AP FACT CHECK: Did Trump think mail bombs were liberal plot?
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the blink of a tweet, President Donald Trump gave subtle credence to the notion that bombs mailed to Democrats were actually a ploy to hurt Republicans in the election. That flew in the face of known facts in the episode, just one example of reality being twisted in the house of mirrors otherwise known as the final stretch of the election campaign.
A look at some of the rhetoric of the past week:
TRUMP: “Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows - news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!” — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: His use of “bomb” in quotation marks lent weight to conspiracy theories that Democrats and CNN were targeted as part of a liberal plot to drum up voter anger at Trump and fellow Republicans. There’s no evidence of that. Trump’s tweet bemoaned the diversion of attention away from the campaign by news organizations that shifted priority to the attack. Given Trump’s vow that no effort would be spared to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice, it’s questionable whether the president actually believed the theory he seemed to be subscribing to in the tweet.
Later Friday, police arrested a Florida man who is a fervent Trump supporter and accused him of sending more than a dozen mail bombs. Trump hailed law enforcement for acting so swiftly against “terrorizing acts” he called “despicable.”
TRUMP, on the discovery of pipe bombs targeting prominent Democratic politicians and CNN: “Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective.” — Wisconsin rally Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump specifically calls out opponents as being morally defective. He called Democrats and other opponents of Justice Brett Kavanaugh “very evil people.” He has routinely described Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters as “low IQ.” She was among those targeted by pipe bombs in the mail, as was CNN, prime among the news organizations he calls “fake” and an “enemy of the people” in his stump speech.
For much of his political career, Trump has often embraced deeply personal attacks against his opponents. During the 2016 campaign, for instance, he repeatedly encouraged supporters to physically attack liberal protesters, offering to pay for their legal bills.
His recent rhetoric has sometimes turned darker.
“The Democrats are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave,” Trump declared at a Minnesota rally this month. “They want to destroy.”
He also praised a Republican congressman from Montana for body slamming a reporter.
TRUMP: “We’re going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle-income families. It’s going to be put in next week, 10 percent tax cut. Kevin Brady is working on it. We’ve been working on it for a few months, a 10 percent brand-new — and that is in addition to the big tax cuts that you’ve already gotten. But this one is for middle income.” — Texas rally Monday.
TRUMP: “We’re putting in a resolution some time in the next week and a half to two weeks (and) we’re giving a middle-income tax reduction of about 10 percent.” — remarks Monday at White House.
THE FACTS: A reality check is in order.
His suggestion that he can soon secure a tax cut for middle-class families is highly questionable. Congress is out of session as lawmakers campaign for the Nov. 6 midterm elections. When pressed about when a bill can be approved, Trump insisted that “we’ll do the vote after the election.”
But he’s making a big assumption that Congress can act in a lame-duck session this year or that Republicans will keep control of the House and Senate next year.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said it was “highly unlikely” the Senate would vote on Trump’s tax cut plan after the election. When asked if it could pass, he said: “I’ve seen miracles happen before.”
Coming so close to critical elections, the tax proposal appeared to be more a tacit acknowledgement by the Trump administration that the $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts passed last year failed to deliver the political traction that Republicans had hoped for. So he’s dangling the prospect for more.
TRUMP: “We’ve saved your family farms, ranches and small businesses from the estate tax, also known as the death tax. ...There’s no tax. ...That was in our tax cuts.” — Texas rally Monday.
THE FACTS: There is so an estate tax. The Republican-controlled Congress did not eliminate the estate tax as part of its 2017 law. Rather, it increased the tax exemption — temporarily — so fewer people will be subject to those taxes. There also wasn’t much that Trump “saved” since very few farms or small businesses were subject to an estate tax even before the 2017 law.
Previously, any assets from estates valued at more than $5.49 million, or nearly $11 million for couples, were subject to the estate tax in 2017. The new law doubled that minimum for 2018 to $11.2 million, or $22.4 million for couples. Those increased minimums will expire at the end of 2025.
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, only about 50 small farms and closely held businesses were subject to the estate tax in 2017. Those estates represent about 1 percent of all taxable estate tax returns.
TRUMP: “All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!” — tweet Oct. 20.
TRUMP: “The illegals — and by the way, I hate to tell you, you go to California, you go — they vote anyway. They vote anyway. And they’re not supposed to. ...Voter ID, folks. Voter ID. Voter ID.” — Texas rally Monday.
THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating the extent of voting fraud.
The actual number of fraud cases is very small, and the type that voter IDs are designed to prevent — voter impersonation at the ballot box — is virtually nonexistent.
In court cases that have invalidated some ID laws as having discriminatory effects, election officials could barely cite a case in which a person was charged with in-person voting fraud.
Democrats have opposed voter-ID laws as unnecessarily restricting access for nonwhites and young people, who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans accuse Democrats of wanting noncitizens to be able to vote in U.S. elections.
Trump often asserts that voter fraud is a significant issue, but has not provided evidence of consequential fraud.
After the 2016 election, Trump convened a commission to investigate potential voting fraud, after alleging repeatedly and without evidence that fraud cost him the popular vote. Trump won the Electoral College.
But he disbanded the panel in January, blaming the decision on more than a dozen states that refused to comply with the commission’s demand for reams of personal voter data.
TRUMP: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s not “totally” protecting health coverage for patients with pre-existing medical conditions. In fact, his Justice Department is arguing in court that those protections in the Obama-era health law should fall. And the short-term health plans Trump often promotes as a bargain alternative offer no guarantee of covering pre-existing conditions.
Government lawyers said in legal filings in June that they will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a letter to Congress that Trump approved the legal strategy.
The decision was a rare departure from the Justice Department’s custom of defending federal laws in court. It came after Texas and other Republican-led states sued to strike down the entire law because Congress repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine.
The Trump administration said it won’t defend the provision shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums.
Former President Barack Obama’s health care law requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones. Bills supported last year by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law could have pushed up costs for people with pre-existing conditions.
TRUMP: “We’re after George Washington” in federal judicial appointments. — Texas rally Monday.
THE FACTS: Trump is not No. 2.
Trump has appointed 84 judges who have been confirmed. That translates to about 10 percent of the total federal judgeships at the 21-month mark in his presidency. That lags at least two other presidents in terms of both raw numbers and percentages, said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert on judicial appointments.
Wheeler, a former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center, analyzed historical data from the center and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. He found that Trump trails Democrats John F. Kennedy (110) and Bill Clinton (128) at comparable points in their presidencies in the number of judges seated.
Wheeler also put together a ranking based on the number of appointees in 21 months as a percentage of “authorized judgeships,” or the total seats created by Congress. Trump lags more than a dozen other presidents, including Washington, who as the first president appointed 100 percent of the federal judges. At the 21-month mark, for instance, Kennedy appointees occupied roughly 28 percent of the judicial seats then authorized by Congress, far higher than Trump’s 10 percent.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “In the last fiscal year, we apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our southern border from countries that are referred to in the lexicon as other than Mexico. That means from the Middle East region.” — remarks Tuesday at a Washington Post event.
THE FACTS: He misused information from the government.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested an average of 10 people a day in the 2017 budget year who were trying to enter the U.S. from countries with suspected links to terrorism, according to Pence’s office. That average applies to all points of entry, not just the southern border. And the primary points of entry for people coming from overseas are airports, not the two borders.
Pence’s office acknowledged his mistake. Pence cited the information accurately later, at an Oval Office bill signing by Trump.
TRUMP: “Take your camera, go into the middle and search. You’re gonna find MS-13, you’re gonna find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety.” — remarks to reporters Monday.
TRUMP: “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. Must change laws!” — tweet Monday.
THE FACTS: Trump provided no evidence to support these assertions and later acknowledged “there’s no proof of anything.”
The migrants in this caravan are mostly from Honduras, where it started, as well as El Salvador and Guatemala. On the whole they are poor, carrying the belongings that fit into a knapsack and fleeing gang violence or poverty. They are roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from the nearest U.S. border crossing.
Are some criminals mixed in with the throngs? That’s probably true, given the sheer number of migrants. Trump did not substantiate his claim that members of the MS-13 gang, in particular, are among them.
Some migrants clashed with Mexican police at the Mexico-Guatemala border, hurling stones and other objects as they tried to cross the international bridge. Caravan leaders said they had expelled a number of troublemakers from the procession, exhibiting some self-policing. Ultimately, most entered Guatemala — and later, Mexico — by illegally bypassing immigration checkpoints.
The caravan otherwise has been overwhelmingly peaceful, receiving applause and donated food from residents of the towns they pass.
Guatemalan officials say they detained several Syrian citizens with false documents two years ago and deported them. No evidence was made public connecting them to the Islamic State or this caravan.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Matthew Daly in Washington, and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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