AP FACT CHECK: Trump distorts findings of Russia probe
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is distorting the findings of the Russia investigation, claiming exoneration and a possible case against him “closed” based on remarks from a special counsel who did not make either statement.
“Robert Mueller would have brought charges, if he had ANYTHING, but there were no charges to bring!” Trump tweeted Thursday.
“CASE CLOSED,” he said in another tweet.
Special counsel Robert Mueller this past week announced the end to his work in the Russia probe and said he would return to private life. But Mueller specifically declined to vindicate Trump on obstruction charges, indicating it was up to Congress to decide whether to take up continued investigations and bring charges of wrongdoing against a sitting president.
Trump is also asserting that Mueller was hopelessly biased and “conflicted,” broadly dismissing his two-year investigation as a hoax and witch hunt. Trump’s own aides, however, have previously rejected his complaints about Mueller as groundless. And the Mueller investigation produced a number of guilty pleas, convictions and criminal charges as part of a review that ultimately concluded Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was “sweeping and systematic.”
The statements helped cap a week of unsupported assertion by the president on trade, the economy, North Korea and more.
TRUMP: “There was no crime. There was no obstruction. There was no collusion.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
TRUMP, on Mueller’s statement on finishing his work as special counsel: “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.” — tweet Wednesday.
SARAH SANDERS, White House press secretary: “The Special Counsel has completed the investigation, closed his office, and has closed the case. ... The report was clear_there was no collusion, no conspiracy_and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction. ...After two years, the Special Counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.” — statement Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Mueller did not fully exonerate Trump or declare that a possible case against Trump to be “closed.” While announcing his work was now finished, Mueller specifically left it open for Congress to decide on possible charges of wrongdoing. Mueller also did not say there was “insufficient evidence” as to possible crimes of obstruction, making clear that his report did not draw a conclusion.
Mueller said his team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge Trump, partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted.
As a result, his detailed report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, leaving it up to Congress to take up the matter.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said Wednesday. Based on that department’s legal opinion, Mueller said, “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Attorney General William Barr wrote in a March 24 letter that ultimately he was deciding that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient” to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump committed obstruction of justice. But Mueller explicitly declined to say that.
It’s true the Mueller report did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, saying it had not collected sufficient evidence “to establish” or sustain criminal charges. However, the report did not assess whether “collusion” occurred.
TRUMP, on Mueller’s relationship with former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump: “He loves Comey. You look at the relationship with those two. So whether it’s love or deep like, but he was conflicted.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Though Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director and though they served together in the Bush administration, the men are not known to be social friends. There is certainly no evidence, as Trump has repeatedly suggested, that they are “best friends” or have a relationship that is “love or deep like.”
TRUMP: “I think he’s totally conflicted. ...Robert Mueller should’ve never been chosen because he wanted the FBI job and he didn’t get it. And the next day, he was picked as Special Counsel. So you tell somebody, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t have the job.’ And then, after you say that, he’s going to make a ruling on you? It doesn’t work that way. Plus, we had a business dispute.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Trump makes a groundless charge that Mueller was “totally conflicted.” Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department’s ethics experts to lead the Russia investigation.
According to the special counsel’s report, when Trump previously complained privately to aides that Mueller would not be objective, the advisers, including then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Reince Priebus, chief of staff at the time, rejected his complaints of an alleged business dispute and possible bad feelings over the FBI job as not representing “true conflicts.” Bannon called the claims “ridiculous.”
Bannon told Mueller’s investigators that while the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job. Mueller was previously FBI director from 2001 to 2013.
TRUMP: “There’s no nothing. It’s nothing but a witch hunt.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
TRUMP: “They don’t talk about Russia anymore because it turned out to be a hoax. It was all a hoax.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: A two-year investigation that produced guilty pleas, convictions and criminal charges against Russian intelligence officers and others with ties to the Kremlin, as well as Trump associates, is not a hoax. Mueller’s report concluded there was “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller charged 34 people, including the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and three Russian companies. Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or of orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet.
Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller, and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.
TRUMP: “Employment numbers are the best. We have close to 160 million people working today, which is more than we’ve ever had before.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
THE FACTS: It’s true that more people are working now, but that is driven by population growth. A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still far below record highs.
According to Labor Department data, 60.6 percent of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in April. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7 percent in April 2000, though higher than the 59.9 percent when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.
The Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate dropped in April to 3.6% from 3.8%. That drop reflected a healthy economy for sure, but also an increase in the number of Americans who stopped looking for work.
TRUMP, on limited progress by North Korea to “denuclearize”: “So I think that he is — he is going to try, at some point. I’m in no rush at all. ...We, as you know, are getting the remains — continuing to get the remains.” — news conference Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
THE FACTS: U.S. efforts to recover additional remains of American service members have stalled amid souring relations with North Korea.
Last month, as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea spiked again, the Pentagon said it had suspended its efforts this year to arrange negotiations on recovering additional remains of American service members killed in the North during the Korean War. The Pentagon said it remained hopeful they can reach agreement with the North for recovery operations in 2020.
The Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency said it has had no communication with North Korean authorities since the Vietnam summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last February. That meeting focused on the North’s nuclear weapons and followed a June 2018 summit where Kim committed to permitting a resumption of U.S. remains recovery; that effort had been suspended by the U.S. in 2005.
The agency said it had “reached the point where we can no longer effectively plan, coordinate, and conduct field operations” with the North during this budget year, which ends Sept. 30. The North, it said, never agreed to face-to-face negotiations to work out details for the recovery operations, such as payments required for the provision of support services by the North Korean army.
Last summer, in line with the first Trump-Kim summit in June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.
U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.
TRUMP: “We’re taking in billions of dollars in tariffs. China is subsidizing products. So the United States’ taxpayers are paying for very little of it. ” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
TRUMP: “You know, foolishly, some people said that the American taxpayer is paying the tariffs of China. No, no, no — it’s not that way. They’re paying a small percentage, but our country is taking in billions and billions of dollars.” — news conference Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
THE FACTS: That’s not true. U.S. consumers and the public are primarily if not entirely paying the costs of the tariffs, as his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has acknowledged . That’s how tariffs work: Importers pay the taxes and often pass on the cost to consumers. The U.S. is not “taking in” billions from China as a result.
A sustained trade dispute is not painless for China, either. Its goods become pricier and therefore less competitive. But China is not paying a tab to the U.S. treasury in this matter.
As Kudlow said, accurately: “Both sides will suffer on this.” But in his view, “this is a risk we should and can take.”
TRUMP: “Prime Minister Abe and I have agreed to dramatically expand our nations’ cooperation in human space exploration. Japan will join our mission to send U.S. astronauts to space. We’ll be going to the moon. We’ll be going to Mars very soon.” — news conference Monday.
THE FACTS: Not very soon. The U.S. will almost certainly not be sending humans to Mars in his presidency, even if he wins a second term.
The Trump administration has a placed a priority on the moon over Mars for human exploration (President Barack Obama favored Mars) and hopes to accelerate NASA’s plan for returning people to the lunar surface. It has asked Congress to approve enough money to make a moon mission possible by 2024, instead 2028. But even if that happens, Mars would come years after that. International space agencies have made aspirational statements about possibly landing humans on Mars during the 2030s.
TRUMP: “If you look at the deal that Biden and President Obama signed, they would have access — free access — to nuclear weapons, where they wouldn’t even be in violation, in just a very short period of time. What kind of a deal is that?” — news conference Monday.
THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation of what the deal required . Iran would not have access to nuclear weapons capability in a “very short period” without violating the terms of the 2015 accord. The U.S. withdrew from the multinational agreement last year.
During the 15-year life of most provisions of the deal, Iran’s capabilities were limited to a level where it could not produce a nuclear bomb. Iran was thought to be only months away from a bomb when the deal came into effect.
After 15 years, Iran could have an array of advanced centrifuges ready to work, the limits on its stockpile would be gone and, in theory, it could then throw itself into producing highly enriched uranium. But nothing in the deal prevented the West from trying to rein Iran in again with sanctions. The deal included a pledge by Iran never to seek a nuclear weapon. In return, partners in the deal eased sanctions on Iran.
Associated Press writers Cal Woodward, Christopher Rugaber, Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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