Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that she does not recall President Donald Trump’s reported description of Haiti, El Salvador, and nations in Africa as “shithole countries” in a meeting at the Oval Office on Wednesday. The Washington Post initially reported the remarks, and NBC News confirmed the account.
Nielsen, who was in the room during the meeting, said she just can’t seem to remember it happening. “I don’t recall him saying that exact phrase,” she said. “I think he has been clear, and I think undoubtedly the president will continue to use strong language when it comes to this issue, because he feels very passionate about it.”
Wallace, dissatisfied with Nielsen’s response, pushed back. “I’m just going to press back on you once on the subject,” he said. “It seems to me you were in the meeting when the 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.”
Nielsen again hedged. “I understand the question, it was an impassioned conversation, I don’t recall that specific phrase being used,” she said. “That’s all I can say about that.”
DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen was in the room, but says can't recall whether Trump made "shithole countries" remark pic.twitter.com/lLbijwmlep— Axios (@axios) January 14, 2018
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who attended the meeting, has publicly confirmed Trump’s “shithole” remarks, saying that the president did indeed say “these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told the Post and Courier that Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was also there, told him Trump’s reported comments were “basically accurate.”
But others in the room said that they, like Nielsen, had forgotten, or that they remember Trump definitely didn’t say it.
Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), who attended the meeting, said in a joint statement on Friday that they “do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.”
Cotton on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday said he “didn’t hear” Trump’s “shithole” comment and instead took a swipe at Durbin, accusing him of having a “history of misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings.”
And Perdue on ABC’s This Week said has now recovered his recollection of events and Trump never made the disparaging remarks. “I’m telling you he did not use that word, George, and I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation,” he told journalist George Stephanopoulos.
Two sources tell @GeoffRBennett and me POTUS worked the phones, calling friends/allies to gauge reaction to "sh*thole" fallout. One source familiar describes his mood as "belligerent" at fallout/coverage; another says he wanted insight into how his base might react.— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) January 12, 2018
Now that Trump has figured out the “shithole” thing is not a good look, he — and apparently those around him — are in denial.