WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump persists in suggesting that his 2016 campaign has been exonerated on the question of whether it colluded with Russians, even as a powerful investigation forms to look into that matter and multiple other inquiries press on.
The president joined Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos in a news conference Thursday. He misstated the record on jobs and a violent national gang as well as on the matter that prompted the Justice Department a day earlier to appoint a special counsel with wide-ranging powers to investigate the Trump campaign and Russia.
A look at some of his assertions:
“Even my enemies have said there is no collusion.”
The Facts: Democrats have not absolved Trump on whether his campaign and Russian officials coordinated efforts last year to disadvantage his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Several have said they have not seen evidence of collusion, but that’s not to say they are satisfied it did not happen.
Trump has cited James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until Trump took office Jan. 20, among others, as being “convinced” there was no collusion.
Clapper said this week that while a report he issued in January did not uncover collusion, he did not know at the time that the FBI was digging deeply into “potential political collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians” and he was unaware of what the bureau might have found. The FBI inquiry continues, as do congressional investigations and, now, one by the special counsel.
On his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey: “I actually thought when I made that decision — and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.”
The Facts: The recommendation Trump cites behind his decision was written after he’d already made up his mind, according to Rosenstein and to Trump’s own previous statement.
In an interview with NBC two days after the May 9 Comey dismissal, Trump said he had been planning to fire Comey for months, and linked it with the FBI’s Russia probe, saying, “In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
On Thursday, Rosenstein told senators in a closed-door briefing that he had been informed of Trump’s decision to fire Comey before he wrote his memo providing a rationale for that act, said Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois.
Speaking of the MS-13 gang presence in the U.S.: “A horrible, horrible large group of gangs that have been let into our country over a fairly short period of time. … They’ve literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.”
The Facts: His depiction of the gang as a foreign one “let into” the U.S. is not accurate.
The gang actually began in Los Angeles, according to a fact sheet from Trump’s own Justice Department, and “spread quickly across the country.” And it started not recently, but in the 1980s according to that same fact sheet.
The department indirectly credits the Obama administration, in its early years, with helping to rein in the group, largely made up of first-generation Salvadoran-Americans and Salvadoran nationals. It said: “Through the combined efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, great progress was made diminishing or severely (disrupting) the gang within certain targeted areas of the U.S. by 2009 and 2010.”
The U.S. carried out record deportations during the Obama administration and, on MS-13 specifically, took the unprecedented action of labelling the street gang a transnational criminal organization and announcing a freeze on its U.S. assets. Such actions were not enough to bring down the group and the Trump administration says it will do more.
“You look at the tremendous number of jobs that are being announced.” — Thursday news conference
Jobs are pouring back into our country.” — speech Wednesday to the Coast Guard Academy
I inherited a mess. … Jobs are pouring out of the country.” — February news conference
The Facts: Trump’s rhetoric about jobs has changed, but the actual data about hiring haven’t. Job gains have been solid since Trump was inaugurated, averaging 185,000 a month from January through April, according to government figures. But that is the same pace of hiring as occurred in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, and slower than in 2014 and 2015, when more than 225,000 jobs a month were added, on average.
As for Ford, context is everything. After hailing the addition of some 800 jobs, Trump was silent after Ford announced Wednesday it plans to cut 1,400 non-factory jobs in North America and Asia. That will most likely outweigh the jobs added earlier.
Overall, presidents typically get far more credit or blame for the state of the economy than they deserve, economists say. And it is particularly unlikely that any president would have an impact after just four months on the job. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from taking credit.
“Great jobs report today — it is all beginning to work!” he tweeted May 5, after the government reported that solid hiring in April had pushed the unemployment rate to a 10-year low. A spokesman said on the same day that “the president’s economic agenda of serious tax reform, slashing burdensome regulations, rebuilding our infrastructure and negotiating fairer trade deals is adding jobs.”
While Trump, with the help of the GOP Congress, has taken some minor steps on deregulation, little progress has been made on taxes, infrastructure or trade.