WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is spreading tall tales about election fraud.
Asked about ballot malfeasance involving a Republican in North Carolina, the president insisted he condemns voter fraud “of any kind, whether it’s Democrat or Republican” and pointed to a “million fraudulent votes” cast in California. But no such case exists.
In fact, he has frequently asserted massive fraud in California since losing the state in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 4 million votes, but has not cited any evidence. He’s made similar assertions about voting fraud in Florida and Texas, also off the mark.
Heading into his summit this week with North Korea’s leader, Trump also has been misrepresenting the history of diplomacy with that country, ignoring the work of predecessors. Democrats, meantime, went after Trump for holding migrant children in the same chain-link facilities used by the Obama administration, calling them “cages” to suggest Trump is acting with singular cruelty.
A look at some of the political rhetoric:
TRUMP: “I condemn any election fraud. And when I look at what’s happened in California with the votes, when I look at what happened — as you know, there was just a case where they found a million fraudulent votes. …When I look at what’s happened in Texas. When I look at that catastrophe that took place in Florida where the Republican candidates kept getting less and less and less and less. And fortunately, Rick Scott and Ron ended up winning their election, but it was disgraceful what happened there. …I condemn any voter fraud of any kind, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. …And that includes North Carolina.” — remarks Friday with China’s Vice Premier Liu He.
THE FACTS: Actually, there have been no reported cases of 1 million fraudulent votes cast in California, nor has Trump provided any support for his claim of widespread fraud. He’s also misrepresenting cases in Texas and Florida.
Trump pointed to other cases when asked about evidence of fraud involving a Republican in North Carolina. The state’s elections board last week ordered a new House election after GOP candidate Mark Harris conceded his lead was tainted by evidence of ballot-tampering by political operatives working for him.
But Trump is making unfounded charges of fraud in Florida’s Senate and governor races, which he has previously asserted were nearly “stolen” by Democrats.
He describes a dwindling vote margin as suspicious, but it is not uncommon for vote tallies to change in the days after the election as local officials process mailed and provisional ballots. In Florida, both Scott and governor’s candidate Rick DeSantis saw their leads fall as the Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach and Broward counties continued to count votes.
Scott was still governor when he alleged possible fraud in his Senate race. The governor’s state agencies charged with investigating impropriety said no credible allegations existed. The two GOP candidates ultimately prevailed in their races after a recount.
Trump also refers to a report from the Texas secretary of state’s office last month suggesting as many as 95,000 non-U.S. citizens may be on the state’s voter rolls and as many as 58,000 may have cast a ballot at least once since 1996, which Trump has described as the “tip of the iceberg.” Since the report came out, however, state elections officials have acknowledged serious problems with citizens being wrongly included in the original data. The list has subsequently been cut by at least 20,000 names — voters who turned out to be citizens. While it’s possible some foreigners voted, there are no signs of a widespread number as Trump has suggested that would change an electoral outcome.
TRUMP, on getting North Korea to “denuclearize”: “I think they want to do something. But you know, you’ve been talking about this for 80 years. They’ve been talking about this for many, many years, and no administration has done anything.” — remarks Wednesday with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong in suggesting his administration is the first to start on denuclearization with North Korea. The Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations both did so.
Clinton reached an aid-for-disarmament deal in 1994 that halted North Korea’s plutonium production for eight years, freezing what was then a very small nuclear arsenal. Bush took a tougher stance toward North Korea, and the 1994 nuclear deal collapsed because of suspicions that the North was running a secret uranium enrichment program. Bush, too, ultimately pursued negotiations. That led to a temporary disabling of some nuclear facilities, but talks fell apart because of differences over verification. What has most advanced under Trump is the level of engagement with North Korea. He is the first to meet the leader of North Korea.
TRUMP: “There is far more ENERGY on the Right than there is on the Left. That’s why we just won the Senate and why we will win big in 2020. The Fake News just doesn’t want to report the facts. Border Security is a big factor.” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: He’s entitled to that opinion. But the non-observer of U.S. politics would not know from that comment that while Republicans maintained control of the Senate in November, Democrats took control of the House. Lawmakers from both parties have blocked Trump’s request for $5.7 billion to fulfill his pledge to build a wall, leading him to declare a national emergency this month to shift money earmarked for military construction to the border without congressional approval.
Democrats have introduced a resolution disapproving of the declaration and it was likely to pass both chambers of Congress and face a presidential veto.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS of California, a Democratic presidential contender: “The trauma these children experience will live on for decades to come. It’s absurd that it needs to be repeated: Ripping babies away from their parents to put them in cages is inhumane.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: The “cages” are chain-link fences and the Obama administration used them for migrant children, too. That hasn’t stopped a variety of Democrats from seizing on the visceral kids-in-cages image as evidence of Trump administration cruelty. Among them, Democrat Stacey Abrams, in her response to Trump’s State of the Union address, declared “this administration chooses to cage children.”
Children are held behind chain link fences inside Border Patrol facilities. Obama’s administration detained large numbers of unaccompanied children in such a manner in 2014 during a surge of migrant children at the border. Images that circulated online of children in chain link pens during the height of Trump’s family separations controversy — and blamed on him — were actually from 2014 when Obama was in office.
Children are placed in such areas by age and sex for safety reasons and are generally held for up to 72 hours by the Border Patrol. They then go into the custody of the Health and Human Services Department and are housed in shelters until they are placed with sponsors in the U.S., usually parents or close relatives. Some children who are with their families will go into family detention or will be released with their family into the country as their immigration cases play out.
The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general visited five detention facilities for unaccompanied children on the Texas border with Mexico in late June, during the height of the furor over family separations, and found the facilities appeared to comply with detention standards. The government watchdog reported that cleanliness was inconsistent but that the children had access to toilets, food, drinks, clean bedding and hygiene items.
At the height of the family separations, about 2,400 children were separated. Since then, 118 children have been. Immigration officials are allowed to take a child from a parent in certain cases — serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns.
That policy has long been in place and is separate from the now-suspended zero-tolerance Trump administration policy that saw children separated from parents only because they had crossed illegally.
SEN. KEVIN CRAMER, Republican of North Dakota: “Barack Obama declared a national emergency to fight swine flu and we didn’t have a single case of it in the United States.” — podcast posted Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Cramer is wrong. More than 1,000 people had died in the U.S. from the flu strain known as H1N1, commonly called the swine flu, by the time Obama declared a national emergency over the outbreak Oct. 23, 2009. The first swine flu death in the U.S. was reported in April 2009. By the time of Obama’s declaration, widespread flu activity was reported in 46 states. The government estimates the flu strain was linked to more than 274,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths in the U.S. between April 2009 and April 2010, according to final figures released in 2011.
Cramer’s false statement that Obama declared an emergency absent any deaths came as he argued that Trump was justified in declaring one to find money to build his proposed border wall.
TRUMP: “We have just built this powerful Wall in New Mexico. Completed on January 30, 2019 – 47 days ahead of schedule! Many miles more now under construction! #FinishTheWall.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: This is the latest of many examples of Trump presenting replacement fencing or pre-existing barrier as evidence that his promised wall is coming along. In reality, Trump has not completed any additional miles of barrier in his presidency.
In this case, he is citing the replacement of 20 miles (32 kilometers) of existing fencing at Santa Teresa, New Mexico, just outside El Paso, the only barrier construction in New Mexico so far. The $73 million project started in April.
Construction was beginning this month for 14 miles (22 km) of new fencing in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas — the first additional miles of barrier in Trump’s presidency. That’s from money approved by Congress a year ago.
Money approved by Congress this month to avert a government shutdown would cover about 55 more miles (88 km) and he’s trying unilaterally to free up money for more.
Trump now often incorrectly portrays his wall as largely complete, with the rally cry, “Finish the wall,” which replaced his initial slogan, “Build the wall.” In fact, the barrier now in service — about 650 miles (1,050 km) of fencing — was put in place by previous administrations.
TRUMP: “The failed Fast Train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The high-speed rail project is nowhere close to being “hundreds of times” more expensive than Trump’s proposed border wall. The estimated cost for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles train has more than doubled to $77 billion. That’s about 13 times the $5.7 billion Trump sought unsuccessfully from Congress to build just part of the wall. Last year, he sought $25 billion to pay the full costs of building his wall, also rejected by Congress. The California project would cost three times more than that — far from “hundreds of times more.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., said earlier this month the project “as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long.” He said the state would focus on completing a shorter segment in the Central Valley while seeking money from new sources for the longer route.
CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL XAVIER BECERRA, on whether there’s a crisis at the border: “We have the lowest level of entries into the country by those that don’t have permission than we’ve had in some 20 years.” — interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Feb. 17.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect that illegal crossings are the lowest in recent decades, based on Border Patrol arrests, the most widely used gauge. That was true in the 2017 budget year, when Border Patrol arrests along the Mexican border fell to 303,916, the smallest number since 1971. But arrests jumped 31 percent last year, to 396,579. And in the 2019 budget year, which started in October, southern border arrests nearly doubled through January, to 201,497 from 109,543 the same period a year earlier.
Illegal crossings remain relatively low in historical terms but not as low as Becerra claims. California is leading a 16-state coalition in a suit challenging Trump’s power to declare an emergency to steer more money to build a wall along the Mexico border.
DEMS ON ECONOMY
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS of Vermont, announcing his run for president: “We should not have an economy in which tens of millions of workers earn starvation wages.” — email Tuesday to supporters.
THE FACTS: Sanders is overstating his case regarding “starvation wages.”
According to his campaign, he defines “starvation wages” as anything below $15 an hour. But if a family, for example, has two people making $14 an hour each, working full time, that’s roughly $56,000 in household income before taxes. If they live outside large, expensive cities, their costs of living will also be relatively low. The Census Bureau considers a single parent with two children to be poor if they earn less than $19,749, or about $9.90 an hour.
It’s true that many people with jobs are still poor. In 2016, census data showed that 7.2 million people were working, but still lived below the poverty line. It’s also true that a lot of workers — nearly 40 percent, or 60 million — earn less than $15 an hour, according to government data compiled by the liberal Economic Policy Institute. But wages have also been rising in the past several years for lower-income workers, thanks in part to higher minimum wages. For those at the 20th percentile of earnings — meaning that 80 percent of workers earn more — their wages rose 4.8 percent last year, more than any other income group, according to that institute.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: “The average tax refund is down about $170 compared to last year. Let’s call the President’s tax cut what it is: a middle-class tax hike to line the pockets of already wealthy corporations and the 1%.” — tweet Feb. 11.
THE FACTS: She’s wrong to suggest that smaller tax refunds basically amount to a “middle-class tax hike.” The size of a refund doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how much someone is paying in taxes. Many people ended up with less of their taxes withheld from their paychecks in 2018 as a result of Trump’s tax cut. That would result in a smaller refund, but it doesn’t mean they paid more in federal taxes.
Explaining the tweet, a campaign spokeswoman, Kirsten Allen, said “many middle-class families are seeing increases, while the bulk of the benefits go to corporations and the wealthy. And the long term analysis of this bill is that it raises middle-class taxes.” Allen also noted that high-tax states such as California are particularly affected because the new law caps the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000.
Trump’s tax cut did skew to the wealthy, but most middle-income taxpayers should see a tax cut this year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The average taxpayer is expected to get a tax cut of about $1,600 in 2018, the center calculates, with two-thirds of U.S. taxpayers getting a cut and about 6 percent paying more.
TRUMP: “The Mueller investigation is totally conflicted, illegal and rigged! Should never have been allowed to begin, except for the Collusion and many crimes committed by the Democrats. Witch Hunt!” — tweet Feb. 17.
THE FACTS: Trump’s frequent claim that Mueller’s team is “totally conflicted” to the point of being rigged is off the mark.
He’s previously pointed to Mueller’s team, for instance, as “13 angry Democrats,” even though Mueller is a Republican and some others on his team owe their jobs largely to Republican presidents. Some have indeed given money to Democratic candidates over the years. But Mueller could not have barred them from serving on that basis because regulations prohibit the consideration of political affiliation for personnel actions involving career attorneys. Mueller reports to Attorney General William Barr, and before him, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who are both Trump appointees.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel by Rosenstein in May 2017, eight days after Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey and the subsequent disclosure that Trump had encouraged Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comey, which raised questions about possible obstruction of justice. Trump has denied he told Comey to end the Flynn probe.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz in Chicago, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Jill Colvin, Juana Summers and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.