Trump’s escalating lies on Ukraine, impeachment

A troubled President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. A whistle blew, an impeachment inquiry swung into motion and the president at the center of it all rose defiantly to his own defense, not always in command of the facts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A whistle blew, an impeachment inquiry swung into motion and the president at the center of it all rose defiantly to his own defense, not always in command of the facts.

A CIA officer, in a complaint filed under federal whistleblower protections that preserve anonymity, alleged President Donald Trump abused his office in pressing for a Ukrainian investigation of a Democratic rival, Joe Biden. That revelation persuaded Democrats to move ahead with an inquiry that could produce articles of impeachment. Trump has reacted with anger, with weekend tweets that made the groundless accusation that Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman taking the lead in the impeachment review, criticized him “illegally.”

A look at Trump’s recent words on impeachment, Ukraine and other subjects:

UKRAINE

TRUMP: “Liddle’ Adam Schiff … fraudulently and illegally inserted his made up & twisted words into my call with the Ukrainian President to make it look like I did something very wrong. He then boldly read those words to Congress and millions of people, defaming & libeling me.” — tweets Saturday.

THE FACTS: He is exaggerating Schiff’s exaggerations. The California Democrat, in what he said was a parody during a committee hearing, mocked and overstated the president’s pleas in his July 25 call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as Trump does with his critics routinely. Schiff’s remarks are not illegal nor would it be defamatory or libelous, because lawmakers are shielded from liability for comments made in the course of Congress under the “speech or debate” clause in the Constitution, which seeks to foster political debate.

During Thursday’s House intelligence committee hearing, Schiff made clear he was providing an account that was in “essence” what he believed Trump was conveying to Zelenskiy when “shorn of its rambling character.”

No exact transcript of Trump’s comments with Ukraine’s president actually exists, just a rough transcript released by the White House.

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TRUMP, describing the July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart: “Another Fake News Story! See what was said on the very nice, no pressure, call.”— tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “My call was perfect.” — remarks to reporters Thursday.

THE FACTS: It’s a big stretch for Trump to say he placed no pressure on Zelenskiy in that phone call — a conversation marked by Trump’s blunt remark: “I would like for you to do us a favor,” according to a White House account of the call.

Trump repeatedly prodded Zelenskiy to help investigate Biden and son Hunter, as well as to look into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and concluded it was carried out by Russia.

The call followed a monthslong campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, conducted on Trump’s behalf to get Ukrainians to scrutinize Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine when Joe Biden was vice president. It also followed Trump’s abrupt suspension of military aid for Ukraine that Congress had approved. The aid was recently released.

When Zelenskiy thanked Trump for past U.S. aid and suggested his country might need more, Trump switched the topic to the investigation he wanted Ukraine to do. He asked Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani on the matter.

As for the call being “perfect,” it was actually worrisome enough so that White House attorneys moved a rough transcript of it to a highly secure system where fewer officials would have access to it than is normally the case for conversations between Trump and world leaders.

The call and the broader effort to win a foreign government’s help on a matter that could benefit Trump’s reelection are what sparked the impeachment inquiry.

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TRUMP, denouncing information from the whistleblower: “All second hand information that proved to be so inaccurate.” — tweet Friday.

THE FACTS: The whistleblower’s accusations have not been shown to be incorrect. Several key details have actually been corroborated. For example, the White House account of the July 25 phone call showed that the whistleblower had accurately summarized the conversation, as relayed by unidentified U.S. officials, in the complaint sent to the acting director of national intelligence.

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TRUMP: “I want to see other countries helping Ukraine also, not just us. As usual the United States helps and nobody else is there.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday.

TRUMP: “I’d withhold again, and I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine. Because they’re not doing it; it’s the United States. … Why is it only the United States putting up the money?” — remarks to reporters Tuesday.

THE FACTS: It isn’t only the U.S. putting up money. It’s false to say “nobody else is there.”

European Union institutions have provided far more development assistance than the U.S.— compared with $204 million from Washington. EU members, Japan and Canada also contribute significantly.

Since 2014, the EU and European financial institutions have mobilized more than $16 billion to help Ukraine’s economy, counter corruption, build institutions and strengthen its sovereignty against further incursions by Russia after its annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. is a heavy source of military assistance. The aid package held back by Trump, and recently released, amounted to nearly $400 million in such aid. But NATO also contributes a variety of military-assistance programs and trust funds for Ukraine. In most such cases, the programs are modest and NATO countries other than the U.S. take the lead.

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TRUMP, in the July 25 call with Ukraine’s leader: “Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk.” — according to White House account of the conversation, released Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Germany is the third largest bilateral donor to Ukraine, after the EU and the U.S.

“Anyone who views this soberly will conclude Germany is strongly involved,” said German foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul.

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GUN CONTROL

TRUMP: “It is disgraceful what the Do Nothing Democrats are doing (the Impeachment Scam), but it is also disgraceful what they are NOT doing, … Gun Safety … and much more!” — tweet Saturday.

TRUMP, speaking of the Democratic senator from Connecticut: “Chris Murphy — who I’ve been dealing with on guns — you know, so nice. He’s always, ‘Oh, no, we want to work it out. We want to work it out.’ But they’re too busy wasting their time on the witch hunt.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Trump is the main holdup on gun control legislation as he mulls whether to endorse expanded background checks.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a bill in February that would require background checks on all gun sales, including those between strangers who meet online or at gun shows. But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it’s not clear the Senate would be able to pass the legislation or that Trump would sign it into law. Earlier this month, McConnell stressed that Congress would remain “in a holding pattern ” on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House.

A proposal being floated by Barr on Capitol Hill would require background checks on all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows. But Trump told reporters this month the plan was one of many ideas under consideration and he would go “very slowly.”

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ECONOMY and TRADE

TRUMP: “How do you impeach a President who has created the greatest Economy in the history of our Country.” — tweet Saturday.

TRUMP: “Our country is the strongest it’s ever been economically.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: It isn’t.

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 President Barack Obama — and hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.

The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low of 3.7%, but the proportion of Americans with a job was higher in the 1990s. Wages were rising at a faster pace back then, too. More Americans are now out of the workforce, taking care of children or relatives, or going to school, while others became discouraged about their job prospects and stopped looking. The government doesn’t count people as unemployed unless they are actively searching for jobs.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “We have before the Congress what will be the largest trade deal in American history. … It’s time for Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and pass it this year.” — remarks Thursday in Indianapolis.

THE FACTS: It’s not the largest trade deal ever made.

It covers the same three countries as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump administration is seeking to replace. In contrast, the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations concluded in 1994 created the World Trade Organization and was signed by 123 countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found the following year that the WTO’s initial membership accounted for more than 90 percent of global economic output.

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TRUMP on the effects of the impeachment inquiry: “The stock market went up when they saw the nonsense. All of a sudden the stock market went down very substantially when they saw a charge. After they read the charge, the stock market went up very substantially.” — remarks to reporters in New York on Wednesday.

THE FACTS: First, he’s not actually charged with anything. He’s saying the market went down Tuesday when the impeachment drive was announced and up after the White House memo on his phone call with Ukraine’s president came out. That’s roughly right, but it’s wrong to tie the market fluctuations solely — or even primarily — to the impeachment episode.

The market cares even more about the economy, and currently the biggest wild card for the U.S. economy is how much Trump’s trade war with China could curtail growth. Since it began last year, the stock market has fallen with each escalation of tensions and risen when the two sides appeared close to resolving the dispute.

The 142-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday was partly due to the impeachment developments but was also tied to Trump taking a hard line on China in a speech to the United Nations, which seemed to dim the prospects that coming talks would resolve the trade standoff. While the market did move higher Wednesday after the release of the memo, the Commerce Department released some solid numbers on the housing market around the same time.

Moreover, just after the comment on the stock exchange, Trump told reporters a deal with China “could happen sooner than you think,” and the Dow quickly doubled its gain.

The economic-political dynamic was evident in the impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. After the initial inquiry of Nixon in October 1973, the S&P 500 index fell 33% the next year. But the S&P 500 gained 39% after the Clinton impeachment inquiry started in October 1998. The difference: The economy was headed toward a recession in the mid-1970s, while the economy was growing strongly in the late 1990s. For Trump, the U.S. economy slowed to growth of about 2% in the second quarter from 3% in the first quarter and current estimates are for 2% growth in the third quarter.

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TRUMP: “In America, the result was 4.2 million lost manufacturing jobs … the United States is now taking that decisive action to end this grave economic injustice.” — address Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly.

WHITE HOUSE: “The president is getting rid of the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement and replacing it with a better deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Our country has lost 4 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA went into effect.” — news release Tuesday.

THE FACTS: The loss of factory jobs is not all due to NAFTA.

Trump is correct that the United States has lost nearly 4 million factory jobs since that pact took effect in January 1994. But most economists attribute the losses to other factors — the recessions of 2001 and 2007-2009, automation that lets machines replace workers and low-cost competition from China.

Trump’s proposed NAFTA replacement is hardly expected to create a jobs boom. The independent International Trade Commission estimates that the new deal would create 176,000 jobs over six years, a rounding error in a country with 152 million nonfarm jobs.

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BEAUTY PAGEANT

TRUMP, recalling his days as the owner of the Miss Universe pageant: “It’s a great thing. And we had a winner from Ukraine.” — remarks Wednesday before a meeting with Zelenskiy.

THE FACTS: A Ukrainian woman has never won the Miss Universe title. Several made the top 10 during Trump’s tenure at the pageant, which he bought in 1996 and sold in 2015. But none took the prize in the pageant’s history, which dates to 1952. Ukrainian Olesia Stefanko was first runner-up in 2011.

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Zeke Miller, and Paul Wiseman in Washington and Paul Harloff in New York contributed to this report.

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Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd

Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Is Barr America’s AG or Trump’s mouthpiece?

President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Attorney General William Barr.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As Washington plunges into impeachment, Attorney General William Barr finds himself engulfed in the political firestorm, facing questions about his role in President Donald Trump’s outreach to Ukraine and the administration’s attempts to keep a whistleblower complaint from Congress.

Trump repeatedly told Ukraine’s president in a telephone call that Barr and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani could help investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of that summertime conversation. Justice Department officials insist Barr was unaware of Trump’s comments at the time of the July 25 call.

When Barr did learn of that call a few weeks later, he was “surprised and angry” to discover he had been lumped in with Giuliani, a person familiar with Barr’s thinking told The Associated Press. This person was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, often appears in rambling television interviews as a vocal defender of the president. Giuliani represents Trump’s personal interests and holds no position in the U.S. government, raising questions about why he would be conducting outreach to Ukrainian officials.

Barr is the nation’s top law enforcement officer and leads a Cabinet department that traditionally has a modicum of independence from the White House.

Yet to Trump, there often appears to be little difference between the two lawyers.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the memo of the call that was released by the White House this past week.

Since becoming attorney general in February, Barr has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders. He framed special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in favorable terms for the president in a news conference this year, even though Mueller said he did not exonerate Trump.

Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said Trump is treating the country’s attorney general as if he’s just another personal lawyer.

“I think it represents a larger problem with President Trump,” she said. “To him, it appears Giuliani and Barr both have the same job.”

Trump has frequently lauded Barr and his efforts to embrace the president’s political agenda. That’s in stark contrast to Trump’s relationship with his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom the president repeatedly harangued in public.

Trump’s frustration with Sessions made clear how the president views the Justice Department — as a law enforcement agency that exists to carry out his wishes and protect him. Despite a close relationship during the 2016 campaign, Trump never forgave Sessions for withdrawing from the government’s investigation into 2016 election interference, a move that ultimately cleared the way for Mueller’s investigation.

Barr has come under the scrutiny of congressional Democrats who have accused him of acting on Trump’s personal behalf more than for the justice system. Democrats have also called on Barr to step aside from decisions on the Ukraine matter. Those close to Barr, however, have argued there would be no reason to do so because he was unaware of the Trump-Zelenskiy conversation.

The department insists Barr wasn’t made aware of the call with Zelenskiy until at least mid-August.

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time then-Vice President Joe Biden was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. There is no evidence that Hunter Biden was ever under investigation in Ukraine.

The Justice Department was first made aware of Trump’s call when a CIA lawyer mentioned the complaint from the unidentified CIA officer on Aug. 14, said a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke anonymously. Some Justice Department lawyers learned about the accusations after the whistleblower filed a complaint with the intelligence community’s internal watchdog.

The watchdog later raised concerns that Trump may have violated campaign finance law. The Justice Department said there was no crime and closed the matter.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Judge nixes Trump’s fast-track deportations

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers detain a man during an operation in Escondido, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A federal judge has blocked the Trump administration’s move to vastly extend authority of immigration officers to deport people without allowing them to appear before judges, the third legal setback for its immigration agenda in one day.

The policy, which was announced in July but hasn’t yet been enforced, would allow fast-track deportations to apply to anyone in the country illegally for less than two years. Now, they are largely limited to people arrested almost immediately after crossing the Mexican border.

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, ruling late Friday in Washington, said the administration’s expansion of “expedited removal” authority violated procedural requirements to first seek public comment and ignored flaws in how it has been used on a smaller scale at the border. The shortcomings, which were not challenged by government lawyers, include allegations that some people entitled to be in the country were targeted for deportation, translators weren’t provided, and authorities made “egregious errors” recording statements of migrants who said they feared persecution or torture if sent back to their homelands.

“With respect to the policy at issue here, the potential devastation is so obvious that (the Department of Homeland Security) can be fairly faulted for its unexplained failure to predict, and attempt to mitigate, the fully foreseeable future floods,” Jackson wrote.

Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, hasn’t ruled on merits of the case, but her decision prevents the administration from expanding fast-track authority nationwide while the lawsuit proceeds.

Earlier Friday, a federal judge in Los Angeles blocked new rules that would allow the government to detain immigrant children with their parents indefinitely, saying the move conflicted with a 1997 settlement agreement that requires the release of children caught on the border as quickly as possible to relatives in the U.S. and says they can only be held in facilities licensed by a state. The Flores agreement — named for a teenage plaintiff — will remain in place and govern conditions for children in custody, including those with their parents.

Also Friday, another federal judge in Los Angeles blocked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from relying solely on flawed databases to target people for being in the country illegally. The decision affects detainers issued by an ICE officer in the federal court system’s Central District of California.

The fast-track deportation powers were created under a 1996 law but didn’t become a major piece of border enforcement until 2004, when Homeland Security said it would be enforced for people who are arrested within two weeks of entering the U.S. by land and caught within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the border. Defenders say it relieves burdens on immigration judges — their backlog of cases recently topped 1 million — while critics say it grants too much power to Border Patrol agents and other immigration enforcement officials and jeopardizes rights to fair treatment.

Keven McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said in July that U.S. authorities don’t have space to detain “the vast majority” of people arrested on the border, leading to the release of hundreds of thousands with notices to appear in court. He said expanded authority would likely cause illegal entries to decline and result in people getting more quickly removed from the country than in immigration courts, where cases can take years to resolve.

The Justice Department said Saturday that the judge overstepped her authority and undermined laws enacted by Congress with careful consideration by the administration on how to enforce them. The White House echoed that view in a statement and added that the administration has been trying since its inception to enforce immigration laws and that “misguided lower court decisions have been preventing those laws from ever being enforced_at immense cost to the whole country.”

The potential impact of expanding fast-track powers is difficult to predict. McAleenan said in July that 20,570 people arrested in the nation’s interior from October 2017 through September 2018 had been in the U.S. less than two years, which would make them subject to the new rule. Critics say the impact could be more far-reaching because many in the U.S for longer than two years may be unable to prove they have been in the country that long.

“The court rejected the Trump administration’s illegal attempt to remove hundreds of thousands of people from the U.S. without any legal recourse,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Anand Balakrishnan, who argued the case on behalf of Make the Road New York and other advocacy groups. “This ruling recognizes the irreparable harm of this policy.”

The administration’s setbacks followed two recent victories for its immigration policies at the Supreme Court, one allowing diversion of Defense Department money to build a border wall and another denying asylum to anyone who enters the country at the Mexican border after passing through another country and not applying there.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved