Trump’s Iraq ‘Lie’ Literally Hinges On The Phrase ‘I Guess So’

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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Hillary Clinton once again accused Donald Trump of lying about his early opposition to the Iraq War in the debate Monday, reiterating a dubious charge that hinges entirely on a brief interview with Howard Stern in 2002.

“I hope the fact checkers are turning up the volume and really working hard,” Clinton said in response to an attack from Trump on her foreign policy judgement. “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.”

“That is absolutely proved over and over again,” she added.

“Wrong,” Trump replied, maintaining he never supported the war.

An army of fact checkers has indeed repeatedly and loudly deemed Trump a liar on this point, and they quickly responded to the debate with another round of headlines.

“Trump [again] says he opposed the Iraq war,” Politico fact checkers wrote. “That’s still false.” Politifact re-upped its version of the piece, as did The Washington Post, which has given the statement four Pinocchios.

But the facts of Trump’s position aren’t as clear cut as these headlines would suggest. All of them hinge entirely on a brief interview Trump gave with Howard Stern in 2002, before the war began, in which Stern asked Trump whether he supported the war. Trump replied: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Trump’s answer, the verbal equivalent of a shrug, is one he now says was given “very lightly.” It’s the only time he is on record indicating support for the war. He called the initial invasion a “success” from a military standpoint in 2003, but was quoted just days later describing the war as “a mess.” He did go on to speak consistently and publicly against the war, including in an in-depth 2004 Esquire interview about a year into the war.

“Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in,” Trump told Esquire that August. “I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the county? C’mon.”

Trump also cited off the record phone calls with Fox News pundit Sean Hannity before the war in which he vehemently opposed the invasion, which Hannity has confirmed.

Of course the larger implication of Trump’s point — that he was right on the war when Clinton was wrong — is bolstered by the fact that while he was making public statements against the war as a private citizen, then-Sen. Clinton was doubling down on her vote in support of the war.

Some months before Trump gave the Esquire interview, Clinton defended her vote against growing public opposition, saying she did not “regret” giving the president authority to invade. “Obviously, I’ve thought about [the vote] a lot in the months since,” she said. “No, I don’t regret giving the president authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade.”

She went on defending the vote all the way through the 2008 election, when then-Sen. Barack Obama did some serious damage to her campaign over the issue, maybe even costing her the primary. Clinton changed her tune following that loss, saying she “got it wrong” in a book published in 2014, and now openly refers to the vote as a “mistake.”

Trump’s not on the record opposing the war before it began in 2003, but as even Politifact acknowledges, it’s entirely plausible he was in fact privately against it.

“The challenge with Trump’s claim is that we can’t go back in time and get inside his head, so we’ll never know what his private thoughts were,” Lauren Carroll writes. Taken together with Clinton’s long-standing defense of her vote for the war, Trump’s one-off statement and later clear opposition make the charge he’s lying complicated at best and boost his point against Clinton’s judgment.

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