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Fact-checking Trump’s tweets about Russia, Hillary Clinton and the ‘witch hunt’

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll June 16, 2017

In between tweets about typical presidential fare — jobs, the Army, the state of Wisconsin — President Donald Trump has been ranting in 140-character spurts about the Russia investigation and his former opponent Hillary Clinton.

"You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA," he tweeted June 15.

Here are the facts and necessary context behind some of Trump’s most provocative, though not always inaccurate, recent tweets.

"I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt"

This tweet is significant because it seems to confirm an anonymously sourced June 14 Washington Post report on that said special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the possibility that Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.

Trump doesn’t seem to be referring here to Mueller, though, but to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

As special counsel, Mueller is in charge of the Russia investigation and any related probes, like obstruction of justice accusations. But Mueller answers to Rosenstein, who did, in fact, write a memo in early May recommending that Trump fire FBI Director James Comey.

It’s worth noting that Rosenstein recommended firing Comey over his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Trump, however, said he would have fired Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendations, and he had the Russia investigation on his mind when he made the decision.

"You have my assurance that we're going to faithfully follow that regulation (that gives Meuller his authority), and Director Mueller is going to have the full degree of independence that he needs to conduct that investigation appropriately," Rosenstein told Congress June 13.

"They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice"

Trump similarly tweeted a couple days earlier: "After 7 months of investigations & committee hearings about my ‘collusion with the Russians,’  nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!"

Trump has a point in that none of the investigations have made public any hard proof that Trump colluded with Russia during the presidential election — if there is any hard proof.

But that doesn’t mean the Russia story is "phony" overall. The investigations encompass much more than just overt collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

They are looking at whether Trump campaign associates may have been unwitting agents on Russia’s behalf, as well as Russia’s actions absent any assistance from American political actors. They could also dig into criminal activity unrelated to Russia or the election that they uncover during the course of their investigative work, such as unlawful financial dealings.

They can also explore accusations that someone, such as Trump, tried to inhibit these proceedings.

"Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, 'bleached' emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?"

This tweet is partially accurate.

In their July 2016 report about the investigation into Clinton’s email practices, FBI agents said a Clinton aide told them he recalled "two instances where he destroyed Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer."

Separately, Clinton aides asked some IT workers if they would permanently delete emails from the private server Clinton used as secretary of state, using a program called BleachBit.

And in late June 2016, Bill Clinton was spotted meeting secretly with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch. About a week later, Comey broke Justice Department protocol to go public about the decision not to prosecute Clinton.

But is it obstruction of justice? The FBI didn’t develop evidence to support that conclusion.  

Comey has said the FBI doesn’t have any evidence Clinton intentionally deleted emails in order to conceal them or obstruct justice, though he was concerned at the time about the appearance that Lynch had a conflict of interest.

"Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?"

This tweet misses the point.

Trump’s campaign and his associates are under the microscope for their Russia ties — as opposed to Clinton and other Democrats’ unspecified "dealings with Russia" — because the investigation is about Russian interference in the election. Numerous intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in an attempt to help Trump beat Clinton.

We have no way of independently verifying the extent of Trump’s ties to Russia. Lawyers for Trump released a letter May 12 saying Trump does not have any income, debt or investments related to Russia, with a couple exceptions.

For example, Trump agreed to host the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, a $20 million deal facilitated by Russian real estate mogul and billionaire Aras Agalarov. He also made millions selling a 17-bedroom Florida mansion to a Russian billionaire.

"A.G. Lynch made law enforcement decisions for political purposes...gave Hillary Clinton a free pass and protection. Totally illegal!"

The little we know about Lynch’s attempts to shape the Clinton email investigations do not rise to the allegation in this tweet.

The few details we have from Comey’s recollections. He said he was concerned because she told him to call the investigation a "matter," and her clandestine meeting with Bill Clinton at least created the appearance of impropriety.

Comey did not say Lynch gave Clinton a "free pass." In fact, Comey has been adamant over the past year that there simply was not enough of a substantive case to prosecute Clinton over her email setup.

Comey did say, however, that this appearance of a conflict of interest is what prompted him to go public with the FBI’s findings and harshly criticize Clinton’s actions, despite the decision not to bring charges.

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Our Sources

Politico, "Full text: James Comey testimony transcript on Trump and Russia," June 8, 2017

FBI, "Statement by FBI Director James B. Comey on the Investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Use of a Personal E-Mail System," July 5, 2016

FBI, Clinton email investigation report, July 2016

PolitiFact, "The possible ties between Trump and Russia, explained," Feb. 22, 2017

NBC, "Trump Interview With Lester Holt: President Asked Comey If He Was Under Investigation," May 11, 2017

CQ, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science Holds Hearing on Fiscal 2018 Justice Department Budget, June 13, 2017

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Fact-checking Trump’s tweets about Russia, Hillary Clinton and the ‘witch hunt’