Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Trump Adviser Attempts To Recover From 'Bowling Green Massacre' Gaffe

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Last night on MSNBC's "Hardball," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended President Trump's executive order on immigration by referring to a terrorist attack that never happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS")

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I bet it's brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized. And they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered.

CORNISH: There was no Bowling Green massacre. There has never been a Bowling Green massacre. On Twitter, Conway later clarified that she meant to say Bowling Green terrorist. Here's what he's talking about.

Back in 2011, two Iraqi refugees living in Bowling Green, Ky., were charged with trying to send weapons to al-Qaida in Iraq. The men were not accused of planning terrorist attacks in Bowling Green or anywhere in the U.S., but the case did raise this question.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RAND PAUL: What I want to know is, how the heck did he get into our country?

CORNISH: That's Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky from NPR's coverage at the time. It turned out that one of the Iraqis fingerprints had been found on a bomb in Iraq designed to hurt U.S. troops there and that the U.S. military had those fingerprints before the man applied to the refugee program. National security experts felt this incident exposed a vulnerability in the refugee screening process.

That gets at another claim from Conway last night on MSNBC. In defending Trump's months-long freeze on refugee admissions, Conway said that President Obama had put a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after the Bowling Green arrests. Earlier this week, we asked immigration policy expert Ruth Wasem about that. She used to work at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

RUTH WASEM: The Obama administration reviewed a lot of security background checks of people coming from Iraq and substantially increased the vetting process. And as a result, it slowed down the admission of Iraqis. It was not a bar on people from these countries.

CORNISH: We checked the data from the State Department, and we found that Iraqi refugee admissions did slow down around the time of the Kentucky arrests. But in every month in 2011 and 2012, Iraqi refugees continued to arrive in the U.S. Ruth Wasem says it's not fair to compare Trump's policy to Obama's.

WASEM: I wouldn't even call that apples to oranges. We're talking about two very different things - from excluding people from a country to ratcheting up the vetting process.

CORNISH: We reached out to Kellyanne Conway and have not received a response.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.