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AP Fact Check: Trump’s shoddy info on Syria, impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump spread shoddy information about Syria, the economy and matters at the heart of the impeachment inquiry against him in a week of caustic rhetoric.

Some examples:

TRUMP, on Hunter Biden, whose father is former Vice President Joe Biden, a Trump political rival: “Guy walks in, no experience, no nothing, walks out with $1.5 billion. Gee, flies in on Air Force 2 with his father, the vice president. … So China gives his son $1.5 billion. How would you like to have Joe Biden take over negotiations right now with China? I don’t think so.” — Minneapolis rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: There’s no evidence Hunter Biden pocketed $1.5 billion from China. More generally, accusations of criminal wrongdoing by father or son are unsubstantiated.

In 2014, an investment fund started by Hunter Biden and other investors joined with foreign and Chinese private equity firms in an effort to raise $1.5 billion to invest outside China. That’s far from giving Hunter Biden such a sum, as Trump describes it.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, told the PolitiFact website that his client was an unpaid director of the fund at the time and it ended up raising less than one-third of its target.

Trump’s attempt to press Ukraine to investigate the Bidens is at the center of the impeachment inquiry into the president’s activities in office; Trump also has called for China to investigate them. Joe Biden is contending for the 2020 Democratic nomination to run against Trump.

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IMPEACHMENT

TRUMP: “Adam should be Impeached!” — tweet Tuesday.

TRUMP, on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: “Nancy Pelosi knew of all of the many Shifty Adam Schiff lies and massive frauds perpetrated upon Congress and the American people, in the form of a fraudulent speech …This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors … I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly ‘Colluded’ with them, must all be immediately Impeached!” — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: There’s no danger that either Schiff or Pelosi, who last month launched impeachment proceedings against Trump, will be impeached themselves. That’s because House members cannot be impeached under the Constitution.

The House does have the power to expel one of its members by a two-thirds vote, but there are little grounds for it based on what Trump alleges.

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks to the committee offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 8, 2019. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks to the committee offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 8, 2019. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump’s reference to a “fraudulent speech” comes from remarks Schiff made last month at a committee hearing, when he mocked the president’s pleas in his July call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Schiff said his remarks were a parody, reflecting the “essence” of what he believed Trump was conveying to Zelenskiy, “shorn of its rambling character.”

Trump routinely mocks critics, as he did in this tweet, and invents dialogue that he attributes to them.

The House has expelled only five of its own, based on charges of members supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War or bribery and corruption.

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SYRIA and TURKEY

TRUMP, on removing U.S. troops from Syria: “I was elected on getting out of these ridiculous endless wars, where our great Military functions as a policing operation to the benefit of people who don’t even like the USA. The two most unhappy countries at this move are Russia & China, because they love seeing us bogged…down.” — tweets Monday.

THE FACTS: That’s a dubious reading of Russia, in particular.

Both Russia and Iran stand to gain from a U.S. troop withdrawal and will probably bide their time until they can move in and retake the area. With their help, Syrian President Bashar Assad has recaptured most of the Syrian territory except for the north and east.

Iran and Russia are both key allies of Assad’s government with troops on the ground in Syria. While they may publicly oppose a Turkish incursion into Syria , they probably don’t mind an operation that diminishes the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.

Some of Turkey’s incursions into Syria appeared to have been coordinated with Russia and Iran.

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TRUMP: “We defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate.” — tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate.” — tweet Monday.

THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading because the Islamic State group still poses a threat.

IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate.

Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

IS controlled large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, where they declared a caliphate in 2014 along with large parts of neighboring Iraq.

U.N. experts warned in August that IS leaders are aiming to consolidate and create conditions for an “eventual resurgence in its Iraqi and Syrian heartlands.”

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TRUMP: “So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, in fact they make the structural steel frame for our F-35 Fighter Jet.” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Actually, Turkey won’t be providing the steel for U.S. F-35 fighter jets much longer.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks withh Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan ahead of the opening ceremony of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018. Photo by Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks withh Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan ahead of the opening ceremony of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018. Photo by Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters

The Trump administration removed Turkey from the F-35 program in July because the Turks refused to cancel the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system that is incompatible with NATO forces. At the time, the White House said the S-400 would compromise the F-35 program and aid Russian intelligence.

As part of that process, the U.S. said it will stop using any Turkish supplies and parts by March.

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TRUMP: “We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, …including capturing thousands of ISIS fighters, mostly from Europe. But Europe did not want them back, they said you keep them USA!” — tweet Monday.

TRUMP: “Most of them came from Europe.” — Minneapolis rally.

THE FACTS: Not true. The foreign fighters captured and being held by the U.S.-allied Kurds are not mostly from Europe, which Trump has argued could easily reclaim them.

Of the more than 12,000 IS fighters in custody in Kurdish areas, only 2,500 are from outside the region of the conflict, some from Europe, some from other parts of the world. But most of captured fighters — about 10,000 — are natives of Syria or Iraq.

Trump has said it will now be up to countries in the region to decide what to do with captured fighters.

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JUDGES

TRUMP, criticizing Barack Obama’s struggle to win confirmation of federal judges as president, contends “they were unable to fill 142 important Federal Judgeships (a record by far), handing them all to me to choose.” — tweet Wednesday.

THE FACTS: First, his number is false. So is his insinuation that Obama couldn’t fill judicial vacancies due to complacency.

It’s true that Trump has a stronger record than Obama so far in picking federal judges. But it was due to unprecedented lack of action by the Republican-controlled Senate on Democrat Obama’s judicial nominees in his last two years in office. That left Trump more vacancies to fill.

Judge Merrick Garland speaks as President Barack Obama applauds after Obama announced him as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 16. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Of the 71 people whom Obama nominated to the district courts and courts of appeals in 2015 and 2016, only 20 were voted on and confirmed, said Russell Wheeler, an expert on judicial nominees at the Brookings Institution. Trump entered office in January 2017 with under 110 vacancies on the federal bench — not 142 as he asserts — about double the number Obama had in 2009.

Trump has since been aided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has pushed through Trump’s nominations of appeals court judges in particular.

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ECONOMY

TRUMP: “If our opponent had won that election, you know what would have happened? Right now, China would be the No. 1 economy anywhere in the world. And right now, I can tell you, they’re not even close.” — Minneapolis rally.

TRUMP: “So I think China might have caught us if my opponent had gotten in. By now, they would have caught us. And now it’s going to be a long time before they catch us, if they ever catch us. I don’t think anybody is going to catch us.” — remarks Monday on trade .

THE FACTS: No matter who got elected in 2016 — Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton — there is no way China’s economy would have caught up with America’s by now.

Even if the U.S. economy hadn’t grown at all since 2016, China’s gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — would have had to have surged a fantastical 79% in three years to have pulled even with America’s. That comes to growth of more than 21% a year — something even China’s super-charged economy has never approached.

Moreover, despite Trump’s suggestion that China can’t ever catch up, the Chinese economy continues to slowly narrow the gap because every year it grows much faster than America’s. In 2019, for example, the International Monetary Fund expects Chinese GDP to increase 6.2%, more than double the 2.6% growth it expects for the United States.

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RONNA MCDANIEL, Republican National Committee chair: “New data is out on median income growth: Under Barack Obama, incomes rose $11 a month. Under @realDonaldTrump, incomes are rising at $161 a month. That’s huge!” — tweet Monday, retweeted by Trump.

THE FACTS: This comparison is misleading.

McDaniel didn’t provide her data source. But her statement obscures the track records of both presidents and the economic conditions that their administrations inherited.

For the first two full years of Trump’s presidency, the Census Bureau shows that median household income has been growing by a monthly average of $58, to $63,179 in 2018. That’s almost one-third of what claimed in McDaniel’s tweet.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump repeatedly prodded Ukraine's new leader to work with the U.S. attorney general and lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript summarizing the call released Wednesday. In the call, Trump raised allegations, without citing any evidence, that the former vice president sought to interfere with a Ukrainian prosecutor's investigation of his son Hunter. "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that," Trump said to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The conversation between the two leaders is one piece of a whistleblower's complaint, which followed the July 25 call. The complaint is central to the formal impeachment inquiry launched Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The White House account of the call reveals that Trump was willing to engage a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political foe and he goes so far as to volunteer his attorney general to help. But Trump appears to stop short in the call of any explicit quid pro quo, such as linking Ukraine's help to American military aid or other assistance. Days before the call, Trump froze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine. It was not clear from the summary whether Zelenskiy was aware of that. The president has insisted he did nothing wrong and has denied that any request for help was tied to the aid freeze. It's illegal under federal law to seek foreign government assistance for U.S. elections. The release of the rough transcript sets the parameters of the political debate to come. Trump, at the U.N. on Wednesday, dismissed it and said as he often does that's he's the victim of "the single greatest witch hunt in American history." Democrats say it lays the groundwork for the congressional impeachment inquiry. Trump aides believed that his oblique, message-by-suggestion style of speaking would not lend itself to the discovery of a "smoking gun" in Wednesday's summary. His previous messages to his staff were at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into obstruction of justice in the Trump-Russia case. One example in the summary: Trump says to Zelenskiy, "I would like for you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it." In the conversation, Trump doesn't distinguish between the roles of Giuliani, his personal attorney and political ally, and Barr, who as the nation's top law enforcement officer is supposed to be above the political fray. Barr has been a staunch defender of Trump, most notably during the Mueller investigation. "Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man, he was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you," Trump said, according to the call summary. "I will ask him to call you along with the attorney general." Immediately after saying Giuliani and Barr would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine's economy, saying: "Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country." It's not the first time Trump has sought foreign assistance to undermine a political rival. He publicly asked Russia to find missing Hillary Clinton emails in 2016, but this is his first documented time doing so while president with the weight of the U.S. government at his disposal. The president took the 30-minute call from the White House residence, while officials in the Situation Room listened in and worked to keep a record of the conversation, as is standard practice. They used voice recognition software, but the call was not recorded. Trump ordered the document declassified Tuesday. The release came against the backdrop of the president presiding over a meeting of world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. The inspector general for the intelligence community wrote to the acting Director of National Intelligence in August that he believed the conversation between Trump and Ukraine's leader could have been a federal campaign finance violation because the president could have been soliciting a campaign contribution from a foreign government, a Justice Department official said. The whistleblower — a member of the intelligence community — said in their complaint that they had heard the information from "White House officials," but did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, the Justice Department official said. Prosecutors from the department reviewed a transcript of the call and determined the president did not violate campaign finance law. The determination was made based on the elements of the allegation, and there was no consideration of the department's policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal investigative deliberations. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the attorney general was first notified of Trump's conversation with the Ukrainian president "several weeks after the call took place," when the department received the referral about potential criminal conduct. "The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The president has not asked the attorney general to contact Ukraine -- on this or any other matter," the spokeswoman said. Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son. Lawmakers have been demanding details of the whistleblower's complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege. He is to testify Thursday before the House, and lawmakers are expected to have access to details of the complaint beforehand in a classified setting. The complaint has set off a stunning turn of American political events, leading Pelosi to yield to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats on the impeachment inquiry. Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support. ___ Associated Press Writers Eric Tucker, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 20, 2019. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

Under Obama, incomes rose at a monthly average of only $31. But that average includes Obama’s first term, when the economy was dealing with the ravages from the Great Recession that began before he became president. Trump took office at a moment when the economy was relatively healthy.

Obama’s track record improved sharply after 2012, as the recovery took hold. Median incomes during that period rose at a monthly average of $122. That is more than double the income growth during Trump’s first two years.

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TRUMP: “As you know, in addition to what we’re talking about today, they’re building — Japan — many car plants in the United States, which they weren’t doing for a long time. And they’re building in Michigan, Ohio, lots of different states. And we just appreciate it very much. Been a tremendous investment.” — remarks Monday on trade.

THE FACTS: Not true. Japanese automakers are not building “many” car plants in the U.S. No Japanese automakers are building assembly plants in Michigan, and Honda is making only a small investment at an existing facility in Anna, Ohio, near Dayton. Honda has announced it will build a hybrid SUV at a factory in Greensburg, Indiana, but that investment is $4.2 million and will add 34 new jobs.

The only major assembly plant being built now by Japanese automakers in the U.S. is the Toyota-Mazda factory in Alabama, which is expected to employ 4,000 people and will start producing vehicles in 2021.

Normally, parts-making companies set up operations in or near the main assembly plant, and that’s happening in Huntsville. Six companies are investing about $491 million in the area, creating an expected 1,765 jobs, according to Toyota.

Earlier this year, Japanese truck maker Hino opened a new assembly plant in Mineral Wells, West Virginia, investing $100 million and creating 250 jobs. It replaced an older facility that also was in West Virginia.

Trump is also wrong to suggest recent construction from Japanese car companies in the U.S. is somehow new. Japanese automakers have been building in the U.S. since the 1970s and have expanded manufacturing over the years. The companies have announced millions in investments to retool existing plants to make new models.

Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman, Josh Boak, Robert Burns, Christopher Rugaber and Stephen Braun in Washington, Tom Krisher in Detroit and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

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