When The White House Can't Be Believed President Trump's order changing policy on separating children from their parents at the border may dampen the outrage factor. But NPR's David Folkenflik says the disbelief factor will endure.
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When The White House Can't Be Believed

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When The White House Can't Be Believed

When The White House Can't Be Believed

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As we've been saying, President Trump has reversed himself, signing an executive order that ends the separation of families at the border. That may quell some of the outrage over his policy, but as NPR's David Folkenflik argues, it's not likely to quell questions about whether White House officials are telling the truth.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: This isn't about spin or splitting hairs or differing opinions. This is a reality check about our expectations of the people who act in our name. On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held a press conference. The White House press corps was relentless.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How is this not specifically child abuse?

FOLKENFLIK: Nielsen didn't back down.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: Those who criticize the enforcement of our laws have offered only one countermeasure - open borders.

FOLKENFLIK: The idea there's only the Trump way or anarchy doesn't have much currency outside the administration and its allies in conservative media. President Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress have said for days he could change the policy (snapping) like that. The president today says he's done so. Back on Monday, his Homeland secretary embarked on a series of insupportable assertions.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NIELSEN: It's not a policy.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, that is a policy. Nielsen herself said there needed to be a break in how presidents Obama and George W. Bush handled people coming across the border. If an intentional shift in how to deal with people seeking asylum is not a policy, what meaning does the word policy have? Then, there was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Are you intending for this to play out as it is playing out? Are you intending for parents to be separated from their children? Are you intending to send a message?

NIELSEN: I find that offensive. No, because why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Perhaps it's deterrence.

NIELSEN: No.

FOLKENFLIK: Call it a deception, an evasion, a technical nicety. NPR will not call it a lie because it cannot gauge Nielsen's intent. I don't speak for the network. I'd say the word lie fits. Regardless, NPR and other news organizations say Nielsen was dead wrong, that there clearly was a policy.

Here's White House chief of staff John Kelly back in May talking with NPR's John Burnett in an interview that made headlines around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOHN KELLY: The laws are the laws, but a big name of the game is deterrence. If...

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: So family separation stands as a pretty tough deterrent.

KELLY: Could be tough deterrent. Would be a tough deterrent.

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly said the same to CNN when considering the policy back in early 2017. So did U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Monday night on Fox News. So why would Secretary Nielsen seek to deceive the public about that? The tone comes from the top, set that first weekend of Trump's presidency with spurious claims of record crowds at his inauguration. It emerged again on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: But can you tell us?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's irrelevant. It's a statement to The New York Times - the phony, failing New York Times.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump was speaking to a clutch of reporters on the White House lawn. He was justifying untrue claims from his lawyers last year, denying that Trump had anything to do with his son Don Jr.'s statements about meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Don Jr.'s statement turned out to be untrue. So were the denials of the president's involvement. Trump doesn't care.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: To clear it up.

TRUMP: That's not a statement to a high tribunal of judges. That's a statement to the phony New York Times.

FOLKENFLIK: So that's what you might well call a double deception - a lie about a lie. I sure would. But what you call it almost doesn't matter. It's that the media and the public register a fundamental fact. Top people speaking for the United States aren't telling the truth, starting with the president. I'm David Folkenflik.

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