Donald Trump has always had a bit of Walter Mitty in him. But on Monday morning, in a speech to first responders and others impacted by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he took his fantastical memory of himself to new and not-at-all-appropriate heights.
“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder,” Trump said. “But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.”
Let’s be clear about what Trump is doing here: He is associating himself — very closely — with the men and women who were the first to respond to planes being crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. People who continue to suffer health issues due to their jobs.
(They were at the White House for Trump’s formal signing of an extension of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which ensures first responders continue to get money from the government to deal with their issues.)
So, what was Trump actually doing on September 11, 2001?
One thing he was doing was getting on the phone with WWOR’s Alan Marcus to talk about the attacks and their aftermath. It was in that interview that Trump said this about a property — 40 Wall Street — that he owned:
“40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest—and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.”
Yeah. He really said that.
And as Politico’s Michael Kruse noted in a story about what Trump (and Hillary Clinton) were doing on September 11, 2001, Trump was a bystander on the day — watching the events unfold from his offices (and home) at Trump Tower, which was several miles from Ground Zero.
“In the immediate aftermath of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the country, Trump talked publicly mostly about the buildings, and his buildings, and market ramifications and the character and resiliency of the citizens of the city where he’s lived almost his entire life. But reporters then had only so much reason to ask him about issues of national security or foreign policy.”
Several days after the attacks, Trump did an interview with a German news station just a few blocks from Ground Zero. And according to a Newsday report on September 14, Trump had been spotted at Ground Zero the previous day:
“The sight of Donald Trump, every hair in place and impeccably dressed in a black suit, pressed white shirt and red tie, walking into the plaza with his cellular phone to his ear.
“‘No, no. The building’s gone,’ he says into the phone.”
The point here is that there’s very little evidence to back up what Trump tried to do on Monday morning. It’s also not the first time he’s done it.
“Everyone who helped clear the rubble — and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit — but I want to tell you: Those people were amazing,” Trump said in a speech in Buffalo in 2016. “Clearing the rubble. Trying to find additional lives. You didn’t know what was going to come down on all of us — and they handled it.”
He has also claimed that he helped pay for several hundred workers to help clean up the wreckage in the aftermath of 9/11. Independent fact-check sites have been unable to verify that claim.
Some of this is a dog-bites-man story. Trump is a serial exaggerator and fabricator — about everything. So why should we be surprised that he has a long track record of suggesting he was someone involved in the cleanup after the 9/11 attacks when it’s clear he wasn’t?
We shouldn’t be surprised. But we should be appalled that the President of the United States is willing to say things like this — especially to a crowd who has given so much to the country in its darkest hours.