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AP FACT CHECK: Trump on ‘crying’ IS leader, whistleblower

November 4, 2019
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President Donald Trump gestures to the audience during his address on a number of topics, including his administration's successes and poking fun at his critics, during a Keep America Great Rally in Tupelo, Miss., Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, days before the Nov. 5 general elections in Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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President Donald Trump gestures to the audience during his address on a number of topics, including his administration's successes and poking fun at his critics, during a Keep America Great Rally in Tupelo, Miss., Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, days before the Nov. 5 general elections in Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is spreading misinformation about the CIA officer who blew the whistle on his dealings with Ukraine.

With Democrats expected to hold public hearings later this month on his impeachment, Trump is calling for release of the name of the whistleblower, who accused Trump of pressing for a Ukrainian investigation of a Democratic rival, Joe Biden. The president insists the whistleblower’s allegations are all false.

That’s a distortion. Much of the whistleblower’s claims have been corroborated and the inspector general for the intelligence community found the complaint to be “credible.”

Recounting a U.S. military raid in Syria, Trump also told the tale of the Islamic State leader “whimpering” and “crying” in the last moments before his death. His own military leaders can’t confirm those details.

The statements came in a week of exaggerated boasts and fabrication in which the Trump campaign falsely asserted he had cut illegal immigration by half and the president suggested that war-torn Afghanistan was safer than Chicago.

A review:

WHISTLEBLOWER

TRUMP: “The Whistleblower got it sooo wrong.” — tweet Sunday.

TRUMP: “The whistleblower gave a very inaccurate report about my phone call. ...The whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false stories.” — remarks Sunday to reporters.

THE FACTS: The CIA officer’s accusations about improper conduct by Trump in his dealings with Ukraine have not been shown to be incorrect. Several key details have actually been corroborated by people with firsthand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill.

For example, the White House account of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy showed that the whistleblower had accurately summarized the conversation, as relayed by unidentified U.S. officials, in the complaint sent to the acting director of national intelligence.

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TRUMP: “My phone call was perfecto, it was totally appropriate.” — remarks Sunday to reporters.

THE FACTS: Trump’s argument that his conduct in the phone call was by the book is hard to sustain.

In his phone call, Trump told Zelenskiy “I would like for you to do us a favor, though” and investigate Biden, his businessman son and Democrats going back to the 2016 U.S. election. Diplomat William Taylor testified last month that Trump directly linked his request for that favor to military aid that he had abruptly suspended to Ukraine.

U.S. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who listened to the call, was so concerned that he rushed to one of the lawyers for the National Security Council to alert them.

As for the call being “perfect,” it was actually worrisome enough so that White House lawyers moved a rough transcript of it to a highly secure system where fewer officials would have access to it than is normally the case for conversations between Trump and world leaders.

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ISLAMIC STATE

TRUMP, on IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: “He died whimpering and crying.” —interview Thursday with Britain’s LBC Radio.

TRUMP: “He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. ...He died like a dog, he died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming, and crying.” — news conference on Oct. 27.

THE FACTS: His top military leaders don’t know what Trump is talking about.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watched the U.S. military raid with Trump in the Situation Room.

“I don’t know what the source of that was,” Milley said when asked about whimpering and crying. He offered that Trump might have talked directly to members of the unit, though it is inconceivable that they would not have briefed their commanders, too.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command who oversaw the U.S. raid on the Islamic State leader, did not support the commander in chief’s story.

“He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up while his people stayed on the grounds,” McKenzie said of al-Baghdadi at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday. “I’m not able to confirm anything else about his last seconds.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who also was in the Situation Room, demurred when asked about Trump’s comments. “I don’t have those details,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

White House officials have declined to say how the president got his information about al-Baghdadi’s alleged last moments’ meltdown.

Al-Baghdadi died during the raid in Syria after he detonated a suicide vest.

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IMMIGRATION

TRUMP ad: “President Trump is changing Washington ... cutting illegal immigration in half ...” — reelection ad shown Wednesday during Game 7 of the World Series.

THE FACTS: That’s a distortion. The claim is based on a three-month data snapshot that ignores a spike in border arrests earlier in the year. Border arrests are down only about 10% from President Barack Obama’s last month in office.

The ad features shots of Trump shaking hands with Border Patrol agents and cites “Fox News, 9/10/19” as the source for the claim.

In that Fox News interview , Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said border arrests dropped by more than 50% from May to August, the latest data available at that time.

It’s true that arrests and denials of entry along the Mexico border plunged from 144,116 in May to 52,546 in September, a 64% drop. But border arrests had soared to a 13-year monthly high in May. Measuring from Obama’s last full month in office, the latest monthly tally in September was down only 10%. December 2016 was a high number for Obama’s presidency as people rushed to cross the border before Trump’s inauguration.

On top of that, border arrests are a flawed gauge of illegal immigration. It may be impossible to know how many people escaped capture, but the Border Patrol estimates 20% eluded arrest in the 2018 calendar year.

Also, an estimated 40% of people in the country illegally arrived legally and overstayed their visas. Border arrests don’t take them into account. So the ad rests on partial accounting and misleading figures.

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SYRIA

TRUMP: “We did keep the oil, if you don’t mind. We kept the oil. And we’ll distribute that oil, we’ll help out the Kurds, we’ll help out other people. We’ll also help out ourselves.” — Mississippi rally on Friday.

THE FACTS: It is by law Syria’s oil.

Trump says he intends to keep a small number of U.S. troops in the oil-producing region of eastern Syria so that the Islamic State group or someone else cannot take control of the oilfields and use them to generate revenue, such as through oil smuggling.

White House officials have declined to explain what Trump means by keeping the oil. Pentagon officials have said privately they’ve been given no order to take ownership of any element of Syria’s oil resources, including the wells and stored crude.

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ROBERT O’BRIEN, Trump’s national security adviser, asked about at least 100 captured IS fighters who escaped from prisons in Syria: “I think that’s Twitter intel. I’ve seen that on Twitter as well.” — interview Oct. 27 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

TRUMP: “ISIS is under very, very strict lock and key, and the detention facilities are being strongly maintained. There were a few that got out — a small number, relatively speaking — and they’ve been largely recaptured.” — remarks on Syria on Oct. 23.

THE FACTS: The 100 or so captured IS prisoners who were said to have escaped aren’t “Twitter intel” and speculation, but an estimate coming from the Defense Department. There’s also no evidence those prisoners have been recaptured as Trump stated. The administration has said their whereabouts aren’t known.

It’s been a hanging question since Turkey’s military incursion, which began Oct. 9: Would IS fighters held by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces escape in large numbers? As they push the Kurds out, the Turks are supposed to take control of the prisons.

Esper told CNN on Oct. 22 that of about 11,000 detainees in Syria, “we’ve only had reports of a little bit more than 100 that have escaped.”

And in a House hearing the next day, James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for Syria, cited the same figure. “Now over 100,” he said. “We do not know where they are.”

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TRUMP, on the Kurds and the Turks: “We don’t have to defend the borders between Turkey and Syria. They’ve been fighting for a thousand years.” — Mississippi rally.

TRUMP: “They’re fighting for 1,000 years, they’re fighting for centuries. — news conference Oct. 27.

THE FACTS: Not true that they’ve been fighting for a millennium.

There has been a 100-year effort to create a Kurdish state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, not a conflict extending 1,000 years.

After Turkey’s founding in 1923, the state pursued a policy emphasizing Turkish identity, and the Kurd minority staged a string of revolts and insurgencies, prompting bloody reprisals against their push for self-rule and Kurdish identity. Fighting has persisted since then.

Prior to Turkey’s creation, the Ottoman Empire — which rose in 1299, or 720 years ago — saw some tension with its Kurdish population and a period in the mid-1800s when some Kurdish chieftains revolted.

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MORE ON IMPEACHMENT

TRUMP: “There was an exact transcript of the meeting. ... The transcript of the, of the call that I had with the Ukrainian President is a perfect and, and totally appropriate document.” — interview Thursday with LBC Radio.

THE FACTS: It’s not an “exact” or “perfect” document. Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told House investigators this past week that the rough transcript omitted key words and phrases. He tried to add them but was rebuffed.

The memorandum of Trump’s July 25 phone call to Zelenskiy itself makes clear that it does not capture the exact words between the leaders.

The document says it is “not a verbatim transcript” and instead “records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A number of factors can affect the accuracy of the record.”

NSC refers to the National Security Council.

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TRUMP: “The Impeachment Hoax is hurting our Stock Market. The Do Nothing Democrats don’t care!” — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: He falsely suggests that Thursday’s stock market decline was driven primarily by the impeachment inquiry. The stock market has risen overall since the inquiry was announced, and the S&P 500 reached a record high on Friday.

When Trump sent his tweet Thursday morning, the S&P 500 was down about 0.5% as the House convened to vote on the ground rules for its impeachment inquiry, and eventually closed with a decline of 0.3%.

Analysts say the stock market is more concerned with the U.S.-China trade war, the strength of the global and U.S. economies, interest rates and corporate profits than the impeachment inquiry.

For instance, on Thursday, analysts pinned the market’s drop largely on a weak report on business activity in the Midwest and worries about the trade war with China that Trump himself began. On Friday, a surprisingly strong report on the jobs market drove the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite index to records, even as Democrats pushed ahead with the impeachment inquiry.

Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced an impeachment inquiry Sept. 24, the S&P 500 has risen 3.4%.

It’s tough to tease out for certain the impact of the impeachment proceedings given all the moving parts that go into setting stock prices. But many investors on Wall Street see impeachment having only a modest effect at most, and one unlikely to last for long.

That’s chiefly because few see a real threat of Trump ultimately getting removed from office by Congress. Even if the House impeaches Trump for asking another country to investigate a political opponent, investors tend to believe the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit him. So they think his lower-tax, less-regulation approach that markets like will last at least until the next election.

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TRUMP, on the stock market: “One of the reasons it’s up 300 points today is that people got to see the transcript or the version of the phone call with the president of the Ukraine.” — remarks Friday to reporters.

THE FACTS: No. The market did not rise Friday because investors suddenly saw a rough transcript of the call between Trump and Zelenskiy. That transcript was publicly released on Sept. 25.

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AFGHANISTAN vs CHICAGO

TRUMP, on murders in Chicago in recent years: “It’s embarrassing to us as a nation. All over the world, they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison.” — remarks Oct. 28 to police chiefs in Chicago.

THE FACTS: Afghanistan, at war for more than 40 years, is not safer than Chicago. More people died in violent episodes in a month in Afghanistan than were murdered in Chicago in a year.

Few direct comparisons exist of killings in Afghanistan, with a population of 38 million, and the city of Chicago, which has 2.7 million. It’s true that Afghanistan’s homicide rate per 100,000 was listed as 7.1 in 2017, lower than Chicago’s rate of 20.7 per 100,000 in 2018.

But that statistic doesn’t capture the danger of living in Afghanistan. It does not, for example, count the dead from war.

Afghanistan has no well-trained police force to investigate in a consistent way if a death was a homicide, accident or a mistake. Many other killings might not be recorded at all and in most areas of Afghanistan. Outside the major cities, no statistics of homicides are even compiled.

Danger comes from all directions and in many guises in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, for instance, an attack believed to have been carried out by an Islamic State affiliate killed 62 people and wounded more than 100 who were assaulted as they prayed; the Taliban stormed a checkpoint in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 15 policemen in the latest attack by insurgents; a Taliban suicide attack targeted a convoy carrying officials from the country’s intelligence service, killing five people including a child in eastern Nangarhar province; and Pakistani mortar and rocket fire into Afghanistan killed three women in eastern Kunar province.

At the peak of Afghanistan’s most recent war that began with the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban in 2001, more than 150,000 soldiers battled an insurgent force that today holds sway in roughly half the country and is at its strongest since 2001. Adding to the dangers is the growth of a brutal Islamic State affiliate that is expanding its footprint and drawing fighters driven from Syria and Iraq.

In addition to murders from crimes unrelated to war, the BBC this year found 2,307 people died in Afghanistan in 611 violent “security incidents” such as armed clashes, air strikes and explosions, in August alone. Those 2,307 deaths in one month — probably an undercount — are far higher than the number of homicides in Chicago for an entire year.

In 2016, Chicago recorded more than 760 homicides, its worst year in nearly two decades. Last year, homicides claimed more than 560 people.

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ECONOMY

TRUMP: “It was just announced, as I was getting off the plane, that the S&P has hit an all-time high -- the highest in the history of our country. And that’s not for rich people; that’s for everybody.” — remarks Oct. 28 to police chiefs.

THE FACTS: Actually, stock market gains disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

The problem with the president claiming the stock market has helped “everybody” is that the richest 10% of the country controls 84% of stock market value, according to a Federal Reserve survey.

Because they hold more stocks, wealthier Americans have inherently benefited more from the 20% gain in the Standard & Poor’s index of 500 stocks so far this year. Only about half of U.S. families even hold stocks, so plenty of people are getting little to no benefit from the stock market gains.

Trump often portrays policies that have comparatively favored the wealthy as helping everyone equally if not better.

For example, the president promised in 2017 that his tax cuts would be a “middle-class miracle.” But much of the magic went to millionaires.

People earning more than $1 million received a combined total tax cut last year of $36 billion, or $64,428 per filer, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Those earning between $50,000 to $75,000 — a solidly middle-class income — got back a combined $22.4 billion, or $819 per filer.

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Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Stan Choe and Alex Veiga in New York, and Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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