This week, Berlin was struck by a horrifying and deadly incident, as a truck ran off the road and into a thick of people gathered at a Christmas market, killing at least 12 individuals. ISIS has claimed it's an attack they inspired, although a measure of caution is worthwhile, as the suspect has not yet been apprehended. That said, President-elect Donald Trump seemed pretty certain of what happened in his statement following the incident, until days later, when he suddenly didn't — does Trump read his own press statements, or is he simply checked out?
Trump released a statement on the incident on Monday, Dec. 19 — or at least, somebody released a statement with his name on it — and yet, just two days later, Trump seemed unaware of the words attributed to him therein. Here's how Trump's statement from Monday characterized what happened in Berlin.
Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today's horrifying terror attack in Berlin. Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.
It's no surprise why the statement generated so much controversy. The Obama administration has long sought to avoid inflaming perceptions of a holy war with ISIS, in no small part because it's thought to benefit the terrorist group by creating a narrative that helps advance its recruitment. Not to mention it also reinforces a message that America has a hostile attitude toward Islam more broadly.
In short, it's the kind of statement you'd expect to remember if you'd written it yourself, or even if it was written in your name and you'd read it. And yet, while addressing a gaggle of reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in a rare moment of press availability, Trump was asked about his statement, and seemed unsure about the question. It's worth noting this was not an actual press conference — he hasn't held a single one of those since late July.
When Trump was asked about his comment about the incident being an attack on Christians, he looked the slightest bit confused, asking "Who said that? When did— when was that said?"
Trump's attentiveness to some of his early duties as president-elect have been called into question, particularly the reported rarity of him sitting down for his Presidential Daily Brief, a rundown of the most recent information the American intelligence community has to offer. And knowing the contents of a press statement bearing your name is a new, similarly worrisome facet. After all, when you're the most powerful person on the planet, the words you choose tend to have a major impact.