Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) defended Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's false assertion that President Barack Obama "founded" ISIS on Monday, insisting that the candidate had been "deadly serious" -- but only in a "rhetorical way."
Over the past week, Trump repeatedly told crowds and interviewers that the president and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were both the "founders" and the "MVPs" of ISIS. But after being repudiated by his own party, Trump later insisted that his statement had been obvious "sarcasm."
On Monday, Trump foreign policy adviser Jeff Sessions told CNN that the statement was "a device to communicate to the American people the enormity of the error [Obama and Clinton] made when they said we're going to topple the Syrian government that was protecting Christians and other minorities -- as bad as they were."
"So you're saying calling President Obama the founder, that's just a rhetorical device?" CNN host Alisyn Camerota pressed.
"That is exactly correct," Sessions replied. "I would use that word. That's the word I was looking for. It's a rhetorical device to communicate responsibility, to put the hat on the person responsible. Withdrawing all troops from Iraq was maybe the colossal error of the 21st century."
Camerota wondered how Sessions could tell the difference between Donald Trump's sarcastic statements and remarks that were meant to be truthful.
"Everybody knows Clinton and Obama didn't meet to plot the foundation of ISIS," Sessions laughed. "So yeah, he stirred things up with that comment. You can say it was smart or not smart. But in a way, it had a fundamental truth to it."
"His running mate [Mike Pence] says he was very serious," Camerota countered. "You say he was joking or sarcastic. How do we know?"
"I agree with Mike Pence!" Sessions exclaimed, seemingly contradicting himself. "He was exactly correct and that's what I intended to say."
"Wait. Wait a second," Camerota interrupted. "He said Donald Trump was deadly serious when he said that the president was the founder of ISIS."
"He was deadly serious in a rhetorical way," Sessions opined, "that the failures of Obama and Clinton led to the surge of ISIS and I think that's true and correct. I think it's almost indisputable."
Camerota gave the question one more shot: "Was he deadly serious when he said that President Obama was the founder of ISIS?"
"He was serious in a rhetorically..." the senator said, struggling for words.
"Unserious way!" Camerota offered.
"That's a legitimate way to say that," Sessions agreed. "People can disagree."
Watch the video below from CNN's New Day, broadcast Aug. 15, 2016.