AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s distortions are across the board
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump systematically fabricated his record before boisterous supporters and the eyes of the world this past week.
To a core question — did the U.S. killing of an Iranian general avoid an imminent attack on U.S. interests? — there is no definitive answer days after missiles flew. Trump and his officials said the U.S. attack achieved that result but have yet to prove it.
In other matters, Trump offered distortion across the breadth of public policy. He declared clean-air achievements when the air has become dirtier. He claimed to have come up with the “great idea” of letting veterans seek private care at public expense, when that was already law, accomplished by President Barack Obama.
He complained that he didn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize for peace in Ethiopia, when he had little to nothing to do with it.
He invented a dialogue with a Democrat in Congress and claimed he succeeded on two fronts where other presidents failed, each time for at least 44 years, a made-up number.
And as he done repeatedly, but this time in the midst of dangerous brinkmanship with Iran, he falsely accused Obama of opening the U.S. treasury to Tehran and handing over a fortune.
A sampling from the week:
TRUMP: “I’m going to tell you about the Nobel Peace Prize, I will tell you about that. I made a deal, I saved the country and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country. I said, what, did I have something to do with it? Yeah but, you know, that is the way it is. ” Toledo, Ohio, rally Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump did not save Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the prize in October after he fully accepted a peace deal ending a 20-year border war with neighboring Eritrea that saw some 80,000 people killed. Trump had no known involvement in the peace deal.
The prize also recognized Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader, for sweeping changes in Ethiopian society as he released tens of thousands of prisoners, welcomed home once-banned opposition groups, expanded freedom of expression and acknowledged his country’s past abuses.
Trump did agree to a request from Egypt’s president to mediate a dispute among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a proposed dam on the Nile River. That mediation continues.
Trump is known to express pique when he is not recognized in the manner he thinks is deserved. He mocked teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg when Time magazine named her person of the year last month.
TRUMP: “America lost 60,000 factories under the previous administration, 60,000. You wouldn’t believe that’s possible but I know it’s true. ... No, it’s true. No, it’s true. ... It’s 60,000 closed, gone. They are all coming back. They are all coming back.” — Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: It’s not true.
The U.S. has indeed lost roughly 60,000 factories but that’s since 2001, the start of President George W. Bush’s administration. It didn’t happen “under the previous administration.” And they’re not “all coming back.”
Construction spending on factories has declined since a recent peak in 2015 during Obama’s presidency. Factories cut 12,000 jobs in December, according to the jobs report Friday. Growth in manufacturing jobs decelerated sharply in 2019, to 46,000, down from 264,000 added jobs in 2018.
TRUMP on the Veterans Administration: “For 44 years they try to get accountability. ... I said, you know ... I have an idea, such a great idea. You are going to go out private, you’re going to pick up a doctor, you are going to get yourself fixed up, we’re going to pay the bill, right? And you know what happened? And I said how — how brilliant is that? They say sir, we’ve been working on that for 48 years but we’ve never been able to get it approved. So I was very, very disillusioned but you know what I’m good at, getting things approved and we got it approved.” — to cheers at Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: He did not think up the idea and get it approved. Obama got it approved. Obama signed into law the Choice program that lets veterans go to a private doctor at public expense under some circumstances. Trump routinely ignores that and says presidents have tried to get it done for 44 years. He only expanded the program.
As for accountability, Trump claims that his law means bad VA employees are swiftly fired. But a report released in October by the VA inspector general found “significant deficiencies” in the accountability office established by the law, such as poor leadership, shoddy training of investigators and a failure to push out underperforming senior leaders.
Also at the rally, Trump claimed that “44 years” of failure preceded his success in getting the “right to try” initiative into law. That initiative, aimed at giving terminally ill patients more access to unapproved drugs, only goes back five or so years.
TRUMP: “U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration.” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: The news came from the American Cancer Society, not the administration, and it does not reflect Trump’s record.
The group said the death rate from cancer has declined nearly 30% since 1991 and took its sharpest one-year drop in 2017. But the data did not reflect cancer-research spending under the Trump administration.
Trump proposed cutting spending at the National Institutes of Health but Congress ignored the effort and raised spending in a bill the president signed. That is not reflected in the cancer society report.
TRUMP: “Iran’s hostility substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013. And they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash.” — address Wednesday.
TRUMP: “Iran now is not wealthy like it was when President Obama handed him $150 billion..” — remarks Thursday.
TRUMP: “They gave around $150 billion including $1.7 billion in the hard cold cash, can you imagine? No, no, can you imagine? $1.7 billion, $1.8 billion in cash.” — Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury or other countries. The U.S. made a separate payment of roughly $1.8 billion to cover a decades-old IOU.
When Iran signed the multinational deal to restrain its nuclear development in return for being freed from sanctions, it regained access to its own assets, which had been frozen abroad. Iran was allowed to get its money back. The deal actually was signed in 2015, after a 2013 preliminary agreement. Trump has taken the U.S. out of it.
As for the $1.8 billion: In the 1970s, Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the Iranian government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured. After the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the matter, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest.
The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s previous dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.
TRUMP: “The foolish Iran nuclear deal financed Iranian aggression while allowing a quick path to nuclear breakout. That is what it did. And by the way it expires so soon. They can have nuclear weapons.” — Toledo rally.
TRUMP: “It’s close to expiring. In other words, if I didn’t terminate it, it expires in a very short period of time.” — remarks at White House on Thursday.
THE FACTS: The 2015 agreement is not about to expire. It imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear development for 15 years.
TRUMP: “The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.” — address Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That accusation comes without corroboration. The administration has offered no information supporting the contention that in regaining access to $150 billion of its assets that had been frozen abroad, Iran steered a chunk of that money to the missiles that hit the U.S. bases in Iraq.
“I doubt anyone has the insight into Iran’s budgetary mechanisms to say that this money was used for this purpose,” said Gerald Feierstein, a career U.S. diplomat who retired in 2016 as the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.
“It’s a funds-are-fungible kind of argument,” he said. “I mean, if they have money, can you say that dollar went directly to buy a missile, as opposed to freeing up another dollar that went to buy a missile?”
Joseph Votel, who retired from the U.S. Army in March as the top military commander for the Middle East, said he was not aware of any specific intelligence on this question. “I don’t have anything that would particularly support that,” he said. “I’m not saying it did or it didn’t, but I don’t have details to demonstrate it one way or the other.”
TRUMP: “We have some of the cleanest air and cleanest water on earth, and for our country the air is right now cleaner than it’s been in 40 years.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: No, air quality has worsened under the Trump administration. And it’s a stretch to say the U.S. is among the countries with the cleanest air. Dozens of nations have less smoggy air. Trump made the remarks as he proposed the latest enforcement rollbacks for the bedrock environmental acts credited with beginning the clean-up of U.S. air and water a half-century ago.
As to water quality, one measure, Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index, finds the U.S. tied with nine other countries as having the cleanest drinking water.
But after decades of improvement, progress in air quality has stalled.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America in 2017 and 2018 than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when the U.S had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980, according to an AP analysis of EPA data.
A recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that deadly air particle pollution increased 5.5% in the United States between 2016 and 2018 after declining by 24.2% from 2009 to 2016.
“The increase was associated with 9,700 premature deaths in 2018,” the study by Karen Clay and Nicholas Muller said. “At conventional valuations, these deaths represent damages of $89 billion.”
The Obama administration set records for the fewest air-polluted days.
Trump’s proposal would greatly cut back on the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement that federal agencies consider whether a big construction project would hurt the environment before they approve the project. Other Trump proposals would roll back restrictions on major sources of air and water pollution, including coal-fired power plants and autos.”
ISLAMIC STATE GROUP
TRUMP: “Three months ago, after destroying 100% of ISIS and its territorial caliphate ...” — address Wednesday on Iran’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases.
THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading as the Islamic State group still poses a threat.
IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate. Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
U.N. experts have warned that IS leaders are seeking a resurgence. This past week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the fight against the group was continuing in Syria.
TRUMP, on the House Intelligence Committee chairman: “He’s a corrupt politician, Adam Schiff. He’s corrupt. ... He gave a sentence that he made up. He made it up, and it was not — it was not what was said in the conversation. That’s why I released the transcript, got approval from Ukraine.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s timeline is wrong and he’s exaggerating the episode and botching the timeline.
Schiff, D-Calif., delivered what he called a parody of Trump’s remarks in the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader.
Schiff did so after the White House released a rough transcript of the call, not before, as Trump states. So people who read the official account knew Schiff was riffing from it, not quoting from it.
Though Trump took umbrage at having words put in his mouth by Schiff, the president routinely invents dialogue. It’s a staple of his rhetoric when he mocks political rivals. He did it Thursday night at a rally, making up a conversation he pretended he had — with Schiff.
TRUMP: “We released the exact transcript.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: No, the White House memo describing Trump’s phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy isn’t exact.
It was presented by the White House as a rough transcript. The public does not know precisely what each leader said.
Officials who were tasked to listen in to the call say the rough transcript is largely accurate in representing the material aspects of the conversation as they heard it.
One such witness testified that some quotations in the account were not exact, though he did not consider the variance to be consequential.
TRUMP, explaining why he initially held up military aid to Ukraine: “Why is it that the United States pays? And it affects Europe far more than it affects the United States. So why isn’t it that France, Germany, and all of those countries in Europe that are so strongly affected, why aren’t they paying?” — remarks Tuesday with Greece’s prime minister.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect that European countries weren’t putting up aid for Ukraine.
European Union institutions have provided far more development assistance than the $204 million from Washington. Specific EU members, Japan and Canada also contribute significantly.
Since 2014, the EU and European financial institutions have mobilized more than $16 billion to help Ukraine’s economy, counter corruption, build institutions and strengthen its sovereignty against further incursions by Russia after its annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. is a heavy source of military assistance. But NATO also contributes a variety of military-assistance programs and trust funds for Ukraine. In most such cases, the programs are modest and NATO countries other than the U.S. take the lead
TRUMP: “We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil.” — address Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s declaration of energy independence is premature. The U.S. still needs plenty of oil from the Mideast.
The volume of U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf alone — 23 million barrels in October – would not be easy to make up elsewhere, at least not without major changes in U.S. demand or production.
Technological advances like fracking and horizontal drilling have allowed the U.S. to greatly increase production, but demand remains brisk and the country still imports millions of barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iraq and other countries. Moreover, much of what the U.S. produces is hard for domestic refiners to convert to practical use. So the U.S. exports that production and imports oil that is more suitable for American refineries to handle.
On energy more broadly, the U.S. is indeed close to parity on how much energy it produces and how much it consumes. In some months, it produces more than it consumes. But it has not achieved self-sufficiency. In the first nine months of last year, it imported about as much energy as it exported.
TRUMP: “The American military has been completely rebuilt under my administration, at a cost of $2.5 trillion.” — address Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration.
It’s true that his administration has accelerated a sharp buildup in defense spending, including a respite from what the U.S. military considered to be crippling spending limits under budget sequestration.
But a number of new Pentagon weapons programs, such as the F-35 fighter jet, were started years before the Trump administration. And it will take years for freshly ordered tanks, planes and other weapons to be built, delivered and put to use.
The Air Force’s Minuteman 3 missiles, a key part of the U.S. nuclear force, for instance, have been operating since the early 1970s and the modernization was begun under the Obama administration. They are due to be replaced with a new version, but not until later this decade.
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Ellen Knickmeyer, Matthew Lee, Michael Biesecker, Lolita C. Baldor, Matthew Daly and Robert Burns contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd
Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck