On October 3, during a White House lawn press gaggle, Donald Trump told reporters that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no problem with his phone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. “He said, ‘That was the most innocent phone call that I’ve read’,” Trump said.
On Tuesday, McConnell denied that. Not only did the Kentucky Republican not praise the phone call, but he’s never even spoken to Trump it, he said. “We’ve not had any conversations on that subject,” McConnell told reporters. Asked if that meant Trump was lying, McConnell said, “You’d have to ask him. I don’t recall any conversations with the president about that.”
Trump’s apparent fabrication of McConnell’s quote is part of an increasingly common pattern in which he passes along praise from a third party that’s impossible to source and then gets called on it, typically by reporters and occasionally by the person who supposedly uttered the compliment. It’s a departure from Trump’s long-held habit of inventing quotes and attributing them to unnamed “anonymous validators,” or making up quotes that purportedly came from his political opponents. And it comes at what would seem to be a bad time for this type of dishonesty, as he and the rest of the GOP accuse Adam Schiff of making up quotes himself.
McConnell’s not the only Republican senator that Trump seems to have falsely quoted regarding his call with Zelensky. Earlier this month, he said he heard Florida senator Rick Scott make a comment very similar to the one he later attributed to McConnell. “That was a perfect conversation. How can they impeach him on that conversation?” Trump said Scott said. But there’s no evidence Scott said the call was “perfect,” and that’s not a surprise. Trump is the only person who talks that way.
Also this month, Trump tweeted a quote that he said came from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, whom he first called Mark Esperanto. “The ceasefire is holding up very nicely,” Trump tweeted, quoting Esper. “There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with Kurds. U.S. soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zone. We have secured the Oil.”
Two journalists who were traveling abroad with Esper at the time reported that the secretary had said nothing of the sort. The Times, in an attempt to figure out where the quote came from, determined that “it might have been a recounting — if not an entirely faithful one — of public comments.”
There’s more. Back in June, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy was the victim of a fabricated Trump quote. According to a Trump tweet, McCarthy said, “House Republicans support the President on Tariffs with Mexico all the way, & that makes any measure the President takes on the Border totally Veto proof. Why wouldn’t you as Republicans support him when that will allow our President to make a better deal.”
When Politico asked McCarthy’s office about the quote, his staff pointed reporters to an interview on Fox News in which McCarthy didn’t say what Trump claimed.
At this point in the Trump presidency, it’s no longer remarkable that he’s making up quotes. But it is notable that he has to make up quotes from allies, the type of people that he was previously able to rely on for actual, verifiable praise. It’s also notable that Trump continues fabricating quotes out of thin air while he and much of the GOP accuses Schiff of doing the same, even if that’s not what Schiff did.