Over the weekend, reports emerged that an Iran-backed Yemeni rebel group was responsible for a drone attack on an oil processing facility belonging to Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company. And as is his wont, Trump took to his Twitter account to decry reports that he was willing to meet with Iranian leaders.
Specifically, the president tweeted the following on Sunday:
The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, “No Conditions.” That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)September 15, 2019
Despite this, the media reports in question were, like most reports which Trump calls "fake news”, 100 per cent true.
Last July, President Trump told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to not believe their eyes and ears when it comes to unflattering news stories about him and his administration. "Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” he said, “…What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.”
Unfortunately, those of us who work in DC know that this weaponized term and its usage has very little relation to the truth. In fact, the phenomenon of stories being confirmed after Trump — or one of his spokespeople — denounces them as "fake news" has become so frequent that many White House reporters consider it a surefire sign that a story is accurate.
So it is with the latest developments between the United States and Iran.
Reports of Trump's desire to meet with representatives of the Islamic Republic first appeared in June, when during a trip to Switzerland, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the Trump administration was "prepared to engage in a conversation [with Iran] with no preconditions.”
Later that month, Trump told NBC's Chuck Todd that there would be "no preconditions" to talks with Iran, a sentiment repeated a day later by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley while speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One.
According to White House officials, Trump’s willingness to meet with Iranian leaders had been a source of friction with his then-national security adviser, former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. The simmering tensions between the president and Bolton, a veteran Beltway operator known for his bushy mustache and bellicosity towards Iran, boiled over last week, leading to the latter's sudden departure from the administration last Tuesday.
Trump claims that he fired Bolton over their differences of opinion, though Bolton disputed the president's account of their professional breakup and maintains that he offered to resign the night before Trump announced his departure.
Amid media speculation over whether Bolton's departure could lead the Trump administration to take a less… Bolton-esque policy on Iran, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had a chance to put an end to what Trump would call "fake news" a mere five days later when he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to the White House briefing room on Tuesday.
Instead, Mnuchin told reporters that Trump "is happy to take a meeting [with Iranian President Rouhani] with no preconditions."
Moments later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also failed to disabuse reporters of what both he and Trump had previously announced when he, too, confirmed that Trump "has made very clear he is prepared to meet with no preconditions."
It's unclear whether Trump now declares reports of his willingness to meet with Iran's leaders "fake" because he’s changed his mind, or because he has forgotten what he and members of his administration have said on several occasions.
Several senior White House officials have declined to address the question of what exactly Trump’s Sunday tweet meant, leading this reporter to the disturbing conclusion that, at least in mind of the president of the United States, the "fake news" was perpetrated at the highest levels of his administration.