WEEKLY FACT CHECK: From trade to transcripts

WEEKLY FACT CHECK: From trade to transcripts

Breaking News

Here’s President Donald Trump speaking to the annual convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars this week.

“Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news… What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Veterans in the audience turned and booed reporters. It was a striking moment. Reporters have exposed wrongdoings at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and have died alongside troops fighting overseas to tell their stories of horror and triumph. And those veterans in the room fought for First Amendment rights.

So here’s a friendly reminder that these stories we tell today are not fake…. Welcome to Fact Check Friday.

The Dossier

President Trump falsely claimed this week there is new proof the Russia investigation was launched solely because of a salacious dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

“So we now find out that it was indeed the unverified and Fake Dirty Dossier, that was paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC, that was knowingly & falsely submitted to FISA and which was responsible for starting the totally conflicted and discredited Mueller Witch Hunt!,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

President Trump is referring to the FBI’s newly declassified application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to spy on his former campaign aide Carter Page. The 400-page document, which has become the source of endless partisan bickering, lays out the reasons the FBI has to suspect Page is an agent of the Russian government. Key to that application was information provided in the Steele dossier. That much is true. But it’s false and misleading to claim the Steele dossier is the reason the Russia investigation started.

Setting aside the fact that Robert Mueller’s investigation is tasked in large part with investigating the Russians cyber hackers who meddled in the U.S. elections (some of whom have already been indicted), even Trump’s closest allies acknowledge the investigation didn’t start with Carter Page.

The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee concluded that the FBI opened its initial investigation into the Trump campaign “after receiving information related to Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Padadopoulos.” Padapoulos, as a reminder, pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russians who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The president also claimed the application was “misleading” because it hid the fact that the dossier was funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But on page 16 of the 400-page application the FBI lawyers were clear in saying Christopher Steele “was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit” that campaign of Donald Trump. While it doesn’t specify that he was working for Clinton, it seems clear he was working for the political opposition.

(MORE: Fact Check Friday: A week’s worth of questionable comments and falsehoods)

The transcript

There were accusations from some left-leaning media outlets this week that the White House intentionally edited out a key question from its video of last week’s press conference with Presidents Trump and Putin. Those claims were wrong.

The controversy centered around a tough question from a White House reporter from Reuters who asked President Putin if he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election. Putin answered that he did. But when the question never appeared in the White House video, some accused them of selective editing out information that would make the president look bad.

But the facts are that when ABC reporters listened to the television broadcast here in Washington D.C. we noticed that part of the reporter’s question was cut off by the translator. We faced the same problem the White House did. So, everyone listening to the broadcast missed that portion of the question. Luckily for us, reporters in the room were tweeting out the exchange, so we learned about it quickly and we were able to more carefully review the tape to find it.

Here’s how the video appeared on ABC’s broadcast and social feed:

A White House official told us the omission was accidental, “by no means malicious,” and that presidential record will accurately reflect the exchange.

The White House did not say, however, whether it would update the publicly available transcript of the event which lives on the White House website. As it stands, the transcript is incorrect.

“Russia… pushing very hard for the Democrats”

Without providing evidence, President Trump erroneously claimed in a tweet this week that Russia will be working to back Democrats in the upcoming U.S. mid-term elections.

“I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”

There are a number of problems with this statement. First, as we just reviewed in the previous fact check, President Putin just said that he supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. But more importantly, there is no known intelligence to support the idea that Russians are now interfering with intent to help Democrats win.

In fact, President Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, spoke at length earlier this month about Russian threats to the mid-terms and made no mention of Russia’s alleged affinity for Democrats. What he did say is that the Russians “continue their efforts to undermine our democracy” and “we fully realize that we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.”

In addition, two senior U.S. intelligence officials have told ABC News that they have seen no information to support the president’s claim.

(MORE: Trump’s NATO claims and more: WEEKLY FACT CHECK)

Catch and Kill

When the Wall Street Journal broke news just days before the 2016 election that the owner of the National Inquirer agreed to pay $150,000 to a Playboy Playmate for exclusive rights to her story of an alleged 10-month affair with Donald Trump in 2006, Trump’s campaign declared emphatically, “We have no knowledge of any of this.”

But thanks to a secret recording released just this week of Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, we now know his campaign wasn’t telling the truth.

The recording was made two months before the story broke and, on it, Trump and Cohen are heard discussing the payment to Trump’s friend David Pecker, who owns American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Inquirer. The two men are actually discussing buying the story from AMI in case something were to happen to Pecker and someone else in the organization decided to publish allegations of the affair. Trump worries aloud Pecker could be “hit by a truck.”

And to be clear, former White House communications director Hope Hicks specifically denied that the campaign had any knowledge of the arrangement to sell the story to a friend who would bury it, a process known in the tabloid world as “catch and kill.”

The tape proves that the denial was false.

And one more point about the tape: President Trump’s current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claims Donald Trump can be heard saying, “Don’t pay with cash.”

We listened to the tape and could not hear that. Maybe it’s a Yanny vs. Laurel thing? You decide.

(MORE: Tracking Trump and parsing Putin: WEEKLY FACT CHECK)

“Basically, we opened up Europe.”

Feeling the political heat from America’s farmers who’ve fallen victim to his global trade war, President Trump announced this week that he’d come to a “breakthrough” trade agreement with the European Union (EU) that would solve all their problems. But he really didn’t.

No new trade agreements with Europe was reached this week. What President Trump did was to put the trade war on hold, with both sides agreeing not to create any additional tariffs for the time being. Both sides also committed to working towards a more comprehensive trade agreement down the road. Experts say that could take years.

But then, on Thursday, President Trump went to sell his new plan to farmers in Dubuque, Iowa. Here’s what he said: “Basically we opened up Europe. And that’s going to be a great thing for Europe, but it’s really going to be a great thing for us. And it’s really going to be a great thing for our farmers because you have just gotten yourself one big market that really, essentially wouldn’t you say [Governor Kim Reynolds], that never existed.”

In reality, Europe is already one of our biggest importers. According to the website of President Trump’s own U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) “U.S. domestic exports of agricultural products to the EU totaled $11.5 billion in 2016.” It goes on to say “the E.U. countries together would rank 4th as an Agriculture Export Market for the United States.”

That’s a far cry from a market that “never existed.”

And he didn’t stop there. President Trump also announced he’d solved the problem for soybean producers, who have been hit hard by Chinese tariffs.

“I said to the Europeans, I said, ‘Do me a favor. Would you go out to the farms in Iowa and all the different places in the Midwest? Would you buy a lot of soybeans, right now?'”

First of all, according to the USTR, soy is already a leading export to the E.U. Second, the E.U. president can’t guarantee member countries will buy soy. The French have already said they’re not interested.

The U.S. government and the E.U. countries can’t arrange business purchases. So, while President Trump can tell farmers he hopes Europeans will buy more, it’s misleading to suggest it’s a done deal.

(MORE: Fact Check Friday: Trump’s impromptu performance packed with falsehoods)

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