In a heated exchange regarding President Trump’s capacity, or incapacity as the case may be, to tell the truth, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and CNN’s Jim Acosta traded barbs today. On the driveway of the North Lawn of the White House, Acosta asked Conway if she could or would promise that President Trump was going to tell the truth during his national address tonight, which is a valid question, given Trump’s track record already in making false claims to drive support for his border wall, and that question appeared to trigger Conway. Conway’s retort was to ask Acosta if he would promise to tell the truth about it, clearly referencing Trump’s frequent “fake news” claims about any critical reports generally and CNN specifically, to which Acosta responded, according to The Hill, “I will, absolutely. I’m not the one with the alternative-facts problem…”.
Acosta again inquired if Trump’s address tonight would pass a fact check, at which point Conway resorted to personal insults, which is often a sign that the person feels they are standing in a losing position, so they resort to personal attacks, which is known as the ad hominem logical fallacy. Conway called Acosta a “smartass”, according to The Hill, and then went on to try to defend herself regarding the widely debunked Trump administration claim that 4,000 would-be terrorists had been apprehended at the southern border last year, when actual statistics show only 12 such apprehensions in a more than one year period during the Trump administration, with the larger number apparently applicable to airports, which of course a border wall would not address. According to The Hill:
Acosta asked Conway on the North Lawn driveway whether she could “promise the president will tell the truth tonight” during a primetime address on his demands for a border wall. “Yes, Jim. And will you promise that you will?“ Conway asked in response.“I will, absolutely. I’m not the one with the alternative-facts problem like you do,” Acosta replied, referencing a quote from Conway from 2017. When Acosta challenged Conway again about whether Trump’s speech could pass a fact check, the White House aide replied, “let me go back to your case because you’re such a smartass most of the time and I know you want this to go viral.” She then defended her response to the White House’s use of a misleading claim that 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were caught last year trying to cross the border to argue for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Only 12 of those were caught at the southern border between October 2017 and 2018, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. “I explained it many times. And don’t you put it back in my face for all the corrections your that network has issued,” she said.
That last bit, where Conway said she had explained it “many times” is not true. Earlier today, according to The Hill, Conway did say that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made an “unfortunate misstatement” when Sanders made the claim on Sunday, but Conway has not made that explanation “many times”. Sanders was also not the only one in the administration to repeat this false claim. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made such claims in a presentation to Congress week, which caused the new Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security committee to call her out for “outright lies” and to ask for a slew of documentation from her in advance of bringing her before the committee for an oversight hearing.
Acosta is certainly not alone in his concerns that President Trump will not stick to the truth in his address to the nation tonight, an address that is clearly political, rather than presidential in nature. Trump will be attempting to drum up support for his border wall, and so far he has used false claims in that effort, apparently in an effort to gain support by increasing people’s fears. There will be a Democratic response afterward by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but not all networks which are airing Trump’s address have thus far committed to airing Pelosi and Schumer afterward. Some have suggested that fact checks should be provided live on screen as Trump speaks or that if Trump veers from the truth, the coverage should end. Evidence does not support that a wall is necessary or effective, evidence does not support that there is a national crisis as Trump describes, which is why Trump resorts to false claims to garner support for his wall, false claims he may use to declare an actual national emergency in order to fund the wall without Congress. If Trump does try to go that national emergency route, a flurry of lawsuits will likely erupt to stop him. Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown caused by Trump’s demand for border wall funding goes on, leaving 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck.