Monday, October 20th, 2014

PunditFact fact-checks the July 20 news shows

John Kerry appeared on all five major Sunday news shows on July 20, 2014.
John Kerry appeared on all five major Sunday news shows on July 20, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on all five major Sunday news shows making a strong case that Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists were responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and that Russia is complicit in the separatists’ actions.

"Russia has armed the separatists. Russia has trained the separatists," Kerry told ABCThis Week host George Stephanopoulos.

On all five Sunday programs, Kerry listed a litany of circumstantial evidence connecting Russia to the separatists operating in eastern Ukraine, and then connecting the separatists to the shooting down of the Boeing 777 passenger jet.

While some of Kerry’s comments relied on intelligence reports that we are unable to see, Kerry did say separatists bragged about shooting down an aircraft on social media.

"We know that very shortly thereafter, separatists were bragging in the social media about having shot down a transport plane," Kerry said on Fox News Sunday. "We know that the so-called defense minister of the People's Republic of Donetsk, Mr. Igor Strelkov, actually posted a bragging social media posting of having shot down a military transport. And then when it became apparent it was civilian, they pulled it down from social media."

Kerry’s recounting of the posts of Strelkov largely checks out.

The U.S. State Department confirmed that the post Kerry was referring to came from Strelkov’s profile on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook. The post was uploaded about 30 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines flight crashed and talked about a military transport plane being shot down.

"We have warned them – not to fly ‘in our sky’," the post said, linking to two videos showing some sort of explosion from a distance that are similar to other videos of the Malaysia Airlines crash.

The post has since been deleted, leading Kerry and others to conclude that it was removed after Strelkov realized that it was a civilian plane. Strelkov says the information in the post came from members of the separatists movement and that the announcement about the transport plane going down was not an official one.

It’s impossible to know with certainty Strelkov's role in the post, or when the post was pulled, but we do know that it came from within the separatist movement -- as Strelkov himself said. So we rate Kerry’s claim Mostly True.

In between interviews, Kerry was caught on an open microphone talking to an aide about Israel’s military incursion into Gaza. "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," Kerry was heard telling the aide, a description that many interpreted to contradict Israel's claims that its military operations in Gaza are narrowly focused. Kerry struggled to explain his comments to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.

"It’s tough to have these kind of operations. I reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does with respect to young children and civilians," Kerry said.

On Meet the Press, Kerry was asked to defend the record of President Barack Obama’s administration abroad. Kerry ticked off a list of accomplishments.

"The facts could not be more clear. The United States of America has never been more engaged in helping to lead in more places than we are now," Kerry said. "I just came back from China where we are engaged with the Chinese in dealing with North Korea. You will notice since the visit last year, North Korea has been quieter. We haven't done what we want to do yet with respect to the de-nuclearization, but we are working on that moving forward. With respect to Syria, we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out."

We wanted to check Kerry’s assertion that the United States got "100 percent" of the chemical weapons out of Syria.

It was an ambitious goal set by the United States with the cooperation of Russia. And in large measure, it was met.

On June 23, 2014, Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the United Nations body in charge, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, declared a major benchmark had been cleared.

"The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura," Üzümcü said.

Paul Walker, a long-time chemical weapons inspector with the Green Cross, an independent security group, called this an historic accomplishment. But Walker said the job wasn’t done. "Syria must still clarify a number of reported discrepancies in its official declaration to the OPCW, including the exact amounts of its declared chemical weapons stockpile, its facilities, and the history of its program development," Walker said in a statement.

Walker also noted that Syria still had 12 locations where chemical weapons had been stored or made that should be dismantled.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Syria had agreed to measures to deal with some of those facilities, but not all. A further mission was underway. According to press reports, until that work was done, the agency could not say for certain that Syria was free of all chemical weapons.

As such, Kerry’s claim rates Mostly True.

Lauren Carroll, Jon Greenberg and Linda Qiu contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is editor of PunditFact.com.