AP FACT CHECK: Trump tests reality in blasting Russia probe
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s latest barrage of tweets attacking investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election stretched the bounds of credulity, from false claims that “no crime” had been uncovered to assertions that his campaign had been cleared of collusion with Russia. His charge that the probe is politically biased also falls short.
That’s what The Associated Press found when scrutinizing an assortment of statements he made last week.
Trump left out important context in weekend tweets rejoicing over the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, once a leader of the bureau’s investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
Meanwhile, Trump told a fanciful story of Japanese regulatory authorities dropping bowling balls as part of a plot to keep cars out of the Japanese market, and, after finding himself without enough information in a trade discussion with Canada’s prime minister, simply made stuff up.
A sampling of how Trump’s statements don’t hold up:
TRUMP: “The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Key context is missing in Trump’s claim of political bias by McCabe because of his ties to Democratic donations. Trump himself is a former registered Democrat who, along with his son Donald Trump Jr., previously contributed thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton on various occasions from 2002 to 2007, according to state and federal disclosure records. Clinton, whom Trump now brands as “Crooked H,” at the time was a senator from New York.
Trump also has donated at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to the non-profit group, and his daughter Ivanka is listed as a donor who gave at least $5,000.
As to McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, this is true: She ran as a Democrat for the Virginia state Senate in 2015, and the political action committee of Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave her campaign $500,000 during her race. McAuliffe is a longtime associate of Hillary Clinton. Jill McCabe lost the race.
Trump’s complaint, as he spelled it out in the past, is that Clinton-linked money went to “the wife of the FBI agent who was in charge of her investigation.” But that timeline is wrong. Andrew McCabe was elevated to deputy FBI director and didn’t become involved in the Clinton email probe until after his wife’s bid for office was over. The FBI said McCabe’s promotion and supervisory position in the email investigation happened three months after the campaign.
The bureau also said in a statement at the time that McCabe sought guidance from agency ethics officers and recused himself from “all FBI investigative matters involving Virginia politics” throughout his wife’s campaign.
TRUMP: “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong to say “no crime” was found.
So far, four former Trump campaign aides have been charged with financial crimes or with lying to the FBI, and three of them have pleaded guilty and agreed to assist in Mueller’s investigation.
In all, six people — including the four Trump campaign aides — have been charged, along with 13 Russians accused in a hidden but powerful social media campaign to meddle in the American election.
Trump’s claim that the Russia probe was based on a “fake dossier” is also inaccurate. The FBI’s investigation began months before it received a dossier of anti-Trump research funded by the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign. The FBI probe’s origins were based on other evidence — not the existence of the dossier.
TRUMP: “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added...does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s claim of political bias lacks important context.
Several members of Mueller’s team have made political contributions to Democratic candidates, including Clinton. But Mueller, who is a longtime Republican, could not have barred them from serving on the team. Federal regulations and Justice Department policy prohibit the consideration of political affiliation in hiring and other personnel actions involving career attorneys.
Mueller reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, an ex-U.S. attorney under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama who was named to the Justice Department post by Trump. Rosenstein serves under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump appointee to the Cabinet.
TRUMP: “As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s statement is inaccurate. That conclusion came from Republicans on the committee; it was not a committee finding. Democrats on the committee sharply dispute the Republican conclusions and will issue their own.
Whatever the findings of the committee, Mueller is leading the key investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. The probe has produced a number of charges and convictions, none to date alleging criminal collusion. But Mueller continues to explore whether collusion occurred and whether Trump or others may have obstructed justice.
Trump did not specify what he meant in accusing the agencies of corruption. McCabe was fired ahead of the release of an inspector general’s report that’s expected to conclude he was not forthcoming about matters related to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s emails.
TRUMP, on how Japanese authorities stopped a U.S. car from being approved for sale in their country: “They were ready to approve it and they said, ‘No, no, we have to do one more test.’ It’s called the bowling ball test. Do you know what that is? That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car. And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. Well, guess what? The roof dented a little bit, and they said, ‘Nope, this car doesn’t qualify.’ It’s horrible, the way we’re treated.” — remarks to a closed Missouri fundraiser Wednesday, leaked to The Washington Post and other organizations.
THE FACTS: That “test” didn’t happen. “He’s joking about this particular test,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
Possible inspiration for Trump’s story: a fanciful old Nissan ad showing its SUV miraculously escaping damage as bowling bowls cascade down an urban street, trashing other vehicles.
TRUMP, on a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Nice guy, good-looking, comes in — Donald, we have no trade deficit ... I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. Josh, I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. ... And I thought they were smart.” — remarks at the Missouri fundraiser, held for GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley.
THE FACTS: The facts of this meeting are not established; Canadian officials won’t comment on whether it happened as Trump described it. Trudeau visited Trump in October and the two have spoken by phone on multiple occasions about trade and other matters as Trump pushes a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
In his hard-to-follow account, Trump is making this point: He insisted the U.S. is running a trade deficit with Canada while Trudeau asserted the opposite — that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada. Trump is saying that while he did not have the facts to back him up, his belief that American officials have been “stupid” about trade and Canadians have been “smart” led him to assert that the U.S. must have a deficit with Canada. He went on to say that his position was ultimately vindicated when officials took a closer look at the statistics.
U.S. statistics don’t support Trump. They show the U.S. runs a trade surplus with Canada — $2.8 billion in 2017, $12.5 billion in 2016. A U.S. deficit in trade of goods is overcome by a surplus in trade of services for an overall balance in favor of the U.S.
Trump ignores services in his rhetoric.
TRUMP on the effects of a nuclear weapons test by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “He had a test, they had a test of a nuclear weapon about a year ago, and it registered as an 8.6. Now, you heard of that, on the Richter scale, right? So they said, man, there was an earthquake. Eight point six someplace in Asia. Where was it? Oh it was in North Korea.” — from fundraiser.
THE FACTS: North Korea had no earthquake last year approaching that level of severity.
North Korea tested what it called a hydrogen bomb in September, causing an underground blast so big it registered as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Other nuclear tests last year were associated with smaller seismic events.
An 8.6 quake would be 200 times bigger — and release 2,818 times more energy — than a 6.3.
TRUMP on his proposed border wall with Mexico: “It will save thousands and thousands of lives, save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing crime, drug flow, welfare fraud and burdens on schools and hospitals. The wall will save hundreds of billions of dollars — many, many times what it is going to cost. ... We have a lousy wall over here now but at least it stops 90, 95 percent. When we put up the real wall, we’re going to stop 99 percent, maybe more than that.” — remarks last week in San Diego, while visiting prototypes of the wall.
THE FACTS: There are no measures of how well walls work.
Congress’ main watchdog found that the government does not have a way to show how barriers prevent illegal crossings from Mexico. A Government Accountability Office report last year said U.S. Customs and Border Protection “cannot measure the contribution of fencing to border security operations along the southwest border because it has not developed metrics for this assessment.”
That’s after the government spent $2.3 billion from 2007 to 2015 to extend fences across 654 miles (1,052 kilometers) of border and more to repair them.
Without knowing how many crossers will be deterred by a wall, it is impossible to know how much money taxpayers might save in schools, hospital spending and other services.
TRUMP: “By the way, the state of California is begging us to build walls in certain areas. They don’t tell you that, and we said no, we won’t do it until we build the whole wall.” — remarks last week in California.
THE FACTS: Trump made a similar claim last month on Twitter but has yet to say who in California wants the wall. The state unsuccessfully sued to prevent construction of Trump’s wall, claiming he was wrong to forgo environmental reviews.
Census Bureau on U.S.-Canada trade: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/exh20.pdf
U.S. Trade Representative on 2016 trade with Canada: https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/americas/canada
Earthquake magnitude calculator: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/calculator.php
Federal study on border wall: https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/682838.pdf
Associated Press writers Calvin Woodward, Eric Tucker, Seth Borenstein, Josh Boak and Christopher Rugaber in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.
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