White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Friday she made a mistake when she referred to a non-existent event she called "the Bowling Green massacre" in defending President Donald Trump's immigration directive for seven Muslim-majority countries.
Critics quickly pointed out there was no such massacre after her comments on MSNBC's Hardball on Thursday night. Conway took to Twitter on Friday morning to explain that she "meant to say 'Bowling Green terrorists.'"
In another tweet she noted that "honest mistakes abound" — then later went after Chelsea Clinton for mocking her error.
In the Hardball interview, Conway was referring to the case of two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were arrested in 2011 and later convicted of attempting to send weapons, explosives and money to al Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing American soldiers.
"Neither person is charged with plotting any attacks on American soil," David Hale, then U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said at the time. "These charges relate to activities that occurred when they were in Iraq, first of all. Secondly, they relate to conspiracy to aid al Qaeda in Iraq."
The men, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan, admitted to using explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq in the past, but there were no deaths connected to the plot they were involved in while living in Bowling Green.
A confidential informant working for the feds presented the two men with the opportunity to ship weapons and money to Iraq as part of a sting operation, according to the Justice Department. They were not charged with intending to attack anyone on U.S. soil.
After the men's arrest, President Obama signed an order tightening the immigration review process for citizens of Iraq, which slowed down visa approvals that year.
During the Hardball interview, Conway seized on that, arguing that Obama's action was similar to the executive order signed by Trump that sparked massive protests nationwide and chaos at airports — a temporary near-blanket ban on entry to the U.S. by people from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.
"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," Conway said.
Conway, already under fire for using the phrase "alternative facts" to describe apparently false claims by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, was quickly mocked on social media for her "massacre" comment.
Chelsea Clinton took a swipe at Conway on Twitter.
Conway then fired back with a reference to Hillary Clinton's 2008 claim that she had landed in Bosnia "under sniper fire" in 1996 — which Clinton later said was a "misstatement.'
Complaining about "memes and phony outrage," Conway directed her Twitter followers to a 2013 ABC News article that said Hammadi and Alwan might have been among "several dozen" suspected terrorist bomb-makers allowed to move to the U.S. as refugees. No charges against dozens of bomb-makers ever materialized after that report.
She then retweeted a post by the co-founder of The Federalist website that said the Bowling Green suspects "used IEDs to attack American troops in Iraq and planned to use their bomb expertise against Americans here."
While federal prosecutors said the men had admitted making bombs in their homeland, there is no allegation in the criminal complaint or indictment that they planned to attack anyone in the U.S.
In addition, while Conway insinuated that the Bowling Green case was obscure, Hammadi and Alwan's arrests, conviction and sentencing were covered by major media outlets at the time. Hammadi was sentenced to life in federal prison and Alwan was sentenced to 40 years after pleading guilty to federal terrorism charges.
Hammadi's defense lawyer, James Earhart, chuckled when he heard Conway's former characterization of his former client's case.
"It was an unfortunate situation but there was no massacre. There was no domestic element to it other than that the loading of the shipments did occur in Bowling Green," he said.
Earhart said that because law enforcement was monitoring the activity, there was no chance the weapons would have been used against Americans even in Iraq, but added that "had it been a real scheme it would have been inappropriate."