AP FACT CHECK: Trump claims on extremists, impeachment
October 27, 2019
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump fabricated a tale about foreshadowing Osama bin Laden's 9/11 attack and warning against a war in Iraq before it happened in a weekend of exaggerated boasts and faulty assertions about the U.S. fight against extremists.
In a national address Sunday to announce the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, Trump inflated his importance in assessing the threat while persisting in his deception that he's bringing troops home from Syria.
The remarks helped cap a week in which Trump and his GOP allies also repeatedly dismissed impeachment proceedings as an illegitimate scam. A federal judge ruled Friday it is not.
A look at the president's claims, which also cover the economy, the environment and other topics:
WAR IN IRAQ
TRUMP: "In Iraq — so they spent — President Bush went in. I strongly disagreed with it, even though it wasn't my expertise at the time, but I had a very good instinct about things. They went in and I said, 'That's a tremendous mistake.' And there were no weapons of mass destruction. It turned out I was right." — news conference Sunday.
THE FACTS: There is no evidence Trump expressed public opposition to the Iraq war before the U.S. invaded, despite his repeated insistence that he did. Rather, he offered lukewarm support. He only began to voice doubts about the conflict well after it began in March 2003.
His first known public comment on the topic came on Sept. 11, 2002, when he was asked whether he supported a potential Iraq invasion in an interview with radio host Howard Stern. "Yeah, I guess so," Trump responded. On March 21, 2003, just days after the invasion, Trump said it "looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint."
Later that year, he began expressing reservations.
TRUMP: "I'm writing a book ... About a year before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out. I was talking about Osama bin Laden. I said, 'You have to kill him. You have to take him out.' Nobody listened to me." Trump added that people said to him, "'You predicted that Osama Bin Laden had to be killed, before he knocked down the World Trade Center.' It's true." — news conference.
THE FACTS: It's not true.
His 2000 book, "The America We Deserve," makes a passing mention of bin Laden but did no more than point to the al-Qaida leader as one of many threats to U.S. security. Nor does he say in the book that bin Laden should have been killed.
As part of his criticism of what he considered Bill Clinton's haphazard approach to U.S. security as president, Trump wrote: "One day we're told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy Number One, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it's on to a new enemy and new crisis."
The book did not call for further U.S. action against bin Laden or al-Qaida to follow up on attacks Clinton ordered in 1998 in Afghanistan and Sudan after al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. attacks were meant to disrupt bin Laden's network and destroy some of al-Qaida's infrastructure, such as a factory in Sudan associated with the production of a nerve gas ingredient. They "missed" in the sense that bin Laden was not killed in them, and al-Qaida was able to pull off 9/11 three years later.
In passages on terrorism, Trump's book does correctly predict that the U.S. was at risk of an attack that would make the 1993 World Trade Center bombing pale by comparison. That was a widespread concern at the time, as Trump suggested in stating "no sensible analyst rejects this possibility."
Still, Trump did not explicitly tie that threat to al-Qaida and thought an attack might come through a miniaturized weapon of mass destruction, like a nuclear device in a suitcase or anthrax.
TRUMP: "Nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden until really the World Trade Center." — news conference.
THE FACTS: That's incorrect. Bin Laden was well known by the CIA, other national security operations, experts and the public long before 9/11, with the CIA having a unit entirely dedicated to bin Laden going back to the mid-1990s. The debate at the time was over whether Clinton and successor President George W. Bush could have done more against al-Qaida to prevent the 2001 attacks.
TRUMP: "I want our soldiers home or fighting something that's meaningful. I'll tell you who loves us being there: Russia and China. Because while they build their military, we're depleting our military there." — news conference Sunday.
THE FACTS: His assertion that a pullout of U.S. troops from Syria strategically hurts Russia is highly dubious.
Both Russia and Iran stand to gain, and Russia has taken steps to move in and expand its influence in Syria after Trump announced a pullout. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal on divvying up control of an area along the Turkey-Syria border, allowing Syrian troops to move back into a large part of the territory and ensure Kurdish fighters stay out.
The Kurds once hoped an alliance with Washington in battling IS would strengthen their ambitions for autonomy, but now they are left hoping they can extract concessions from Russia and Syria to keep at least some aspects of their self-rule.
"The U.S. has essentially ceded its influence and power in Syria to the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians," said Seth Jones, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Iran and Russia are both key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, with troops on the ground in Syria. While they may publicly oppose a Turkish incursion into Syria, they probably don't mind an operation that diminishes the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.
Some of Turkey's incursions into Syria appeared to have been coordinated with Russia and Iran.
TRUMP: "When these pundit fools who have called the Middle East wrong for 20 years ask what we are getting out of the deal, I simply say, THE OIL, AND WE ARE BRINGING OUR SOLDIERS BACK HOME, ISIS SECURED!" — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: The troops aren't coming back despite the tweet shouting.
Most of the roughly 1,000 troops leaving Syria are going to Iraq or other locations in the Middle East such as Jordan. And some will stay in Syria.
Trump has acknowledged as much at times, though he reserves the all-caps tweeting to emphasize troop repatriation.
In a prior tweet, he declared: "Our soldiers have left and are leaving Syria for other places" before "COMING HOME" at a time he doesn't specify.
He said last week some forces may remain in Syria to keep oilfields secure and make sure they don't fall into the hands of a resurgent Islamic State group.
The Pentagon says it is still working on plans for how to continue the anti-IS campaign in Syria and Iraq. In addition, the U.S. is sending more troops to Saudi Arabia.
TRUMP: "American forces defeated 100% of the ISIS caliphate during the last two years." — remarks Wednesday on Syria.
THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading because IS still poses a threat. Nor does the death of al-Baghdadi in a U.S. military raid mean the threat is gone.
No one disputes that IS has lost its caliphate — the large swath of territory it once controlled in parts of Syria and Iraq. But the group remains a threat to reemerge if the conditions that allowed its rise, like civil war in Syria and a lack of effective governance in Iraq, are not corrected.
U.N. experts warned in August that IS leaders are aiming to consolidate and create conditions for an "eventual resurgence in its Iraqi and Syrian heartlands."
One counterterrorism expert said al-Baghdadi's death is not the end of IS.
"Counterterrorism must be part of the strategy, but reducing the strategy to just special operations raids and drone targeting, as this administration seems to want to, guarantees a forever war," said Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute. She said extremists' strength and staying power lies in the support they have locally among the disenfranchised and economically deprived populations.
Another concern is that the chaos triggered by the Oct. 9 Turkish incursion, which followed Trump's decision to have about two dozen American troops step away from the attack zone, could allow larger numbers of Islamic State fighters to escape from prisons that have been operated by the Kurds now under attack.
TRUMP: "The Ukraine investigation is just as Corrupt and Fake as all of the other garbage that went on before it." — tweet Saturday.
TRUMP: "Entire Impeachment Scam." — tweet Friday.
ARIZONA REP. ANDY BIGGS, Republican member of House Judiciary Committee: "Adam Schiff is the ideal person Democrats want to lead their baseless attempted coup to overthrow the elected leader of our government." — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: According to a federal judge, the impeachment proceedings are no scam.
In a ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell affirmed that House Democrats were legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry — not an illegitimate "scam" or "coup" as Trump and his GOP allies frequently assert.
Howell made that declaration in ordering the Justice Department to give the House secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Howell ruled that Republicans were wrong in arguing the impeachment proceedings were illegitimate because there was never a formal vote. The judge made clear the House should have leeway to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct since it is the only federal body empowered to do so under the Constitution.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last month announced impeachment proceedings against Trump. She accused him of abusing presidential powers by seeking help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic rival Joe Biden and help his own reelection. The move followed a complaint by a whistleblower, a CIA officer, who made the charges.
The impeachment process is laid out in the Constitution, giving Congress the authority to impeach and try a president as part of its responsibilities as a coequal branch of government to provide a check on a president when he or she commits treason, bribery, or "other high crimes and misdemeanors."
TRUMP, regarding the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is at the center of the impeachment investigation: "They never thought that I'd do this — I released a transcription, done by stenographers, of the exact conversation I had." — Cabinet meeting on Oct. 21.
THE FACTS: Not true. The memorandum of Trump's July 25 phone call with 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." It cited potential factors such as the quality of the phone connection, variations in accent "and/or interpretation."
NSC refers to the National Security Council.
TRUMP, on Democrats' impeachment inquiry into his phone call with Ukraine's president: "Now they have what should be extremely easy to beat, because I have a perfect phone call. I made a perfect call — not a good call; a perfect call. In fact, a friend of mine, who's a great lawyer, said, 'Did you know this would be the subject of all of this scrutiny? Because the way you expressed yourself, this is like a perfect call.'" — Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: Although Trump is entitled to see perfection in his words and deeds, he appears to use the term to suggest that his conduct in the phone call was by the book and validated as such by an anonymous lawyer-friend. That's a hard argument to sustain.
In his phone call, Trump told Zelenskiy "I would like for you to do us a favor" and investigate Joe Biden, his businessman son and Democrats going back to the 2016 U.S. election. Diplomat William Taylor testified this past week that Trump directly linked his request for that favor to military aid that he had abruptly suspended to Ukraine.
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.
Trump often points to other people describing his phone call as perfect even if they didn't. This month, Trump claimed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had told him the call was "the most innocent" he's read, but McConnell said he never discussed the Ukraine phone call with Trump.
TRUMP: "I give away my salary. It's, I guess, close to $450,000. ...They say that no other president has done it. I'm surprised, to be honest with you. They actually say that George Washington may have been the only other President that did." — Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: His presidential history is wrong.
He's not the only president since Washington to give away his salary: Herbert Hoover and John F. Kennedy gave theirs to charity.
And Washington didn't give his away. He initially tried to decline his pay but agreed to take it after Congress insisted.
The presidential salary is $400,000, plus $50,000 to cover expenses.
TRUMP, on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: "You could end up in a war. President Obama told me that. He said, 'The biggest problem — I don't know how to solve it.' He told me doesn't know how to solve it. I said, 'Did you ever call him?' 'No.' Actually, he tried 11 times. But the man on the other side — the gentleman on the side did not take his call. OK? Lack of respect. But he takes my call." — Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: This story of Kim ghosting Obama appears to be pure fiction.
Ben Rhodes, who was on Obama's national security team for both terms, said Obama never tried to call or meet Kim.
"I honestly don't even remember being in a single meeting my entire time in the White House where anyone even suggested the idea of a Kim call or meeting," Rhodes told The Associated Press.
Obama came into his presidency saying he'd be willing to meet Kim and other U.S. adversaries "without preconditions," but never publicly pursued such contact with the North Korean leader.
He met Cuba's President Raul Castro and spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by phone but took an icy stance with Kim in 2009 as North Korea was escalating missile and nuclear tests.
"Since I came into office, the one thing I was clear about was, we're not going to reward this kind of provocative behavior," he said in 2013. "You don't get to bang your — your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way."
Trump has portrayed his diplomacy with Kim as happening due to a special personal chemistry and friendship, saying he's in "no rush" to get Kim to commit fully to denuclearization.
JOE BIDEN, responding to Trump's tweet referring to impeachment proceedings led by House Democrats as a "lynching": "Impeachment is not 'lynching,' it is part of our Constitution. Our country has a dark, shameful history with lynching, and to even think about making this comparison is abhorrent. It's despicable." — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Biden may want to heed his own words about using the word loosely.
An October 1998 clip of him in a CNN interview shows him using the same word to refer to the impeachment process against Democratic President Bill Clinton.
"Even if the president should be impeached, history is going to question whether or not this was just a partisan lynching or whether or not it was something that in fact met the standard, the very high bar, that was set by the founders as to what constituted an impeachable offense," Biden said in that interview.
In a tweet later Tuesday, Biden apologized for making a similar reference two decades ago while arguing Trump's offense was more extreme.
TRUMP: "I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided Paris Climate Accord. It was a total disaster for our country. ... So, we did away with that one." — remarks Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
THE FACTS: The U.S. hasn't withdrawn from the accord and it won't be out before the next election, at the earliest.
According to the terms of the agreement, the first day Trump can begin the formal process of withdrawing from the 2015 landmark deal is Nov. 4, when the U.S. can submit a letter of notice to the United Nations. Withdrawing takes a year, meaning the U.S. could officially leave the day after the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election.
Under the agreement, every country created and chose its own goals to reduce carbon pollution.
TRUMP: "When I took office, everybody said that China would be the largest economy in the world within the first two years." — remarks Wednesday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Not everyone said that because the chances of it happening are none to slim.
Even if the U.S. economy had not grown at all since 2016, China's gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — would have had to have surged an unimaginable 79% in three years to pull even with America's. That comes to growth of more than 21% a year — something even China's super-charged economy has never approached.