Donald Trump has made a rare admission that he was wrong – in claiming he saw a video of a US cash payment going to Iran.
On the campaign trail this week, the Republican nominee has been dramatically describing a video he says shows the US paying off Iran as part of a deal to release US sailors from Iranian custody, but there is no evidence such a tape exists.
Early on Friday, Mr Trump appeared to finally acknowledge his mistake, tweeting: “The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400m in cash going to Iran!”
The US paid that money to Tehran in January, in a publicly announced settlement of a decades-old international arbitration case dating back to when Iranians paid Washington for military equipment they never received.
The US government denies the payment was ransom for the release of Americans, which may or may not be true.
The admission marked a stark and unusual reversal for Mr Trump, who rarely admits to error, but it may end the brewing controversy around his false claim – one that recalls his unsupported contention early in the campaign that he saw video of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks – instead of prolonging a potentially negative news story for the candidate.
To the frustration of Mr Trump’s aides and fellow Republicans, the celebrity businessman has often proven unable to let go of a bad story, often instead fuelling it – like he did this week when he escalated a row with the parents of a killed US soldier who was Muslim – at the expense of the campaign’s message.
Mr Trump first discussed the Iran video on Wednesday, telling supporters at a rally in Daytona Beach, Florida: “I’ll never forget the scene this morning. And remember this: Iran – I don’t think you’ve heard this anywhere but here – Iran provided all of that footage, the tape of taking that money off that airplane.
“Now, here’s the amazing thing: Over there, where that plane landed, top secret.
“They don’t have a lot of paparazzi. You know, the paparazzi doesn’t do so well over there, right?
“And they have a perfect tape. Done by obviously a government camera. And the tape is of the people taking the money off the plane, right?
“That means that, in order to embarrass us further, Iran sent us the tapes, right?
“It’s a military tape. It’s a tape that was a perfect angle, nice and steady, nobody getting nervous because they’re gonna be shot because they’re shooting a picture of money pouring off a plane.”
He added: “And Iran released that tape, which is of quality like these guys have. Iran released that tape so that we will be embarrassed.”
Several senior US officials involved in the Iran negotiations have said they were not aware of any such footage. Instead, the campaign said Mr Trump was referring to footage “shown on all major broadcasts this morning”.
A Trump spokeswoman told the Washington Post, the video he saw was grainy night-time footage of people getting off a small plane, holding bags.
“Geneva, January 17,” the footage is clearly labelled.
Mr Trump apparently assumed that this footage depicted the cash transfer – and concocted the story on his own about how the footage was acquired and the motivations for its release.
Mr Trump then repeated his original claim yesterday at a rally in Portland, Maine – even after his campaign said he had been mistaken.