President Trump tweeted Tuesday that media reports that he had made a visit to Walter Reed Medical Center because he had "suffered a series of mini-strokes" were "fake news" — but this confused reporters, who had not known of any such reports.
"It never ends! Now they are trying to say that your favorite President, me, went to Walter Reed Medical Center, having suffered a series of mini-strokes. Never happened to THIS candidate — FAKE NEWS. Perhaps they are referring to another candidate from another Party!" the president tweeted.
Journalists were quick to point out that the president himself appeared to be breaking news.
A White House aide later told Peter Alexander that Trump had been referring to a Monday tweet from Joe Lockhart, press secretary to former President Bill Clinton, which read: "Did @realDonaldTrump have a stroke which he is hiding from the American public?"
This does not fully explain Trump's defense: Lockhart is a PR flack and not a member of the news media, and had not alleged that Trump had suffered multiple strokes. He raised a hypothetical question of whether the president had had a stroke, but did not specify the magnitude or significance of such a hypothetical stroke.
The question had context, as well. Earlier that day, New York Times reporter Gabriel Debenedetti flagged a passage in a new book from Times colleague Michael Schmidt, regarding Trump's unexpected visit to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, last November. Debenedetti said that Schmidt "reports the White House wanted Mike Pence 'on standby to take over the powers of the presidency temporarily if Trump had to undergo a procedure that would have required him to be anesthetized.' The vice president never had to take this step."
While the unannounced visit raised questions about the president's health at the time, Dr. Sean Conley, Trump's physician, has described the visit as "routine" and published a memo saying that the trip was only kept secret because of "scheduling uncertainties."
"Despite some speculation, the president has not had any chest pain; nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues," Conley's memo said. "Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations."
Trump for his part described the visit as a "very routine physical."
If that's true, it's not clear why, as Schmidt reported, Pence would have been prepared to take over presidential duties. That's not without precedent: Other vice presidents have taken this step when the president has been temporarily incapacitated. For instance, Dick Cheney stood in for George W. Bush when the then-president had to have a colonoscopy.
Whatever arrangements were made regarding Trump and Pence occurred without a clear explanation provided to the press. If Schmidt is right about a possible procedure requiring anesthesia, it would suggest that Trump's visit was not, as the president claimed, a "very routine physical."
Schmidt clarified that whatever "fake news" the president is complaining about didn't come from him: