CNN  — 

On Wednesday night, Trump reelection campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. It was, uh, contentious. But one part of the back-and-forth between the two really – and I mean really – stood out. Here it is:

CUOMO: You don’t think this President has lied to the American people?

MCENANY: Let me finish, Chris.


MCENANY: No, I don’t think the President has lied.

CUOMO: –have to answer that question, first.

MCENANY: I don’t think the President has lied.

CUOMO: He has never lied to the American people?

MCENANY: No, I don’t think the President has lied.

That exchange comes hard on the heels of a Washington Post interview with White House communications director Stephanie Grisham in which she said this of President Donald Trump’s lies:

“I don’t think they’re lies. … I think the President communicates in a way that some people, especially the media, aren’t necessarily comfortable with. A lot of times they take him so literally. I know people will roll their eyes if I say he was just kidding or was speaking in hypotheticals, but sometimes he is. What I’ve learned about him is that he loves this country and he’s not going to lie to this country.”

So. Here we are. Or, here we are again. After all, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway made this same argument in the earliest days of Trump’s presidency, when she told NBC’s Chuck Todd this about the false claim that Trump’s inauguration drew the largest crowd ever: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving – Sean Spicer, our press secretary – gave alternative facts.”

Make no mistake about what is happening here. This is lying about lying. Plain and simple.

Let me prove that – anecdotally and with bigger data.

First, an example from just the last few days. During a press conference at the G7 on Monday, Trump was asked about his previous claim that there were phone calls being exchanged by top-level US and Chinese aides over a possible end to the trade war. Here’s how he responded:

“You’ve had many calls over the last 24 hours but certainly over the last 48 hours. We’ve had many calls, not just one. This isn’t one. And these are high-level calls. They want to make a deal.”

Except, it turns out that wasn’t true. Here’s CNN’s White House team on the phone call claims:

“Though Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted there had been ‘communication,’ aides privately conceded the phone calls Trump described didn’t happen they way he said they did.

“Instead, two officials said Trump was eager to project optimism that might boost markets, and conflated comments from China’s vice premier with direct communication from the Chinese.”

So, the Chinese vice premier said in a statement that he hoped they could find a way to have a “calm” negotiation, and Trump turned that into “many … high level calls.” So, that’s a lie.

Now, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. CNN’s own Daniel Dale reported Wednesday that Trump made 48 false claims in the past six days alone – including almost two dozen about the economy. Step even further back and the picture is even clearer. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog counted more than 12,000 false or misleading statements from Trump in his first 928 days in office, an average of 13 inaccurate claims a day.

The simple fact is that Trump – in his presidency and in his life before politics – has never put any value in facts or truth. Trump is far more interested in creating the reality he prefers – whether or not that comports with established facts. Let’s remember that this is a man who impersonated a non-existent staffer in the Trump organization – John Barron! – to chat up gossip tabloids in New York City about his own love life.

That willingness to say whatever serves his interests at the moment trickles down. In his businesses. And in the White House. If the boss has no qualms about lying, then why would anyone underneath him worry about it?

In fact, Trump’s behavior actually disincentivizes telling the truth. Because he lives in a fantasy world of his own creation, anyone unwilling to play along in that world is castigated, dismissed as insufficiently loyal to him and the broader administration. Lying to support Trump’s lies, then, is a survival technique.

Which doesn’t excuse it. There is NO way that McEnany, Grisham or Conway truly believe that Trump never lies. The evidence is simply overwhelming. But like Spicer and Sarah Sanders and so many other Trump surrogates that have come before them, they are choosing adherence to the President over adherence to the truth. Their unwillingness to acknowledge that Trump is a serial prevaricator – or to, at a minimum, avoid strongly defending the idea that he never lies, ever, is complicity in those lies.

Trump’s assault on truth – and the very idea that capital “F” facts exist – will linger in politics (and our culture) long after he and those who serve him are gone. And that is a very, very bad thing.