The nonexistent phone calls added to questions about Mr. Trumpâs credibility and that of his White House, already in doubt given shifting explanations on matters large and small, including the size of the crowd at Mr. Trumpâs inauguration and his involvement in drafting a statement about why his son Donald J. Trump Jr. had met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the campaign.
The calls appeared to be the latest evidence that the president, who prefers impromptu storytelling to a fact-checked script, is willing to shade or even manufacture events to suit his preferred narrative â even when the story is easily disprovable and of little consequence.
âHeâs been lying his whole life, almost reflexively, and itâs almost as if he finds it more satisfying and easier than to speak with precision,â said Michael DâAntonio, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who later wrote a biography of Mr. Trump, âThe Truth About Trump.â âWhen he was a kid, he lied about whether he hit a home run or not, and when he was a young man, he lied about how tall Trump Tower is â how many floors it is and the actual floors in feet â and he lied about which beautiful women were interested in him.â
Mr. Trump has written about how he bends the truth when it suits his purposes, asserting in his 1987 book âThe Art of the Dealâ that âa little hyperbole never hurts.â
âPeople want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular,â Mr. Trump wrote then. âI call it truthful hyperbole. Itâs an innocent form of exaggeration â and a very effective form of promotion.â
The major difference now, Mr. DâAntonio said, is that as president Mr. Trump is fact-checked assiduously.
Mr. Trumpâs latest tangle with the truth began on Monday, when Mr. Trump announced at a Cabinet meeting that Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto had been on the phone to him.
âEven the president of Mexico called me,â Mr. Trump said, touting his success in cracking down on illegal immigration. âThey said their southern border â very few people are coming because they know theyâre not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.â
The Mexican government said on Wednesday that no such telephone call took place. In a statement, Mexicoâs secretary of foreign relations said Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto told Mr. Trump during the Group of 20 summit that deportations of Mexicans from the United States had fallen 31 percent over the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2016.
On Tuesday, it was the Boy Scoutsâ turn: A leaked transcript of an interview the president had with The Wall Street Journal quoted him saying that the head of the Boy Scouts had called him full of praise for a highly political speech Mr. Trump had delivered at the National Scout Jamboree.
âI got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful,â Mr. Trump told The Journal.
On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America said it was not aware of any call from its national leadership to Mr. Trump. In a statement, the organization said that an earlier statement from Michael Surbaugh, the organizationâs chief, apologizing to scouts for Mr. Trumpâs speech, âspeaks for itself.â Mr. Surbaugh had expressed regret to those who were âoffended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.ââ
It is hardly unprecedented for a president to use a story to inspire or motivate, or to embellish a yarn for the sake of punctuating a poignant message. President Lyndon B. Johnson was a frequent and animated storyteller, and Ronald Reagan was so partial to a heart-tugging anecdote that his tales sometimes aroused suspicion that they had come from a movie in which he starred rather than real life.
For his first inaugural address â the first to be delivered from the West side of the Capitol facing Arlington National Cemetery â Mr. Reagan wanted to recount the story of a World War I soldier, buried in Arlington, who had written in his journal about his pledge to give everything for his country and died in battle the next day. The only trouble, his speechwriter told him, was that the fallen soldier was buried in his hometown, not at Arlington, according to H. W. Brands, a historian at the University of Texas and biographer of Mr. Reagan.
But the president, enamored of the story, opted to leave it in his speech anyway, and say the soldier was buried âunder one such marker,â leaving his actual resting place vague. The White House was later forced to concede that the man in question was not, in fact, under a marker at Arlington.