Fact-checking Donald Trump's interviews with Fox and Friends, reporters on the White House lawn

President Donald Trump holds an impromptu news conference with reporters at the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump holds an impromptu news conference with reporters at the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In two unusual, free-form interviews in the space of one hour, President Donald Trump jumped from calling fired FBI director James Comey a "criminal" after a new report on the Clinton email investigation to saying "we get everything" from the joint statement signed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump spoke first with Fox News' Steve Doocy and then reporters from a number of news organizations on the White House grounds about the FBI Inspector General’s report, North Korea, immigration and much more. (All of this took place a couple of hours before a judge ordered Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to go to jail pending his trial on foreign lobbying charges.)

Trump said many inaccurate statements that needed fact-checking.

The FBI IG report "totally exonerates me. There was no collusion, there was no obstruction, and if you read the report you'll see that … what you'll really see is you'll see bias against me, and millions and tens of millions of my followers, that is really a disgrace."

The problem here for Trump is the FBI Inspector General’s report focused only on how the FBI conducted its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official State Department business. While there was a passing reference to messages about Russia, the report expressly said that matters involving Russia were not part of its review.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian interference and any ties to the Trump campaign. Those findings could exonerate Trump. The review of the Clinton email matter could not.

"The top (FBI) people were horrible. You look at what happened. They were plotting against my election."

The strongest evidence for plotting comes from an August 2016 text message exchange between FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was assigned to both the Clinton email and Russia investigations, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. The two were having an affair.

Page texted Strzok, saying Trump is "not ever going to become president, right? Right?!"

Strzok replied, "No. No he won't. We'll stop it."

Trump and Republicans have seized on those words as proof that the entire FBI investigation of both matters was aimed at scuttling Trump.

The Inspector General’s report said Strzok’s text "is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects."

But overall, the report concluded "we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions."

The report said these texts "cast a cloud" over the FBI’s investigation but didn’t seem to shape the actual work it did.

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But no bias found
“The top (FBI) people were horrible. You look at what happened. They were plotting against my election.”
remarks to reporters
Friday, June 15, 2018

"What (FBI director James Comey) did was criminal."

When asked in the Fox News interview if Comey should be locked up, Trump agreed. But he also hedged a bit.

"They just seemed like very criminal acts to me," Trump said. "What he did was criminal. What he did was a terrible thing to the people. What he did was so bad in terms of our constitution, in terms of the well being of our country. What he did was horrible. Should he be locked up? Let somebody make a determination."

Here, Trump seems to be making a distinction between unethical and illegal behavior. The Inspector General’s report chastised Comey for decisions that were "inconsistent with Department policy and violated long-standing Department practice." And going further, said he had "usurped the authority of the Attorney General."

But those harsh words fell short of making a criminal referral to the Justice Department.

The Mueller investigation includes "13 angry Democrats. … You have no Republicans."

There may be as many as 13 Democratic lawyers on Mueller’s team, but Trump is wrong about there being no Republicans.

Mueller, though, is registered as a Republican in the District of Columbia and was appointed to offices by Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as by Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

In addition, Mueller was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, who was nominated for deputy attorney general by Trump himself, and who previously was appointed as a U.S. Attorney by George W. Bush (and later kept on by Obama).

The Special Counsel’s office has made public the identities of 17 attorney staff members. Through public records, we were able to independently confirm that at least 12 people on Mueller’s staff are registered Democrats. Two others are registered to vote but have not chosen a party affiliation. We were unable to independently confirm the status of two other staff members.

"I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law. … That's the Democrats’ law. We can change it tonight. … The Democrats forced that law upon our nation."

There is no such law — it is a policy. And the Democrats don’t own that policy.

Whenever parents are charged with a federal misdemeanor (entry without inspection in this case), or awaiting trial, they are placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. Children cannot go to jail, so they are transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. They are then placed with relatives, juvenile detention centers or foster care. That’s a longstanding Homeland Security policy.

The Trump administration has introduced a "zero-tolerance" policy calling for the prosecution of all individuals who illegally enter the United States. Families were rarely prosecuted under previous administrations.

On June 15, federal officials announced that 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adults at the border between April 19 and May 31. Parents were referred for prosecution.

The Trump administration may believe that Democrats are responsible for policies that encourage illegal border crossing, but we found no law mandating that children be separated from their parents.

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Not the Dems' policy
“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law. … That's the Democrats’ law. We can change it tonight. … The Democrats forced that law upon our nation.”
remarks to reporters
Friday, June 15, 2018

"It’s in the agreement (with North Korea). It says he will denuclearize … I signed an agreement where we get everything, everything."

Technically, Trump signed a joint communique in Singapore, not an agreement. It was a statement of broad goals, not a binding promise to deliver on them.

The joint communique from the meeting in Singapore had four points. One said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea "commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

North Korea has said that before and Korean Peninsula experts say that what North Korea means by denuclearization probably isn’t what the United States has in mind.

"When the North Koreans say complete denuclearization, they mean the removal of the threat of nuclear war by both North Korea and the United States," said Joseph DeThomas at the Penn State School of International Affairs. "This means the removal of nuclear capable systems such as aircraft, ships and submarines from the Korean Peninsula and the area around it, as well as the eventual removal of North Korean nuclear weapons at a time North Korea feels safe. They have sometimes included an end to the U.S. nuclear guarantee to South Korea or the end of the U.S.-ROK alliance."

Republicans and conservatives pushed back on Trump’s earlier assertion that North Korea was no longer a threat. The conservative Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Klingner, for one, called the joint statement "very disappointing."

"The Singapore Communique did not bring about any changes to North Korean nuclear capabilities," Klingner told us. "In fact, the nuclear provision was weaker than that contained in the September 2005 Six Party Talks Joint Statement. The claim that the nuclear threat is gone, along with the depiction that the communique brought about demonstrable change, is premature to say the least."

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Broad promises only
"It’s in the agreement (with North Korea). It says he will denuclearize … I signed an agreement where we get everything, everything."
In remarks to reporters
Friday, June 15, 2018

Military exercises on the Korean Peninsula "cost us a lot of money. I saved a lot of money" by ending them.

The specific dollar cost is hard to determine, and certainly any large-scale military exercise will cost significant money, experts said.

That said, once the United States has decided to establish a military presence on the peninsula, the additional costs of exercises are modest. The big ongoing costs are for military bases and for military and support personnel.

"If the forces weren’t conducting an exercise, they would likely still be conducting other routine operations and training. So the increase in costs is rather marginal," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Regardless of the exact figure, it is a relatively small amount compared to the $700 billion total budget for national defense."

"Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. ... He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something, a very short period of time."

Actually, he worked for the Trump campaign closer to five months. Not only did Manafort work to consolidate Trump's support ahead of the Republican National Convention, but he was later promoted to campaign chairman and chief strategist. He made multiple media appearances on behalf of Trump and worked alongside Trump’s closest advisers.

Hours after Trump’s interviews, a U.S. District Court judge ordered Manafort to go directly to jail. Manafort initially faced charges of failing to disclose lobbying activities on behalf of foreign entities, financial crimes and making false statements. Recently, prosecutors added charges of witness tampering. Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Manafort, "The harm in this case is harm to the administration of justice and harm to the integrity of the court's system."

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More like five months
“Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. ... He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something, a very short period of time.”
remarks to reporters
Friday, June 15, 2018

"Some people say (Michael Flynn) lied and some people say he didn't lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn't lie."

This isn’t in question — Flynn has pled guilty to lying. In December 2017, Flynn pled guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI regarding his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States. Here’s the charging document. If Flynn — briefly Trump’s national security adviser — didn’t lie, then he would’ve had to have lied in his own plea agreement.

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Flynn pled to lying
“Some people say (Michael Flynn) lied and some people say he didn't lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn't lie.”
remarks to reporters
Friday, June 15, 2018

"Why aren't we being reimbursed" for our military presence in South Korea?

This is not true. South Korea has regularly signed agreements spelling out its "burden sharing" responsibility for U.S. troops. The amount that the South Koreans pay has been increasing for years.

This year, South Korea is paying about $890 million, a little less than half of the total, The Hill reported in March as the two countries were set to begin negotiating. The current deal, the ninth since 1991, expires Dec. 31, 2018.

"The South Koreans defend themselves," said Allan R. Millett, a historian and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, told us in 2011. "We do the high-tech things so they can have more shooters."

"(Kim Jong Un) gave us the remains of our great heroes."

Trump said he asked Kim to help identify and repatriate the remains of fallen U.S. soldiers and prisoners of war who died during the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with an armistice.

The Department of Defense has estimated that there are 7,697 Americans who remain unaccounted for. According to the National Committee on North Korea, U.S. military personnel were active in retrieving remains from North Korea between 1993 and 2005, but suspended their missions in 2007 due to safety concerns.

A recommitment to recover and repatriate American remains was a part of the denuclearization statementt signed in Singapore, but we could not find reports — aside from Trump’s promise on the White House lawn — that the process has already begun.

This story will be updated with more fact-checks as they are completed.

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