The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trump administration changed its story on family separation no fewer than 14 times before ending the policy

The Trump administration changed its story on immigrant family separation no fewer than 14 times in one week. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

First it was a deterrent. Then it wasn’t.

It was a new Justice Department policy. Then it wasn’t.

The Trump administration was simply following the law. Then it said separations weren’t required by law.

It could not be reversed by executive order. Then it was.

President Trump’s political gambit to force an immigration bill through Congress backfired Wednesday amid a series of wildly contradictory statements — which you can see for yourself in the video above — from a White House that has been without a communications director since Hope Hicks left in March.

As outrage grew over Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on migrant family separations, White House officials could not even agree on what was happening at the southern border.

“This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday.

On Tuesday, Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said it was indeed a policy.

“This is not a policy that people are excited about,” he said.

When a reporter asked Nielsen on Monday whether the policy was being used as a deterrent, she called the question “offensive.”

Hours later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham that yes, the policy was meant to send a “message” to immigrants crossing the border illegally.

For days, Trump, Sessions and Nielsen insisted that family separation was required by law. Then White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN that “nobody said” the law mandated family separation.

When asked about the policy in May, Nielsen testified there was “training information” for officials tasked with separating families. Then in June, Manuel Padilla Jr., Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley, told reporters that no “separation process” existed.

In blaming Congress for White House policy Tuesday, Short said a shortage of congressional funding for additional immigration judges was causing the overflow at detention facilities. Two hours later, Trump said: “I don't want judges. I want border security.”

Trump threatened that he would not sign a “moderate” House Republican immigration bill Friday. Hours later, the White House said Trump did, in fact, support the “moderate” bill.

And when reporters asked Trump on Friday why he would not reverse his two-month-old policy via executive order, Trump shot back, “You can’t do it through an executive order.”

Five days later, Trump contradicted himself again.