AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s misdirection on Calif fires, climate

November 19, 2018 GMT
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President Donald Trump visits a neighborhood impacted by the Woolsey Fire, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Malibu, Calif. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Donald Trump visits a neighborhood impacted by the Woolsey Fire, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Malibu, Calif. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is going too far in assigning most of the blame for California’s devastating wildfires on the state’s forest management.

In comments over the weekend, he called forest management a “big problem” and suggested that California officials needed to do a much better job. But most of California’s 33 million acres of forests are under federal or private control, not the state’s. Fire scientists say that Trump also neglects a larger effect from climate change in promoting abnormally dry conditions and dead trees, creating fuel for fire.

In a week honoring the sacrifice of America’s warriors, Trump appeared to claim that he visited Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day last year and asserted that veterans, thanks to him, no longer face long waits for medical care. Neither is true.


Capping the weekend, the president also misspelled the name of a Democratic lawmaker in an unfortunate way and did not correct himself.

A look at his recent statements, compared with the facts:


TRUMP, speaking about the role of forest management in stemming wildfires: “I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different_we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem.” — remarks Saturday in Paradise, California.

THE FACTS: Finland apparently is not raking that many leaves.

President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview published Sunday in the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper that he told Trump during a brief meeting in Paris on Nov. 11 that “Finland is a country covered by forests but we also have a good surveillance system and network” in case of wildfires.

Niinisto said he told Trump “we take care of our forests,” but he couldn’t recall mentioning anything on raking.


TRUMP, on the role of climate change: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management...You need forest management. It has to be. I’m not saying that in a negative way, a positive — I’m just saying the facts.” — interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

TRUMP: “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” — tweet on Nov. 10.


THE FACTS: Both nature and humans share responsibility for the state’s devastating wildfires, but fire scientists say the forest management is not the main contributor.

Nature provides the dangerous winds that have whipped the fires, and human-caused climate change over the long haul is killing and drying the shrubs and trees that provide the fuel. That’s not to say California is blameless: Urban development encroaching on wildlands also is a factor. But about 19 million or 57 percent of California’s 33 million acres of forests are managed or owned by the federal government, according to the University of California.

The wildfire that incinerated the Northern California town of Paradise and surrounding areas is the single deadliest such blaze in California history.

The other major fire, in Southern California, has burned through shrubland, not forest.

“It’s not about forest management,” said University of Utah fire scientist Philip Dennison. “These aren’t forests.”

The dean of the University of Michigan’s environmental school, Jonathan Overpeck, said Western fires are getting bigger and more severe. He said it “is much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with ever-worsening climate change.”

Wildfires have become more devastating because of the extreme weather swings from global warming, fire scientists said. The average number of U.S. acres burned by wildfires has doubled from 30 years ago.

California also has been in drought for all but a few years of the 21st century and is now experiencing its longest drought, which began on Dec. 27, 2011, and has lasted 358 weeks, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry.

The first nine months of the year have been fourth-warmest on record for California, and this past summer was the second-hottest on record in the state.

Because of that, there are 129 million dead trees, which provide fuel for fires.



TRUMP: “We picked up two seats in the Senate. We went from 51-49 to 53-47.” — remarks Saturday.

THE FACTS: Not so. He’s presuming Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith will defeat Democrat Mike Espy in a runoff election Nov. 27. If Espy wins, Republicans will have picked up only one seat and have a 52-48 edge. It’ll be 53-47 if she wins.



TRUMP: “So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!” — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: The correct name of the Democratic lawmaker is Adam Schiff.

Mueller’s appointment to lead the investigation into 2016 election interference and possible ties between Moscow and Trump’s campaign was not put to the Senate because special counsels are appointed by the Justice Department. His appointment is not in legal dispute.

Critics contend Trump illegally sidestepped procedure by appointing Whitaker over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s been confirmed by the Senate.


TRUMP, on special counsel Robert Mueller and his team conducting the Russia investigation: “These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years.” —tweet Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Mueller, a longtime Republican, was chosen to lead the FBI by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001. Democratic President Barack Obama kept him in the job, and Mueller left in September 2013 after six years under Obama.



TRUMP, on his decision not to visit Arlington National Cemetery last week to commemorate Veterans Day: “In retrospect, I should have, and I did last year and I will virtually every year. But we had come in very late at night and I had just left, literally, the American Cemetery in Paris, and I really probably assumed that was fine and I was extremely busy because of affairs of state — doing other things.” — interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

THE FACTS: While Trump has visited Arlington National Cemetery twice during his presidency on Memorial Day, he did not do so last year on Veterans Day. He was in Asia at the time.


TRUMP: “In June, I proudly signed into law the most significant VA reform in half a century, called Veterans Choice. ... Now if a veteran cannot get the treatment they need from the VA in a timely manner, they can see a private doctor. They don’t have to wait 12 days or 20 days. ... There is no more waiting on lines.” — remarks at veterans’ event Thursday.

THE FACTS: He continues to spread a misleading claim about veterans now receiving immediate medical care because of his improvements. In fact, the care provided under the Veterans Choice program is not as instantaneous as Trump suggests nor will it necessarily be the biggest overhaul at the Department of Veterans Affairs in decades.

Trump signed legislation in June to expand the private-sector Choice program, which was first approved in 2014 during the Obama administration after a scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center in which some veterans died while waiting months for appointments. The current Choice program allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment — not “12 days or 20 days.” But many are waiting much longer than the program prescribes.

How much Choice will be expanded under his law will depend on yet-to-be-completed regulations that will determine eligibility for veterans as well as available money for the program. The VA has yet to resolve long-term financing due to congressional budget caps that could put money for VA or other domestic programs at risk of shortfalls next year.

The program’s success will also depend on an overhaul of the VA’s electronic medical records to allow seamless sharing of medical records with private physicians, expected to take up to 10 years.

Meanwhile, the current Choice program isn’t always timely. A report released this year by the Government Accountability Office found that despite the Choice program’s guarantee of providing an appointment within 30 days, veterans waited an average of 51 days to 64 days.


TRUMP: “Veteran unemployment has reached its lowest level in nearly 21 years, and it’s going to be better.” — remarks Thursday.

THE FACTS: The veterans’ unemployment rate fell to 2.9 percent in October, the latest data available, but that is still higher than the 2.7 percent rate reached in October 2017, also under Trump. That was the lowest joblessness rate for veterans in nearly 17 years.

Veterans’ unemployment has fallen mostly for the same reasons that joblessness has dropped generally: strong hiring and steady economic growth for the past eight years.

In May 2000, veterans’ unemployment dropped to a low of 2.3 percent, and he hasn’t reached that.

In any event, it’s impossible for Trump to claim an achievement not seen in 21 years on veterans’ unemployment. The data on joblessness for vets only go back 18 years, to 2000.



TRUMP: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!” — tweet Tuesday.

TRUMP: “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!” — tweet on Nov. 9.

THE FACTS: Macron never suggested assembling a European army to stand against the United States, its steadfast military ally. Instead, he joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in proposing a continental army that would give Europe more responsibility for its own security, supplementing NATO. Trump has repeatedly pushed NATO members to spend more on their own military capabilities to relieve pressure on the U.S. to protect Europe. A European army would be aimed at doing that, though in theory outside the NATO umbrella.

Macron said in a radio interview before Trump’s arrival in France that Europe should be able to defend itself more than it now can, without only relying on the United States.

At another point in the interview, Macron discussed hacking and other cyberthreats and asserted that on that front, France must protect itself from China, Russia and even the United States. His concern about U.S. hackers had nothing to do with military threats or forces.

Trump misrepresented Macron’s position on the matter before they met and again after they discussed it.



SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, on a judge’s order that CNN reporter Jim Acosta be allowed back into the White House: “Today, the court made clear that there is no absolute First Amendment right to access the White House.” — statement Friday.

THE FACTS: The court made no such determination. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly issued a ruling of a “limited nature” that restored Acosta’s credentials temporarily while a CNN lawsuit against the Trump administration proceeds. Kelly essentially found support for CNN’s claim under the Fifth Amendment that Acosta hadn’t received sufficient notice or explanation before his credentials were pulled. As a result, the judge didn’t get to the First Amendment issues in the case.



TRUMP: “On Trade, France makes excellent wine, but so does the U.S. The problem is that France makes it very hard for the U.S. to sell its wines into France, and charges big Tariffs, whereas the U.S. makes it easy for French wines, and charges very small Tariffs. Not fair, must change!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Yes, U.S. wine is desired in France.

Trump, who’s been in the wine business, is wrong about France applying tariffs. The European Union does.

He’s right about a disparity in wine duties.

Tariffs vary by alcohol content and other factors. A bottle of white American wine with 13 percent alcohol content imported into the EU carries a customs duty of 10 euro cents (just over 11 U.S. cents). A bottle of white wine from the EU exported to the United States has a customs duty of 5 U.S. cents.

The gap in duties is narrower for red wine with an alcohol content of 14.5 percent.

Bulk wines are another story. The U.S. tariff is double the EU one, a break for American producers because bulk wine represents 25 percent of the volume of U.S. wine coming into the EU, according to the French wine exporter federation.

The value of wine imported by France has jumped 200 percent over a decade. Meantime Americans are the top consumers of French wine exports.



TRUMP: “The disgrace is that, voter ID. If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have a voter ID ...The only thing you don’t is if you’re a voter of the United States.” — interview Wednesday with The Daily Caller.

THE FACTS: He is meaning to say that shoppers use a photo ID to make purchases, so it should not be a burden to show a photo ID for voting. But as shoppers know, no photo is required to purchase a box of cereal or other items at a grocery store when using cash or to make routine purchases with credit or debit cards.

Identifications are required to purchase limited items such as alcohol, cigarettes or cold medicine and in rapidly declining situations in which a customer opts to pay with a personal check.

According to the National Grocers Association’s most recent data, the use of checks as a percentage of total transactions dropped from 33 percent in 2000 to 6 percent in 2015, due in part to the popularity of debit cards, which use PIN codes. The group’s members are independent food retailers, family-owned or privately held, both large and small.


Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Darlene Superville, Christopher Rugaber and Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.


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