, which previously rebuked Trump for retweeting anti-Muslim videos post by a British fringe group, issued a less-direct but still stern rebuke Friday. “Vauxhall is a vibrant and important part of London and home to many businesses,” the office said, referring to the location of the new embassy.
May's former chief of staff had this to say, urging Trump to visit a gay bar in the area:
1. George W Bush approved the embassy move. 2. The US never owned the Grosvenor Square embassy. 3. Vauxhall is in fact ace. POTUS should pop into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern some time. https://t.co/CE6qKFrRjz
— Nick Timothy (@NickJTimothy) January 12, 2018
All of which is to say, this is not the actual reason Trump is skipping the trip. It can't be. And the fact that Trump can't find a better excuse might be the most shocking thing of all.