Fact checking this week in the Trump administration

President  Trump speaks on the phone with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, during the first official phone talks in the Oval Office last Saturday.
President Trump speaks on the phone with Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, during the first official phone talks in the Oval Office last Saturday.

It's only the second week of the Trump administration, but there has been a continued tension with facts. In his first week, the president boasted about his inaugural crowds and doubled down on false claims that there were millions of illegal voters who swayed the results of the popular vote.

This week, the White House pushed back on claims about the immigration and travel ban the president signed; an adviser used a Kentucky massacre that never occurred to make an argument; the press secretary thundered over (non-)"identical" National Security Councils; and the president referred to refugees as "illegal immigrants" and kept touting the size of his electoral win, including support from black voters and Latinos.


1. "It really is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level." — senior administration official Sunday on the travel/immigration ban and its implementation Scenes at major international U.S. airports in the U.S. showed the implementation of the order rocky. There was confusion about whether it applied to green card holders and U.S. legal residents. A 5-year-old boy was detained for hours. More than a dozen congressional Republicans broke ranks and criticized the rollout of the order, even Trump allies.

"We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green-card holders," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement.

Some agencies or officials who would be tasked with implementing it weren't briefed with sufficient time before the order was signed.

Trump defended that in a tweet saying he didn't want to give bad dudes a heads up:

2. "These seven countries, what about the 46 majority-Muslim countries that are not included. Right there, it totally undercuts this nonsense that this is a Muslim ban." — White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Fox News Sunday It's true that the words Muslim or Christian never appear in the executive order. And it's true that it doesn't ban all Muslims around the world. But the order does effectively ban Muslims from seven majority-Muslim countries and prioritizes Christians (and conceivably other religious minorities). Trump himself in December 2015 called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." Trump supporter and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News on Sunday that Trump originally wanted a Muslim ban but asked how to do it legally so it became about dangerous countries instead of religion.

"When he first announced it," Giuliani said, "he said, 'Muslim ban.' He called me up, he said, 'Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it — legally.' "

Trump himself stressed in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Christians would get special priority. The countries on the list are not just majority-Muslim; they are all almost entirely Muslim, as the Boston Globe's Matt Viser pointed out: 3. "My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror." -- President Trump, in a statement on Facebook defending his policy The Trump administration defended its choice of the seven countries by pointing out that the Obama administration had identified them as "countries of concern," but unlike Trump's order, Obama's did not bar people from entering the U.S.

The Obama change stemmed from two Iraqis who were arrested in Kentucky (more on that later in the week). Their fingerprints were found in Iraq on an improvised explosive device targeting Americans. That caused the Obama administration to slow down the process of admitting Iraqis, but it never stopped it.

4. "I mean New York Times has called me wrong from the beginning. They actually apologized to their readers. They lost a lot of subscriptions because — not because the readers even like me. They say 'how inaccurate could you be?' " — Trump, in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network on Sunday Trump has made similar claims about the Times "apologizing" before, but such claims continue to not be true. As we recently wrote in a fact check about a Trump tweet:

"New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Executive Editor Dean Baquet did write a letter to readers after the surprising election conclusion examining the paper's coverage. In the note, they acknowledged that 'after such an erratic and unpredictable election there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump's sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?' And a column from the paper's public editor (or ombudsman), Liz Spayd, pointed out problems with its data/forecasting vertical that predicted that Hillary Clinton had an 80 percent chance of winning the election. She also argued that the paper's reporters could have done a better job of tapping into 'the sentiments of Trump supporters.' "

However, neither of those pieces constitutes an apology.

5. "And we did better with the Latino community. ... Better than Romney, better than just about for a long way." — Trump to CBN, Sunday Trump received 28 percent of the Latino vote, according to 2016 exit poll data compiled by CNN. Romney received 27 percent of the Latino vote in 2012. The margin of error on each of those polls is plus or minus 3 percentage points, according to Edison Research, the organization that conducted the polls. As far as performing better with Hispanics than past candidates, that's not really true, either. John McCain received 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, and in 2004, George W. Bush received 44 percent of the Latino vote — a figure that is often pointed to as a high-water mark for Republicans with that demographic. 6. "And the Cuban-Americans, I got 84 percent of that vote. And they voted in big numbers." — Trump to CBN, Sunday It's not clear where Trump got this number. It's true that Cuban-Americans tend to be more conservative than other Latino voters. But at least in the state with by far the most Cuban-Americans, the Trump share of the vote wasn't nearly this high. According to the Pew Research Center, just over half (54 percent) of Cuban-Americans in Florida — home to two-thirds of all Cuban-American eligible voters — voted for Trump. In fact, Cuban-American voters have grown less Republican over the years. According to Pew, nearly two-thirds of Cuban-Americans were Republican or Republican-leaning as of 2002. As of 2013, it was just 47 percent.

NPR has reached out to the White House for a source on this figure but did not receive a response.


7. The president tweeted blame at Delta Airlines on Monday.

But while Delta did experience an outage that affected many flights on the ground, that problem was reported on Sunday night. Those delays began well after protests started breaking out at airports across the country on Saturday in response to Trump's executive order on refugees, which was issued on Friday. 8. "The Principals Committee is merely the NSC minus the president. The idea is that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the DNI are being downgraded or removed is utter nonsense." -- Spicer on Monday The Principals Committee under George W. Bush, whom Spicer referenced in his briefing, indeed did not specifically include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the director of national intelligence (or, at the time, the director of central intelligence, as the DNI did not exist yet). Rather, the Principals Committee said that the DCI and chairman would "attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise" were going to be discussed, as NPR's Domenico Montanaro pointed out in a fact check this week. However, the DNI and chairman were regular members under the Obama administration, according to one February 2009 memo. Here is the text of that list:

"The NSC Principals Committee (NSC/PC) will continue to be the senior interagency forum for consideration of policy issues affecting national security, as it has been since 1989. The National Security Advisor shall serve as Chair, and its regular members will be the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

The latest action from the White House is clearly different, moving the DNI and chairman back to attendees only at certain meetings:

"The PC shall have as its regular attendees the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, the National Security Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed. The Counsel to the President, the Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget may attend all PC meetings."

In addition, Stephen Bannon, the president's chief strategist, is now a regular attendee of the Principals Committee. That is one big way in which Trump's NSC really is not like Obama's or Bush's. 9. "He's aware of what people have been saying. But I think, by and large, he's been praised for it." — Spicer at Monday's press briefing, referring to the White House Holocaust Remembrance Statement that left out any mention of the Jewish people Only white nationalists were celebrating the carefully parsed statement, with controversial alt-right leader Richard Spencer praising it as the "de-Judification of the Holocaust." According to Politico, the White House even nixed a State Department statement that did mention Jewish victims. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks defended the wording of the original statement, noting that while 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, 5 million others were also killed, including "priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah's Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters."

That is true, but the express purpose of the Holocaust was to exterminate the Jewish people, and minimizing that has been the goal of Holocaust deniers, white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The Holocaust Memorial Museum criticized the statement, noting that "Millions of other innocent civilians were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, but the elimination of Jews was central to Nazi policy." The Republican Jewish Coalition (which is heavily backed by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson) also called out the wording, saying, "The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission. History unambiguously shows the purpose of the Nazis' final solution was the extermination of the Jews of Europe. We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust."


10. "It's not a Muslim ban. It's not a travel ban. It's a vetting system to keep America safe." — Spicer briefing, Tuesday Several administration officials — including Spicer — called this a travel ban, as this CNN video shows. President Trump himself tweeted that it was a ban, though Spicer claimed that was because "he's using he words that the media is using." In a tweet one day after Spicer tried to make this factually inaccurate defense, Trump again called it a ban.


11. "If you remember I wasn't going to do well with the African-American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting — and I won't go into details — but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years." — Trump remarks at an African American History Month listening session, Wednesday

Trump received 8 percent of the African-American vote in 2016, compared with the 6 percent received by Mitt Romney in 2012 and the 4 percent received by McCain in 2008. So he registered better numbers with African-Americans than the past two Republican candidates. However, George W. Bush received the support of 11 percent of African-Americans in 2004 and 9 percent in 2000. So Trump isn't right here. Given margins of error, Trump performed roughly as well as the last handful of Republican candidates with African-American voters — perhaps better than Obama's opponents did, but nothing out of the ordinary.

12. Trump tweeted of "thousands of illegal immigrants" that the Obama administration agreed to take in from Australia.

But, as we explained over at our Tweet annotator, they are neither "thousands" nor "illegal immigrants."

There are about 1,250 people, who are seeking asylum — refugees who have fled their home countries seeking safety — many of whom are children.

NPR's Two-Way blog has more.


13. "It's hard to ever call something a complete success, when you have the loss of life or people injured, but I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life ... it is a successful operation by all standards."Spicer on Thursday That is starkly different from the way the New York Times described it the day before. "As it turned out," Eric Schmitt and David Sanger wrote, "almost everything that could go wrong did." CENTCOM said the U.S. recovered information helpful to counterterrorism analysts. Spicer said the operation yielded valuable intelligence about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. But NPR's Alice Fordham and Tom Bowman reported that "local witnesses disputed that, saying the special operations troops never entered any buildings to take any computers or documents."


"The U.S. military has opened an investigation, and U.S. military officials tell NPR that civilians were indeed among the victims. Taken together, claims and counterclaims from the U.S. military and local residents described a chaotic operation, one that drew sharp criticism from Yemeni officials who usually support the U.S. The aftermath of the raid shows the potential dangers if the U.S. military relaxes its current restrictions about using force and protecting civilians, which President Trump has asked the Pentagon to review."

The Times:

"The death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens came after a chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed. There are allegations — which the Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday night are most likely correct — that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children. ...

"[T]he mission's casualties raise doubts about the months of detailed planning that went into the operation during the Obama administration and whether the right questions were raised before its approval. Typically, the president's advisers lay out the risks, but Pentagon officials declined to characterize any discussions with Mr. Trump."

14. "I bet, there was very little coverage — I bet it's brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized — and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. I mean, most people don't know that because it didn't get covered."Conway on MSNBC's Hardball, Thursday.

There was no "Bowling Green massacre" at all, and Conway has acknowledged she misspoke. She asked for "grace" for the mistake.

Conway was referring to the two Iraqi refugees referenced in Point 3. But neither had planned or executed an attack in Kentucky. Conway's further assertion that President Obama had a six-month ban on Iraqi refugees is also false. The White House slowed down the approval process but did not halt it altogether. (In her tweet, she also notes something repeatedly used by Trump and others in the administration — a mistake a Time reporter made, reporting that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. He quickly corrected the mistake.) NPR's Sarah McCammon and Domenico Montanaro contributed to this report.
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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