The White House line on the 'Access Hollywood' tape just keeps getting blurrier
Posted November 28, 2017 10:34 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Donald Trump hates to say sorry.
He hates it so much that even when he's done it, he's forever looking for ways to relitigate the circumstances that led to the apology.
Witness Trump's newfound interest in the possibility that the "Access Hollywood" tape -- in which he is heard making a series of crude and lewd remarks about women to TV anchor Billy Bush -- might be a fake.
The New York Times first reported over the weekend that Trump has told an aide and a US senator that he has doubts about veracity of the recording, which emerged in the final month of the 2016 campaign.
Then on Monday night, Maggie Haberman, one of the reporters who wrote the original Times story, told CNN that a third person had confirmed to her that Trump was skeptical that the "Access Hollywood" tape was real.
"He's not certain it's his voice" on the tape, Haberman told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Which is weird -- mostly because Trump apologized more than a year ago for the so-called "locker room talk" he displayed in the recording. And he never once raised questions about the authenticity of the tape. Neither did anyone else involved. And, on Monday night, "Access Hollywood" reiterated that the tape was 100% genuine.
All of which makes Trump's reported skepticism very, very odd.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders didn't help clear things up much during her press briefing on Monday afternoon.
"The President addressed this," she said. "This was litigated and certainly answered during the election by the overwhelming support for the President and the fact that he is sitting here in the Oval Office today. He's made his position clear at that time as well as the American people at that time."
Pressed on whether Trump had changed his view on the tape's authenticity, Sanders added: "Like I said, the President hasn't changed his position. I think if there's anything the President questions, it's the media's reporting on that accuracy."
But, wait! It gets even more confusing! Asked what accounts on the tape Trump was citing that were available now but hadn't been reported back in October 2016, Sanders responded: "The ones that are current that he's questioning."
So, um, what now?
I watched this in real time. And I read Sanders' remarks five times. My conclusion (I think) is that what she was sort-of trying to say is that Trump is questioning The New York Times report that he is skeptical about the genuineness of the "Access Hollywood" tape.
But that could be wrong. Because if Trump really had never told an aide (or two) as well as a sitting senator about his conspiracy theory regarding the authenticity of the tape, all Sanders would have to say is something like: "The President never said this. He believed then and believes now the tape was real. He explained himself to the American public at the time and the 2016 election showed that they accepted that explanation."
In other words: It's very, very easy for Sanders -- or Trump -- to rebut this story if it isn't at all accurate. That Sanders spoke in such convoluted terms -- and that Haberman now has a third source saying Trump has expressed his doubts about the tape's authenticity -- suggest that the real answer is more complicated than what can be handled with a simple "no."
This might seem like trivial stuff -- what with the fate of Trump's tax cut plan likely decided this week and the ongoing special counsel probe into Russia's attempts to meddle in the 2016 election.
But, this is the President of the United States we are talking about. If he believes a recording in which he made a series of offensive comments about women is somehow fake -- and is telling people in government about those beliefs -- then we should keep asking what evidence he has to back up that claim and when we can see it.
If Trump doesn't believe the "Access Hollywood" tape is a fake, then we need to hear that too. In a simple, declarative way from the White House.