Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, a longtime national security official and former aide to current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, remembers many specific policy details of a controversial Oval Office meeting last Thursday on immigration.
But she claims not to recall the president of the United States calling African nations, Haiti, and El Salvador “shithole countries.” Nor does she remember President Donald Trump saying that the U.S. should “bring more people from countries like Norway,” or asking “Why do we need more Haitians?”
Yet, she says she’s offended that people are calling Trump a racist.
Nielsen spoke during an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, who actually asks real questions. He wasn’t buying it.
“You were in that meeting in the Oval Office, did the president say that?” Wallace asked.
“I don’t recall him saying that exact phrase. I think he has been clear, and I would certainly say undoubtedly, the president will use, continue to use, strong language when it comes to this issue, because he feels very passionate about it,” Nielsen said, before magically regaining her memory to speak at length about specific immigration policy goals that were discussed.
“I don’t understand,” Wallace fired back. “It seems to me, you were in the meeting when these comments were made. I can understand you either saying they were said or they were not said. It is pretty shocking language, and to say, ‘I don’t recall,’ seems implausible.”
“I understand the question,” Nielsen acknowledged. (Well, that’s good.)
“It was an impassioned conversation. I don’t recall that specific phrase being used. That’s all I can say about that,” she added.
Nielsen also said during the interview that she took “offense to allegations that the president is racist.”
As a refresher, the White House had gone over reporter Josh Dawsey’s story about the “shithole” comments in The Washington Post and seemed to have no issue with it at the time. White House staff also did not deny Trump had made the comments.
Later, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who attended the meeting, confirmed Trump’s racist statements. So did Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, who issued a statement on Friday saying:
Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.
Sen. David Perdue, who had issued a joint statement with Sen. Tom Cotton saying, “we do not recall the President saying these comments specifically,” also regained his short–term memory, except in this case, it was to change his story entirely.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Perdue emphatically stated, “I’m telling you he did not use that word, George, and I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation. How many times you want me to say that?”
That leaves four other meeting attendees. Trump tweeted on Friday a sort of non–denial denial, saying, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
The other three lawmakers haven’t commented. (By the way, Axios has a helpful guide to keep track of all of this.)
For his role, Wallace is now being pummeled on social media by Fox viewers for having dared to ask Nielsen and others tough questions.