AP FACT CHECK: Trump camp suggests AG found illegal spying
April 14, 2019
WASHINGTON (AP) — With release of the special counsel's fuller report looming, President Donald Trump and his campaign are twisting the words of his attorney general and the facts of the Russia investigation.
His 2020 campaign is telling supporters in fundraising pitches that Attorney General William Barr had revealed illegal spying against Trump during the 2016 presidential race. But it's not true. While Barr told lawmakers that he believed spying took place, he never concluded it was illegal and made clear several times he was not suggesting a crime had occurred.
Meanwhile, Trump kept up his refrain that special counsel Robert Mueller had totally exonerated him despite Mueller's exact quotes in Barr's summary that he did not. A redacted version of Mueller's full report is expected in the coming days.
The misstatements were among a number of factual faux pas and flips in rhetoric this past week.
With his government seeking to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Trump seemed to draw a blank on a hacking organization he praised to the rafters during the 2016 campaign because of the discomfort it caused his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
And speaking before Monday's tax filing deadline, Trump seemed to change the grounds upon which he is refusing to release his taxes: It's not because he can't, but because he doesn't want to.
A look at the claims:
TRUMP CAMPAIGN: "Just this week, Attorney General William Barr said what the President has thought all along, he believes 'unlawful spying did occur' against Donald J. Trump's presidential campaign." — fundraising email sent Saturday to Trump supporters.
TRUMP CAMPAIGN: "AG Barr believes the Obama Admin illegally spied on Pres Trump." — text sent Friday to Trump supporters.
THE FACTS: The email puts words in Barr's mouth and seeks to raise money in doing so.
Barr never said there was illegal spying.
During a Senate hearing Wednesday, the attorney general actually made clear he had no specific evidence to cite that any surveillance was illegal or improper.
"I think spying did occur," Barr told lawmakers. "But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated, but I need to explore that."
He later added: "I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it."
TRUMP: "I've been totally exonerated. No collusion. No obstruction." — remarks Wednesday at the White House.
TRUMP: "I'm not concerned about anything, because frankly there was no collusion and there was no obstruction." — remarks Thursday with South Korea's president.
THE FACTS: Barr's four-page summary of Mueller's nearly 400-page report did not "totally" exonerate Trump. Mueller specifically states in the report, as quoted by Barr: "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
The summary of principal conclusions by Barr, released in late March, notes Mueller did not "draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction," but rather set out evidence for both sides, leaving the question unanswered of whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said ultimately he decided as attorney general that the evidence developed by Mueller was "not sufficient" to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump committed obstruction.
In Senate testimony Wednesday, Barr acknowledged that Mueller did not ask him to draw a conclusion on the obstruction question, nor did he know whether Mueller agreed with him. Barr said he would be able to explain more fully after releasing a public version of Mueller's report.
TRUMP, asked if he still "loves" WikiLeaks: "I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing." — remarks Thursday with South Korea's president.
THE FACTS: WikiLeaks was very much Trump's thing in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, when candidate Trump showered praise on the anti-secrecy organization night after night.
On the same October day that the "Access Hollywood" tape emerged, revealing that Trump had bragged in 2005 about groping women, WikiLeaks began releasing damaging emails from Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. Trump and his allies seized on the dumps and weaponized them.
"WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks," Trump said in Pennsylvania.
"This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump said in Michigan.
"Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks," Trump said in Ohio.
All told, Trump extolled WikiLeaks more than 100 times, and a poster of Assange hung backstage at the Republican's debate war room. At no point from a rally stage did Trump express any misgivings about how WikiLeaks obtained the emails from the Clinton campaign or about the accusations of stealing sensitive U.S. government information, which led to the charges against Assange on Thursday. The U.S. is seeking Assange's extradition from Britain.
Asked Sunday about Trump's claim he knew nothing about Wikileaks, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News the president "was making a joke during the campaign and was talking about the specifics of the case at that moment."
TRUMP: "As you know, I got elected last time with this same issue. ... I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit." — remarks Wednesday to reporters at the White House.
THE FACTS: Nothing's preventing Trump from releasing his tax returns.
Being under audit is no legal bar to anyone releasing his or her returns.
Asked repeatedly at a House hearing Tuesday whether any regulation prohibited a taxpayer from disclosing returns when under audit, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig responded "no."
Trump declined to provide his tax information as a candidate in 2016 and as president, something party nominees have traditionally done in the name of the transparency. By withholding his tax returns, Trump has not followed the standard followed by presidents since Richard Nixon started the practice in 1969. During the campaign, Trump said he wanted to release his returns but because he was under a routine audit, "I can't."
After the November midterm elections, Trump claimed at a news conference that the filings are too complex for people to understand.
TRUMP, tweeting a Fox Business Network graphic showing his "soaring approval" at 55% overall: "Great news! #MAGA" — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: The graphic on the Georgetown University poll was incorrect: The poll found 55% had an "unfavorable" rating of Trump, not his job approval, from a different poll question. Fox Business issued an on-air correction but Trump's tweet remains.
TRUMP: "We withdrew the United States from the one-sided Paris climate accord, where you don't do any more drilling for oil and gas. That was going to cost us a lot of money. No more oil and gas with the Paris accord. That's good for Paris, but that's not good for us. Right?" — remarks Wednesday at a ceremony for the signing of executive orders meant to accelerate pipeline construction.
THE FACTS: Wrong. The Paris accord does not ban any form of energy development. It does not impose emission caps on signatory countries. The accord is a set of voluntary targets determined by individual nations.
TRUMP: "Mexico must apprehend all illegals and not let them make the long march up to the United States, or we will have no other choice than to Close the Border and/or institute Tariffs. Our Country is FULL!" — tweet April 7.
THE FACTS: Despite the overwhelmed southern border, there's plenty of room in the United States. Dozens of countries have greater population density. It's only full in terms of the people Trump doesn't want.
His claim of a U.S. with no vacancies for more immigrants is at odds with his own statement two months ago that encouraged "the largest" influx of legal immigrants ever. It also belies a U.S. reality of aging baby boomers and falling birth rates, which make immigrants increasingly important to sustain a level of population growth for the U.S. economy to keep expanding.
The nation's population growth is at its lowest since 1937, with the 18-and-under population declining both nationally and in 29 states, according to William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. Economists say that restricting immigration would probably weaken economic growth. A shrinking labor force could also harm the health and stability of safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Trump himself seemed to acknowledge the realities during his State of the Union address in February, declaring, "I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally." He's now describing a U.S. bursting at the seams, unable to take any immigrants, including those seeking legal asylum.
Immigrants as a whole make up a greater percentage of the total U.S. population than they did back in 1970, having grown from less than 5 percent of the population to more than 13 percent now. In 2030, it's projected that immigrants will become the primary driver for U.S. population growth, overtaking U.S. births.
TRUMP on separating migrant children from their parents when caught crossing into the U.S. illegally: "I'm the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation." — remarks to reporters Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No, he's the one who started it on a broad scale. He instituted a "zero tolerance" policy aimed at criminally prosecuting all adults caught crossing into the U.S. illegally. That meant detention for adults and the removal of their children while their parents were in custody. During the Obama administration and the early Trump administration, such family separations were the exception. They became the rule under his policy. He suspended the practice in June because of a public uproar.
TRUMP on the family separations: "President Obama had the law. We changed the law, and I think the press should accurately report it but of course they won't." — remarks to reporters Tuesday.
THE FACTS: This is false. Trump did not achieve any change in the law.
Trump's zero-tolerance policy was of his own making. His administration is operating under the same immigration laws as Obama's.
During the Obama administration and before Trump's zero-tolerance policy was introduced, migrant families caught illegally entering the U.S. were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation, unless they were known to have a criminal record. Then and now, immigration officials may take a child from a parent in certain cases, such as serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns.
ENERGY and ENVIRONMENT
TRUMP: "We have the cleanest air and water, they say, in the world. We are the best."— remarks Wednesday at the signing of orders on pipelines.
THE FACTS: Not true about air.
U.S. drinking water is among the best by one leading measure.
Trump's own Environmental Protection Agency data show that in 2017, among 35 major U.S. cities, there were 729 cases of "unhealthy days for ozone and fine particle pollution." That's up 22 percent from 2014 and the worst year since 2012. Findings for 2018 are incomplete.
The State of Global Air 2019 report by the Health Effects Institute rated the U.S. as having the eighth cleanest air for particle pollution — which kills 85,000 Americans each year — behind Canada, Scandinavian countries and others.
The U.S. ranks poorly on smog pollution, which kills 24,000 Americans per year. On a scale from the cleanest to the dirtiest, the U.S. is at 123 out of 195 countries measured.
On water, Yale University's global Environmental Performance Index finds 10 countries tied for the cleanest drinking water, the U.S. among them. On environmental quality overall, the U.S. was 27th, behind a variety of European countries, Canada, Japan, Australia and more. Switzerland was No. 1.
TRUMP: "With the help of the incredible workers in this room, the United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world, anywhere on the planet. Not even close. Made a lot of progress in the last two and a half years, haven't we? Huh? Took down a lot of barriers." — signing ceremony.
THE FACTS: As he's done many times before, Trump is crediting himself with things that happened under Obama.
Here's what the government's U.S. Energy Information Administration says: "The United States has been the world's top producer of natural gas since 2009, when U.S. natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and the world's top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when U.S. production exceeded Saudi Arabia's."
As for crude oil specifically, the information agency says the U.S. became the world's top crude oil producer last year. That is largely attributed to the shale oil boom that began during the Obama administration, which has sent production from the Permian Basin in the southwest surging.
TRUMP: "Under this administration, we have ended the war on American energy like never before." — signing ceremony.
THE FACTS: It wasn't much of a war. U.S. petroleum and natural gas production has increased by nearly 60% since 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration, achieving pre-eminence during the Obama administration. That said, the Trump administration is more closely aligned with fossil fuel interests as it works to restrain environmental obstacles and the power of states to stand in the way of pipelines and other energy development.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Jonathan Lemire, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ellen Knickmeyer and Seth Borenstein in Washington and Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report.
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