A lawyerly response by Cotton, who said last week that he didn’t recall Trump using “sh*thole” in the immigration meeting at the White House. I say “lawyerly” because the president technically hasn’t been accused of using derogatory language about “individuals” or “persons,” has he? He was accused of calling certain countries “sh*tholes,” not certain people. Cotton’s splitting hairs to absolve him of a charge that technically hasn’t been made.

But let’s be real. The “sh*thole countries” comment was most definitely a shot at “individuals” and “persons.” Trump superfan Bill Mitchell understands with crystal clarity what’s implied by the idea of “sh*thole countries”:

What did the president say about Mexico on the day he announced his candidacy? June 16, 2015:

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Note how he phrases it in terms of Mexico “sending” its people. For Trump, immigration (legal or otherwise) doesn’t happen at the individual level, it’s something one country does to another. And given his view of the sort of sh*tholes Mexico is “sending” — drug-dealers, criminals, rapists — it’s easy to guess what his opinion of Mexico and Mexicans writ large is. Cotton does his best to reformulate that in politic immigration terminology, saying that the president wants a merit-based system versus a system of chain migration or a visa lottery that’s keyed to specific nations, but in the end Trump and Mitchell are saying the same thing. Sh*thole countries are built by sh*thole people. Be careful about letting any in.

David Perdue, who was also in the “sh*thole” meeting with Trump, insisted yesterday that he never used any such language. But there’s various evidence that that’s a lie. Lindsey Graham, who’s worked hard over the past year to ingratiate himself to Trump and has no reason to alienate him over this, is sticking by his story:

The AP cites sources claiming that not only did Trump say it, he called up friends afterwards and boasted that most people would privately agree:

As his comments, disclosed by participants in the meeting, ricocheted around the world, Trump made calls to friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to the tempest, said a person who spoke to Trump but wasn’t authorized to discuss a private conversation.

He wasn’t apologetic, the person said. Instead, Trump blamed the media for distorting his meaning, arguing his description of “shithole” was not racist but rather a straightforward assessment of some nations’ depressed conditions. Trump also said he believed he was expressing what many people think, according to the person.

Erick Erickson heard the same thing from a mutual acquaintance:

When DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was asked whether she heard Trump use the word, she politely claimed she couldn’t remember rather than joining Cotton and Perdue in defending Trump. The closest thing to a denial that came from a third-party source this past weekend was Rich Lowry, who says his sources agree that the “general tenor of the discussion has been reported accurately” but that Trump actually said “sh*thouse,” not “sh*tole.”

The mystery in all this isn’t “Did Trump say it?”, it’s “Why does Trump deny saying it?” “Sh*thole countries” is pure Trumpy nationalism, expressed with perfect populist concision. It sounds exactly like something he *would* say, such that everyone’s going to assume it’s true, denial or not. As noted, MAGA fans like Bill Mitchell couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. And Trump was going to get killed for it in the media no matter how vigorously he denied it. So why deny it? Just bank the goodwill points with your base, let everyone else fume, and move on.

Here’s Cotton followed by POTUS last night declaring “I am not a racist.”