In an extensive interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired Sunday evening. President Donald Trump made several factual blunders and repeated many of his favorite incorrect claims.
Here’s a look.
In touting his policies to expand defense spending and strengthen the military, the President took credit for improving the Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically expanding health care choices for veterans.
“The vets– the VA was in horrible shape,” said Trump. “Now, they have choice. And nobody could get choice. John McCain couldn’t get it. Nobody could get it. They tried for years. They couldn’t get it.”
Facts First: Trump is rewriting history. The Veterans Choice Program was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014 and was co-sponsored by Senator John McCain. Trump signed a bill to continue the program and eventually consolidated other programs under the new Veterans Community Care Program.
Veterans Choice aimed to expand veteran’s access to health care by increasing the number of medical staff in the VA system as well as allowing those who met certain criteria (either from wait time or distance to a VA facility) to see doctors outside of the VA system.
The bill signed by Trump in June of 2018, the VA MISSION Act, will consolidate several different VA health programs into the new Veterans Community Care Program. The program was set to start this summer, and for the year between the VA MISSION Act provided $5.2 billion to continue the Veterans Choice Program. The bill also expanded veteran’s ability to take their VA benefits to private doctors.
When Stephanopoulos asserted that Americans are paying for the tariffs on China, Trump retorted “No, they’re not.”
“China subsidizes their product in order to keep people working,” Trump said before going on to argue that many companies were also moving out of China in order to avoid the tariffs. “So there is no tariff.”
Facts First: Trump is flatly wrong on this notion. US consumers and companies pay a large chunk of the tariffs Trump has placed on China. In addition, while there is evidence that US importers are shifting part of their production outside China, there isn’t much to suggest there’s a mass exodus of companies relocating away from China.
Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that 40% of the cost of tariffs has been passed on to consumers, with producers and retailers taking on the rest.
According to a study from economists at Princeton, Columbia and the New York Federal Reserve, by the end of 2018 US companies and consumers were paying $3 billion a month more, plus $1.4 billion in additional losses, because of these new tariffs, mostly on China.
In their Economic Report published in March, Trump’s own administration admitted that despite any “benefits” which the tariffs may have are offset by the “costs paid by consumers in the form of higher prices and reduced consumption.” So yes, Americans are paying these tariffs.
As for Trump’s claim that companies are fleeing China to avoid paying tariffs, it’s difficult to measure how prevalent that trend is. Or if it’s even happening at all.
US imports from countries outside of China have increased in the first four months of 2019 compared to last year: 22% from Taiwan, 17% from South Korea, 38% from Vietnam, and 13% from Bangladesh. But part of this increase could be part of an already upward trend of importing more from countries outside of China and from the strong US economy, which leads to higher imports overall.
US Census Bureau trade data published this month noted that US importers are taking in 12% less from China this year. While this is a significant number it’s difficult to argue that “many” companies are moving out of China. Additionally, there are a large number of products made exclusively in China due to the interdependence of global supply chains.
As Facts First has previously noted, for example, many raw materials integral to the US chemical industry now fall under Trump’s tariffs and are “unavailable outside of China,” Jennifer Abril, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates told CNN in May.
Stephanopoulos pressed Trump on the most damning portions of the Mueller report, including the dozens of contacts between Trump’s team and Russians. The report said numerous Trump associates were drawn into the Russian web and took meetings with Kremlin-tied figures who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, but they did not cross the line into a criminal conspiracy.
In his answer, Trump ignored these findings and attacked his 2016 opponent.
“What about Hillary Clinton?” Trump asked. “Hillary Clinton conspired with Russia. She had somebody that came out of Russia. They got information from Russia. Excuse me. Hillary Clinton was totally involved with it. If you talk about collusion with Russia take a look at Christopher Steele, all his contacts with Russia which by the way she paid for, and turned out to be a phony deal, which everyone is now admitting that. No George, all I want is the truth.”
Facts First: Trump is lying about Clinton by making up allegations that she colluded with the Russians in 2016. He’s also twisting the facts about the Steele dossier, and is creating a false equivalency between his team’s contacts with Russians and Clinton’s ties to the dossier.
For starters, there is absolutely no evidence that “Clinton conspired with Russia” like Trump claimed. Mueller’s mandate was to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether any Americans - not just Trump aides – were involved in those efforts.
The report said nothing about connections between the Clinton campaign and the Russian government or the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-connected troll farm that spread propaganda to US audiences.
Trump then turned to the infamous Steele dossier, the series of private intelligence memos that former British spy Christopher Steele wrote in the final months of the 2016 campaign.
The memos contained details about Russian meddling that pre-dated public announcements about Russia’s activities by the US government. They also alleged that Trump colluded with the Kremlin. Some claims have been debunked, while others have held up over time; some remain unproven while others are partially true. Trump is wrong when he says it was all “phony.”
One of the main claims in the Steele dossier – that the Trump campaign engaged in a widespread conspiracy of collusion with the Russians – was not established by Mueller.
But the President is wrong that Steele is “somebody that came out of Russia.” Steele is a British citizen. He lived in Russia as an undercover spy, but his allegiance was to the United Kingdom. The UK is one of America’s closest allies for intelligence-sharing. Steele’s strong track record made him a trusted and valuable informant for the FBI and other US government agencies.
Trump is also wrong that Clinton “was totally involved” in the Steele dossier. There is no evidence that she was directly involved, and her campaign chairman testified to Congress that he didn’t know about it before the 2016 election. But Clinton’s campaign funded Steele’s work. They paid a law firm, which hired an opposition research company, which brought on Steele.
On Monday morning, Clinton tweeted a response to Trump’s claims she colluded with Russia, calling them “outlandish.”
Rebuffing Russian outreach
Trump mischaracterized a key finding from the Mueller report. He claimed: “Mueller said that we rebuffed Russia, that we pushed them away, that we weren’t interested. Read the report.”
Facts First: This is only half the story, and it is a very misleading representation of the Mueller report. Trump omitted the part where Mueller said that some members of Trump’s campaign eagerly accepted meetings with Russians and even solicited their help on the 2016 election.
Here’s what the Mueller report said about this: “In sum, the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away.”
This isn’t the first time Trump made this misleading claim. The whole truth is much more nuanced. Sometimes the Russians were rebuffed, sometimes they were welcomed. Trump’s own son, Donald Trump Jr., eagerly took a meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 after being told that she was bringing damaging information about Clinton on behalf of the Kremlin.
Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that any of these contacts broke the law.
Cooperation with Mueller
Defending his response to the Mueller investigation, Trump said he was “the most transparent in history” and touted the fact that he provided Mueller with 1.5 million pages of documents. He also said “I gave them four or five hundred witnesses” to be interviewed by investigators.
Facts First: It’s true that Trump gave Mueller’s team broad access to interview White House officials and read their internal notes, which proved pivotal to the investigation. But that group represents only a small slice of the 500 witnesses Mueller interviewed. And perhaps most importantly, Trump refused multiple requests from investigators for a sit-down interview.
Whenever Trump touts his “transparency” with the Mueller investigation, he never mentions his adamant refusal to agree to a sit-down interview. While Trump made his aides available for interviews, he agreed only to answer written questions about collusion, but not obstruction. Mueller made it clear that Trump’s responses were “incomplete” and generally insufficient.
There are many other reasons why Trump is not “the most transparent” president in US history, including his refusal to release his tax returns and his fight to block Congressional subpoenas to gain access to his financial statements.
Trump also exaggerated the number of witnesses he “gave” to Mueller so they could testify.
Mueller interviewed 500 witnesses, but Trump could only control the testimony of White House aides. More than two dozen Trump administration officials voluntarily gave interviews to the special counsel. The fruits of those interviews created the foundation of the obstruction inquiry.
Federal investigators interviewed hundreds of people Trump didn’t have any control over. For example, Mueller’s team spoke to Russian banker Petr Aven, conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, and the translator at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
However, to Trump’s credit, he did not invoke executive privilege or go to court to prevent Mueller’s team from interviewing White House aides of reviewing their documents.
Trump says Putin helped Clinton
Trump claimed the Russians “were also helping the Clinton campaign,” and later said Russian President Vladimir Putin “would much rather have Hillary Clinton be president right now.”
Facts First: Trump is entitled to his own views. But he stands alone in his belief that the Russians tried to help Clinton’s campaign in 2016. The US intelligence community announced after the 2016 election that the Kremlin tried to help Trump, a conclusion that has been endorsed by all of Trump’s handpicked officials to lead the intelligence agencies.
The stunning assessment that the Russian government tried to help Trump was made public in a January 2017 report featured unanimous conclusions from the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency. The report was prepared during the Obama administration but Trump’s appointees to lead these US intelligence agencies have endorsed the report and its findings.
This isn’t about collusion or coordination with the campaign. It’s about the wide-ranging Russian campaign to influence Americans, largely in Trump’s favor. For instance, Facebook acknowledged that Russian propaganda reached 126 million Americans on its platform both before and after the election.
The Russians hacked Democratic targets and released their emails through WikiLeaks at pivotal moments in the campaign, including days before the Democratic National Convention and after the leak of the Access Hollywood tape that featured Trump making offensive comments about women. These hacks, carried out by Russian military officers, gave Trump a massive boost.
Trump on Russian ‘bloggers’
On four occasions in his ABC interview, Trump used the word “bloggers” to describe Russian hackers.
“They also said that there were bloggers in Moscow,” Trump said. “And they said specifically about the bloggers in Moscow, had nothing to do with Trump, had nothing to do with – and there were like 32 or 36 bloggers. We have nothing to do with bloggers in Moscow.”
Facts First: They weren’t bloggers. They were sophisticated hackers who worked for the Russian military, according to court filings. Trump’s language downplays the seriousness of their actions, which Mueller himself described as “a concerted attack on our political system.”
According to dictionary definitions, a blogger is someone who writes for a blog, which is an online publication or personal website that typically features commentary on a specific topic.
The Russians hackers who meddled in the 2016 election were intelligence officers who worked for Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the GRU.
“Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system,” Mueller said in his only public statement about the investigation.
Trump’s comments diminish the role of the Russian government in the attack. Interestingly, Putin has also sought to distance the Russian state from the hacks, saying that “patriotic hackers” might have meddled in American politics, but they were not directed by the Kremlin.
That’s just not true, according to Mueller, whose office indicted a dozen GRU officers. They were accused of hacking Democratic targets in 2016 and sharing the spoils with WikiLeaks.
Stephanopoulos asked Trump how it was that several Republican senators who were initially skeptical of Trump eventually came around to support him. Trump pointed to the 2016 presidential debates and how, he said, “they found out I am very smart and I know what I’m doing.”
“I had, what, 15 debates and we won every debate,” said Trump. “According to every poll, I mean I can only tell you by the polls. But every poll, they had many polls, doing many debates, I never lost one poll, I think they’ve gained a certain respect.”
Facts First: Trump did not, according to polling, win every debate he participated in during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a Fox News poll on the first GOP presidential debate in August 2015, voters were asked who performed the best and worst during the debate. Fox News combined these scores, leaving Trump in last place with -13 points and Carly Fiorina in first with +12 points.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who watched one or both of the back-to-back debates in September 2015, Trump came in third, with 11%, behind Marco Rubio (14%) and Carly Fiorina (52%), when respondents were asked which candidate did the best job during the debates, according to a CNN poll.
During the December 2015 debate among GOP presidential hopefuls, Trump’s luck changed. He came in first in a CNN poll, winning with 33% among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came in second, behind by 5 points.)
In a CBS News poll on the GOP debate in February 2016, Trump came in second (24%), behind Rubio (32%), among Republicans and independents who were asked what candidate they thought did the best job.
Trump told Stephanopoulos that he won all 15 debates. Since there were 12 primary debates and three general debates, it would appear that Trump is also claiming that he won the three debates with Hillary Clinton.
When looking at the three debates between Trump and Clinton, Clinton won all three debates, among all those polled by CNN. Among Republicans, however, Trump won all three debates, gradually going up from 55% to 68% and 74%, whereas, among Democrats, Clinton consistently stayed around 90%.
Pre-existing conditions protections
When Stephanopoulos asked the President whether his drive to overturn Obamacare equates to abandoning those with preexisting conditions, Trump denied it.
“Preexisting conditions– I was for preexisting conditions. And I still– you know, I’m very much for preexisting conditions,” he said.
Facts First: While Trump has continued to state his support for covering people with preexisting conditions, his administration is actively seeking to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional. This would eliminate the health care law’s groundbreaking and very popular protections for those with less-than-perfect medical histories.
The administration is siding with Texas and a coalition of Republican-led states that are challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in federal court.
The Department of Justice initially argued a year ago that two key Obamacare provisions were no longer valid because Congress effectively eliminated the individual mandate by reducing the penalty for not having insurance to $0.
Those two provisions – which ban insurers from denying coverage and from setting premiums based on health backgrounds – overhauled the nation’s health insurance industry and allowed millions of Americans to gain coverage.
Under Attorney General William Barr, the department went even further in pushing to dismantle the law. In a filing with the federal appeals court in March, the Justice Department said it agreed with the December ruling of a federal judge in Texas that invalidated the entire Affordable Care Act. (The law remains in effect as the case works its way through the courts.)
If Obamacare itself falls, it would also eliminate the provision that requires insurers to provide comprehensive policies that cover a wide range of treatments, another key component of the protections for those with preexisting conditions.
A coalition of 21 blue states led by California is defending the law. The Democratic-led House of Representatives has joined the effort, painting the GOP as hurting those with preexisting conditions.
The two sides are expected to argue before a panel of appellate judges in early July.
Trump also said he’s formulating a new GOP health care plan that will be better than Obamacare. But the bills that Congress came up with in 2017 in the Republicans’ failed attempt to repeal and replace the law would have also chipped away at the protections for those with preexisting conditions.
The so-called “skinny repeal” bill that the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona helped to nix would have given states more flexibility in requiring insurers to provide comprehensive policies. The President continues to criticize McCain’s famous thumbs-down vote on the bill in July 2017
This article has been updated.
CNN’s Grace Sparks contributed to this report.