President Donald Trump’s accusation that his predecessor ordered snooping of his communications has fallen apart, slapped down by the FBI chief and again by the Republican leading the House intelligence committee, a Trump ally. The president gave up on arguing that Barack Obama tapped his phones, and he doesn’t give up on anything easily.
A look at how that sensational charge and a variety of other statements by the president - on the failed “Obamacare” replacement bill, Russia, immigration and more - met reality checks over the past week:
THE WIRETAP THAT WASN’T
Trump now says he never meant that Obama literally had his phone tapped. “When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes,” he told Time magazine Wednesday.” It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance.”
THE FACTS: Several Trump tweets stated flat out that Obama tapped his phones, no quotation marks involved.
- “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
- “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
On a few occasions, he hung quotation marks around the word. Says one Trump tweet: “Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said it was conceivable that U.S. surveillance of foreign entities might have picked up communications involving Trump aides or Trump himself through “incidental” collection.” Trump claimed vindication - “so that means I’m right” - and Republican campaign offices sought to raise money from the episode, with the National Republican Campaign Committee telling people in an email pitch: “Confirmed: Obama spied on Trump.”
But Nunes only confirmed the opposite, that Trump and Trump Tower were not targeted by the Obama administration.
“We know there was not a wiretap on Trump Tower,” Nunes said early in the week. “That never happened,” he said later in the week.
THE FACTS: Actually, he promised in the campaign to get it done “immediately.”
In Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a week before the election: “When we win on November 8th and elect a Republican Congress, we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare.” Other times, he said it would all happen “very, very quickly.”
It was the first major piece of legislation he tried to get Congress to pass. But there will be no quick achievement, as he promised.
Trump said Friday “it won’t be in the very distant future” before he tries again. “I don’t think that’s going to be in too long a period of time.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Obamacare will live on “for the foreseeable future.”
The immediacy voiced - and promised - in the campaign is gone.
Trump told a Kentucky rally Monday: “Many of our best and brightest are leaving the medical profession entirely because of Obamacare.”
THE FACTS: The medical profession is growing.
The number of doctors in the U.S. actively caring for patients grew from 799,501 in 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, to 860,939 in 2015, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The American College of Physicians, which represents internists, the largest specialty, says its enrollment of new doctors has increased every year since 2012. The American Academy of Family Physicians has seen its membership grow from 94,620 to 124,900 since 2008.
While there are anecdotes about doctors dropping out, “we see no significant number exiting related to the Affordable Care Act,” said Dr. Atul Grover, executive vice president of the medical colleges association. “There is also no evidence of a declining interest in medicine since the ACA took effect.”
TWEETS vs. TESTIMONY
Trump kept up a running Twitter commentary Monday when FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers testified before Congress. Both officials addressed the relationship between Russian interests and Trump associates, and stressed the absence of evidence to support the president’s charge about wiretapping.
Trump tweet: “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”
The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process. pic.twitter.com/d9HqkxYBt5
- President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
THE FACTS: No such assurance was offered by Comey or Rogers. They did not offer any conclusions about whether Russia succeeded in influencing the election. Asked about the tweet while he was still testifying, Comey said “we’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s never something that we looked at.”
Trump tweet: “FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.”
THE FACTS: “Refuses to deny” is true, but perhaps misleading. Throughout the hearing, Comey declined to deny any assertion made by his questioners that mentioned Flynn or any other individuals, explaining that the FBI is not in the business of correcting or verifying such reports. Flynn helped Trump in the campaign, became national security adviser at the start of Trump’s presidency and was fired after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia’s top diplomat to the U.S.
Trump tweet: “FBI Director Comey: fmr. DNI Clapper right’ to say no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump Campaign.”
THE FACTS: James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, did say there wasn’t such evidence in a report from the intelligence community, but that’s not the same as saying no such evidence has been discovered. The Jan. 6 report didn’t address contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Instead it focuses on Russia’s actions, via cyber operations and propaganda, to try to help Trump’s election chances and hurt Hillary Clinton’s.
Asked directly about such evidence, beyond the report’s findings, both Comey and Rogers said they couldn’t comment on it because their investigation hasn’t yet reached conclusions.
STUCK ON SWEDEN
In his Time interview, Trump defended his statement from a month earlier that immigration is spreading violence and extremism in Sweden: “I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.”
THE FACTS: The riot he refers to did not result in any deaths - or even any injuries. It broke out after police arrested a drug crime suspect. Cars were set on fire and shops looted.
It happened two days after Trump bewildered people by suggesting at a rally in Florida that something terrible had happened in Sweden the night before, connected to that country’s influx of refugees.
Nothing extraordinary took place in Sweden that night; it was merely when Trump heard a Fox commentator talking about Sweden and immigration. Attacks in Sweden related to extremism remain rare.
Trump told Republican donors Tuesday: “The border is in the best shape it’s been in decades. Down 61 percent since the inauguration.”
THE FACTS: The government hasn’t put out any numbers supporting Trump’s repeated contention that illegal crossings at the Mexico border are down 61% since Jan. 20.
Available information shows a 44% decrease in arrests from January to February. Officials take fewer arrests to mean fewer attempts to cross illegally. Month-to-month variations are not unusual. The number of arrests at the border generally increases during warmer spring and summer months.
As for the border being in the “best shape” in decades, that’s generally been true since long before Trump won the election. The number of arrests at the border has hovered around 40-year lows for several years.
With just a single month’s worth of arrest data, it’s too soon to know what the long-term trend is and whether Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on illegal immigration is dissuading foreigners from trying to cross. Trump hasn’t expanded the ranks of the Border Patrol or any other immigration or border-security agency. His orders haven’t yet changed the way the Border Patrol operates, and so far there is no evidence that more people are being deported.
Trump to GOP donors:
-”You know, our Navy is at World War I levels. Can you believe that? World War I levels.”
-”To save taxpayer dollars I’ve already begun negotiating better contracts for the federal government, saving over $700 million on just one set of airplanes.”
THE FACTS: Actually, the Navy is much smaller than it was at the end of World War 1 - 774 fighting ships in 1918, 274 this year. That’s largely because the nature of warfare has changed. The age of massive sea battles has passed and air power has risen exponentially. The fleet shrank precipitously in the years after World War I - only 139 ships in 1930 - before surging to 6,768 in 1945 at the end of World War II.
The fleet may grow more than planned if Trump’s military expansion is approved by Congress, but nothing comparable to the world wars is envisioned.
On his claim about saving money on airplanes, Trump repeatedly takes credit for cost-savings that began before his presidency on an F-35 fighter jet contract. Pentagon officials took steps before the election to reduce costs on the Lockheed contract and announced savings Dec. 19, a month before he took office.
Trump told Time, in an interview focused on doubts about his credibility: “The country believes me.”
THE FACTS: There’s little direct polling on believability, but a McClatchy-Marist poll conducted in mid-February found that 39% of U.S. adults have either “a great deal” or “a good amount” of trust in Trump and his administration to deliver accurate and factual information to the public. Some 59% rated their trust “not very much” or “not at all.”
In the interview, Trump pointed to supportive crowds at campaign-style appearances he’d made in the previous week in Kentucky and Tennessee, both states where he won big victories in the election. In fact, most of Trump’s travels in the first two months of his presidency have been to states where he rolled up electoral majorities, or to states where he went to visit military families or play golf.
It’s not unprecedented for presidents to travel to states that supported them, but citing good crowds in those places isn’t a fair gauge of what the whole country thinks.