WASHINGTON (POLITICO.com) – White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied on Wednesday that President Donald Trump made up a conversation he said he had in a phone call with the head of the Boy Scouts about his July 24 speech at the group’s national jamboree.
Trump’s meandering, politically charged speech to the Boy Scouts last month was widely panned as inappropriate, but the president told the Wall Street Journal in an interview last week that he “got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them.” POLITICO published the transcript of that interview Tuesday.
The Boy Scouts of America, however, apologized to its members after the speech and then said Wednesday that the organization was not aware of any calls between its leaders and Trump.
Sanders said Wednesday that the president had had “direct conversations” with Boy Scouts leaders but “not actual phone calls” with the group.
“I wouldn’t say it was a lie,” Sanders told reporters at the daily briefing, after one journalist asked if the president had lied by describing the conversation as a phone call. “That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place. They just simply didn’t take place over a phone call…He had them in person.”
“Multiple members of the Boy Scout leadership following his speech there that day congratulated him, praised him and offered…quite powerful compliments following his speech, and those were what those references were about,” Sanders said.
She gave a similar explanation about a phone call Trump said Monday he’d had with the president of Mexico about the United States’ border policies. Mexico said the call never happened. Sanders said Trump was actually referring to a conversation the two leaders had at the G20 summit in Germany last month.
President Randall Stephenson and Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh are the Scouts’ top leaders, but neither has disclosed any communication with Trump or his administration.
Surbaugh wrote an apology letter to members after Trump’s speech distancing the Scouts from Trump. He noted that inviting presidents to the celebration is a long-standing Scout tradition and urged the Scouts to look past the divisive moment and toward emulating Scout values.
“While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of scouting remains the same today as every day,” Surbaugh wrote on July 27.