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Trump didn't mean what he tweeted about leaving UCLA players in jail, Sanders says

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump didn't actually believe he should have left the three UCLA basketball players in Chinese custody. (Sean M. Haffey/BIG3/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was forced to address President Donald Trump’s war of words with the father of one of the UCLA basketball players who was arrested in China at Monday’s briefing.

LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, downplayed Trump’s alleged involvement in the players’ release from Chinese custody.

“Who? What was [Trump] over there for? Don’t tell me nothing,” LaVar Ball said. “Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

Trump responded on Twitter: “Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal,” Trump wrote Sunday. “I should have left them in jail!”

Sanders addresses the tweets

Sanders attempted to clarify Trump’s remarks Monday after a reporter asked about a tweet in which the president appeared to call the players ungrateful, despite the fact that they publicly thanked him.

“The president was happy to intervene,” Sanders said. “I think it was less about the players than about the father of one of the Americans released seemed to have a problem with it. Frankly it didn’t seem like the father wanted the president to intervene.”

Sanders was then asked if Trump meant what he said about leaving the players in jail.

“No, I think if that was the case then he wouldn’t have taken the action that he did in order to help get those individuals released, and brought back to the country,” Sanders said.

So, why did he tweet that if he didn’t actually mean it?

“It was a rhetorical response to the criticism from the father,” Sanders responded.

This writer’s perspective

There was no good reason for the president to acknowledge LaVar Ball’s comments. The story already had a positive conclusion: The players came home, apologized, and thanked Trump (and were suspended indefinitely from the basketball team); Trump said “You’re welcome,” and that should have been it.

LaVar Ball is well-known in sports circles as someone desperate for any attention he can get, and he’s never been afraid to use his son’s successes (another son, Lonzo, is the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers) or failures to boost his own visibility.

LaVar was never going to thank Trump for this. It would have been nice for the president to remain above the attention-seeking antics of a man who can’t gain that attention without being attached to someone more important than him.

Even LaVar seems to agree.

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