Remember when Donald Trump made a big deal about he personally freed three UCLA basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting in China? According to a new report from ESPN, Trump didn’t really do anything.
LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill were arrested for shoplifting during a team trip to China on Nov. 8. According to a Nov. 14 New York Times story, under the credulous headline “How Trump Helped Liberate UCLA ‘Knuckleheads’ From China,” the president intervened on the players’ behalf a few days later, while he was meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping. White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Times that he spoke to the players while they were under house arrest, and told them that Trump had pulled some strings for them. From the Times:
Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump’s intervention, as well as diplomatic efforts by State Department diplomats, led to the reduction of the charges to the equivalent of misdemeanors as well as the release of the three players to their hotel, where they were placed under temporary house arrest. It was there that Mr. Kelly talked to Chris Carlson, an associate athletic director at U.C.L.A., and to the players on the phone the next day.
But according to a team source cited in ESPN’s report, the players were not under house arrest when Trump got involved, and had in fact already had their passports returned to them and flights home booked.
“The players were already checked into the hotel before the public discovered they were arrested,” a team source said. “They also were not under house arrest. It was our decision to keep them at the hotel until the situation was resolved. The charges were dropped, they weren’t reduced, and that happened two days before we heard from Gen. Kelly
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. I should have left them in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017