AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s overblown boasts about military, vets
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is exaggerating his accomplishments for the military and veterans.
With his relationship with Pentagon leaders under strain, the president bragged to West Point cadets over the weekend that his administration wholly destroyed the Islamic State group. He also asserted in a televised interview that he completely rebuilt a depleted U.S. military.
Neither claim is true. The militant IS group in fact is still a threat, launching attacks in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks as it seeks to take advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic. And a number of new Pentagon weapons programs began years before Trump became president.
His statements came in a week of law-and-order rhetoric mixed with heavy doses of misinformation as he stretched to blame unrest on radical leftists and to put three loaded words — “defund the police” — in the mouth of a Democratic rival who doesn’t support them.
Both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have sought to distance themselves from the president following his warning that he could use active-duty military forces to clamp down on protests spurred by George Floyd’s death in police custody.
A look at recent claims and the facts:
TRUMP: “The savage ISIS caliphate has been 100% destroyed under the Trump administration.” — remarks Saturday at West Point graduation ceremony.
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 2019, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate. Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The recent resurgence of attacks is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments otherwise focused on the pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos. The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and U.N. experts that the group will stage a comeback.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the U.S. fight against the group was continuing.
TRUMP: “I have rebuilt our military.” — interview aired Friday on Fox News.
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.
TRUMP: “When we took it over from President Obama and Biden the military was a joke. The military was depleted. ... We had no ammunition.” — Fox interview.
THE FACTS: The U.S. doesn’t go to war without sufficient ammunition. Trump often repeats this claim, typically attributing it to unidentified generals. But it’s not true no matter how it is said.
At most, budget constraints may have restricted ammunition for certain training exercises at times and held back the development of new forms of firepower. But the military doesn’t just run out of bullets.
TRUMP: “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence that Gugino was an “ANTIFA provocateur” or that he was trying to “black out” police equipment. And Trump doesn’t explain the physics behind his theory that Gugino fell harder than he was pushed.
Trump referred to a report from the One America News Network, which cited an uninformed blog arguing that Gugino was using antifa-like tactics, such as “a method of police tracking used by Antifa to monitor the location of police.”
Top tech experts called that claim confounding.
It is possible to disrupt police radio — an illegal action often called “jamming” — but hackers do that by attacking receiving stations, not with handheld devices that target an individual police officer’s radio, Matt Blaze, a professor of computer science and law at Georgetown University, told The Associated Press.
“Any radio system is subject to interference, but it doesn’t work by pointing some sort of ray gun and interfering,” Blaze said. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”
Gugino was hospitalized in the intensive care unit last weekend after being pushed by police. He was seen bleeding from his head as officers walked away. Friends say he’s a retiree and a veteran peace activist — not an “antifa provocateur.”
Two Buffalo, New York, police officers have been charged with second-degree assault. The officers, who could face prison sentences of up to seven years if convicted, pleaded not guilty.
Many Republican lawmakers averted their eyes, as is typical with Trump’s rawest provocations. But for the wavering Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, it was another thing to consider as she mulls over whether she will support him in the election. “Oh lord,” she said when shown the tweet. “Ugh.” She added: “Again, why would you fan the flames? That’s all I’m going to say.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had more to say: “How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude.” He implored Trump to “show some decency. Show some humanity. Show some fairness.” Like Murkowski, he spoke of flames being fueled.
TRUMP: “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: No they haven’t.
After days of violent confrontations with protesters, Seattle police largely and temporarily withdrew from several city blocks and boarded up a precinct station, leaving protesters to set up a festive scene with speeches, activism, art and music. This was far from taking over a city, and authorities do not consider the protesters to be terrorists.
Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., said Thursday that the zone was largely peaceful and “peaceful protests are fundamentally American.”
As Trump has branded protesters “radical-left, bad people” engaging in domestic terrorism, he has frequently invoked “antifa,” an umbrella term for leftist militants bound more by belief than organizational structure. Federal officials have presented scant evidence that such radicals were involved.
Some Democrats initially tried to blame out-of-state far-right infiltrators for unrest before backing down on that claim.
The AP found that the great majority of people arrested in Minneapolis and the District of Columbia in one weekend of protests were local residents and few were affiliated with organized groups.
TRUMP: “Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to ’DEFUND THE POLICE’.” — tweet June 7.
THE FACTS: No, Biden does not join the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after Floyd’s killing.
“I don’t support defunding the police,“ Biden said in a CBS interview last week. But he said he would support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether “they meet certain basic standards of decency, honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community.”
Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before he became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.
Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into existing federal community policing grant programs.
That adds up to more money for police, not defunding law enforcement.
Biden also wants the federal government to spend more on education, social services and struggling areas of cities and rural America, to address root causes of crime.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR, citing escalating protests outside the White House following George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis: “The things were so bad the Secret Service recommended the president go down to the bunker.” — Fox News on June 8.
THE FACTS: Here Barr is fact checking the president, who claimed a week earlier that he only visited the White House bunker to inspect it, not out of concern for his safety.
“I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection,” Trump told Fox News on June 3. “They said it would be a good time to go down — take a look because maybe sometime you’re going to need it.”
News organizations, including the AP, had reported that Secret Service agents rushed Trump on May 29 to a White House bunker, where he spent nearly an hour — not just a “tiny little short period of time” — as demonstrations outside the executive mansion intensified. The bunker is designed for use in emergencies such as terrorist attacks.
Trump had been unhappy with news coverage revealing that he had been spirited to the bunker, believing that it made him appear weak.
TRUMP, on veterans health care: “Before I came here, the vets would wait on line. ... And for years and years, they’ve been trying to get Veterans Choice. ... Now, most importantly, we take care of our vets.” — Meeting with pastors, law enforcement officers and others in Dallas on Thursday.
THE FACTS: That is the latest iteration of his frequently told false claim to have achieved Veterans Choice when other presidents couldn’t. President Barack Obama achieved it. Trump expanded it. The program lets veterans, under certain conditions, get private health care at public expense. It has not eliminated waits for care.
TRUMP: “This year has seen the lowest crime numbers in our Country’s recorded history.” — tweet on June 8.
THE FACTS: Not so. First, this year’s numbers are not compiled. Also, FBI statistics show the violent crime rate was lower in 2014 than in 2018, the most recent year recorded. Also, crime overall was substantially lower in the 1950s and 1960s, grew after that and has been on a downward trend since the 1990s, with variations along the way.
Police departments reported 368.9 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2018, compared with 361.6 four years earlier.
The murder rate was 5 people per 100,000 in 2018. That rate was lower every year from 2010 to 2015.
Seitz reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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