U.S. President Donald Trump is glossing over the facts when it comes to the Russia investigation and his economic performance.
The president suggests the 34 charges issued or guilty pleas achieved by special counsel Robert Mueller have had little to do with him. But Trump’s ignoring reality. Most significantly, his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has implicated Trump in a crime by linking him to a hush-money scheme. Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his efforts during the 2016 campaign to line up a Trump Tower Moscow project, saying he did so to align with Trump’s “political messaging.”
On the economy, Trump claimed record low unemployment for blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans even as the numbers have risen after the partial government shutdown. And he described the steel industry as “totally revived” despite 20,000 job losses over the past decade.
A look at his past week’s claims, also covering global warming and purported progress in building a border wall:
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TRUMP: “Of the 34 people, many of them were bloggers from Moscow or they were people that had nothing to do with me, had nothing to do with what they’re talking about or there were people that got caught telling a fib or telling a lie. I think it’s a terrible thing that’s happened to this country, because this investigation is a witch hunt.” — interview with CBS, broadcast Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s correct that Mueller’s team has indicted or gotten guilty pleas from 34 people. He’s wrong to suggest that none had anything to do with him or were simply “bloggers from Moscow.” Among these people are six Trump associates and 25 Russians accused of interfering in the 2016 election.
In particular, Cohen definitely was in trouble for what he did for Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to several criminal charges and stated that Trump directed him to arrange payments of hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to fend off damage to Trump’s White House bid. Prosecutors’ court filings in December backed up Cohen’s claims.
The Justice Department says the hush money payments were unreported campaign contributions meant to influence the outcome of the election. That assertion makes the payments subject to campaign finance laws, which restrict how much people can donate to a campaign and bar corporations from making direct contributions.
It is true that many of Trump’s former associates, including Cohen, were charged with either lying to the FBI or Congress.
The 25 Russians charged were not simply “bloggers.”
According to Mueller’s indictment last February, 13 Russians and three Russian entities are accused of attempting to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton by running a hidden social media trolling campaign and seeking to mobilize Trump supporters at rallies while posing as American political activists. The indictment says the surreptitious campaign was organized by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm financed by companies controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin.
Mueller’s team also charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers in July with hacking into the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and releasing tens of thousands of private communications. The charges say the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person in touch with the Trump campaign to offer help. And they say that on the same day that Trump, in a speech, urged Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by her personal office.
TRUMP: “You look at General Flynn where the FBI said he wasn’t lying, but Robert Mueller said he was, and they took a man and destroyed his life.” — interview with CBS.
THE FACTS: That’s not what the FBI said. And Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, has agreed that he lied to the FBI, having pleaded guilty to it.
The idea that Flynn didn’t lie to the FBI picked up steam after Republicans on the House intelligence committee issued a report last year. It said ex-FBI director James Comey, in a private briefing, told lawmakers that agents who interviewed Flynn “discerned no physical indications of deception” and saw “nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.” But Comey called that description “garble” in a private interview with House lawmakers in December.
Comey, in essence, said Flynn was a good liar, having a “natural conversation” with agents, “answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.”
At his sentencing hearing in December, Flynn acknowledged to Judge Emmet Sullivan that he knew it was a crime when he lied to the FBI in January 2017. Flynn declined to accept the judge’s offer to withdraw his guilty plea. Neither he nor his lawyers disputed that he had lied to agents.
TRUMP: “You saw the jobs report just came out. ...The African-Americans have the best employment numbers in the history of our country. Hispanic Americans have the best employment numbers in the history of our country. Asian-Americans the best in the history of our country.” — CBS interview.
THE FACTS: Black unemployment is not currently the lowest ever, possibly in part to the partial government shutdown, which lifted joblessness last month.
Black unemployment did reach a low, 5.9 percent, in May. But that figure is volatile on a monthly basis. That rate has since increased to 6.8 percent in January.
Hispanic and Asian-American joblessness has also risen off record lows last year. Hispanic unemployment last month was 4.9 percent, up from a low of 4.4 percent reached in October and December. Asian-American unemployment was at 3.1 percent, up from 2.2 percent in May.
Moreover, there are multiple signs that the racial wealth gap is now worsening. The most dramatic drop in black unemployment came under President Barack Obama, when it fell from a recession high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.
TRUMP: “The chant now should be ‘finish the wall’ as opposed to ‘Build the Wall’ because we’re building a lot of wall. I started this six months ago — we really started going to town — because I could see we were going nowhere with the Democrats.” — comments Friday.
TRUMP: “Large sections of WALL have already been built with much more either under construction or ready to go. Renovation of existing WALLS is also a very big part of the plan to finally, after many decades, properly Secure Our Border. The Wall is getting done one way or the other!” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Despite all his talk of progress, he’s added no extra miles of barrier to the border to date. Construction is to start this month on a levee wall system in the Rio Grande Valley that will add 14 miles of barrier, the first lengthening in his presidency. That will be paid for as part of $1.4 billion approved by Congress last year.
Most work under contracts awarded by the Trump administration has been for replacement of existing barrier.
When Trump says large parts of the wall “have already been built,” he’s not acknowledging that previous administrations built those sections. Barriers currently extend for 654 miles (1,052 kilometers), or about one-third of the border. That construction was mostly done from 2006 to 2009.
TRUMP: “Tariffs on the ‘dumping’ of Steel in the United States have totally revived our Steel Industry. New and expanded plants are happening all over the U.S. We have not only saved this important industry, but created many jobs. Also, billions paid to our treasury. A BIG WIN FOR U.S.” — tweet Jan. 28.
THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating the recovery of the steel industry, particularly when it comes to jobs.
In December, the steel industry employed 141,600 people, the Labor Department says in its latest data. Last March, when Trump said he would impose the tariffs, it was 139,400. That’s a gain of just 2,200 jobs during a period when the overall economy added nearly 2 million jobs. On a percentage basis, steel industry jobs grew 1.6 percent, barely higher than the 1.3 percent increase in all jobs.
Yet those figures still lag behind where they were before the 2008-2009 recession. When that downturn began, there were nearly 162,000 steelworkers.
Some companies have said they will add or expand plants. It’s difficult to know just how many jobs will be added by newly planned mills. But construction spending on factories has yet to take off significantly after having been in decline between 2016 and much of 2018. Construction spending on factories has been flat in the past year, according to the Census Bureau.
Trump’s reference to “billions paid to our treasury” concerns money raised from tariffs on foreign steel and other products. Such tariffs are generally paid by U.S. importers, not foreign countries or companies, and the costs are often passed on to consumers. So that money going to the government is mostly coming from Americans.
TRUMP: “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!” — tweet Jan. 27.
THE FACTS: That “iceberg” quickly began to melt as officials found serious problems with a report from the Texas secretary of state’s office on voter fraud. More broadly, Trump is overstating the magnitude of such fraud across the U.S.
The Texas report suggested as many as 95,000 non-U.S. citizens may be on the state’s voter rolls and as many as 58,000 may have cast a ballot at least once since 1996. Since it came out, however, state elections officials have been notifying county election chiefs of problems with the findings. Local officials told The Associated Press that they received calls from Texas Secretary of State David Whitley’s office indicating that some citizens had been wrongly included in the original data.
So far no one on the lists has been confirmed as a noncitizen voter. Election officials in Texas’ largest county say about 18,000 voters in the Houston area were wrongfully flagged as potentially ineligible to vote and those officials expect more such mistakes to be found on their list.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Trump ally, acknowledged problems in the report, saying “many of these individuals may have been naturalized before registering and voting, which makes their conduct perfectly legal.”
Early claims by other states of possible illegal voting on a rampant scale haven’t held up.
When Florida began searching for noncitizens in 2012, for instance, state officials initially found 180,000 people suspected of being ineligible to vote when comparing databases of registered voters and driver’s licenses. Florida officials later assembled a purge list of more than 2,600 names but that, too, was beset by inaccuracies. Eventually, a revised list of 198 names of possible noncitizens was produced through the use of a federal database.
In the U.S. overall, the actual number of fraud cases has been very small, and the type that voter IDs are designed to prevent — voter impersonation at the ballot box — is almost 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.
TRUMP: “After all that I have done for the Military, our great Veterans, Judges (99), Justices (2) ... does anybody really think I won’t build the WALL?” — tweet Jan. 27.
THE FACTS: He’s boasting here about his record of getting federal judges and justices on the bench. But that record is not extraordinary. He also misstates the total number of judges who have been confirmed by the Senate — it’s 85, not 99.
While Trump did successfully nominate two justices to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, during his first two years in office, four other modern presidents did the same — Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, and Republican Richard Nixon. Trump, meanwhile, is surpassed in the number of confirmed justices by Warren Harding (four), William Taft (five), Abraham Lincoln (three) and George Washington (six), according to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert on judicial appointments.
Trump’s 85 total judicial appointees lag behind five former presidents at comparable points in office.
The five are George W. Bush, 99; Clinton, 128; Ronald Reagan, 88; Nixon, 91; and Kennedy, 111, according to Wheeler’s analysis.
TRUMP: “In the beautiful Midwest, wind chill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!” — tweet Jan. 28.
THE FACTS: Global warming does not need to make a comeback because it hasn’t gone away. Extreme cold spells in parts of the globe do not signal a retreat.
Earth is considerably warmer than it was 30 years ago and especially 100 years ago. The lower 48 states make up only 1.6 percent of the globe, so what’s happening there at any particular time is not a yardstick of the planet’s climate. Even so, despite the brutal cold in the Midwest and East, five Western states are warmer than normal.
“This is simply an extreme weather event and not representative of global scale temperature trends,” said Northern Illinois University climate scientist Victor Gensini. “The exact opposite is happening in Australia,” which has been broiling with triple-digit heat that is setting records.
Trump’s own administration released a scientific report last year saying that while human-caused climate change will reduce cold weather deaths “in 49 large cities in the United States, changes in extreme hot and extreme cold temperatures are projected to result in more than 9,000 additional premature deaths per year” by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at recent rates.
Trump routinely conflates weather and climate. Weather is like mood, which is fleeting. Climate is like personality, which is long term.