AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s fusillade of misfires on fateful week
WASHINGTON – Abroad, at home and in Twitter’s ether, President Donald Trump unleashed a fusillade of statements over the past week as the Senate impeachment trial unfolded and the Davos economic forum played out in Switzerland.
On impeachment, the state of the country, abortion, pollution and more, Trump didn’t tell the story straight.
A week in review:
TRUMP, on U.S. troops targeted by the Iranian missile attack in Iraq this month: “I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things … and I can report it is not very serious. … No, I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I’ve seen. … No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries, no.” – news conference Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland.
THE FACTS: That assurance is misleading at best. The Pentagon said Friday that 34 service members suffered traumatic brain injury in the attack and half were taken to Germany or back to the U.S. for further observation and treatment.
Traumatic brain injury can be severe enough to cause life-long debilitation or death. The severity of the brain injuries has not been described in detail by the Pentagon; evaluation of the wounded troops continues.
In the first few days after the attacks, Trump inaccurately told the nation that no American service members were hurt.
TRUMP on Gov. Ralph Northam, D-Va.: “The governor stated that he would execute a baby after birth.” – remarks at anti-abortion rally Friday.
THE FACTS: No, Northam he didn’t.
Trump routinely twists Northam’s words, which were convoluted to begin with.
Noting that late-term abortions usually only happen if a fetus is severely deformed and unlikely to survive, Northam laid out a scenario in which such a fetus is not aborted and the baby is delivered. Then, he said, the baby would be “resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue” between doctors and the mother about what to do.
In extremely rare instances, babies are born alive as a result of an attempted abortion. “Execution” is not an option.
When a baby is born with anomalies so severe that he or she would die soon after birth, a family may choose what’s known as palliative care or comfort care. This might involve allowing the baby to die naturally without medical intervention. Providing comfort without life-extending treatment is not specific to newborns. It may happen with fatally ill patients of any age.
TRUMP: “This is a blue-collar boom. Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage earners has increased by plus-47% – three times faster than the increase for the top 1%.” – remarks in Davos on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: It isn’t a boom for blue-collar workers.
They haven’t done much better than everyone else, and some of their gains under Trump have faded in the past year as his trade war hurt manufacturing. The mining and logging industry, for example, which includes oil and gas workers, lost 21,000 jobs last year. Manufacturers have added just 9,000 jobs in the past six months, while the economy as a whole gained more than 1.1 million jobs during that period.
The U.S. economy is still heavily oriented toward services. While factory jobs have grown, other jobs have grown faster, so manufacturing has slightly shrunk as a proportion of the work force since Trump took office.
He’s right that net worth among the bottom half has risen, but from such a low base that no boom can be claimed. The Federal Reserve says the bottom half has just 1.6% of the nation’s wealth, compared with 1.1% when Trump took office. It was 2.1% in 2006.
TRUMP: “For the first time in decades we are no longer simply concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. We are concentrating and creating the most inclusive economy to ever exist.” – Davos remarks.
THE FACTS: That’s not true. Wealth is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of a few: The richest 1% of Americans own 32% of the nation’s wealth, about the same as in early 2017 when the president was inaugurated. The middle-class share – defined by the Fed as those from the exact middle of the wealth distribution up to the top 10% – remains at about 29%. This, despite the slight gains of the bottom half.
The percentage of Americans who own their own homes, a key source of wealth-building, has improved modestly under Trump but remains below the level seen as recently as 2013.
TRUMP: “We have to do something about other continents. We have to do something about other countries. … We have a beautiful ocean called the Pacific Ocean, where thousands and thousands of tons of garbage flows toward us, and that’s put there by other countries.” – Davos news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s right that garbage from abroad has come to U.S. shores by sea. What he does not say is that garbage from the U.S. also makes it over the ocean to other countries and that Americans have plenty to do with trashing their own shores.
Debris from Asia was most noticeable after the 2011 Japanese tsunami, said marine debris expert Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association, “but the same can be said about debris entering the ocean from the U.S. and washing ashore in Asia.” In fact, she said, most debris is not tracked to the country of origin.
The United States produces the largest amount of plastic waste in the world by weight, Law said.
“Most debris we find on the coast of the U.S. is likely from the U.S.,” Denise Hardesty, a scientist who researches ocean trash for Australia’s federal science organization, said by email.
IMPEACHMENT and UKRAINE
TRUMP, on military aid to Ukraine: “Remember this, they got their money and they got it early.” – interview Wednesday with Fox Business Network.
TRUMP: “They got their money long before schedule.” – Davos news conference.
THE FACTS: They got the money months late.
Congress approved nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in the early months of 2019. U.S. officials involved with the aid learned in the summer that Trump had ordered the assistance to held back, as he pressed Ukraine to announce an investigation of Democrats.
It was released Sept. 11, only after a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine had surfaced and a few days after Democrats in Congress opened the investigation.
Previous rounds of assistance were not similarly disrupted.
TRUMP, on Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead impeachment manager for the Senate trial: “He makes a statement that I made, and it was a total fraud. I never made it. That’s why I released the conversation, because if I didn’t release it, people would have said that I made the statement that he made. This guy is a fraud.” – Fox interview Wednesday.
THE FACTS: No, Schiff spoke after Trump released the rough transcript of his July phone call, not before. Trump’s claimed motive for coming out with the transcript is demonstrably untrue.
The White House released the account of the conversation on Sept. 25. Schiff gave his account on Sept. 26, while leading a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the matter, as the committee chairman.
Trump has made much of Schiff’s account, seizing on how the Democrat put words in Trump’s mouth in describing the president’s conversation with Ukraine’s leader. Schiff made clear in the hearing that he was not to be taken literally. He said he was characterizing Trump’s conversation “in not so many words,” attempting to describe “the essence” of it, and doing something of a “parody.”
Schiff based his account on the rough transcript. He did not cause it to be released.
TRUMP LAWYER JAY SEKULOW, on special counsel Robert Mueller: “We had the invocation of the ghost of the Mueller report. I know something about that report. It came up empty on the issue of collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, in fact.” – impeachment trial Tuesday.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong to suggest that Mueller’s report cleared the Trump campaign of collusion with Russia. Nor did the report exonerate Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice.
Instead, the report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter or for prosecutors to do so once Trump leaves office.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said after the report was released.
Mueller’s two-year investigation and other scrutiny revealed a multitude of meetings with Russians. Among them: Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.
On collusion, Mueller said he did not assess whether that occurred because it is not a legal term.
He looked into a potential criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and said the investigation did not collect sufficient evidence to establish criminal charges on that front.
SEKULOW: “During the proceedings that took place before the Judiciary Committee, the president was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses. The president was denied the right to access evidence. And the president was denied the right to have counsel present at hearings.” – impeachment trial Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That’s false. The committee, which produced the articles of impeachment, invited Trump or his legal team to come. He declined.
Absent White House representation, the hearings proceeded as things in Congress routinely do. Time was split between Democratic and Republican lawmakers to ask questions and engage in the debate. Lawyers for Democrats and Republicans on the committee presented the case for and against the impeachment articles and members questioned witnesses, among them an academic called forward by Republicans.
The first round of hearings was by the House Intelligence Committee and resembled the investigative phase of criminal cases, conducted without the participation of the subject of the investigation. Trump cried foul then at the lack of representation, then rejected representation when the next committee offered it.
TRUMP, on historically black colleges and universities: “I saved HBCUs. We saved them. They were going out and we saved them.” – Davos remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That’s a big stretch.
Trump signed a law in December restoring money that lapsed for several months when Congress failed to reauthorize some $255 million in financing on time. The money came back because Senate education leaders reached a compromise on a broader dispute that had entangled financing for black schools.
Neither the lapse nor the restoration was directly tied in any way to the Trump administration.
The administration generally has supported historically black colleges, as previous administrations have done, and it’s true that such schools have faced financial struggles and some have closed. The Trump administration has expanded access to federal support for black schools with religious affiliations and in 2018 forgave federal loans given to several of them after hurricanes.
But this segment of university education was not vanishing.
AIR & WATER
TRUMP: “I’m proud to report the United States has among the cleanest air and drinking water on Earth – and we’re going to keep it that way. And we just came out with a report that, at this moment, it’s the cleanest it’s been in the last 40 years.” – Davos remarks.
THE FACTS: No, air quality has worsened under his 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.
In the U.S. and other countries, air is better than it was during the days of full-on coal power, leaded gasoline and belching smokestacks, before the advent of modern pollution regulation decades ago. But by multiple measures, air quality has deteriorated in the last few years.
Trump this month proposed the latest enforcement rollbacks for the bedrock environmental acts credited with beginning that clean-up of U.S. air and water a half-century ago.
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.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America in 2017 and 2018 than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, according to an Associated Press analysis of EPA data. And deadly air particle pollution increased 5.5% in the U.S. between 2016 and 2018 after declining by 24% from 2009 to 2016, says a Carnegie Mellon University study.
The Obama administration set records for the fewest air-polluted days.
TRUMP: “We have the greatest economy we’ve ever had in the history of our country. And I’m in Europe today because we’re bringing a lot of other companies into our country with thousands of jobs – millions of jobs, in many cases. ” – Davos remarks.
THE FACTS: His persistent depiction of the U.S. economy as the greatest ever is false. As for jobs pouring into the country, investment by foreign companies has slumped under Trump, according to a report by the Organization for International Investment, a Washington-based association that represents foreign businesses.
Foreign companies directly invested $268 billion into the U.S. economy in 2018, a decrease of nearly $220 billion from its record-breaking level in 2016 when Democrat Barack Obama was still president.
On the broader picture, economic growth under Trump is not nearly the greatest 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 Obama – and hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.
The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low of 3.5%, but the proportion of Americans with a job was higher in the late 1990s. Wages were rising at a faster pace back then, too.
This much is true: The Obama-Trump years have yielded the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But not the greatest.
TRUMP: “The average unemployment rate for my administration is the lowest for any U.S. president in recorded history. We started off with a reasonably high rate.” – Davos remarks.
THE FACTS: Actually, Trump started with a rate that, if anything, was reasonably low, not “reasonably high.” The unemployment rate was 4.7% when Trump replaced Obama in the White House. That is below the long-term U.S. average unemployment of 5.7% since the Labor Department began compiling the data in 1948.
Obama inherited a rate of 7.8%. It remained high for years – topping 8% for a record length of time – but gradually fell to the below-average level Trump inherited.
TRUMP: “Just last week alone, the United States concluded two extraordinary trade deals – the agreement with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement – the two biggest trade deals ever made.” – Davos remarks.
THE FACTS: No, there have been larger trade deals.
For instance, 123 countries signed the Uruguay Round agreement that liberalized trade and produced the World Trade Organization in 1994. The organization’s initial membership accounted for more than 90% of global economic output, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found, and that was before China joined the organization.
Also bigger: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have joined North America with Pacific Rim countries in freer trade. Trump took the U.S. out after the deal was negotiated and before the U.S. ratified it. The European Union, with its liberalized trade regimen, was itself formed from a giant deal.
The China deal leaves tariffs in place on about $360 billion in imports from China and pushes substantial remaining disputes ahead to a second phase of negotiations. Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement is much larger, though it’s an update of the long-standing North American Free Trade Agreement worked out by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
TRUMP: “Real median household income is at the highest level ever recorded.” – Davos remarks.
THE FACTS: Not really, but it would be misleading even if it were true. Real median household income in 2018 matched the previous high of $63,200 first reached in 1999. That’s according to adjusted figures the Census Bureau released to account for changes in its surveys over time.
Trump is presumably referring to an unadjusted number that does show the 2018 figure as the highest on record. Either way, what the data show is that income for the median household – the one at the exact middle of the income distribution – essentially stagnated for nearly 20 years. The Census data also show that household income fell sharply after the Great Recession, then began rebounding in 2015, before Trump took office.
— Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Jill Colvin, Christopher Rugaber, Josh Boak, Eric Tucker and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington, Collin Binkley in Boston and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.