Shades of James Comey? In a joint presser with Theresa May, Donald Trump pushed back on reports that he had insulted May by criticizing her in an interview with The Sun. “I didn’t criticize the Prime Minister,” Trump replied, calling the story “generally fine” at first but then applying the epithet “fake news” for leaving out the praise Trump says he expressed for May.
“Fortunately,” Trump added, “we tend to record stories now, so we have it for your enjoyment … we record when we deal with reporters.” Release the tapes! If there are any, of course:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 13, 2018
We went through this with James Comey last year, and it came a cropper. Trump tweeted out after firing Comey that Comey had better hope that they didn’t tape his White House conversations, suggesting that Comey lied about the content of their conversations. In the end, it turned out that no such tapes existed, and Trump had to climb down from his bluff when Democrats on congressional committees began demanding subpoenas to get the recordings.
It’s not that independently recording interviews would necessarily be a bad idea, but given Trump’s extemporaneous rhetoric and lack of discipline, it might be better to leave things as ambiguous as possible. In this case, though, Trump doesn’t actually deny that he criticized May, but just that the Sun didn’t include his otherwise supportive statements to go along with them. And by the way, the Sun has already produced the audio of the Trump comments they reported, although perhaps they might decide to release the whole thing.
Trump felt bad enough that he apologized to May this morning for the embarrassment — a rare event for Trump — but May shrugged it off with “it’s only the press.” However, Trump returned to the same point he raised in the Sun interview, noting that May didn’t take his advice because it was “too harsh,” but that she might still get “tough” later on Brexit:
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) July 13, 2018
Ahem. Not sure that helps with the “fake news” allegation, but Trump also endorsed May’s judgment on Brexit. No matter what she decides, Trump says, she has his support:
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 13, 2018
At least we got all this on tape. This time.
All of this, however, misses one important point. As the reporter notes in the first clip, Trump might have embarrassed May with his comments on bilateral trade talks with the UK and Brexit, but he’s also correct about them. May emphasized that he and May will still work on an “ambitious US-UK free trade agreement” that will fit within the Chequers compromise, but the mechanism for that seems as ambiguous as the compromise’s prospects with the EU. Unless the UK and EU come to terms on a soft Irish border, Brexit will either have to be hard or postponed indefinitely. Only one of those allows for bilateral trade agreements with the UK, and the other potentially sets fire to Northern Ireland all over again. It’s a mess, and that’s not Donald Trump’s fault.