One of the first books I remember reading was the story, probably apocryphal, of little George Washington and the cherry tree.You remember. George went out in the garden and used a hatchet to dispatch his father’s favorite cherry tree. Later, his father angrily stormed into the house and demanded to know who was responsible. Little George admitted: “I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.”How things have changed. We’ve gone from a president who cannot tell a lie to one who cannot tell the truth. Today, instead of admitting he chopped down the cherry tree, little Donald would have blamed it on Barack Obama.There are so many of them, we’ve become numbed to Donald Trump’s lies. During the campaign, he lied about where Obama was born, his opposition to the war in Iraq and Muslims dancing in the streets of New Jersey on 9/11. On Inauguration Day, he lied about the size of the crowd and whether the sun was shining. And he still lies about the size of his Electoral College win, voters bussed in to New Hampshire from Massachusetts and 3-5 million people having voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.And now comes the biggest whopper of them all: that Barack Obama ordered the wiretap of his phones at Trump Tower. Trump still insists the lie is true, even though he’s not provided one shred of evidence to back up his charge since first making it on March 4.Knowing Trump can’t defend or prove his claim, White House aides are hoping that people will just soon forget about this one. But that’s not going to happen for a couple of reasons. First, because this is not just your run-of-the mill lie. This is the most serious charge any president has made about his predecessor: accusing him of committing a felony.Second, because unless Donald Trump admits he’s wrong and apologizes, this claim could undermine the credibility of his entire presidency. How could the American people believe anything Trump says about the need for military intervention against North Korea or ISIS, for example, when he’s lied about a former president putting a wiretap on his phone?Indeed, we already saw the corrosive effect of Trump’s outrageous accusation this week when the director of the FBI declared that the president of the United States was not telling the truth.Without using the “L” word, Director Comey said Trump was lying when he accused Obama of wiretapping: “I have no information that supports those tweets.” And also when, in a tweet earlier that day, Trump said there was zero evidence of collusion between Trump staffers and Russian officials. In fact, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, there’s enough evidence to merit an ongoing FBI investigation.Presidential historians agree: Never in our history have we seen anything like this: the director of the FBI publicly rebuking the president. Nor has a Republican president ever been so denounced by the nation’s leading conservative voice. In a column posted on March 21, the Wall Street Journal condemned Trump’s “seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods,” voicing special concern about his unfounded wiretap charge: “The president clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims.”For any president, or any politician, what counts is not always getting it right. The coin of the realm is credibility. If Donald Trump had any credibility at all in the beginning of his presidency, it’s quickly eroded over the first two months. For him, and for us, that’s a serious problem. “If he doesn’t show more respect for the truth,” concludes the Wall Street Journal, “most Americans may conclude he’s a fake president.”Maybe Donald Trump should reread the George Washington story. After little George fessed up, his father told him: “My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees!” Telling the truth was good for George Washington. Donald Trump should try it for a change.Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst, and author.
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