BY JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday dragged another self-created scandal into another day as he defended a map he displayed a day earlier of Hurricane Dorian’s expected path that appeared to have been altered, prompting howls from Democrats and accusations that he was putting lives in danger.
White House aides were eager last week to portray a commander in chief as deeply involved in the federal government’s efforts to prepare for and respond to Dorian.
The storm even did the Trump team a favor when it turned away from Florida, sparing the Sunshine State the kind of catastrophic direct hit that left at least 20 dead and catastrophic damage in the Bahamas.
Yet, the president himself has delivered an uneven performance since he canceled a diplomatic trip to Poland on Aug. 29 to remain in the Washington area to oversee the government’s Dorian efforts. He played golf twice over the weekend, even as the hurricane gained strength and slammed into the Bahamas.
HURRICANE MAP DOCTORED
Over the weekend, he claimed in a tweet Dorian might affect Alabama. That post prompted a correction from the National Weather Service.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was asked about the apparently doctored map Thursday morning on CNN. He replied: “I’m really worried about him. I feel sorry for the president.”
Buttigieg, who a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed would defeat Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head race, said he bets either Trump drew an extra line on the chart Trump displayed for Wednesday’s press pool as he sat behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office or his staff did to “protect” the boss’s ego.
The black marker line beside the computer-generated white ones on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-prepared map amounted to yet another self-inflicted wound for Trump and his team as they ramp up a re-election effort.
STILL ON ALABAMA
It only handed foes like Buttigieg a new tool with which to bludgeon what they see as an incompetent president and administration.
“No matter how you cut it, this is a … sad state of affairs,” he said, calling the latest Trump mini-scandal “laughable.”
The U.S. Code states that anyone putting out false weather forecasts “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.”
But rather than trying a new message or mirroring his predecessors by focusing on warning residents of the Carolinas to prepare for or get out of the way of approaching Dorian, Trump came out firing Thursday morning about the altered map.
The president contended in one tweet thread that early government projections took Dorian across South Florida and “certain models strongly suggested that Alabama & Georgia would be hit as it made its way through Florida & to the Gulf … .”
“In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed,” he said. “What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!”
MORE ‘FAKE NEWS’ TWEETS
The president tweeted a picture of one early Dorian projection map with the seal of the South Florida Water Management District — not a federal agency — that does show some potential paths taking Dorian across Florida’s peninsula and toward the Yellowhammer State.
“As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida also hitting Georgia and Alabama. I accept the Fake News apologies!” he wrote Thursday morning.
Then after reigniting his feud with “Will and Grace” star Debra Messing from over the weekend, Trump turned his attention back to the map.
“Alabama was going to be hit or grazed, and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path (up along the East Coast). The Fake News knows this very well. That’s why they’re the Fake News!” he said.
Democratic lawmakers and other Trump critics responded to the altered map with scorn.
New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, for example, suggested Trump’s weekend warning to Alabama could have given South Carolina residents a false sense of security that they didn’t need to prepare or leave. Another Democrat criticized Trump’s skepticism of climate change.