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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

As 'highest authority,' Trump gives the lowest-quality information

An aerial view of the port of Beirut

An aerial view of the port of Beirut on Friday shows the remnants of Tuesday's explosion at a warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored since 2013. Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Days after a massive explosion ripped through the main port in Beirut, Lebanon, the cause remained unknown. The No. 2 forensic police official of France, which sent investigators, said Friday the disaster appeared to be an accident but that it was too early to know. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said it was either negligence or “external intervention” that blew up a massive storage site for ammonium nitrate, costing hundreds of lives.

Three days earlier, in the immediate wake of the explosion, President Donald Trump acted as if he had the case nearly locked up. Trump called it a “terrible attack” and said "U.S. generals" told him it was likely caused by a bomb. “They seem to think it was an attack,” Trump said. “It was a bomb of some kind, yes.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the next day that most people believed the explosion “was an accident, as reported.” In theory, the word from the top is supposed to be the most cautious and reliable, the "highest authority." Not this time.

Trump sounded defensive when asked again about his characterization of the blast. “How can you say accident if somebody left some terrible explosive-type devices and things around perhaps — perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was an attack,” he told reporters. “I don’t think anybody can say right now."

Since taking office, Trump has transformed himself from a celebrity who fed self-serving items to gossip pages under a false name into the nation's most widely-quoted unreliable source.

Conspiracy stories, snap conclusions and crackpot theories have famously suffused his official accounts of the coronavirus pandemic, the electoral system and more.

Many times his closest advisers can't back up these reports which, taken together, read like delirious headlines in a supermarket tabloid.

Imagine glancing at this screaming front-pager while waiting on the checkout line: "Biden is the anti-Christ!"

Silly? Well, it would jibe nicely with the president's bizarre slam from Thursday against his opponent as being "against" God and the Bible. For all anyone knows, Joe Biden might just be more religiously and emotionally grounded than the incumbent.

Let's just say Trump's diagnosis of the Democrat's religious practices carries the usual dose of speculation.

Later Thursday, at a Whirlpool washing machine plant in Ohio, Trump reprised an official falsehood he's been declaring for more than a month — that he called in the National Guard to quell rioting in Minneapolis. In fact, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the Guard on May 28, more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to do so himself. But why let the facts ruin a screeching "exclusive?"

Not a full 24-hour news cycle had passed before the collapse of another of Trump's official statements. He'd insisted that U.S. intelligence reports about Russia paying Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan were unfounded. But it was revealed Friday that a "livid" Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned a Russian official against the practice in a July 13 phone call.

Given the president's own propensity for peddling fake news, it should come as no surprise that one of his defining scandals involved the National Enquirer tabloid, with which he'd been in sync.

In late 2018, the Manhattan district attorney revealed that the Enquirer's publisher coordinated with Trump's campaign to pay a Playboy model $150,000 in hush money about a sexual affair with Trump.

Too bad they passed on printing the model Karen MacDougal's story. It might have fared better than its dozens of now-forgotten fabrications about Hillary Clinton ordering "hits," heading for jail, delivering payoff money and suffering fatal diseases.

By all reliable accounts, Clinton is still alive, apparently well, and walking around free. The highest authorities in the land probably can confirm that if they wish.

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