AP FACT CHECK: Trump, Putin and their Hall of Mirrors
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Hall of Mirrors where Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shared a palatial lunch in Finland seemed to have a reality-bending effect long after their summit ended.
On Tuesday, Trump abruptly flipped on whether he believed Russia interfered in the election, saying he meant to suggest he does believe Moscow meddled despite having expressed the contrary view a day earlier. And Trump repeated a “because of me” boast from last week’s NATO summit, tweeting that he alone is responsible for an increase in military spending, which is not true.
For his part, Putin made the erroneous assertion in the news conference closing their summit that a clique of U.S. business associates steered $400 million to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
On Tuesday, government officials in Moscow said he meant $400,000, not $400 million.
A look at comments from the meeting and its aftermath:
TRUMP, on his intelligence officials on Monday: “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
TRUMP, reading from a statement, on his intelligence officials on Tuesday: “I accept our intelligence community conclusion that Russia meddling ... took place” and the “sentence should have been I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”
THE FACTS: Was this a misunderstanding set off by his saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t”? Or was his rare admission of a mistake rooted in the ferocity of the stateside response by those — Republicans among them — who said he undermined U.S. intelligence services by seeming to side with Putin?
Whichever the case, Trump at various points in his Monday news conference made clear that he found Putin’s position on the matter compelling.
“I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said at the joint news conference. He made the untenable assertion Monday that “I have confidence in both parties” — his intelligence officials, who say Moscow interfered, and Putin, who says it didn’t.
Trump has been a nearly solitary figure in his administration in holding onto doubts about whether Russians tried to sway the election. Trump’s top national security officials, Democrats and most Republicans in Congress say U.S. intelligence agencies got it right in finding that Russians secretly tried to sway the election. The special counsel’s continuing Russia investigation has laid out a detailed trail of attempts and successes by Russians to steal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign communications and to leak embarrassing emails and documents.
Putin denied anew that the Russian government interfered, but he acknowledged Monday that he favored Trump in 2016. “Yes, I wanted him to win because he spoke of normalization of Russian-U.S. ties.”
PUTIN, referring Monday to Bill Browder, a prominent Putin critic and investor charged with financial crimes in Russia: “Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”
THE FACTS: The notion of a $400 million donation to the Democrat’s campaign is a stratospheric exaggeration. On Tuesday, the Russian general prosecutor’s office said to little fanfare that Putin misspoke and meant $400,000.
The Clinton campaign committee raised less than $564 million. With supportive political action committees added to the equation, Clinton’s effort drew $795 million in donations. Putin’s initial figure suggested a huge chunk of her money came from a small cabal of financiers.
The reality is much less dramatic.
Browder’s New York financial partners, Ziff Brothers Investments, donated only $1.75 million in the 2016 campaign, spreading it among candidates for many offices in both parties and favoring Republicans in congressional races. The watchdog site opensecrets.org shows it giving only $17,700 for Clinton’s election and less than $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee, as well as smaller amounts to other entities.
Donations to Clinton came from diverse sources: the financial industry, education interests, Hollywood, unions, the health and pharmaceutical sectors and many more.
TRUMP, on increased military spending by NATO countries: “I had a great meeting with NATO. They have paid $33 Billion more and will pay hundreds of Billions of Dollars more in the future, only because of me. NATO was weak, but now it is strong again (bad for Russia). — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No, increased military spending by NATO members is not “only because” of him. The broader move toward rising spending by NATO countries began under President Barack Obama.
NATO members agreed in 2014 to stop cutting their military budgets and set a goal of moving “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024. Most NATO members are spending less than 2 percent, though more are moving in that direction. The issue is not one of payments to NATO, as Trump repeatedly puts it, but how much members spend on their own armed forces.
After being prodded by Trump to give him credit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg indicated that Trump’s big demands had some effect on the military spending. He estimated European allies and Canada will add $266 billion to their military spending by 2024 and said of Trump, “This is really adding some extra momentum.” By one NATO estimate, alliance members apart from the U.S. collectively increased their military budgets by $33 billion last year.
TRUMP, on a Democratic National Committee server on Monday: “You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. ... I’ve been wondering that, I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?”
THE FACTS: Trump’s focus on a DNC server may or may not be a red herring. He is right that the committee did not turn its communications system over to the FBI as the agency investigated Russian hacking. It’s not at all clear that it matters.
As FBI chief, James Comey told Congress last year that although the DNC never directly gave the FBI access to its machines, the organization did hire a private cybersecurity firm that “ultimately shared with us their forensics from their review of the system.” He told lawmakers that while “best practice is always to get access to the machines themselves,” his colleagues at the FBI told him this solution was an “appropriate substitute.”
A detailed indictment Friday against 12 Russian military intelligence officers suggests that Mueller felt he got the information needed to construct the case without the FBI having direct access to DNC equipment.
The indictment alleges the officers hacked into Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and stole and released tens of thousands of private communications.
Clinton donors: http://apne.ws/0DMH4Gy
Donations from Ziff Brothers: http://apne.ws/IQcgU6s
Associated Press writers Hope Yen, Chad Day and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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