With the gravestones of those who fought for the U.S.-European alliance in World War II behind him, President Trump in a new interview claimed that the head of the modern-day alliance credited him with possibly saving it.
Except Trump appears to have invented the quote out of thin air.
The quote came from an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham conducted this week at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. In it, Trump cites NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“Secretary Stoltenberg has been maybe Trump’s biggest fan, to be honest with you,” Trump said. “He goes around telling — he made a speech the other day. He said, ‘Without Donald Trump, maybe there would be no NATO.’ ”
Stoltenberg appears to have said nothing of the sort. He and other NATO leaders have publicly praised Trump for pressuring other countries to contribute more to fund the alliance, but there is no record of him saying anything about Trump saving NATO.
The White House has not responded to a request for comment. Asked about Trump’s claim, NATO declined to confirm it and instead referred to its online database of Stoltenberg’s speeches and news conferences. Neither the quote nor a close facsimile appears in any of the recent transcripts.
“In these speeches, as well as in his press statements, the secretary general has repeatedly said that he welcomes the continuing U.S. contribution to NATO,” a NATO official said, adding: “The secretary general has commended President Trump for his leadership on defense spending. This is making NATO stronger.”
Asked whether he could directly confirm or deny the comment Trump attributed to Stoltenberg, the official responded, “NATO’s positifon is reflected in the secretary general’s public speeches available in the link I gave you.”
In a visit to Washington in April, Stoltenberg on several occasions did credit Trump, but he did not refer to him having potentially saved NATO.
“NATO allies must spend more on defense; this has been the clear message from President Trump,” Stoltenberg said in a speech to Congress on April 3. “And this message is having a real impact. After years of reducing defense budgets, all allies have stopped the cuts. And all allies have increased their defense spending. Before they were cutting billions. Now they are adding billions.”
Rose Gottemoeller, the American deputy secretary general of NATO, was even more laudatory in comments the same day:
But to get back to your question, is this a Trump moment, NATO? I would say yes. And many of you saw the reporting from the Oval Office yesterday. The secretary general had his meeting with President Trump and also then an extended period with the press. And from the point of view of — of the secretary general and me and the other leaders in NATO headquarters, I think that we feel that President Trump has been an important catalyst to push, especially on the burden-sharing front, but also to push in other areas as well. And so it is a bit of a Trump moment, as a catalyst.
Even if you can somehow compare these comments to what Trump claimed, though, they came more than two months ago — not “the other day,” as Trump claims.
Trump, of course, has a tendency to butcher and hyperbolize other officials’ praise of him. He has claimed that multiple lawmakers called him the greatest president, only to have those lawmakers dispute it. He has also said a State Department official recently called him the greatest hostage negotiator in U.S. history, which the State Department hasn’t confirmed.
This seems to be one of his most egregious examples to date.