From The Hill
Donald Trump on Thursday delivered an extended defense of his opposition to the war in Iraq, charging that rival Hillary Clinton is lying about him initially backing the invasion.
The Republican nominee has hammered Clinton for voting in 2002 to authorize the war, citing it as evidence that she lacks the judgment to lead the nation’s armed forces.
Clinton has acknowledged her Iraq vote was a mistake and says that as president she will only use military force as a last resort.
But at a veterans forum on Wednesday night, Clinton said Trump’s position on the war, at the time, was no different from hers. She said that Trump initially supported the invasion but has since flip-flopped.
Trump has been a fierce critic of the war for years, but Democrats are raising questions about when his opposition began.
Delivering a speech on education in Cleveland, the billionaire businessman on Thursday accused the media of misrepresenting his position.
“Iraq is one of the biggest differences in this race,” Trump said. “I opposed going in and I did oppose it, despite the media saying no, yes, no, I opposed going in and I opposed the reckless way Hillary Clinton took us out, along with President Obama, letting ISIS fill that big terrible void.”
Trump said he did an interview with Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto three months before the war started, in which he said then-President George W. Bush should be focused on the economy instead of engaging in foreign wars.
The Republican said he gave another interview in March of 2003, just days after the conflict started, in which he was quoted as calling the war “a mess,” though he did not say which outlet printed that interview.
“If I had been in Congress at the time I would have cast a vote in opposition,” Trump said. “For years I’ve been a critic of these kinds of reckless, foreign invasions and interventions that have been a hallmark of trigger-happy Hillary and her failed career.”
Trump read a long passage from an Esquire article from 2004 in which he condemned the war at length. The magazine has since added a note to its article saying the interview took place after the war began and is not evidence that Trump opposed the conflict from the start.
Democrats are pointing to a 2002 interview Trump conducted with Howard Stern, in which the radio shock jock asked Trump if he supported the Iraq invasion.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Trump responded. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
Trump has backed away from those remarks, saying that at the time he was merely a private businessman and hadn’t given the matter much thought.
“I had no access to briefings or the intelligence surveys that she did,” Trump said on Thursday, referencing Clinton’s background as senator. “I didn’t have access to anything that she did, and frankly nobody cared too much what I said, I don’t know why I was even asked the question.”
“But in Iraq my judgment was right and hers, with all of this great information and all of this intelligence information, was wrong,” Trump added.
Liberal opposition research groups on Thursday circulated several interviews Trump conducted in 2003 that they say cast doubt on claims he always opposed the war.
In the Cavuto interview that Trump cited, he also said: “It’s sort like either do it or don’t do it.”
And in a March 2003 interview with Cavuto, in which he was asked about the war’s impact on the economy, Trump responded: “It looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
Later that year Trump called the toppling of Saddam Hussein “a huge day for this country.”
But as the war dragged on, Trump’s criticism of the war escalated.
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