AP FACT CHECK: Trump, Putin and the no-collusion chorus
WASHINGTON (AP) — The “no-collusion” chorus sang loudly this past week, with President Donald Trump in full-throated roar and even Russian President Vladimir Putin chiming in.
The upshot: substantial misrepresentations of what the special counsel’s Russia investigation actually found.
A review of recent rhetoric from Trump and his associates on Russia and more, with Putin in the mix:
PUTIN on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation: “A mountain gave birth to a mouse.” — remarks Tuesday, echoed in a phone call with Trump on Friday.
THE FACTS: Some might say this is a mouse that roared.
The investigation produced charges against nearly three dozen people, among them senior Trump campaign operatives and 25 Russians, as it shed light on a brazen Russian assault on the American political system.
The investigation did not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and it reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Yet it described his campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt rival Hillary Clinton and it exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.
The Russians caught up in the investigation were charged either with hacking into Democratic accounts or orchestrating a social media campaign to spread disinformation on the internet.
TRUMP: “The Mueller Report strongly stated that there was No Collusion with Russia (of course) and, in fact, they were rebuffed ... at every turn in attempts to gain access.” — tweets Thursday.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: “The evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous. ... Two years of his administration have been dominated by allegations that have now been proven false.” — Senate hearing Wednesday.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Mr. Mueller and his team concluded there was no collusion.” — Senate hearing.
THE FACTS: This refrain about the Mueller report stating there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is wrong.
Trump’s assertion that his campaign denied all access to Russians is false. The Mueller report 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 Clinton.
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.
Mueller noted some Trump campaign officials had declined to testify under the 5th Amendment or had provided false or incomplete testimony, making it difficult to get a complete picture of what happened during the 2016 campaign. The special counsel wrote that he “cannot rule out the possibility” that unavailable information could have cast a different light on the investigation’s findings.
BARR, speaking of Trump: “He fully cooperated.” — Senate hearing.
THE FACTS: It’s highly questionable to say Trump was fully cooperative in the Russia investigation.
Trump declined to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team, gave written answers that investigators described as “inadequate” and “incomplete,” said more than 30 times that he could not remember something he was asked about in writing, and — according to the report — tried to get aides to fire Mueller or otherwise shut or limit the inquiry.
In the end, the Mueller report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
GRAHAM: “As to obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller left it to Mr. Barr to decide after two years, and all this time. He said, ‘Mr. Barr, you decide.’ Mr. Barr did.” — Senate hearing.
THE FACTS: Not true. Mueller did not ask Barr to rule on whether Trump’s efforts to undermine the special counsel’s Russia investigation had obstructed justice.
According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted.
As a result, the report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, specifically leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter or for prosecutors to do so once Trump leaves office.
Barr wrote in a March 24 letter that he ultimately decided, as attorney general, that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient” to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump committed obstruction of justice.
Barr subsequently acknowledged that he had not talked directly to Mueller about making that ruling and did not know whether Mueller agreed with him.
TRUMP says Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.” — remarks to reporters Friday after speaking with Putin on the phone.
THE FACTS: Putin is already deeply involved in Venezuela as U.S.-supported Juan Guaido, opposition leader of the National Assembly, challenges President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government.
Russia has a political, military and economic alliance with Venezuela over many years and is helping to support Maduro’s hold on power.
The Russians have provided Venezuela with substantial assistance, including an air defense system and help circumventing U.S. sanctions on its oil industry.
“Russia is now so deeply invested in the Maduro regime that the only realistic option is to double down,” said Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
TRUMP: “We’re getting ripped off on military, NATO. I’m all for NATO. But you know, we’re paying for almost 100 percent of defending Europe.” — Wisconsin rally on April 27.
THE FACTS: The U.S. is not paying “almost 100 percent” the cost of defending Europe.
NATO does have a shared budget to which each member makes contributions based on the size of its economy. The United States, with the biggest economy, pays the biggest share, about 22 percent.
Four European members — Germany, France, Britain and Italy — combined pay nearly 44 percent of the total. The money, about $3 billion, runs NATO’s headquarters and covers certain other civilian and military costs.
Defending Europe involves far more than that fund. The primary cost of doing so would come from each member country’s military budget, as the alliance operates under a mutual defense treaty.
The U.S. is the largest military spender but others in the alliance obviously have armed forces, too. The notion that almost all costs would fall to the U.S. is false.
In fact, NATO’s Article 5, calling for allies to act if one is attacked, has only been invoked once, and it was on behalf of the U.S., after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
TRUMP: “We just did 3.2 ... 3.2 is a number that they haven’t hit in 14 years.” — interview Wednesday with Fox Business News.
THE FACTS: First-quarter growth of 3.2% in the gross domestic product is nowhere close to the best in 14 years, by any measure. It’s only the best since last year, surpassed in the second and third quarters with rates of 4.2% and 3.4% respectively.
Perhaps he meant to say it was the best first-quarter growth in 14 years. But that’s not right, either. It’s the best in four years.
The economy grew by 3.3% in the first quarter of 2015. So President Barack Obama has a better first-quarter record than Trump to date.
TRUMP: “Wages are rising fastest for the lowest-income Americans.” — Wisconsin rally on April 27.
THE FACTS: This is true, though he’s claiming credit for a trend that predates his presidency.
Some of the gains also reflect higher minimum wages passed at the state and local level; the Trump administration opposes an increase to the federal minimum wage.
With the unemployment rate at 3.6 %, the lowest since December 1969, employers are struggling to fill jobs. Despite all the talk of robots and automation, thousands of restaurants, warehouses, and retail stores still need workers.
They are offering higher wages and have pushed up pay for the lowest-paid one-quarter of workers more quickly than for everyone else since 2015. In March, the poorest 25% saw their paychecks increase 4.4% from a year earlier, compared with 3% for the richest one quarter.
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Eric Tucker, Lolita C. Baldor and Lynn Berry contributed to this report.
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