No president is immune from saying things he shouldn’t have, issuing words that have unintended consequences and cause him trouble. Richard Nixon in 1970 almost forced a mistrial when he publicly stated that he thought Charles Manson was guilty. Ronald Reagan in 1987 immediately regretted publicly musing about the benefits of a weaker dollar. Barack Obama in 2009 had to scramble after blurting out that he thought the police had “acted stupidly” in a case involving a prominent black professor.
But no modern president has allowed his own words to get him in so much trouble, so often, or so dramatically as Donald Trump has—and he hasn’t even hit his five-month anniversary yet. In just the last three days, the president has made his lawyers miserable, worsened his chances of victory in the Supreme Court, picked a fight with the mayor in an allied capital city coping with a terror attack, and complicated relations with a key ally in the fight against terror.
Those lead a top 10 list of unforced errors by the president:
June 6: While the State Department and the Pentagon were trying to ease tensions after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations moved to isolate Qatar, the president tweeted approval of the move. The tweet was at odds with Trump’s prior statements on Qatar and threatens U.S. cooperation with the small emirate that is home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, with 10,000 American troops, and the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command.
June 5: With a single, early-morning tweet, the president drove a knife into the heart of his lawyers’ key argument to reinstate his ban on immigration from six Muslim-majority countries. The lawyers say it is not a ban. In his tweet, Trump said they “can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN.”
June 4-5: The president could not resist using Saturday’s attack in London as an excuse to lobby for his travel ban and pick a fight with London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Trump misrepresented what Khan had said in the wake of the attack, lectured him on fighting terror, and called him “pathetic,” souring relations with the United States’ most important ally and imperiling his upcoming visit to London.
May 18: When a special counsel was named to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, the White House issued a restrained and professional statement, signaling a pivot back to the issues. But Trump could not help himself, and the next day he undercut that effort, complaining bitterly in a morning tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
May 12: To the dismay of his own aides, the president ratcheted up the stakes and opened a new area of questioning when he seemed to threaten ousted FBI Director James Comey in a tweet: “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Members of Congress still want to know if Trump is secretly recording his meetings.
May 11: For two days, the White House labored to build a rationale for the May 9 firing of Comey. But then the president gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC and all that work imploded. Almost defiantly, Trump stated that the Russia investigation was a major reason for the firing and brushed aside the notion—pushed by his own aides—that he was influenced by a Justice Department recommendation.
March 4: The White House was enjoying arguably its best three days, basking in the good reviews of the president’s Feb. 28 address to Congress. That all ended when the president lashed out at former President Obama in a series of tweets: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” His aides made it worse on March 7 when they demanded that Congress investigate.
Feb. 28: The White House had tried to deflect any questions on the death of a Navy SEAL in a botched late-January raid in Yemen, insisting it was a success and calling criticism an attack on the slain SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens. But with questions growing from some in Congress and the father of the SEAL, the commander in chief tried to blame others for his go-ahead decision. In an interview on Fox and Friends, Trump said, “This was a mission that was started before I got here.” He said “the generals” were responsible, adding, “And they lost Ryan.”
Feb. 9 and Jan. 23: Obsessed with any attacks on the legitimacy of his victory and constant reminders that he had lost the popular vote, the president frequently alleged that massive voter fraud was responsible for that loss. On Jan. 23, he told lawmakers that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes were cast against him. On Feb. 9, he told senators he lost New Hampshire because thousands of Massachusetts residents were bused across the state line. There is no backing for either claim, again distracting aides dealing with other issues.
Jan. 21: The most notorious of Trump’s claims came before his first full day in office was completed. That was his exaggerated claim to historic crowds witnessing his inauguration. So incensed was he by pictures showing otherwise that he complained during a visit to the CIA and ordered his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to counter the news reports. At the president’s bidding, Spicer claimed it was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” It was an appearance from which Spicer never fully recovered.