AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s takes on impeachment, Syria, climate
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is persisting in a claim that goes to the heart of the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria – that he’s bringing the troops home. He isn’t.
This deception has surfaced repeatedly, in the face of contrary words from his military people and sometimes from his own statements acknowledging that bringing the soldiers back doesn’t mean right now, or on any schedule that he’s disclosed.
Trump has spread problematic information on the impeachment process, the economy and the environment over the past week as well.
A look at some of the recent rhetoric from the political arena:
TRUMP, on his Oct. 17 rally in Dallas: “I had 25,000 people – close – in that arena. A record crowd.” – Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: No record crowd at the arena, said the Dallas Police Department.
A spokeswoman, Tamika Dameron, said the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department and American Airlines Center calculated the number inside at 18,500, less than capacity for basketball games.
During the Mavericks 2011 NBA Finals series, the highest attendance at the American Airlines Center was 20,433.
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 Monday.
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: “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 earlier in the 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: “We were supposed to be there for 30 days; that was almost 10 years ago. So we’re there for 30 days, and now we’re leaving.” – remarks on Syria.
THE FACTS: He’s misrepresenting the intended scope of U.S. involvement in Syria. Previous administrations never set a one-month timeline for completion.
The U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes on IS militants in Syria in September 2014. About a year later, the Pentagon said teams of special operations forces began going into Syria to conduct raids and start efforts to partner with the Kurdish forces.
Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter made it clear to Congress at that time that the Pentagon was ready to expand operations with the Kurds and would continue to do so as needed to battle IS, without setting a specific deadline.
At an Oct. 30, 2015, press conference , White House press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked how long troops would stay that “this is not a short-term proposition” in terms of America’s counter-IS strategy.
TRUMP: “American forces defeated 100% of the ISIS caliphate during the last two years.” – remarks on Syria.
THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading because IS still poses a threat.
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.”
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: “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, explaining one reason he wanted to host a Group of Seven summit at his Doral resort in Florida before he backtracked under criticism: “Best location. Right next to the airport, Miami International – one of the biggest airports in the world. Some people say it’s the biggest.” – Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: Miami International Airport is nowhere close to being the world’s largest airport; it’s not even in the top 20 as measured by passenger volume.
According to data on the airport’s own website, Miami’s airport ranks 42nd in the world based on passengers.
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: “We canceled the last administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan. Sounds nice, but it wasn’t so nice. It was a disaster, which would have cost Americans nearly $40 billion a year and caused electricity prices to soar to double digits, while cutting coal production by almost 250 million tons.” – Pittsburgh remarks.
THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating the cost savings from ditching the Obama-era power plan.
Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency, in 2017, estimated cost-savings starting as low as $2.6 billion a year and increasing to as much as $33 billion a year by 2030. That’s well short of $40 billion a year.
And it’s only half the ledger. The $33 billion does not include an estimation of how much the benefits of Obama’s plan would be worth.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in 2018 calculated that repeated analyses by the EPA showed that benefits of the clean power plan – fewer illnesses and deaths turned into dollar amounts based on a formula on the value of each life – usually outweighed the costs, at times by a lot.
The research service noted that the EPA’s 2017 report essentially says that the decision to shelve Obama’s rules could end up saving taxpayers as much as $14 billion a year – far from Trump’s claim of $40 billion – or costing them as much as $28 billion a year. Neither extreme in that analysis supports Trump’s statement.
TRUMP: “Our air right now and our water right now is as clean as it’s been in decades. … I’m proud that, today, the United States has among the very cleanest air and drinking water on Earth – anywhere on Earth … It’s really incredible. But we’re at a very, very good point environmentally right now.” – Pittsburgh remarks.
THE FACTS: Trump is incorrect. Air quality hasn’t improved under the Trump administration.
And it’s a stretch to say the U.S. is among the countries with the cleanest air. Dozens of nations have less smoggy air.
As to water quality, one measure, Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index, finds the U.S. tied with nine other countries as having the cleanest drinking water.
But after decades of improvement, progress in air quality has stalled. Over the last two years the U.S. had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data show.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when the U.S had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980, according to an AP analysis of EPA data.
A new study this month by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that deadly air particle pollution increased 5.5% in the United States between 2016 and 2018 after declining by 24.2% from 2009 to 2016.
“The increase was associated with 9,700 premature deaths in 2018,” the study by Karen Clay and Nicholas Muller said. “At conventional valuations, these deaths represent damages of $89 billion.”
The Obama administration set records for the fewest air-polluted days.
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.
TRUMP: “The Federal Reserve is derelict in its duties if it doesn’t lower the Rate and even, ideally, stimulate. Take a look around the World at our competitors. Germany and others are actually GETTING PAID to borrow money. Fed was way too fast to raise, and way too slow to cut!” – tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: He’s misrepresenting the impact of Federal Reserve policies and is mistaken about Germany’s economy, suggesting that it enjoys some kind of advantage. In fact, negative yields are a sign of that economy’s weakness.
By having even slightly positive interest rates compared with the rest of the world, the United States is in a better position to attract global investment.
Like Germany, Japan and much of Europe are also struggling with interest rates on government debt that are negative or close to negative.
TRUMP: “We are now an economic powerhouse like never before … Our economic might is stronger than it’s ever been.” – remarks Wednesday on Syria.
THE FACTS: The U.S. economy isn’t at its strongest ever.
In the late 1990s, growth topped 4% for four straight years, a level it has not reached on an annual basis under Trump. Growth reached 7.2% in 1984. The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 – the same pace it reached in 2015 under President Barack Obama – and hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.
The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low of 3.7%, but the proportion of Americans with a job was higher in the 1990s. Wages were rising at a faster pace back then, too.
— Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, Josh Boak, Paul Wiseman, Robert Burns, Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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EDITOR’S NOTE – A look at the veracity of claims by political figures