During his rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Trump handed out crowd pleasing lines left and right. Amid his near 90-minute speech tackling “collusion delusion,” the US economy, his wall and so forth the President made a few extravagant claims.
Here’s what we looked at in our live fact check last night.
The Russia probe
Trump opened his rally in Michigan by describing the “incredible couple of weeks” America has seen recently. He cited the economy, the defeat of ISIS in Syria and the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“After three years of lies, smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead” Trump said. “The collusion delusion is over.”
He said Mueller “found no collusion and no obstruction” and said the report exonerated him.
Facts first: The President is correct on the question of collusion, but he is wrong to suggest that Mueller found “no obstruction.”
We fact checked this same claim from Trump on Tuesday. Here’s what we found:
Trump is correct that Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress said Mueller’s team of investigators “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
However, Trump falsely claimed that the report said there was no obstruction. Barr’s letter, directly quoting the Mueller report, clearly states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” on questions of obstruction.
Mueller said he had thoroughly investigated the obstruction question, though he didn’t interview Trump in person and the written questions he submitted to the President did not address obstruction.
Barr and Rosenstein chose not to prosecute. They decided that they couldn’t press a case against Trump because they determined his actions did not meet the standards for prosecuting such a case.
Trump continued his victory lap around Barr’s summary of the Mueller report Thursday night by mocking the “dirty dossier.” “Millions and millions of dollars paid for it, by who? Crooked Hillary Clinton, the DNC and the Democrat party.”
Facts First: The law firm representing the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s presidential campaigned retained Fusion GPS at the time that the company hired former MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s company who then worked on compiling the infamous dossier. The dossier did not cost “millions and millions.”
In April of 2016, the law firm Perkins Coie, who represented both the DNC and Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, retained Fusion GPS. According to the Washington Post, former MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s company was hired by Fusion GPS two months later, in June of 2016.
Before this, the Washington Free Beacon (based in Arlington, Virginia), a conservative publication, had hired Fusion GPS to research several Republican candidates in the 2016 primary. Steele’s company was hired by Fusion GPS months after the Free Beacon had cut ties with the company.
According to a statement from Fusion GPS in 2017 the company paid Steele’s company $168,000 for the dossier. This money, paid to Steele, came from a bigger pot of $1.02 million Fusion GPS received from Perkins Coie law firm, according to the statement.
So where does his “millions and millions” claim come from? It’s possible Trump is thinking of the $5.6 million figure Clinton’s campaign paid Perkins Coie from June 2015 to December 2016 plus the $3.6 million the DNC paid the law firm during the same time period – a period that roughly correlates to the dossier’s creation. It’s impossible to know how much of this money went to legal fees vs funding opposition research.
While discussing the US economy, Trump said that Russia will not be happy about the United States becoming the No. 1 oil and gas producer in the world.
“The United States – people don’t even believe this, it all happened very recently – is now the No. 1 oil and gas producer in the world,” Trump said. “And by the way, Russia’s not happy about that, but they’re fine. They’re doing just fine, but they’re not happy about that.”
But is the US actually No. 1?
Facts first: That’s true, but context is needed.
Here’s what we’ve found:
The US became the world’s largest crude oil producer in August 2018, when it surpassed Russia for the first time since 1999 in terms of total daily crude production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Earlier in the year, the US surpassed Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production for the first time since 1973. It has been the largest producer of natural gas since 2011.
The rise in US oil and gas production is due in large part to advances in fracking technology that allowed drillers to access reserves socked away in shale formations buried deep underground. Production dipped in 2015 and 2016 as a result of overproduction and a collapse in oil prices, but recovered quickly once supply stabilized and prices increased, just as Trump was coming into office.
The Trump administration often touts its moves to relax Obama-era rules on oil and gas production, such as one restricting the flaring of methane from fracking sites. He has also opened public lands to more drilling. It’s unclear though, given the decade of increased energy production in the US, how much of an impact any of those moves have had.
Bragging on the economy, Trump claimed that “America is now the hottest economy anywhere on the planet earth. There’s nobody close.”
Facts First: Many countries outpace the US on GDP growth.
There are a lot of different ways to gauge economic growth and relative “hotness.” Measuring simply by GDP growth rate, there are a number of countries that eclipse the US – Iceland, Israel and China to name a few – based on data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (When looking at GDP per capita, the US is still beat out by Norway, Switzerland, Ireland and Luxembourg.)
It’s unclear, too, if the economy will continue to grow as much as the President has predicted.
In the last quarter of 2018, the US GDP growth fell to 2.2%, down from the 3.4% growth seen in the previous quarter, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. For comparison, under the Obama administration, quarterly GDP growth averaged 2.1% while under the Trump administration it’s been 2.7%.
(The record GDP growth under Trump – 4.2% in the second quarter of last year – is still overshadowed by the 5.1% and 4.9% growth seen in the third and second quarters of 2014.)
While still hyperbolic, Trump’s statement in Michigan on the economy is relatively tame compared to times he’s claimed we’re seeing “in many ways … the greatest economy in the HISTORY of America.” Again, there’s no one measurement for economic health and growth but GDP growth tells a fairly clear picture. Trump’s average growth rate of 2.7% falls below Kennedy (5.5%), Johnson (5.2%), Ford (3.1%), Carter (3.4%), Reagan (3.4%) and Clinton (3.7%) according to Bloomberg’s Justin Fox.
This isn’t to say that the US economy isn’t strong, only that Trump’s claim seems to exaggerate its hardiness and growth.
“We are building that wall,” Trump told his supporters, followed by chants of “build the wall!” from the crowd. He continued by praising the “renovation” of parts of the border wall.
So what progress has been made on Trump’s wall?
Facts First: There have been repairs and replacement of fencing and border security along parts of the border, but construction of new border fencing has not yet started.
In fact, we fact-checked a similar claim on the wall on Thursday.
Here’s what we found:
So far, only repairs and replacements of barriers along the border have taken place. In mid-March, Customs and Border Patrol told CNN that “approximately 38 of 40 miles of wall in place of outdated designs in San Diego and El Centro, California, Santa Teresa, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas” using fiscal year 2017 funds.
(However, some of the replacement fencing has “replaced” vehicle barriers, not old fencing or wall. So, one could do a little mental gymnastics and refer to this as “new” fencing – but it’s not creating a new barrier where none previously existed.)
As the agency told CNN earlier this month, “the first new wall project, where no barrier currently exists, is anticipated to start in April in Hidalgo County of the Rio Grande Valley Sector.”
On Monday, the Pentagon notified Congress of a $1 billion transfer for new wall construction and other border security measures. According to a letter from acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, this money will go toward building 57 miles of fencing in two areas of the border in Arizona and Texas. According to an official from the Department of Defense, construction on these sites might begin in late May.
This $1 billion is just the beginning of the $8.1 billion Trump’s administration pointed to when looking at where it could transfer money for the wall – which doesn’t include additional funds Homeland Security could use or the $1.375 billion from the spending bill passed in February for 55 miles of new “barriers” in the Rio Grande Valley.
This story has been updated