Fact check: Trump on FBI, phantom law on migrant kids
Washington – President Donald Trump is claiming exoneration in the Russia matter from a Justice Department report that actually offers him none. He’s also branding fired FBI chief James Comey a criminal, though the report in question makes no such accusation.
Fallout from the internal report by the department’s inspector general capped a week of diplomacy with North Korea, trade spats on several fronts and growing attention to an immigration policy that is splitting children from parents after their arrests at the border. Trump dropped misrepresentations into the mix at every turn.
A week in review:
TRUMP: “I think that the report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. And if you read the report, you’ll see that. … I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.” – remarks to reporters Friday.
THE FACTS: The report neither exonerated nor implicated Trump. It did not make any findings about collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. It did not discredit, or give credence to, special counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation into Russian interference in the election and ties between the Trump campaign and Russians. The report was about the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
TRUMP on Comey: “Certainly he, they just seem like criminal acts to me. What he did was criminal. … Should he be locked up? Let somebody make a determination.” – to Fox News on Friday.
THE FACTS: The report does not substantiate Trump’s lock-him-up rhetoric. Comey was roundly faulted by the inspector general for violating FBI practices and for insubordination in making public statements about the Clinton investigation at the height of the presidential campaign. The report also revealed communications among some FBI employees who plainly wanted Trump to lose. But it does not support Trump’s complaint that political bias influenced the conduct of the email investigation into his Democratic rival.
Nor does it allege any criminal behavior by Comey, who has been accused by Clinton supporters of taking actions that hurt her election chances.
TRUMP: “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change! This is why we need more Republicans elected in November…” – tweet Saturday.
TRUMP: “The Democrats forced that law upon our nation. I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children.” And: “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.” – remarks to reporters Friday.
THE FACTS: It’s not Democrats’ law. There is no law mandating the separation of children and parents at the border.
The separations are a consequence of a Trump administration policy to maximize criminal prosecutions of people caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally. That means more adults are jailed, pending trial, so their children are removed from them. Before the policy, many people who were accused of illegal entry and did not have a criminal record were merely referred for civil deportation proceedings, which generally did not break up families.
The policy was announced April 6 and went into effect in May. From April 19 to May 31, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults, according to Homeland Security statistics obtained by The Associated Press. The figures are for people who tried to enter the U.S. between official border crossings.
Trump’s repeated, but nonspecific references to a Democratic law appear to involve one enacted in 2008. It passed unanimously in Congress and was signed by Republican President George W. Bush. It was focused on freeing and otherwise helping children who come to the border without a parent or guardian. It does not call for family separation.
TRUMP: “The economy is the best it’s ever been with employment being at an all-time high.” – tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Thanks largely to population growth, the number of people with jobs is, in fact, at a record high of 155.5 million. But a more relevant measure – the proportion of Americans with jobs – isn’t even close to a record.
Last month, 60.4 percent of Americans 16 and older had jobs. That is up from the recession and its aftermath, when many Americans stopped looking for work. It bottomed out at 58.2 percent in July 2011. Both figures are far below the record high of 64.7 percent, which was briefly reached in 2000. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 recession, 62.7 percent of Americans had jobs.
Economists estimate that at least half of the decline reflects ongoing retirements by the huge baby boom generation. For Americans in their prime working years – age 25 through 54 – roughly 79 percent have jobs. That’s up substantially from the post-recession low of 74.8 percent in November 2010. But it’s below the record of 81.9 percent in April 2000.
TRUMP: “Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!” – tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He oversimplifies the reasons for increased prices.
OPEC is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Members of the cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, and other big producers including Russia have contributed to reversing the plunge in crude oil prices that started in 2014. They have shown discipline in limiting production since the start of last year, helping push up the benchmark price of international crude.
Prices, however, were already rising on growing demand and expectations that a sharp pullback in new investment by oil companies would reduce the oil supply.
Some estimates put the post-crash reduction in investment by major oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP at more than $1 trillion – almost akin to eliminating the fourth-largest oil producer in the world.
Meanwhile, output from Venezuela, a major oil exporter to the U.S., has plunged as the South American country goes through a political and economic crisis.
Then there is Iran, OPEC’s third-biggest producer. Iran boosted production after the U.S. lifted sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program in 2016. But analysts expect output to fall when Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal takes full effect later this year.
TRUMP: “Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal. According to a Canada release, they make almost 100 Billion Dollars in Trade with U.S. (guess they were bragging and got caught!). Minimum is 17B. Tax Dairy from us at 270%.” – tweet June 10. Two days earlier: “Canada charges the U.S. a 270% tariff on Dairy Products! They didn’t tell you that, did they? Not fair to our farmers!”
THE FACTS: He’s not telling the whole story. While Canadian dairy tariffs average nearly 249 percent, the troubles that U.S. dairy farmers face can’t all be blamed on Canada.
Canadian trade policies have had only a “tiny impact” on America’s struggling dairy farmers, says Daniel Sumner, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis.
Despite Canadian barriers, the United States last year ran a $474 million trade surplus in dairy with Canada, and exported $636 million in dairy products to Canada while importing $162 million, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Dairy is barely a blip – 0.1 percent – in U.S.-Canada trade, which amounted to $680 billion last year. As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, “99 percent of the trade between Canada and the U.S. is tariff-free,” said Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada. Overall, the U.S. ran a nearly $3 billion surplus in trade with Canada last year.
TRUMP: “Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea…” –tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: His claim that there is no nuclear threat is an exaggeration. The five-hour nuclear summit gave the two leaders an opportunity to express optimism. But it didn’t nail down how and when North Korea might denuclearize.
North Korea is still believed to have a significant nuclear arsenal that could potentially threaten the U.S. Independent experts say the North could have enough fissile material for anywhere between about a dozen and 60 nuclear bombs. Last year, it tested long-range missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland although it remains unclear if it has mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead that could re-enter the atmosphere and hit its target.
TRUMP: Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President (Barack) Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!” – tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong to say there was an assumption before he took office that the United States would go to war. Obama had used sanctions to no avail to try to halt North Korea’s nuclear program. But it wasn’t until after Trump took office that North Korea’s testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile and rhetoric between the two leaders heightened talk of war.
TRUMP: “Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement in which he reaffirms his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We also agreed to vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement as soon as possible, and he wants to do that. This isn’t the past. This isn’t another administration that never got it started and, therefore, never got it done.” – remarks Tuesday at news conference with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong in suggesting his administration is the first to start on denuclearization with North Korea. The Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations both did so.
Clinton reached an aid-for-disarmament deal in 1994 that halted North Korea’s plutonium production for eight years, freezing what was then a very small nuclear arsenal. Bush took a tougher stance toward North Korea, and the 1994 nuclear deal collapsed because of suspicions that the North was running a secret uranium enrichment program. Bush, too, ultimately pursued negotiations. That led to a temporary disabling of some nuclear facilities, but talks fell apart because of differences over verification.
TRUMP: “He actually mentioned the fact that they proceeded down a path in the past and ultimately as you know nothing got done. In one case, they took billions of dollars during the Clinton regime. … Took billions of dollars and nothing happened.” He said of Clinton: “He spent $3 billion and got nothing.” – remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: His numbers are incorrect. The Clinton administration, which he calls a “regime,” and the Bush administration combined provided some $1.3 billion in assistance from 1995 to 2008, says the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress. Slightly more than half was for food aid and 40 percent for energy assistance.
He’s also wrong in saying “nothing happened” in return. North Korea stopped producing plutonium for eight years under the 1994 agreement. Just how much was achieved, though, is in question, because of the suspicions that emerged later that North Korea had been secretly seeking to enrich uranium.
TRUMP, on Kim’s agreement to work to repatriate the remains of prisoners of the Korean War and those missing in action from the conflict: “He gave us the remains of our great heroes.” – remarks to reporters Friday.
THE FACTS: That’s false. No remains have been returned since the summit, as of Friday. The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.
TRUMP: “He’s giving us back the remains of probably 7,500 soldiers.” – to Fox News on Friday.
TRUMP: “I asked for it today. And we got it. … So, for the thousands and thousands, I guess way over 6,000 that we know of in terms of the remains, they’ll be brought back.” – remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Also wrong. About 5,300 U.S. troops are still unaccounted for from North Korea.
Trump is also glossing over the surely impossible odds of locating the remains of all Americans missing from the war, more than six decades later. Several thousand are still missing in South Korea despite its close alliance and history of cooperation with the U.S.
North Korea and the United States remain technically at war because the 1950-53 fighting ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. But between 1996 and 2005, joint U.S.-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 joint recovery operations and recovered 229 sets of American remains.
TRUMP: “I remember a nuclear event took place, 8.8 on the Richter scale, and they announced – I heard it on the radio, they announced that a massive, you know, an earthquake took place somewhere in Asia. And then they said it was in North Korea, and then they found out it was a nuclear test, I said, I never heard of a Richter scale in the high eights.” – remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: North Korea had no earthquake last year approaching that level of severity. This isn’t the first time he has misrepresented the episode.
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 8.8 quake would be 316 times bigger – and release 5,623 times more energy – than a 6.3.
In the past 15 years there have been three earthquakes that were an 8.8 or higher: the 9.1 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 that killed nearly 16,000 people, a 9.1 earthquake and tsunami off northern Sumatra in 2004 that killed about 250,000 people and an 8.8 earthquake off Chile in 2010 that killed 524.
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Colleen Long, Matthew Pennington, Seth Borenstein and Paul Wiseman in Washington, David Koenig in Dallas and Elliot Spagat in San Francisco contributed to this report.