As Hurricane Dorian battered the Carolinas with torrential rain and wind Thursday, President Trump remained fixated on sunny Alabama — a state he falsely claimed was in the storm’s crosshairs long after it was in the clear.
For a fourth straight day, Trump’s White House sought to clean up the president’s mistaken warnings to Alabama from Sunday, seeking to defend Trump’s tweets by releasing statements, disseminating alternative hurricane maps and attacking the media.
Trump also took to Twitter again to defend his use of a doctored and outdated hurricane map that looped in Alabama using black marker — the latest iteration in a days-long, administration-wide campaign on the topic.
In effect, Trump was attempting to bend time — claiming that a projection that was several days out of date was accurate at the time he warned Alabama of a dire threat that didn’t exist.
“Just as I said, Alabama was originally projected to be hit,” Trump tweeted Thursday, highlighting week-old maps that showed a low probability of tropical-storm winds in a small corner of Alabama. “The Fake News denies it!”
Trump’s fixation on his erroneous Dorian warnings underscores a long history of defending inaccurate claims — from the crowd size at his inaugural address to false claims of voter fraud in 2016 to fictional “unknown Middle Easterners” streaming across the southern border in migrant caravans.
Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer and executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion, said the Alabama claims underscore the president’s belief that admitting error is a sign of weakness.
“He’s doubling down on the worst sides of his troubled personality — to never admit an error and to continue obsessing about it, and emphasizing it, when it doesn’t serve him well to do so,” he said. “He doesn’t move along because he is incapable of moving along.”
Trump, who canceled a trip to Poland to monitor the storm, was especially sensitive to the criticism he has received for misrepresenting the hurricane’s path, according to current and former officials.
“Always good to be prepared! But the Fake News is only interested in demeaning and belittling,” Trump tweeted Monday, complaining about an ABC News report that highlighted the discrepancy between Trump’s warnings to Alabama and the government’s assurance that the state was not under threat.
“What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!” Trump tweeted Thursday, adding: “I accept the Fake News apologies!”
Trump, who has privately and publicly griped about media coverage during the Group of 7 summit last month, complained extensively to administration officials this week about coverage of the Alabama issue and asked aides to bring him old briefings showing Alabama in the storm’s potential path. Even as the Category 2 hurricane knocked out power and damaged property in the Carolinas on Thursday, Trump was highlighting old maps in an attempt to prove that his original claims about Alabama were accurate.
The White House also released a lengthy statement from Trump’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Rear Adm. Peter Brown, that sought to defend Trump’s statements and his use of days-old maps.
“While speaking to the press on Sunday, September 1, the President addressed Hurricane Dorian and its potential impact on multiple states, including Alabama,” Brown wrote. “The President’s comments were based on that morning’s Hurricane Dorian briefing, which included the possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama.”
It was Trump who used a black Sharpie to mark up an official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map, which he displayed during an Oval Office briefing on Wednesday, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
“No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie,” the official said of the map, which added Alabama into the hurricane’s potential pathway inside the loop of the marker.
Several White House officials argued that media coverage of the Alabama issue has been unfair to Trump, but one senior administration official said that “as long as it’s in the news, he is not going to drop it.”
Trump has recently fixated on minor points of grievance that aides and Republican lawmakers would prefer he avoid, such as former aide Anthony Scaramucci, actress Debra Messing and an Axios story that said he proposed bombing hurricanes to stop their progress.
On Sunday, after a weekend spent at Camp David with afternoons at his Virginia golf course, Trump warned multiple times that Alabama was likely to be hit. But the storm had already turned northward at that point, and models from the National Hurricane Center did not show Alabama at any significant risk.
Twenty minutes after Trump tweeted Sunday that Alabama was among states that would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., tweeted bluntly that was not the case.
“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama,” it said. “The system will remain too far east.”
Just a few minutes later, the president spoke to reporters and again claimed that Alabama was “going to get a piece of it.”
Brown, who joined the White House National Security Council from the Coast Guard, had been assigned to give weekend updates to Trump on the storm.
“We spent two days at Camp David going over a lot of different things having to do with the hurricane,” Trump said of Brown. “The admiral has informed me through all of the different sources that he has — but you can pretty much get it on television, admiral — this is now a Category 5.”
An NSC spokesman did not respond to questions about whether Brown had briefed the president about updated forecasts over the weekend that showed Alabama in the clear.
Brown said in his statement Thursday that he had briefed Trump on the hurricane Sunday morning using forecasts from the National Hurricane Center that showed a remote possibility of tropical-storm winds in a southeast corner of Alabama. He said he also briefed Trump using other meteorological models.
“These products showed possible storm impacts well outside the official forecast cone,” he wrote.
During a briefing at FEMA headquarters on Sunday afternoon, Trump acknowledged governors who had dialed in from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. He then turned to a state that wasn’t represented on the line.
“It may get a little piece of a great place: It’s called Alabama,” Trump said. “And Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that, it could be. This just came up, unfortunately. It’s the size of the storm that we’re talking about. So, for Alabama, just please be careful also.”
Maps tweeted out by Trump on Thursday showed part of southeastern Alabama with a 5 to 20 percent chance of tropical-storm-force winds — a week-old forecast that was long out of date by the time the president tweeted out his warnings to the state Sunday.
Trump claimed Wednesday that Alabama had faced a 95 percent chance of a direct hit, a claim not borne out by meteorological models.
Some Democrats criticized Trump for focusing on the wrong thing during a natural disaster.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, said on CNN Thursday that he felt “sorry for the president.”
“I don’t know if he felt it necessary to pull out a Sharpie and change the map, I don’t know if one of his aides felt they had to do that to protect his ego,” he said. “No matter how you cut it, this is an unbelievably sad state of affairs for our country.”
Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow contributed to this report.