The recording exists. And it completely and utterly contradicts Trump's claim.
The Sun — which, by the way, is owned by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch — had already posted lengthy audio clips of Trump's comments, and they clearly feature him saying:
- “I actually told Theresa May how to do [Brexit], but she didn't agree. She didn't listen to me.”
- “I would say she actually went the opposite way. . . . But it's too bad what's going on.”
- “I think the [European Union trade] deal she is striking is not the one people voted on, exactly. It's a much different deal than people voted on. It was not the deal that was in the referendum.”
- “But it will definitely affect trade with the United States, unfortunately in a negative way.”
Trump's denial Friday echoed what the White House said late Thursday, when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered this: “The president likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with the Sun, she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her,' " Sanders said.
But note that Sanders quoted Trump while asserting that he “never said anything bad about her.” This is what White House spokespeople do when a statement they're tasked to deliver is ridiculous and they'd rather attribute it to Trump rather than sacrifice their own credibility.
But then Trump made the ridiculous claim himself, again.
It seems likely that Trump's complaint will focus on two words that appear inside quotation marks in the tabloid's headline — the idea that May “wrecked it,” referring to Brexit. Those words appear neither in a quote in the story nor in the audio clips posted. If Trump said it, it's not clear when or where.
But the other quotes listed above are completely and unmistakably critical of May. The context is one of May fighting to keep her hold on power, with Brexit-related officials like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigning. With that as the backdrop, Trump is asserting that May didn't listen to his (good) advice. He is also suggesting that she ruined relations with the United States by pursuing a trade deal with the European Union. He says the things she is doing are not the things the British people voted for.
There is no way to characterize that except as criticism — and rather harsh criticism, at that.
Update: The Sun issues a statement ... defending Trump.