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Trump hangs a funhouse mirror on his wall

President Donald Trump attends a roundtable on immigration

President Donald Trump attends a roundtable on immigration and border security Thursday during his southern border visit to McAllen, Texas. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

Falsehoods know no barrier

What's not as hard as concrete or "steel slats"? Try fact-checking Trump's new claim that he never said Mexico was going to pay directly for a border wall. It's not hard at all.

On his way to visit a Texas border town Thursday, Trump told reporters: "Obviously I never said this and I never meant they're going to write out a check.” But he did. He even put it in writing. A statement to The Washington Post in March 2016 said he would force Mexico to make “a one-time payment of $5-10 billion” by threatening to block money transfers sent home by Mexican nationals in the U.S. Didn't happen.

His latter-day claim that Mexico will somehow, eventually pay rests on the fuzzy math and logic that a reworked but unratified trade deal with Mexico will generate those dollars, though dollars from any economic gains would migrate to companies and individuals, not the Treasury.

Which brings us to where we are now. Trump wants the money from Congress. He can't get it without help from Democrats, who say no. Trump says he won't sign any more spending bills without wall money. The partial government shutdown becomes three weeks old on Friday. That will be a missed payday for 800,000 federal workers.

Trump announced via Twitter that he was canceling a planned trip to the Jan. 22-24 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, "because of the Democrats intransigence," sending a signal he was prepared to let the shutdown go for two more weeks, or longer.

Neither side has showed any sign of backing down since Trump walked out of a White House meeting with top congressional leaders Wednesday. The president shot down an effort by some Senate Republicans to halt the shutdown while congressional committees sorted out a border plan. "I don't see a way forward," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), urging Trump to declare a national emergency and get his wall that way.

Trump charged it's the not the wall that Democrats oppose the most — it's him. He tweeted that they "don’t want to give 'Trump' another one of many wins!" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi countered: "I think he loves the distraction that this is from his other problems . . . I don’t even know if the president wants the wall." For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

See-through, saw-through

Trump has touted a barrier that would be strong, tall and beautiful. But impenetrable and invincible? Don't look for that in the warranty.

NBC News obtained a photo from a Homeland Security department that showed a prototype's steel posts sawed through after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to breach the barriers with common tools.

Asked about the report, Trump said incorrectly that the pictured prototype "was designed by previous administrations." However, he continued: “There’s nothing that can't be penetrated, but you fix it, but it’s a very difficult thing to do.” Even his original idea — a concrete wall — wouldn't be invulnerable. Trump himself mentioned one of several methods to put holes in it." There’s acid that can go through concrete, but what you do is you fix it,” he said.

On his visit to McAllen, Texas, the border patrol agent in charge showed Trump an image of a tunnel that had been dug under a wall.

A definite emergency, probably

Trump seemed to be leaning more strongly toward declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress and build the wall, but he left himself wiggle room.

"If I have to, I will. I have no doubt about it, I will,” Trump said, adding that “if this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it, I would almost say definitely."

A court challenge is certain, and Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez writes that lawmakers and legal experts are divided on who would win that battle.

Trump would still have to find the money somewhere. CNN and The Wall Street Journal reported officials are considering diverting Army Corps of Engineers funds that have been earmarked, but not yet spent, for disaster-recovery projects in Puerto Rico, Texas, California, Florida and elsewhere.

Janison: Everything to fear

To "make America great," one of Trump's go-to techniques is to make Americans afraid, notes Newsday's Dan Janison. A lurid picture of violent migrant hordes is at the center of his case to shut down the government until he gets the wall: "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” he asks.

In August he said that if Democrats won the November midterms, they “will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently." In the real world, that hasn't happened.

With adversaries, too, Trump plays the scare card. Before he met with North Korea's Kim Jong Un and "fell in love," Trump threatened to unleash "fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before” on that country. Neither approach has made progress in reducing or eliminating North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

Democrats drop the Mike

"I don’t have temper tantrums," Trump declared Thursday. Disputing the accounts from Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about their meeting the previous day, the president said, "I very calmly walked out the room. I didn’t smash the table, I should have.”

The safety of the White House furniture will be put to the test on Feb. 7. That's the day, House Democrats announced, when Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has agreed to testify before the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Although Democrats say the questioning will be limited to avoid interfering with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, the hearing is likely to focus on episodes involving Trump's personal life, including payments to buy silence from women who said they had affairs with Trump, and business dealings such as the Moscow real estate project that was pursued during the 2016 campaign.

Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes, including campaign finance violations for the hush money, and was sentenced to 3 years in prison. He says Trump directed him to make the secret payoffs. Trump, who has denounced Cohen as a "rat," was asked by reporters about Cohen's appearance. He said he's "not worried about it at all."

Who knew? Not me

Trump has complained bitterly about how Mueller has treated his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, even saying a potential presidential pardon is “not off the table.” He has called Manafort, who was convicted of eight felonies this summer and pleaded guilty to two more, "very brave" for not flipping on Trump.

Trump was asked Thursday if he knew what was revealed in court papers a day earlier — that Manafort shared campaign polling data with an associate who has links to Russian military intelligence. "No, I didn't know anything about it. Nothing about it," he replied.

What else is happening:

  • When it comes to billionaires facing divorce, it's credible that Trump can relate, even to a nemesis like Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. "I wish him luck," Trump said. "It's going to be a beauty."
  • Federal workers held rallies in Washington and other cities Thursday, calling for an end to the shutdown. Businesses have been especially hard hit in and around the nation's capital, where 145,000 of 360,000 government employees have been furloughed, The New York Times reported.
  • The FBI Agents Association called the shutdown a threat to national security. Unpaid agents whose finances become precarious could lose security clearances, crime lab delays are getting worse, and funds supporting drug trafficking and undercover operations are drying up, they said.
  • Roll over, Harry Truman. Trump was asked "if the buck stops with you over this shutdown" — an allusion to the famous motto that graced the 33rd president's Oval Office desk. Trump replied: "The buck stops with everybody."
  • Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is looking at basing a potential 2020 presidential campaign in Troy, New York, which is near Albany, The Associated Press reported.
  • Trump's White House is reaching out to political allies and conservative activist groups to be ready in case Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies or retires, Politico reported. Ginsburg missed oral arguments at the court this week while recuperating from lung cancer surgery.
  • Trump said the Democrats have "been taken over by a group of young people who frankly, in some cases, I’ve been watching, I actually think they are crazy." He didn't name names, but it sounded like one of those on his mind is freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx).

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