AP FACT CHECK: Improv week at the White House
WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a week of sound and fury from President Donald Trump, the commander in tweets. A look at how some of his statements fit with the facts:
TRUMP made an unsupported assertion Monday that terrorist acts in Europe are going unreported: “All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
THE FACTS: Trump and his team cited one example of a deadly terrorist attack going unreported: the one that didn’t happen in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Adviser Kellyanne Conway spoke a week earlier about a Bowling Green “massacre” that didn’t take place, correcting herself when she was called out on the error.
As for Trump’s claim about Europe, it’s probably true that you haven’t heard of every attack on the continent that can be tied to terrorism. Scores if not hundreds happen every year. Many don’t rise to the level of an international audience because they cause no casualties, or little or no property damage, or are carried out by unknown assailants for unclear reasons.
One exhaustive list is the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland. It lists 321 episodes of suspected or known terrorism in Western Europe alone in 2015. Many are anti-Muslim attacks against mosques, not the brand of terrorism Trump has expressed concern about. Many are attacks undertaken for right-wing or left-wing causes that have nothing to do with Islamic extremism or xenophobic attacks on mosques.
The database defines a terrorist act as one aimed at attaining political, religious, social or economic goals through coercion or intimidation of the public, outside acts of war.
The devastating attacks by Islamic extremists in 2015 are also on the list, among them the murderous assault on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the even bloodier attack at Paris’ Bataclan concert hall, the worst in a series of killings in one day. Those attacks and other deadly ones in Europe received saturation coverage for days.
But even the smaller, nonlethal acts of terrorism received coverage. The database itself is built from media reports.
Trump made his claim before a broad audience on live television, while speaking at Central Command headquarters in Florida. On Air Force One, before a smaller audience, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump did not really mean that terrorist attacks received no coverage. Trump’s actual complaint, he said, was that such acts don’t get enough attention.
The White House later released a list of 78 worldwide attacks it described as “executed or inspired by” IS. Most on the list did not get sufficient media attention, the White House said, without specifying which ones it considered underreported.
Attacks on the list that had high death tolls were given blanket coverage, such as the Brussels bombings in March, the San Bernadino, California, shootings in December 2015, and the Paris attacks in November 2015. Some with a smaller death toll, such as two attacks in Canada that killed one soldier each, were covered at the time and well known.
The White House did not point to any examples supporting Trump’s contention that terrorist attacks were “not even being reported.”
TRUMP, speaking to sheriffs Tuesday: “The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years. I used to use that — I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised because the press doesn’t tell it like it is.” He circled back to add: “The murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, from 45 to 47 years.”
THE FACTS: The murder rate in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available, is actually among the lowest in half a century. It stood at 4.9 murders per 100,000 people, a far cry from the rates in the 1970s, 1980s and most of the 1990s, when they were typically over 6 per 100,000, peaking at over 10 in 1980.
It’s true that 2015 saw one of the largest increases in decades, up 10 percent from 4.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2014. But even with that rise, homicides are not on the order of what the country experienced in previous decades.
Trump has misrepresented crime statistics on several occasions. He stated last month that Philadelphia’s murder rate has been “terribly increasing” even though it dropped slightly last year. The city’s murder rate rose in the previous two years but remained substantially lower than in past decades.
He also incorrectly claimed that two people “were shot and killed” in Chicago during then-President Barack Obama’s farewell speech on Jan. 10. Although Chicago has experienced a surge in murders compared with previous decades, no one was fatally shot in Chicago that day, police records show, much less during Obama’s speech.
TRUMP in a tweet Thursday: “It is a disgrace that my full Cabinet is still not in place, the longest such delay in the history of our country. Obstruction by Democrats!”
THE FACTS: That’s a premature judgment. It’s only February, and several other recent presidents did not have their full Cabinets seated this soon. Obama did not have all his Cabinet vacancies filled until late April 2009, for example, or President Bill Clinton until mid-March 1993.
Looking at the far broader range of people throughout government who must be confirmed by the Senate, it’s true that the process has lagged this time. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price this past week became the ninth member of Trump’s administration to be confirmed. At this point eight years ago Obama had more than 20 officials confirmed, including department heads and deputies.
Democratic resistance is partly responsible. So is the fact that Trump has been slower than his predecessor in submitting vetting information and paperwork for his nominees, even though he was unusually fast in putting the names of his Cabinet picks into play.
As for his accusation of Democratic obstructionism, the opposition party can cause some procedural delays, and has done so. But obstructionism isn’t what it used to be. Unlike Obama, Trump only needs a simple majority to confirm his executive-office nominees, thanks to a change in rules instituted by Democrats when they controlled the Senate in 2013. And Trump has a Republican-controlled Senate to push his nominees through.
TRUMP on Thursday disputed statements by at least three senators that his nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, voiced complaints to them about the president’s recent attacks on the judiciary. Tweet: “Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” At a lunch with senators: “His comments were misrepresented.”
THE FACTS: Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut who falsely claimed in years past that he had served in Vietnam, offered an account of his meeting with Gorsuch that was corroborated by Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist serving as communications director for the team that is working to get Gorsuch confirmed by the Senate.
The senator said Gorsuch told him it was “disheartening” and “demoralizing” to see Trump disparage the judge who temporarily blocked the president’s restrictions on visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries and on refugees. Trump has called U.S. District Judge James Robart a “so-called judge” and accused the judiciary of being political. Robart’s decision was upheld Thursday in a unanimous decision by an appeals court panel that includes a Republican appointee.
A Republican senator said Gorsuch also objected to Trump’s comments about Robart during their meeting.
“He got pretty passionate about him, about it,” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska told MSNBC on Thursday. “I asked him about the ‘so-called judges’ comment, because we don’t have so-called judges or so-called presidents or so-called senators, and this was a guy who kind of welled up with some energy and he said any attack on any of — I think his term to me was, brothers or sisters of the robe — is an attack on all judges, and he believes in an independent judiciary.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, also said Gorsuch told him he was “disheartened” by Trump’s insult.
Former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is helping to usher Gorsuch through the Senate, said in a statement released by the White House that the nominee “made clear that he was not referring to any specific case,” but “finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing.” Even if Gorsuch did not name Trump in some of his exchanges with senators, however, it’s clear that judicial integrity only came up because Trump had attacked it.
Blumenthal told The Associated Press that Ayotte and White House staff members were in the room during his conversation with Gorsuch, that “there’s no question that he said that President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are demoralizing and disheartening” and that the nominee added: “You can repeat that. You can quote me.”
TRUMP tweet Thursday: “Chris Cuomo, in his interview with Sen. Blumenthal, never asked him about his long-term lie about his brave ‘service’ in Vietnam. FAKE NEWS!”
THE FACTS: Not so. Cuomo, a CNN host, brought up that issue upfront with Blumenthal. Cuomo asked him about Trump’s belief that the senator has no credibility “because you misrepresented your military record in the past.” Blumenthal did not answer the question, but went on to talk about his meeting with Judge Gorsuch.
During Blumenthal’s Senate campaign in 2010, The New York Times reported on multiple occasions when he falsely claimed he had served in Vietnam during the war. He joined the Marine Reserve but never served in Vietnam. Blumenthal told AP on Thursday: “I’ve been in public life for quite a while. Anyone who is interested can go back over it.”
TRUMP tweet Friday: “LAWFARE: ‘Remarkably, in the entire opinion, the panel did not bother even to cite this (the) statute.’ A disgraceful decision!”
THE FACTS: In this rather bewildering tweet, Trump cited a legal blog as support for his complaints about the appeals case that kept the borders open to people he wants banned.
Trump accurately quoted a passage from the Lawfare blog about the decision Thursday by the federal appeals court in San Francisco. But the blog’s editor-in-chief and author of the post, Brookings Institution scholar Benjamin Wittes, actually wrote in favor of the decision while exposing what he considers its weaknesses.
He wrote that Trump’s executive order barring visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries and refugees worldwide was promulgated with “incompetent malevolence.” Continuing its suspension, as the appeals court did, avoids plunging the country into turmoil again while other courts address the merits of the case, he said.
Yet Wittes said the judges failed to address the law at the heart of Trump’s statutory case. The law says the president may, “by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens” or impose “any restrictions” if he decides their presence in the country would be detrimental to the U.S.
That’s a “pretty big omission,” he wrote. Wittes also criticized the court’s “arch and clucking dismissals of presidential demands for deference in national security cases.”
Trump’s selective citation from the blog suggests that this line of argument could be central to the administration’s case that courts have not given presidential authority proper weight.
The passage quoted by Trump was featured on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and the president’s use of it prompted the author to tweet: “You’ve found the only sentence in it congenial to your views.”
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