White House: Trump, Pena Nieto spoke in person, not by phone
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House conceded Wednesday that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto did not call up President Donald Trump to praise his immigration policies, as Trump had claimed.
Speaking at a White House briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the topic had come up — but in a conversation Trump and Pena Nieto had at the recent Group of 20 world leaders summit in Germany.
Trump “was referencing a conversation that they had had at the G-20 summit where they specifically talked about the issues that he referenced,” she said, clarifying comments Trump had made Monday when he claimed Pena Nieto had called him to offer compliments on a reduction in U.S.-Mexico border crossings.
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said Pena Nieto remarked to Trump during a July 7 meeting at the G-20 summit in Germany that deportations of Mexicans from the United States had fallen 31 percent between January and June, as compared with 2016.
Pena Nieto said 47 percent fewer Central American migrants had entered Mexico in that period.
Trump said Monday: “As you know, the border was a tremendous problem and they’re close to 80 percent stoppage. Even the president of Mexico called me — they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.”
While the mischaracterization was a minor one, Trump’s suggestion that he and Pena Nieto had spoken by phone became an issue in Mexico, where opposition legislators jumped on Trump’s account and complained about what sounded like a “secret phone call” between the pair, and the idea of Pena Nieto praising Trump on migration. Mexico has officially opposed many of Trump’s initiatives, including his claim that Mexico would pay for a border wall.
Mexican officials, including Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, reached out to their American counterparts and noted the presidents spoke about migration at the G-20 in Hamburg last month. Pena Nieto cited statistics about migration from Central American to Mexico declining significantly, according to the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
Whereas Trump said he received a compliment from Pena Nieto, the Mexican leader and his aides recounted it less as praise and more as a statement of fact.
Mexico would normally be pleased about any drop in deportations and Central American illegal immigration, but would probably be unlikely to call it “the ultimate compliment” to the United States. Mexico says it enforces security on its southern border of its own volition.
Trump’s characterization of the conversation is also not the only one that has been disputed this week.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week, Trump claimed he had received a call from “the head of the Boy Scouts” saying a politically-charged speech he’d made in front of the group “was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.”
The Boy Scouts quickly denied the head of the youth organization had made the call.
Sanders said the president was referring to “multiple members of the Boy Scout leadership following his speech there that day (who) congratulated him, praised him and offered quite powerful compliments following his speech.”
“I wouldn’t say it was a lie. That’s a pretty bold accusation,” she added. “The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call.”
Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report from Mexico City.