President Donald Trump is skimming over the facts involving the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
In a series of tweets Sunday, he repeatedly assails special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe as hopelessly biased, insisting that it is effectively controlled by Democrats. He also repeats a claim that his campaign had been cleared of collusion with Russia.
Neither statement holds up to reality.
Also in recent days, Trump tried to lay responsibility on Democrats for the separation of children from parents at the border, even though the policy comes from his own administration, and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt falsely claimed credit for pollution cleanups done mostly by the Obama administration.
A look at the questionable statements:
TRUMP: “At what point does this soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt, composed of 13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats and two people who have worked for Obama for 8 years, STOP! They have found no Collussion with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption…” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s suggestion that Mueller’s team is a Democratic cabal is unsupported. Mueller is a Republican and some others on his team owe their jobs largely to Republican presidents. Some have indeed given money to Democratic candidates over the years. Trump makes a false allegation that Mueller worked for President Barack Obama for eight years. Mueller was FBI chief for less than six years under Obama, leaving in September 2013. He was chosen to lead the FBI by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001 and kept on by Obama.
TRUMP: “The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia – so now they’re looking at the rest of the World. Oh’ great!” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: There has been no definitive resolution as to whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election, with government investigations still continuing. The special counsel’s probe into Russian meddling has produced a number of charges and convictions, none to date alleging criminal collusion. It continues to explore whether collusion occurred and whether Trump or others may have obstructed justice.
As for Congress, the GOP-controlled House intelligence committee concluded in March there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Its final report came over the objection of committee Democrats, who said the panel had not interviewed enough witnesses or gathered enough evidence to make a definitive assessment.
The Senate intelligence committee is expected to issue a detailed assessment on Russian interference, including the question of collusion, in the coming months.
TRUMP: “Now that the Witch Hunt has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the World, they should easily be able to take it into the Mid-Term Elections where they can put some hurt on the Republican Party. Don’t worry about Dems FISA Abuse, missing Emails or Fraudulent Dossier!” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump insists that the investigations into possible Russian interference — which he often refers to as a “witch hunt” — have given up on Russia, suggesting no meaningful evidence exists that implicates the country in his 2016 win over Democrat Hillary Clinton. In fact, the Senate intelligence committee said last week that it agrees with the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia intervened in the presidential election to help Trump. The Senate committee is continuing to investigate whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the committee, said his staff spent 14 months “reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work” conducted by the intelligence agencies. He said the committee uncovered no reason to dispute the conclusions of the intelligence assessment released in 2017.
TRUMP to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “I know what you’re going through right now with families is very tough but those are the bad laws that the Democrats gave us. We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law. It’s a horrible thing where you have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law and they don’t want to do anything about it. They’ll leave it like that ’cause they don’t want to make any changes. And now you’re breaking up families because of the Democrats. It’s terrible.” — immigration forum Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Not so. No law that “the Democrats gave us” mandates the separation of children from their parents at the border.
A 2008 law designed to combat child trafficking has been described by Trump and his administration as a principal reason for “catch-and-release” policies that he’s trying to end at the border.
The law says children traveling alone from countries other than Mexico or Canada must be released in the “least restrictive setting” — often to family or a government-run shelter — while their cases slowly wind through immigration court. It was designed to accommodate an influx of children fleeing to the U.S. from Central America.
It had the support of Republicans and Democrats, passing the House and Senate unanimously. Republican George W. Bush signed it into law as one of his last acts as president.
The law says nothing about breaking up families. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entries, pledging to criminally prosecute people with few or no previous offenses. If parents are jailed, they are separated from children who joined them under protocols described in the 2008 law.
Administration officials have acknowledged that about 700 children have been separated from their parents since October. That figure is certain to increase once the zero-tolerance policy takes hold; nearly 50,000 Border Patrol arrests since October were of people who came as families. That’s about 1 in 4 arrests by the agents.
TRUMP: “Our numbers are much better than in the past, but they’re not nearly acceptable and not nearly as good as what we could have. We’re down 40 percent from those other standards, so that’s really good — meaning 40 percent crossings.” — immigration forum Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That claim of a 40 percent drop in illegal crossings in a year is based on old statistics. Yes, Border Patrol arrests plummeted to the lowest level since 1971 during the last budget year. But they began a sharp and steady climb after Trump’s first few months in office. One likely explanation is that people who initially took a wait-and-see attitude toward Trump are now taking their chances.
Overall border arrests in April — which add people who are stopped at land crossings and other official points of entry — topped 50,000 for a second straight month. That was more than triple the number from a year earlier, which was the lowest tally on record since the Homeland Security Department was created in 2003.
Border arrests are an imprecise measure of how many people are attempting to enter the country illegally, because the numbers who make it into the U.S. are not known. But when arrests are up, that’s taken by the government to mean that more people are trying.
PRUITT, referring to a man who was listed as the landlord of a bargain-priced condo Pruitt rented in Washington last year: “Steve Hart is someone that was not registered as a lobbyist in 2017. He’s a longtime associate and friend.” — Senate committee testimony Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That’s wrong. Disclosure reports show Hart was a registered lobbyist for 35 separate entities in 2017. Among those he represented was Cheniere Energy, which owns the only operational liquefied natural gas export terminal in the U.S. The reports show Hart worked on “Issues related to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), approval of LNG exports and export facilities.”
Pruitt has been a vocal booster of LNG exports while at EPA, even taking a taxpayer-funded trip to Morocco in December to help persuade the North African kingdom to import more gas from U.S. producers. Such increases in LNG exports would probably benefit Cheniere.
Pruitt rented the luxury Capitol Hill condo from a corporation co-owned by Hart’s wife. He paid just $50 a night, and only paid on nights when he stayed there. A copy of the lease, reviewed by The Associated Press, shows Steven Hart was originally listed as the landlord but his name was scratched out and substituted with that of his wife, a health policy lobbyist. Pruitt used the condo last year from March through at least August.
In past public comments, Pruitt claimed Hart had no business before EPA in 2017. That turned out not to be true, either.
Records show Hart met with Pruitt in his office at EPA headquarters last year and the lobbyist emailed with EPA staff on behalf of his client Smithfield Foods. The meeting happened in July 2017, during the condo rental period, and was described by Hart last month as a discussion about the Chesapeake Bay. Smithfield and its charitable foundation have been involved with efforts to clean up the bay since EPA fined the company $12.6 million in 1997 for illegally dumping hog waste into a tributary.
In addition to the companies he personally represented, Hart was the top executive at the powerhouse lobbying firm Williams & Jensen before retiring early as a result of the scandal over Pruitt’s condo deal. Records show Hart’s former firm represented a lengthy roster of companies last year with billions at stake over regulatory decisions made by EPA, including ExxonMobil Corp., the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company.
PRUITT: “In 2017, we removed over three times the number of polluted sites of contaminated communities across the country, as compared to the previous administration. And, in 2018, we are on pace to remove as many as 10 times the number.” — Senate committee testimony Wednesday.
THE FACTS: As he has before, Pruitt is taking credit for work done by the Obama administration while disparaging its record.
The EPA declared seven cleanups complete from its Superfund priority list last year, compared with two sites delisted the year before. That’s indeed a more than threefold increase. But records show that construction work at all seven sites cited by Pruitt’s EPA, such as removing soil or drilling wells to suck out contaminated groundwater, was completed years before Pruitt was confirmed as the agency’s chief in February.
Removing sites from the list is a procedural step that occurs after monitoring data show that remaining levels of harmful contaminates meet cleanup targets, which were often set by the EPA decades ago.
An analysis of EPA records by the AP in January showed that the seven sites delisted last year fell short of the average pace set under the administrations of Obama and George W. Bush, even in their opening years.
Trump’s proposed 2018 budget sought to cut the Superfund program by 30 percent, but Congress did not go along. EPA lists more than 1,300 Superfund sites that are at various stages of cleanup.
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego, and Michael Biesecker and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
Quarterly lobbying disclosure reports for 2017:
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