AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s week of fiction: trade, Google, polls
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is playing loose with the facts in his exuberance to push through a trade agreement with Mexico.
He insists the deal reached this past week between the United States and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement is “one of the largest trade deals” ever. It’s not.
And in an effort to pressure Canada to join the reimagined trading bloc, or dismiss Canada as irrelevant if it doesn’t, Trump also wrongly suggests that Mexico is a bigger and more important trading partner.
The trade comments came in a week of outright fiction in which Trump also kept asserting that Mexico will pay for his long-promised wall along the southwest border despite Mexico’s statements to the contrary; falsely accused Google of shunning his State of the Union address while promoting Barack Obama’s; and cited high poll ratings for himself that don’t appear to exist.
A sampling of the claims and the reality behind them:
TRUMP: “This is one of the largest trade deals ever made. Maybe the largest trade deal ever made.” – phone call Monday with Mexican President Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
THE FACTS: Not even close. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by the Obama administration, included the three NAFTA partners – United States, Canada and Mexico – plus Japan and eight other Pacific Rim countries. Trump withdrew the United States from the pact in his third day in office.
Even the TPP shrinks in comparison to Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. Concluded in 1994, the round created the World Trade Organization and was signed by 123 countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found the following year that the WTO’s initial membership accounted for more than 90 percent of global economic output.
TRUMP: “We made the deal with Mexico. And I think it’s a very – deal. We’re starting negotiations with Canada, pretty much immediately … It’s going to be a – it’s a smaller segment, as you know. Mexico is a very large trading partner.” – phone call Monday with Peña Nieto.
THE FACTS: Trump appears to be suggesting that Mexico is a bigger U.S. trading partner than Canada. That’s not the case. America’s two-way trade – exports plus imports – came to $680 billion with Canada last year. That’s compared with $622 billion with Mexico.
TRUMP: “I smile at Senators and others talking about how good free trade is for the U.S. What they don’t say is that we lose Jobs and over 800 Billion Dollars a year on really dumb Trade Deals….and these same countries Tariff us to death.” – tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The $800 billion is a reference to America’s trade deficit last year. But Trump exaggerates the size of the gap between what the U.S. sells and what it buys from the rest of the world. The trade deficit in goods and services came to $552 billion in 2017. The United States ran an $807 billion deficit in goods such as cars and machinery. But Trump ignored America’s $255 billion surplus in services such as education and finance.
Mainstream economists also take issue with Trump’s assertion that trade deficits amount to a loss for the United States. The money didn’t just vanish. In exchange for what they spent on imports, Americans got the benefit of owning everything from made-in-China iPhones to French wine.
TRUMP: “The wall will be paid for very easily by Mexico. It will ultimately be paid for by Mexico.” – remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not according to Mexico. Immediately after Trump’s remarks, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray tweeted to stress, once again, that his country won’t foot the bill for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Videgaray wrote that his country has been “absolutely clear” that Mexico “will NEVER pay for a wall.”
VIDEO TWEETED BY TRUMP: “For years, Google promoted President Obama’s State of the Union on its homepage. When President Trump took office, Google stopped.” – tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: The video is incorrect as to Trump.
There’s no dispute that Google promoted Obama’s State of the Union speeches from 2012 to 2016, according to webpages captured by the Wayback Machine, an internet archive site.
In a statement, Google said it has not historically promoted “the first address to Congress by a new president, which is technically not a State of the Union address,” so it didn’t do so in either 2009, when Obama first took office, or 2017, Trump’s first year as president.
For 2018, several web pages captured by Wayback Machine show the Google homepage advertising a livestream of Trump’s speech with the words: “Live! Watch President Trump’s State of the Union address on YouTube.”
The archive site shows the webpages in Greenwich Mean Time, which is several hours ahead of the Eastern time zone in the U.S. That means the relevant images of the Google homepage promoting Trump’s prime-time Washington speech on Jan. 30 are dated one day later, on Jan. 31, Mark Graham, director of the Wayback Machine archive site, told The Associated Press.
TRUMP: “What’s going on at @CNN is happening, to different degrees, at other networks - with @NBCNews being the worst … When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!” – tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: There is no evidence of the NBC interview having been “fudged” or doctored in any way, and the White House didn’t respond to requests regarding what Trump was referring to. NBC declined to comment.
In the interview, Trump referred in part to “this Russia thing” as a consideration in his decision to fire Comey. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible obstruction of justice in the Russia probe.
It’s possible Trump is frustrated that other comments from the same interview may have received less attention.
Minutes after he acknowledged that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired Comey, Trump also acknowledged that he knew the decision to terminate him might actually prolong the investigation. In fact it did, with Mueller investigating the firing for potential obstruction of justice.
His lawyers and other supporters have contended that that sentiment is actually helpful for the president, suggesting he couldn’t have been trying to obstruct the investigation by doing something that he knew would actually draw it out longer.
TRUMP: “Report just out: ‘China hacked Hillary Clinton’s private Email Server.’ – tweet Tuesday.
TRUMP: “Hillary Clinton’s Emails, many of which are Classified Information, got hacked by China. Next move better be by the FBI & DOJ or, after all of their other missteps (Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr, FISA, Dirty Dossier etc.), their credibility will be forever gone!” – tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s own law enforcement agencies dispute that.
Trump appears to be citing a story by the right-leaning Daily Caller publication, which reported that a Chinese-owned company in Washington, D.C., area hacked Clinton’s email server.
But FBI and Justice Department officials have said publicly that there was no evidence Clinton’s server was hacked by a foreign power.
A June report from the Justice Department’s inspector general on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation said FBI specialists did not find evidence that the server had been hacked, with one forensics agent saying he felt “fairly confident that there wasn’t an intrusion.”
An FBI official said Wednesday after the Daily Caller story and Trump tweet that the “FBI has not found any evidence the servers were compromised.”
TRUMP: “Over 90% approval rating for your all time favorite (I hope) President within the Republican Party and 52% overall. This despite all of the made up stories by the Fake News Media trying endlessly to make me look as bad and evil as possible. Look at the real villains please!” – tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong in regard to polls citing his overall job ratings.
The Associated Press couldn’t find any evidence of a recent poll that put Trump’s approval at 52 percent, and the White House and his re-election campaign didn’t respond to requests for specifics.
Polls are a snapshot of public opinion at the moment they are taken. Job approval can – and has in recent history – vary during a president’s term.
Since his inauguration, however, Trump’s job approval has been remarkably consistent, in the high 30s and low 40s, in polls from various media organizations and other pollsters.
The latest AP-NORC poll, taken this month, finds Trump’s approval among American adults at 38 percent. Some other recent polls measure his approval in the low to mid-40s.
On his level of support among Republicans, Trump is correct that they broadly approve of his work as president. In the same AP-NORC poll that found 38 percent of adults approving of the president, 76 percent of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP said they approved of Trump. Some polls have put that level of support as high as 90 percent.
— Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Jill Colvin and Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.