Fact Checking Trump’s Recent Claims on Iran, Jobs, and the Environment
President Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on the impeachment investigation and Democrats’ stance on Iran strained the truth on various fronts, from claiming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani to asserting that even Ukraine’s president said Trump did nothing wrong in withholding military aid.
In weekend tweets and interviews, Trump repeatedly left out important context or simply made stuff up.
To a core question — did the U.S. killing of an Iranian general avoid an imminent attack on U.S. interests? — there is no definitive answer more than a week after missiles flew. Trump and his officials said the U.S. attack achieved that result but have yet to prove it.
Trump over the past week offered distortion across the breadth of public policy. He declared clean-air achievements when the air has become dirtier.
He complained that he didn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize for peace in Ethiopia, when he had little or nothing to do with Ethiopia’s peace deal with neighboring Eritrea.
And in the midst of dangerous brinkmanship with Iran, Trump falsely accused President Barack Obama of opening the U.S. treasury to Tehran and handing over a fortune.
A look at the claims and reality:
TRUMP: “Where have the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats gone when they have spent the last 3 days defending the life of Qassem Soleimani.” — tweet Saturday.
TRUMP: “You know what bothers me? When I see a Nancy Pelosi trying to defend this monster from Iran … When Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats want to defend him, I think that’s a very bad thing for this country.” — remarks Thursday at event on environmental regulations.
THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation.
Pelosi and other Democrats have questioned the strategy behind Trump’s order to kill Iran’s general, which was made without prior approval from Congress, pointing to potential consequences of heightened tensions that could endanger U.S. troops and lead to war with Iran. The Democrats haven’t defended Soleimani or spoken positively about him.
Following the military strike, Pelosi, for instance, called it a “dangerous escalation of violence” that put U.S. troops and diplomats at risk “by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions.” She also criticized Trump’s “lack of strategy.” But Pelosi also made it clear at her news conference last Thursday that Democrats had “no illusions about Iran, no illusions about Soleimani.”
“He was a terrible person, did bad things,” she said.
Similarly, there is no evidence the Democratic presidential candidates defended Soleimani.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said that “no Americans will mourn Qassem Soleimani’s passing.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who questioned the timing of the military strike, called Soleimani a “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.” Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said if the U.S. has no plan, “taking out a bad guy is not necessarily a good idea.”
Last week, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., was forced to apologize after he made a similar assertion as Trump, claiming that Democrats were “in love with terrorists.”
“I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists,” Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army pilot who lost both her legs while serving in Iraq, told CNN after hearing Collins’ initial remarks. “I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.”
TRUMP: “Iran’s hostility substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013. And they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash.” — address Wednesday.
TRUMP: “Iran now is not wealthy like it was when President Obama handed him $150 billion..” — remarks Thursday.
TRUMP: “They gave around $150 billion including $1.7 billion in the hard cold cash, can you imagine? No, no, can you imagine? $1.7 billion, $1.8 billion in cash.” — Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury or other countries. The U.S. made a separate payment of roughly $1.8 billion to cover a decades-old IOU.
When Iran signed the multinational deal to restrain its nuclear development in return for being freed from sanctions, it regained access to its own assets, which had been frozen abroad. Iran was allowed to get its money back. The deal actually was signed in 2015, after a 2013 preliminary agreement. Trump has taken the U.S. out of it.
As for the $1.8 billion: In the 1970s, Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the Iranian government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured. After the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the matter, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest.
The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s previous dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.
TRUMP: “The foolish Iran nuclear deal financed Iranian aggression while allowing a quick path to nuclear breakout. That is what it did. And by the way it expires so soon. They can have nuclear weapons.” — Toledo, Ohio, rally Thursday.
TRUMP: “It’s close to expiring. In other words, if I didn’t terminate it, it expires in a very short period of time.” — remarks at White House on Thursday.
THE FACTS: The 2015 agreement is not about to expire. It imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear development for 15 years.
TRUMP: “The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.” — address Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That accusation comes without corroboration. The administration has offered no information supporting the contention that in regaining access to $150 billion of its assets that had been frozen abroad, Iran steered a chunk of that money to the missiles that hit the U.S. bases in Iraq.
“I doubt anyone has the insight into Iran’s budgetary mechanisms to say that this money was used for this purpose,” said Gerald Feierstein, a career U.S. diplomat who retired in 2016 as the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.
“It’s a funds-are-fungible kind of argument,” he said. “I mean, if they have money, can you say that dollar went directly to buy a missile, as opposed to freeing up another dollar that went to buy a missile?”
Joseph Votel, who retired from the U.S. Army in March as the top military commander for the Middle East, said he was not aware of any specific intelligence on this question. “I don’t have anything that would particularly support that,” he said. “I’m not saying it did or it didn’t, but I don’t have details to demonstrate it one way or the other.”
As President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry said it was possible Iran would use some of the money being returned to it for malign activities. Whether it did in this case has not been established.
Iran has many sources of revenue, despite the severe pinch of sanctions. Oil sales to China and other countries dominate its exports. It also sells chemicals, plastics, fruits and more abroad.
TRUMP, on the House Intelligence Committee chairman: “He’s a corrupt politician, Adam Schiff. He’s corrupt. … He gave a sentence that he made up. He made it up, and it was not — it was not what was said in the conversation. That’s why I released the transcript, got approval from Ukraine.” — remarks Thursday.
TRUMP, referring to Pelosi: “Ask Crazy Nancy why she allowed Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff to totally make up my conversation with the Ukrainian President & read his false words to Congress and the world, as though I said it? He got caught!” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump is making up the timeline and exaggerating the episode.
Schiff, D-Calif., delivered what he called a parody of Trump’s remarks in the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader.
Schiff did so after the White House released a rough transcript of the call, not before, as Trump states. So people who read the official account knew Schiff was riffing from it, not quoting from it.
Though Trump took umbrage at having words put in his mouth by Schiff, the president routinely invents dialogue. It’s a staple of his rhetoric when he mocks political rivals. He did it Thursday night at a rally, making up a conversation he pretended he had — with Schiff.
TRUMP: “The President of Ukraine said I did absolutely nothing wrong, he said I had no pressure whatsoever. He didn’t even know what we were talking about.” — interview Friday with Fox News.
THE FACTS: That’s not an accurate representation.
While Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy initially said there was no discussion of a quid pro quo, he told Time last month that Trump should not have blocked military aid to Ukraine. Zelenskiy also criticized Trump for casting the country as corrupt, saying it sends a concerning message to international allies.
On that call discussing military aid, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rivals in the U.S.
“Look I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo,” Zelenskiy said. “But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness.”
It’s true that in early October, Zelenskiy had told reporters “there was no pressure or blackmail from the U.S.” But he did not state Trump had done “nothing” wrong.
In any event, Zelenskiy knew months before the call that much-needed U.S. military support might depend on whether he was willing to help Trump by investigating Democrats.
TRUMP, explaining why he initially held up military aid to Ukraine: “Why is it that the United States pays? And it affects Europe far more than it affects the United States. So why isn’t it that France, Germany, and all of those countries in Europe that are so strongly affected, why aren’t they paying?” — remarks Tuesday with Greece’s prime minister.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect that European countries weren’t putting up aid for Ukraine.
European Union institutions have provided far more development assistance than the $204 million from Washington. Specific 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. 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.
TRUMP: “I’m going to tell you about the Nobel Peace Prize, I will tell you about that. I made a deal, I saved the country and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country. I said, what, did I have something to do with it? Yeah but, you know, that is the way it is. ” Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: Trump did not save Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the prize in October after he fully accepted a peace deal ending a 20-year border war with neighboring Eritrea that saw some 80,000 people killed. Trump had no known involvement in the peace deal.
The prize also recognized Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader, for sweeping changes in Ethiopian society as he released tens of thousands of prisoners, welcomed home once-banned opposition groups, expanded freedom of expression and acknowledged his country’s past abuses.
Trump did agree to a request from Egypt’s president to mediate a dispute among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a proposed dam on the Nile River. That mediation continues.
Trump is known to express pique when he is not recognized in the manner he thinks is deserved. He mocked teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg when Time magazine named her person of the year last month.
TRUMP: “America lost 60,000 factories under the previous administration, 60,000. You wouldn’t believe that’s possible but I know it’s true. … No, it’s true. No, it’s true. … It’s 60,000 closed, gone. They are all coming back. They are all coming back.” — Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: It’s not true.
The U.S. has indeed lost roughly 60,000 factories but that’s since 2001, the start of President George W. Bush’s administration. It didn’t happen “under the previous administration.” And they’re not “all coming back.”
Construction spending on factories has declined since a recent peak in 2015 during Obama’s presidency. Factories cut 12,000 jobs in December, according to the jobs report Friday. Growth in manufacturing jobs decelerated sharply in 2019, to 46,000, down from 264,000 added jobs in 2018.
TRUMP on the Veterans Administration: “For 44 years they try to get accountability. … I said, you know … I have an idea, such a great idea. You are going to go out private, you’re going to pick up a doctor, you are going to get yourself fixed up, we’re going to pay the bill, right? And you know what happened? And I said how — how brilliant is that? They say sir, we’ve been working on that for 48 years but we’ve never been able to get it approved. So I was very, very disillusioned but you know what I’m good at, getting things approved and we got it approved.” — to cheers at Toledo rally.
THE FACTS: He did not think up the idea and get it approved. Obama got it approved. Obama signed into law the Choice program that lets veterans go to a private doctor at public expense under some circumstances. Trump routinely ignores that and says presidents have tried to get it done for 44 years. He only expanded the program.
As for accountability, Trump claims that his law means bad VA employees are swiftly fired. But a report released in October by the VA inspector general found “significant deficiencies” in the accountability office established by the law, such as poor leadership, shoddy training of investigators and a failure to push out underperforming senior leaders.
Also at the rally, Trump claimed that “44 years” of failure preceded his success in getting the “right to try” initiative into law. That initiative, aimed at giving terminally ill patients more access to unapproved drugs, only goes back five or so years.
TRUMP: “U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration.” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: The news came from the American Cancer Society, not the administration, and it does not reflect Trump’s record.
The group said the death rate from cancer has declined nearly 30% since 1991 and took its sharpest one-year drop in 2017. But the data did not reflect cancer-research spending under the Trump administration.
Trump proposed cutting spending at the National Institutes of Health but Congress ignored the effort and raised spending in a bill the president signed. That is not reflected in the cancer society report.
TRUMP: “We have some of the cleanest air and cleanest water on earth, and for our country the air is right now cleaner than it’s been in 40 years.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: No, air quality has worsened under the Trump administration. And it’s a stretch to say the U.S. is among the countries with the cleanest air. Dozens of nations have less smoggy air. Trump made the remarks as he proposed the latest enforcement rollbacks for the bedrock environmental acts credited with beginning the clean-up of U.S. air and water a half-century ago.
As to water quality, one measure, Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index, finds the U.S. tied with nine other countries as having the cleanest drinking water.
But after decades of improvement, progress in air quality has stalled.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America in 2017 and 2018 than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when the U.S had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980, according to an AP analysis of EPA data.
A recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that deadly air particle pollution increased 5.5% in the United States between 2016 and 2018 after declining by 24.2% from 2009 to 2016.
“The increase was associated with 9,700 premature deaths in 2018,” the study by Karen Clay and Nicholas Muller said. “At conventional valuations, these deaths represent damages of $89 billion.”
The Obama administration set records for the fewest air-polluted days.
Trump’s proposal would greatly cut back on the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement that federal agencies consider whether a big construction project would hurt the environment before they approve the project. Other Trump proposals would roll back restrictions on major sources of air and water pollution, including coal-fired power plants and autos.”
Islamic State Group
TRUMP: “Three months ago, after destroying 100% of ISIS and its territorial caliphate …” — address Wednesday on Iran’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases.
THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading as the Islamic State group still poses a threat.
IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate. Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
U.N. experts have warned that IS leaders are seeking a resurgence. This past week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the fight against the group was continuing in Syria.
TRUMP: “We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil.” — address Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s declaration of energy independence is premature. The U.S. still needs plenty of oil from the Mideast.
The volume of U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf alone — 23 million barrels in October – would not be easy to make up elsewhere, at least not without major changes in U.S. demand or production.
Technological advances like fracking and horizontal drilling have allowed the U.S. to greatly increase production, but demand remains brisk and the country still imports millions of barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iraq and other countries. Moreover, much of what the U.S. produces is hard for domestic refiners to convert to practical use. So the U.S. exports that production and imports oil that is more suitable for American refineries to handle.
On energy more broadly, the U.S. is indeed close to parity on how much energy it produces and how much it consumes. In some months, it produces more than it consumes. But it has not achieved self-sufficiency. In the first nine months of last year, it imported about as much energy as it exported.
TRUMP: “The American military has been completely rebuilt under my administration, at a cost of $2.5 trillion.” — address Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration.
It’s true that his administration has accelerated a sharp buildup in defense spending, including a respite from what the U.S. military considered to be crippling spending limits under budget sequestration.
But a number of new Pentagon weapons programs, such as the F-35 fighter jet, were started years before the Trump administration. And it will take years for freshly ordered tanks, planes and other weapons to be built, delivered and put to use.
The Air Force’s Minuteman 3 missiles, a key part of the U.S. nuclear force, for instance, have been operating since the early 1970s and the modernization was begun under the Obama administration. They are due to be replaced with a new version, but not until later this decade.
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