AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s untruths on mail bombs, 9/11, tax cut
WASHINGTON – In a final run-up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections, President Donald Trump is spreading false innuendo and untruths when it comes to the mail bombs sent to several targets of his derision and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He suggests that it was his duty to return to the campaign trail in the immediate aftermath of one of the deadliest shootings of Jews in U.S. history, recalling with dramatic effect a herculean effort the New York Stock Exchange made to reopen the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The NYSE actually did not reopen until six days later.
Trump speaks of an ominous problem of voting fraud, even when the actual number of cases is very small, and gave subtle credence to the notion that bombs mailed to Democrats were actually a ploy to hurt Republicans in the election. That flew in the face of known facts in the episode.
Meanwhile, on policy matters, Trump’s boast that he will soon secure a tax cut for middle-class families is highly questionable. He also inflates his achievement in appointing justices to the Supreme Court, a feat matched by numerous previous presidents.
A look at misleading rhetoric, both Republican and Democratic, over the past week:
TRUMP: “With what happened early today, that horrible, horrible attack in Pittsburgh, I was saying maybe I should cancel both this and that. And then I said to myself, I remembered … the New York Stock Exchange on September 11th, and the New York Stock Exchange was open the following day. …We can’t make these sick, demented, evil people important.” – Illinois rally Saturday.
TRUMP: “I remember what Dick Grasso did with the New York Stock Exchange and what happened on Sept. 11 and I said, you can’t let these evil people change your life, change your schedules, change anything.” – remarks Saturday to reporters in Murphysboro, Illinois.
THE FACTS: No, the NYSE did not reopen the day after 9/11. Trump points to the NYSE’s quick reopening to explain why he was appearing at a political rally in the immediate aftermath of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. That shooting by a lone gunman during Sabbath services left 11 dead and was one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in U.S. history.
In fact, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the NYSE and Nasdaq exchanges remained closed until Monday, Sept. 17, the longest shutdown since 1933.
FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “It shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican to say you don’t punish political opponents or threaten the freedom of the press, just because you don’t like what they say or write about you.” – Wisconsin rally Friday.
THE FACTS: Obama actually took extraordinary actions to block the flow of information to the public.
The Obama administration prosecuted more people for leaking sensitive information to the public than all previous administrations combined. Obama’s Justice Department dug into confidential communications between news organizations and their sources as part of that effort.
In 2013, the Obama administration obtained the records of 20 Associated Press office phone lines and reporters’ home and cell phones, seizing them without notice, as part of an investigation into the disclosure of information about a foiled al-Qaida terrorist plot.
AP was not the target of the investigation. But it called the seizure a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news-gathering activities, betraying information about its operations “that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
Obama’s Justice Department also secretly dogged Fox News journalist James Rosen, getting his phone records, tracking his arrivals and departures at the State Department through his security-badge use, obtaining a search warrant to see his personal emails and naming him as a possible criminal conspirator in the investigation of a news leak.
“The Obama administration,” The New York Times editorial board wrote at the time, “has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.”
TRUMP: “Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows - news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!” – tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: His use of “bomb” in quotation marks lent weight to conspiracy theories that Democrats and CNN were targeted as part of a liberal plot to drum up voter anger at Trump and fellow Republicans. There’s no evidence of that. Trump’s tweet bemoaned the diversion of attention away from the campaign by news organizations that shifted priority to the attack. Given Trump’s vow that no effort would be spared to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice, it’s questionable whether the president actually believed the theory he seemed to be subscribing to in the tweet.
Later Friday, police arrested a Florida man who is a fervent Trump supporter and accused him of sending more than a dozen mail bombs. Trump hailed law enforcement for acting so swiftly against “terrorizing acts” he called “despicable.”
TRUMP, on the discovery of pipe bombs targeting prominent Democratic politicians and CNN: “Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective.” – Wisconsin rally Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump specifically calls out opponents as being morally defective. He called Democrats and other opponents of Justice Brett Kavanaugh “very evil people.” He has routinely described Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters as “low IQ.” She was among those targeted by pipe bombs in the mail, as was CNN, prime among the news organizations he calls “fake” and an “enemy of the people” in his stump speech.
For much of his political career, Trump has often embraced deeply personal attacks against his opponents. During the 2016 campaign, for instance, he repeatedly encouraged supporters to physically attack liberal protesters, offering to pay for their legal bills.
His recent rhetoric has sometimes turned darker.
“The Democrats are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave,” Trump declared at a Minnesota rally this month. “They want to destroy.”
He also praised a Republican congressman from Montana for body slamming a reporter.
TRUMP: “You know, many presidents don’t get a chance to put a Supreme Court justice on. Here we are, less than two years, we’ve put two of them on. Right? So if we go at this clip, we’ll put eight of them on. How do you like that idea? Eight! One a year. We’ll do one a year.” – Wisconsin rally Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong. Almost every U.S. president in fact has had a chance to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court; only four haven’t. Trump also does not particularly stand out among presidents for having appointed two justices by the 21-month mark in his term.
Only four U.S. presidents failed to nominate a justice. Two of them, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, died during their first term in office, while Jimmy Carter served one term as president. Andrew Johnson also was deprived of a chance after Congress in 1866 shrunk the size of the Supreme Court from 10 justices to seven.
By their 21st month in office, at least nine other U.S. presidents besides Trump had already appointed two justices, including Democrats Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
TRUMP: “We’re going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle-income families. It’s going to be put in next week, 10 percent tax cut. Kevin Brady is working on it. We’ve been working on it for a few months, a 10 percent brand-new – and that is in addition to the big tax cuts that you’ve already gotten. But this one is for middle income.” – Texas rally Oct. 22.
TRUMP: “We just passed a massive tax cut for working families. And we will soon follow it up with another 10 percent tax cut for the middle class.” – Illinois rally Saturday.
THE FACTS: A reality check is in order.
His suggestion that he can soon secure a tax cut for middle-class families is highly questionable. Congress is out of session as lawmakers campaign for the Nov. 6 midterm elections. When pressed about when a bill can be approved, Trump insisted that “we’ll do the vote after the election.”
But he’s making a big assumption that Congress can act in a lame-duck session this year or that Republicans will keep control of the House and Senate next year.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said it was “highly unlikely” the Senate would vote on Trump’s tax cut plan after the election. When asked if it could pass, he said: “I’ve seen miracles happen before.”
Coming so close to critical elections, the tax proposal appeared to be more a tacit acknowledgement by the Trump administration that the $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts passed last year failed to deliver the political traction that Republicans had hoped for. So he’s dangling the prospect for more.
TRUMP: “We’ve saved your family farms, ranches and small businesses from the estate tax, also known as the death tax. …There’s no tax. …That was in our tax cuts.” – Texas rally Oct. 22.
THE FACTS: There is so an estate tax. The Republican-controlled Congress did not eliminate the estate tax as part of its 2017 law. Rather, it increased the tax exemption – temporarily – so fewer people will be subject to those taxes. There also wasn’t much that Trump “saved” since very few farms or small businesses were subject to an estate tax even before the 2017 law.
Previously, any assets from estates valued at more than $5.49 million, or nearly $11 million for couples, were subject to the estate tax in 2017. The new law doubled that minimum for 2018 to $11.2 million, or $22.4 million for couples. Those increased minimums will expire at the end of 2025.
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, only about 50 small farms and closely held businesses were subject to the estate tax in 2017. Those estates represent about 1 percent of all taxable estate tax returns.
TRUMP: “All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!” – tweet Oct. 20.
TRUMP: “The illegals – and by the way, I hate to tell you, you go to California, you go – they vote anyway. They vote anyway. And they’re not supposed to. …Voter ID, folks. Voter ID. Voter ID.” – Texas rally Oct. 22.
THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating the extent of voting fraud.
The actual number of fraud cases is very small, and the type that voter IDs are designed to prevent – voter impersonation at the ballot box – is virtually nonexistent.
In court cases that have invalidated some ID laws as having discriminatory effects, election officials could barely cite a case in which a person was charged with in-person voting fraud.
Democrats have opposed voter-ID laws as unnecessarily restricting access for nonwhites and young people, who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans accuse Democrats of wanting noncitizens to be able to vote in U.S. elections.
Trump often asserts that voter fraud is a significant issue, but has not provided evidence of consequential fraud.
After the 2016 election, Trump convened a commission to investigate potential voting fraud, after alleging repeatedly and without evidence that fraud cost him the popular vote. Trump won the Electoral College.
But he disbanded the panel in January, blaming the decision on more than a dozen states that refused to comply with the commission’s demand for reams of personal voter data.
TRUMP: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.” – tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s not “totally” protecting health coverage for patients with pre-existing medical conditions. In fact, his Justice Department is arguing in court that those protections in the Obama-era health law should fall. And the short-term health plans Trump often promotes as a bargain alternative offer no guarantee of covering pre-existing conditions.
Government lawyers said in legal filings in June that they will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a letter to Congress that Trump approved the legal strategy.
The decision was a rare departure from the Justice Department’s custom of defending federal laws in court. It came after Texas and other Republican-led states sued to strike down the entire law because Congress repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine.
The Trump administration said it won’t defend the provision shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums.
Former President Barack Obama’s health care law requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones. Bills supported last year by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law could have pushed up costs for people with pre-existing conditions.
— Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.