AP FACT CHECK: Trump on steel mills, Russian hoax, NATO
Statements made by the US president in a week of puzzling disconnects and untruths.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is imagining steel mill openings that aren’t happening and in denial about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.
He points broadly to a “Russian hoax,” even as his own top national security and intelligence officials decry a real threat of Russian interference in future US elections, and suggests that Russia didn’t want him to win the presidency. On jobs, he isn’t providing the full picture regarding US employment growth.
The statements came in a week of puzzling disconnects and untruths, including assertions of cleaner air than his government recorded and a claim that people need photo IDs to make purchases in stores that any average shopper with cash or a credit card would know is not accurate.
A sampling of comments by Trump and his officials:
TRUMP: “Here’s one of the best statistics ever. More Americans are now employed than ever recorded before in our nation’s history. Think of that. So we now have more people employed working today than the United States has ever had.” – Ohio rally Saturday.
THE FACTS: He’s painting an incomplete picture of U.S. job growth. Due largely to population increase, the number of people with jobs is, in fact, at a record high of 156 million. But a more relevant measure _ the proportion of Americans with jobs _ isn’t even close to a record.
Last month, 60.5% of Americans 16 and older had jobs. That is up from the recession and its aftermath, when many Americans stopped looking for work. It bottomed out at 58.2% in July 2011. Both figures are far below the record high of 64.7 per cent, which was briefly reached in 2000. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 recession, 62.7 per cent of Americans had jobs
TRUMP: “US Steel is opening up seven plants.” – remarks at the Pennsylvania rally. Florida rally –“Thanks to our tariffs, our steel workers are back on the job, American steel mills are back open for business … US Steel just announced that they’re building six new steel mills.”
THE FACTS: No, US Steel has not announced six, or seven, new steel mills. A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh-based company, Meghan Cox, declined to comment on Trump’s claim, only making clear that any “operational changes” such as the opening of new mills would be “publicly announced” and “made available on our website” if it occurred.
TRUMP: “I’ll tell you what, Russia’s very unhappy that Trump won, that I can tell you.” – Pennsylvania rally.
THE FACTS: That’s not what Russian President Vladimir Putin says. Asked at a news conference with Trump last month whether he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election, Putin responded, “Yes, I did.” Putin said he favoured Trump “because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.”
The Republican-led Senate intelligence committee in May said it agreed with the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to hurt the candidacy of Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump._
TRUMP: “In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin. We discussed everything – I had a great meeting. We got along really well. By the way, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing. Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, OK?” – Pennsylvania rally.
THE FACTS: Trump’s effort to play down the idea of Russian election interference belies the statements of his own top national security and intelligence officials, who have concluded that Russia meddled in 2016 and pointed to a threat of future attacks on US democracy. Just hours before Trump’s claim, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats joined other top aides at the White House to stress the Russia threat to US elections “is real, it is continuing.”
National security adviser John Bolton said stemming the threat of Russian election interference is a priority for Trump, adding that the president had opened his private meeting with Putin by raising the issue. “I think the president has made it abundantly clear to everybody who has responsibility in this area that he cares deeply about it and that he expects them to do their jobs to their fullest ability and that he supports them fully,” he said.
On Aug. 5, White House officials sought to deny a disconnect between their message of a Russian meddling threat and Trump’s claims of a “hoax,” saying Trump was referring to federal investigations into possible collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia.
But in recent weeks, special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has led to indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence officers who allegedly sought to influence the US election, the first time Moscow had been directly implicated in 2016 meddling. Congressional committees also have been investigating the matter, with the Senate intelligence committee making clear that a key goal is to improve security in future US elections
TRUMP: “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!” – tweet.
TRUMP LAWYER RUDY GIULIANI: “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. … Collusion is not a crime.” – remarks July 30 on Fox News.
THE FACTS: It is correct to say election collusion isn’t a precise legal term. The US code mostly uses the term “collusion” in antitrust laws to address crimes like price fixing. As it relates to Russia and US elections, the term can be seen as shorthand for plenty of violations of specific laws on the books.
For instance, there could be legal violations if Trump’s presidential campaign is found to have collaborated with Moscow, including a conspiracy to defraud the United States. There are also laws against election fraud, computer hacking, wire fraud and falsifying records, if those apply.
So far, Mueller has accused the Russians of hacking into Democrats’ computers and stealing emails, as well as trying to stoke US tensions before the 2016 election using social media.
Mueller might decide, for example, that a crime was committed if he finds evidence that an American was involved in the hack of Democrats, either by soliciting it or paying someone to do it.
As well, a conspiracy to defraud the United States can be used to refer to any two people using “deceit, craft, or trickery” to interfere with governmental functions, such as an election.
TRUMP, on air quality in the US: “It’s the best it’s ever been.” – Pennsylvania rally.
THE FACTS: Not true, going by the key measure of air quality. The EPA’s air quality index shows a worsening since 2014, the best year as measured by the number of days with bad air.
For that index, 35 cities reported unhealthy air for a total of 599 days in 2014. That went up to 729 days in 2017, the worst year since 2012 (1,297 days). The index measures ozone and soot.
EPA, citing potential benefits from freezing Obama-era mileage standards: “Increased vehicle affordability leading to increased driving of newer, safer, more efficient and cleaner vehicles. … Over 12,000 fewer crash fatalities over the lifetimes of all vehicles built through model year 2029. Up to 1,000 lives saved annually.” – information sheet.
THE FACTS: The claimed safety benefits are unverifiable and probably overstated.
While newer vehicles are safer due to better engineering and safety features such as more air bags, automatic emergency braking and blind spot detection, auto safety experts say the difference between vehicles made 10 years ago and now isn’t that big and the number of lives saved can’t really be calculated.
Decade-old vehicles have anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control that stop drivers from losing control, two major safety advances.
EPA assistant administrator Bill Wehrum: ``We’ll leave the standards at a place where we’re not imposing undue costs on manufacturers.” – news briefing.
THE FACTS: Insulating US manufacturers is not easy to do. Even if the US freezes its mileage requirements, the European Union, China, Japan and other nations will continue to increase theirs, which already are more stringent. Because most automakers sell vehicles worldwide, they’ll have to develop new technology such as electric cars anyway to satisfy other markets. The US may not get the new technology as quickly as elsewhere.
TRUMP: “I went to NATO. And NATO was essentially going out of business ’cause people weren’t paying and it was going down, down, down.” On NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “He said we couldn’t collect money until President Trump came along. And he said last year we collected $44 billion. And this year the money is pouring in. … So the bottom line is the NATO countries are now paying a lot more money.” _ news conference July 30 with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
THE FACTS: Countries don’t pay to be in NATO and don’t owe the organization anything other than contributions to a largely administrative fund that Trump is not talking about. Member countries are not in debt to NATO. Money is “not pouring in” now. Collections have not increased, as he asserted.
Trump’s actual beef is with how much NATO countries spend on their own military budgets.
The Trump administration is not the first to push countries in NATO to spend more on their own armed forces to lessen their dependence on the US. In fact, it was in 2014, during the Obama administration, that NATO members agreed to move “toward” spending 2% of their gross domestic product on their own defence by 2024.
The somewhat-vague commitment was made as a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. No one expected all allies would immediately move to 2%; the increases were to be gradual