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Q: Is Robert S. Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, an “Obama holdover”?
A: No. Khuzami served under Democratic and Republican administrations, but he left government in 2013. He returned to public service this year when he was hired by the Trump administration.
Robert S. Khuzami — the man leading the investigation into President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen — has received considerable media attention this month.
But contrary to reports circulating on Facebook, Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is not an “Obama holdover” — a term used to describe an administration official who remains on staff even after a new president takes office.
Khuzami did serve as the director of enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission during the Obama administration. But he left government in 2013 and did not return to public service until earlier this year, when Geoffrey S. Berman, the interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, tapped Khuzami to become his deputy. Berman himself was appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a member of Trump’s cabinet.
So Facebook users were right to flag as false an April 14 story on gellerreport.com that carried the headline “Obama Holdover Accused of Corruption Approved Trump Lawyer Raid.” That story originated on frontpagemag.com, a website operated by the conservative center of controversial author and political activist David Horowitz. Thousands of people have shared the links to the posts, and commenters on social media expressed dismay and outrage over Khuzami, who one man called a “swamp dweller.”
In reality, Khuzami cemented a career in public service long before Obama’s presidency: From 1990 to 2002, during Republican and Democratic administrations, he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he took on cases involving financial crimes and terrorism targeting landmarks in New York City. After that, Khuzami was Deutsche Bank’s general counsel for the Americas before he was named to his position at the SEC in 2009.
Now, as the second-highest prosecutor in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, Khuzami is leading the investigation into Cohen’s activities. (It’s widely reported that Berman recused himself, but the precise reason for that isn’t clear.)
A recent federal court filing by Khuzami described the case as a grand jury investigation being handled by his office and the FBI into “criminal conduct that largely centers on (Cohen’s) personal business dealings.”
The Cohen investigation burst into public view on April 9, when FBI agents raided Cohen’s office in Manhattan. News reports indicate that among the documents sought were those related to nondisclosure agreements made with women who have publicly alleged affairs with Trump.
Multiple media reports say that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed off on the raid, and Khuzami’s filing makes clear that the searches also were authorized by a federal magistrate judge who determined that investigators had probable cause.
Khuzami’s filing also confirms that the case was referred to his office by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials who sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The story calling Khuzami an “Obama holdover” does correctly note that Khuzami spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2004, where he praised the Patriot Act, and that he donated to Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
But, the author opines, the “much more significant factor is his SEC gig.” The story then cherry-picks information to allege that Khuzami has a history of corruption.
For example, it cites a story about an SEC inspector general’s report that dealt with a complaint that Khuzami had “forced” his staff to drop fraud charges against Citigroup officials. The Citigroup case centered on allegations that the bank misled investors about its exposure to subprime securities.
But the story cited omits the inspector general’s conclusion: The investigation “did not find evidence substantiating the claims in the January 3, 2011 anonymous complaint, alleging ‘serious problems with special access and preferential treatment’ at the SEC.”
The report said that settlements paid by Citigroup officials “were part of a negotiation process that involved several members of the Enforcement staff working collectively on the Citigroup investigation.”
Another part of the story about Khuzami resurrects a controversy surrounding the destruction of certain SEC files, in particular those related to “matters under inquiry” — initial reviews that could potentially become investigations — that never evolved into full investigations.
After an SEC whistleblower contacted the National Archives and Records Administration in 2010 about the agency destroying such files, the SEC stopped the practice and worked with NARA to develop new policies for records retention.
Although that issue raised questions about the SEC’s policing of Wall Street, it began well before Khuzami’s time there: In a September 2011 letter to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, Khuzami noted that the discarding of those files dated back to at least 1998. He also said that certain information about those matters under inquiry — even those that did not grow into full probes — had been kept electronically, dating back about 20 years.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
“About.” Frontpage Mag. Accessed 17 Apr 2018.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions Appoints Geoffrey S. Berman As Interim United States Attorney.” Press release. U.S. Department of Justice. 3 Jan 2018.
“Former SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami Joins Kirkland & Ellis.” Press release. Kirkland & Ellis LLP. 23 July 2013.
Gellar, Pamela. “Obama Holdover Accused of Corruption Approved Trump Lawyer Raid.” Gellarrport.com. 14 Apr 2018.
Khuzami, Robert S. Letter to Honorable Charles E. Grassley, ranking member, Judiciary Committee. 14 Sep 2011.
Lynch, Sarah N. “SEC says no probes hurt by destroyed records.” Reuters. 14 Sep 2011.
“Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces The Appointment Of Deputy U.S. Attorney.” Press release. U.S. Department of Justice. 5 Jan 2018.
“Michael Cohen search warrant documents mentioned Trump by name.” CBS News. 11 Apr 2018.
Michael D. Cohen v. United States of America. 1:18-mj-03161-KMW. U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. “The Government’s Opposition to Michael Cohen’s Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order.” 13 Apr 2018.
“Presidential Donor Lookup Results.” OpenSecrets.org. Accessed 16 Apr 2018.
“Republican National Convention Day 1 Evening, Aug 30 2004 | Video.” C-Span. 30 Aug 2004.
“Robert Khuzami Named SEC Director of Enforcement.” Press release. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 19 Feb 2009.
Shear, Michael D., et. al. “Raids on Trump’s Lawyer Sought Records of Payments to Women.” The New York Times. 10 Apr 2018.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of Inspector General. “Report of Investigation: Investigation into Allegations of Improper Preferential Treatment and Special Access in Connection with the Division of Enforcement’s Investigation of Citigroup, Inc.” 27 Sep 2011.
Weiser, Benjamin and Ben Protess. “Independent New York Prosecutors Pose Potential Risk for Trump.” The New York Times. 15 Apr 2018.
Q: Can U.S. residents collect “M.A.G.A. Checks”?
A: No. A “M.A.G.A. Check” is the invention of a publisher selling an investment guide that makes promises of easy money.
There is no evidence of any public or private program offering a “M.A.G.A. Check.”
But a story posted on a website called magachecks.com has been circulating on Facebook claiming that President Donald Trump has passed a law resulting in “massive payouts” named for his campaign slogan — Make America Great Again. Users of the social media site flagged it as potentially false.
The story is actually a sales pitch for a monthly investment newsletter called “True Wealth.”
The sales pitch makes lofty promises of easy money. It consists of vague references to unnamed government programs and testimonials from people with single syllable first names and a last initial — like “Jim G.,” who, it claims, is “on pace to collect $5,295 in ‘M.A.G.A. checks’ before the year is over” and “Bob A.,” who is supposedly expecting to collect $2,400.
For example, it claims – without any supporting evidence – that Trump brought back a 1960s-era law that allowed real estate companies to pay “practically ZERO Federal income taxes.” The publisher promises “big cash payments” to subscribers who invest in these “cash-rich companies.”
“In this special report, I’ll tell you what I believe are the 4 most stable, reliable and cash-rich companies in the M.A.G.A. program today – ones that regularly dole out big cash payments to their shareholders,” the sales pitch says.
The publisher also refers to coverage of the program on major financial sites, but those articles don’t actually exist. For example, the sales pitch claims that Forbes “called the income from ‘M.A.G.A. Checks’, ‘very reliable and repeatable.'” But a search of Forbes‘ website shows that the publication has made no mention of “M.A.G.A. Checks” anywhere, let alone calling them “reliable.” Similarly, the sales pitch claims that Nasdaq.com said, “‘M.A.G.A Checks’ will soar in 2018.” Again, a search of the site shows no mention of “M.A.G.A. Checks.”
According to domain registry records, the site that posted the sales pitch is owned by Stansberry & Associates Investment Research.
Stansberry & Associates used to be called Pirate Investor, but changed its name in 2005 after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a suit in federal court alleging that the company had run a scheme to defraud its subscribers. In August 2007, the court found that Pirate Investor and its editor, Frank Porter Stansberry, had defrauded subscribers by selling a false stock tip and ordered them to pay back $1.3 million, plus $240,000 in penalties.
U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis wrote in that decision: “Stansberry’s conduct undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud, making statements that he knew to be false; Pirate acted in reckless disregard of regulations when it published Stansberry’s unbelievable claims without a shred of confirmation.”
Stansberry is still an editor at the company, according to its website.
The Social Security Administration also has had at least two run-ins with Stansberry & Associates, according to reports to Congress from the Office of the Inspector General. First, in 2006, the OIG had received complaints that the company was claiming that there was a program called “Upper Social Security” that would allow a person to collect “10-times more than ‘ordinary’ Social Security.” The company agreed to stop using the phrase. Then, in 2011, Stansberry & Associates paid $55,000 to settle a claim for misleading advertising in a publication called “Get Social Security No Matter What Your Age” — the company admitted no wrongdoing in that settlement.
Stansberry & Associates also has generated more than 100 complaints to the Better Business Bureau, with many consumers saying that they had purchased a single book and were later charged $149 for a subscription that they hadn’t authorized — 85 percent of the reviews for the company are negative.
Spokesmen for both the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that they hadn’t heard of any program issuing “M.A.G.A. checks” and cautioned consumers about investing in anything that sounds too good to be true.
Similarly, Kimberly Burham, managing director of legislation and special projects at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, had heard of no such program.
Although the story makes unrestrained claims, such as, “This is a no brainer if you want monthly checks rolling in like clockwork,” the writer was unwilling to explain to us the basis of those claims. Steve Sjuggerud, the author of the story, did not respond to multiple calls for comment.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
Sjuggerud, Steve. “Can ‘M.A.G.A. Checks’ Really Make America Great Again!?” Magachecks.com. Apr 2018.
State of Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation. Articles of Amendment for a Limited Liability Company — Pirate Investor. 24 Oct 2005.
United States Securities And Exchange Commission v. Agora, Inc., Pirate Investor, LLC. Complaint. U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. 10 Apr 2003.
United States Securities And Exchange Commission v. Agora, Inc., et al. Memorandum of Decision. U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. 3 Aug 2007.
Social Security Administration. “Semiannual Report to Congress.” Office of the Inspector General. 1 Oct 2005 – 31 Mar 2006.
Social Security Administration. “Semiannual Report to Congress.” Office of the Inspector General. 1 Apr 2011 – 30 Sep 2011.
Better Business Bureau. Reviews & Complaints. Stansberry & Associates Investment Research, LLC. Accessed 16 Apr 2018.
On April 12 and 13, President Donald Trump’s approval rating, according to the Rasmussen Reports, was 50 percent. At the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency, Obama’s approval rating per Rasmussen was 48 percent and 49 percent. But Trump inaccurately described his poll number as “much higher than President Obama at the same point.”
The margin of error for the latest Rasmussen daily tracking poll is plus or minus 2.5 percent, which means Trump’s approval rating could fall somewhere between 47.5 percent and 52.5 percent.
Trump tweeted on April 15 that he had “just hit 50% in the Rasmussen Poll.”
Just hit 50% in the Rasmussen Poll, much higher than President Obama at same point. With all of the phony stories and Fake News, it’s hard to believe! Thank you America, we are doing Great Things.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Trump actually has hit 50 percent, and higher, several times in the Rasmussen poll. Trump started with 56 percent of likely voters approving of his performance according to Rasmussen on Jan. 20, 2017, when he was inaugurated, and hit a high point of 59 percent six days later.
Obama started his time in office on Jan. 20, 2009, with a 67 percent approval according to Rasmussen.
Here’s how the two presidents’ approval numbers compare, according to just this one poll.
The latest Rasmussen figures show Trump at 49 percent on April 17 and Obama at 45 percent at the same point in his presidency.
Among 88 polls released this year, Rasmussen has the highest approval rating for Trump, according to Real Clear Politics. Three other recent polls have Trump’s latest approval as low as 39 percent: Gallup, NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Reuters/Ipsos. All three polls were taken this month.
If we look at Real Clear Politics’ average of polling data, Trump’s latest approval rating is 42.1 percent, a bit below the average of 44.3 percent on Jan. 27, 2017, a week after he took the oath of office.
Obama, meanwhile, had an average approval of 63.3 percent on Jan. 27, 2009, and an average of 47.7 percent on April 17, 2010, according to RCP.
FiveThirtyEight provides a weighted average of presidential approval polls and compares Trump’s figures with those of past presidents, going back to Harry S. Truman.
House Speaker Paul Ryan misleadingly claimed that corporate tax revenues are “still rising,” even though the 2017 tax law cut tax rates. In the first six months of fiscal year 2018, corporate tax receipts have declined by 22.3 percent from a year ago. Revenues are also projected to be less over the next 10 years than they otherwise would have been because of the law.
Ryan, who recently announced he is leaving Congress in January 2019, discussed his legacy as speaker during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Ryan pointed to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017, as an example of his achievements.
The bill, among other things, reduced the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, effective in the 2018 tax year.
Host Chuck Todd asked Ryan to respond to criticism that the Republican “tax bill spiked the deficit.” The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the fiscal year 2018 deficit will total $804 billion — $139 billion more than in fiscal 2017.
In response, Ryan blamed rising deficits on mandatory spending. He went on to claim that corporate tax revenues are “still rising,” even though the rate “dropped 40 percent.”
Todd, April 15: I want you to respond to something Bob Corker said. He said this: “This Congress and this administration likely will go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible administrations and Congresses that we ever had.” And he’s referring to the fact that this tax bill spiked the deficit. It’s higher than even what was projected. And as — we’re gonna get trillion dollar, you walk away with trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see —
Ryan: That was going to happen. The baby boomers’ retiring was going to do that. These deficit trillion-dollar projections have been out there for a long, long time. Why? Because of mandatory spending, which we call entitlements. Discretionary spending under the CBO baseline is going up about $300 billion over the next 10 years. Tax revenues are still rising. Income tax revenues are still rising. Corporate income tax revenues. Corporate rate got dropped 40 percent, still rising.
Ryan is right that $1 trillion deficit projections “have been out there for a long, long time.” In a June 2017 report, before the tax bill became law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the federal deficit would top $1 trillion in fiscal year 2022 and remain above that level. It’s also true that overall tax revenues are up for the first six months of fiscal year 2018.
But corporate tax revenues are down for the first six months of the fiscal year, and they are projected to be less over the next 10 years than they otherwise would have been because of the law. In fact, revenues in general will be less than they otherwise would be — resulting in even larger projected deficits. The CBO now projects $1 trillion annual deficits starting in FY2020.
Each month, the CBO issues an analysis of federal spending and tax revenue collections for the previous month and the fiscal year to date — a report known as the Monthly Budget Review.
In its most recent report on April 6, CBO said total tax receipts were up 2 percent in the first half of fiscal year 2018, from October to March, compared with the same six-month period in fiscal year 2017.
However, that same report said corporate tax revenues for the first six months of the year were down $22 billion – a 22.3 percent decline from the first six months of fiscal year 2017.
Corporate tax revenues declined $10 billion in the final three months of calendar year 2017, from October to December, and fell an additional $12 billion in the first three months of 2018, from January to March, for a total cumulative drop of about $22 billion, according to the CBO monthly reports.
In its latest Budget and Economic Outlook report, which projects spending and revenue for 10 years, the CBO said it expects “corporate tax receipts to fall by $54 billion in 2018, to 1.2 percent of GDP, largely because of the enactment of the 2017 tax act.”
CBO projects the federal government will take in $243 billion in corporate tax receipts in fiscal 2018 and $276 billion in fiscal 2019 — both below the $297 billion that the federal government collected from corporations in fiscal 2017. (See Table 3-1.)
In an email, Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong told us that the speaker was referring to revenues over a 10-year budget window. She said corporate tax revenue “will nearly double between 2018 and 2028 – from $243 billion to $448 billion,” citing the CBO’s economic outlook report.
Actually, the increase is about 50 percent, not double, when measured from fiscal year 2017 – before the tax laws changed. Also, CBO projects tax revenues will be less than what the government otherwise would have collected from corporations if the tax laws did not change.
Over the next 10 fiscal years, from 2018 to 2027, CBO projects that the federal government will take in about $409 billion less in corporate income tax revenue because of legislative changes, mostly those in the new tax law.
“CBO also reduced its projection of corporate tax revenues — by $94 billion in 2018, and by $409 billion over the 2018–2027 period — to reflect legislative changes,” CBO said in the Budget and Economic Outlook, which was released earlier this month. “Most of that reduction is attributable to the 2017 tax act, which modified the corporate income tax system in many important ways.”
That $409 billion estimate does not include the potential economic benefits of reducing tax rates. However, when factoring in the economic effects of the new tax law (plus $476 billion) and other technical revisions related to the tax law (minus $333 billion), the CBO estimates a net drop of $266 billion in corporate tax revenue relative to what the government would have collected over 10 years without the 2017 tax law. (See Table A-1.)
Overall, CBO says the new tax law “increases the total projected deficit over the 2018–2028 period by about $1.9 trillion,” mostly because of a reduction in individual income tax revenue and an increase in debt service.
Mark Mazur, director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, told us in a phone interview that there may be months or even years when corporate tax revenues increase. There were so many corporate tax changes in the 2017 law that “it’s uncertain when the dollars will show up” in federal coffers. But he said over time the federal government will take in less corporate tax revenue as a result of the new tax law.
“The whole point of this is to cut corporate taxes,” Mazur said.
Update, April 16: Ryan’s office responded to us after we posted this item. We have updated our story to reflect its response.
In the time Donald Trump has been in the White House:
- Job growth slowed, but unemployment still sank to the lowest rate in 17 years.
- Economic growth quickened to 2.3 percent last year, but that was roughly half the rate Trump promised.
- The growth of federal regulations slowed markedly.
- The number of murders continued to rise, going up 1.5 percent during the first six months of 2017.
- Illegal border crossings dropped 40 percent — but are on the rise again.
- Corporate profits set a new record; wages rose 1.2 percent after inflation.
- Home prices rose 6.4 percent — nearly triple the rate of inflation.
- Stock prices soared; the S&P 500 index rose 17 percent, despite recent turmoil.
- The U.S. trade deficit grew nearly 17 percent larger, despite Trump’s promise to reduce it.
- The federal debt rose 6.9 percent, and annual federal deficits worsened.
This is our first quarterly update of the “Trump’s Numbers” scorecard that we posted in January. We’ll publish additional updates every three months, as fresh statistics become available.
As always, starting when we posted our first “Obama’s Numbers” article more than five years ago — and in the quarterly updates and final summary that followed — we’ve included statistics that may seem good or bad or just neutral, depending on the reader’s point of view.
We’ll say again, opinions will differ on how much credit or blame a president deserves for things that happen during his time in office. And we urge readers to be aware that some changes that have happened already during Trump’s time in office won’t show up in statistics until later updates. FBI crime figures for all of last year won’t be available until later this year, and the same goes for Census Bureau poverty and household income figures for 2017. We’ll cover those and more in quarterly updates to come.
Jobs and Unemployment
Job growth has slowed since Trump took office, but unemployment dropped to the lowest level in 17 years. Job-seekers became more scarce, and employers struggled to find workers.
Employment — Total nonfarm employment grew by more than 2.5 million during the president’s first 14 months in office, according to the most recent figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s steady, solid growth to be sure, continuing an unbroken chain of monthly gains in total employment that started in October 2010.
But the average monthly gain under Trump is 181,000 jobs, which is nearly 17 percent below the monthly average of 217,000 during Obama’s second term.
Trump will have to pick up the pace if he is to fulfill his campaign boast that he will be “the greatest jobs creation president that God ever created.”
Unemployment — One reason for the slowdown in job growth: fewer job-seekers. The unemployment rate — which was well below the historical norm when Trump took office — has continued to fall even lower, to the lowest point in 17 years.
The rate was 4.8 percent when he was sworn in, and Janet Yellen, then chair of the Federal Reserve, said the economy at the time was already close to what economists consider “full employment.”
Under Trump, the jobless rate fell further — to 4.1 percent in October, where it has remained for six months. That’s the lowest the rate has been since it hit 3.9 percent for four months in 2000, at the end of the dotcom boom.
The rate also is well below the historical norm of 5.6 percent, which is the median monthly rate for all the months since the start of 1948. The lowest unemployment rate ever recorded was in 1953, when the rate was 2.5 percent for a couple of months.
Job Openings — Another reason employment growth has slowed is a worsening shortage of workers. The number of unfilled job openings hit a new record of more than 6.2 million in September last year — the most in the 17 years the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking them.
It has since slipped back to below 6.1 million in February, the most recent month on record. But that’s still a gain of 608,000 — or 11.2 percent — since Trump took office.
Labor Force Participation — The labor force participation rate — which went down 2.8 percentage points during the Obama years — has remained essentially unchanged under Trump.
Republicans often criticized Obama for the decline even though it was due mostly to the post-World War II baby boomers reaching retirement age, and other demographic factors beyond the control of any president.
Since Trump took office the rate has fluctuated in a narrow range between 63.0 percent and 62.7 percent. (That’s the portion of the entire civilian population age 16 and older that is either employed or currently looking for work in the last four weeks.) It was 62.9 percent last month, exactly where it was the month Trump took office.
Manufacturing Jobs — Manufacturing jobs increased under Trump.
The number rose by 263,000 between Trump’s inauguration and March. That followed a net decrease of 192,000 under Obama.
However, the increase under Trump amounts to 2.3 percent, not much more than the 2.1 percent increase in overall employment. The number of manufacturing jobs is still more than 1.1 million below where it was in December 2007, at the start of the Great Recession.
The economy is growing faster under Trump — but not yet at the rate he promised, and not as fast as during the best years under Obama.
The economy grew by 2.3 percent for all of 2017, according to the final, official estimate of the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s the “real” rate of growth in gross domestic product after accounting for price inflation.
That’s better than the 1.5 percent real GDP growth posted in 2016, but still far below the 4 percent to 6 percent rate Trump promised repeatedly, both when he was a candidate and also as president.
The 2.3 percent growth for Trump’s first year is actually lower than the three best years under Obama: 2.9 percent real growth in 2015, 2.6 percent in 2014 and 2.5 percent in 2010.
The economy was doing a bit better at the end of Trump’s first year than at the start, growing at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the final three months of 2017.
An estimate for the first quarter of 2018 won’t be released until April 27. However, the “GDP Now” forecast produced by the Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta projects that the first-quarter growth rate will come in at 2.0 percent — still well below what Trump promised.
Will growth eventually improve to the 4-to-6 percent range? Trump said the tax cuts he signed Dec. 22 will be “rocket fuel for our economy,” and on March 23 he signed big spending increases in a bipartisan budget deal that are also expected to stimulate economic activity (and increase federal deficits).
But few if any economists expect the growth the president promised. Among the most optimistic forecasts is that of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which projects real GDP to grow 3.3 percent this year, and 2.4 percent in 2019.
Others are less bullish. Of the business and university economists who offered an annual GDP forecast to the Wall Street Journal‘s monthly economic survey in March, the average prediction was for 2.8 percent growth this year and 2.5 percent next year.
Similarly, the National Association of Business Economists March survey produced a median forecast of 2.9 percent growth this year and 2.7 percent next year. And the most recent median forecast of the Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents is for 2.7 percent in 2018, 2.4 percent in 2019 and 2.0 percent in 2020.
The growth of federal regulation slowed under Trump — but hasn’t come to the “sudden, screeching and beautiful halt” he claims.
The number of restrictive words and phrases (such as “shall,” “prohibited” or “may not”) contained in the Code of Federal Regulations rose by 7,698 between the day Trump was sworn in and April 12, 2018, according to daily tracking done by the QuantGov project at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.
That’s an increase of 0.7 percent in the nearly 15 months since he took office — slower than in the past. The average annual growth during both the Obama years and the George W. Bush years was just under 1.5 percent, according to annual QuantGov tracking.
The Mercatus Center database provides a hard count of specific legal mandates and prohibitions imposed by federal regulators, which we find to be more relevant than counts of the number of pages or words in the rulebook. It doesn’t attempt to assess the cost or benefit of any particular rule — such assessments require a degree of guesswork and are sensitive to assumptions. But it does track the sheer volume of federal rules with more precision than we have found in other metrics.
At a Dec. 14 event at the White House, Trump said, “We’ve begun the most far-reaching regulatory reform in American history.” A White House fact sheet said that since Trump took office federal agencies had “withdrawn or delayed 1,579 planned regulatory actions.”
Some are quite significant. Within a month of taking office, for example, Trump signed a law nullifying an Obama-era rule prohibiting coal mining companies from dumping waste into streams and waterways.
Murders continued to increase under Trump, even as most other crime declined.
The number of homicides rose 1.5 percent during the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report.
However, the number of other violent crimes (rape, robbery and aggravated assault) turned down, after rising for the previous two years. Property crimes also decreased during the first half of last year, except for a 4.1 percent increase in the number of motor vehicle thefts.
The murder rate — as distinct from the number of murders — also likely rose during the first half of last year.
The FBI doesn’t calculate rates per 100,000 population for its “preliminary” six-month figures. Those will come in September when it releases crime figures for all of 2017. However, the Census Bureau estimates that the population grew by a little more than 0.7 percent between the first half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. So a 1.5 percent rise in murders during that period would translate into a rising murder rate as well.
The increase in murders continues a two-year trend that Trump denounced during his campaign, repeatedly claiming that the rate was “the highest it’s been in 45 years,” (which actually wasn’t close to being true.) During his inaugural address, he said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Not yet, it hasn’t.
Coal and Environment
Coal Mining Jobs — As a candidate, Trump promised to “put our [coal] miners back to work,” but so far not many have regained their jobs.
A total of 35,700 coal mining jobs disappeared during the Obama years, but as of March only 1,400 of them had come back under Trump, according to BLS figures.
The number employed in coal mining stood at 50,700 when Trump was sworn in, rose to 52,800 in September, but then slipped back to 52,100 in March. (The BLS rounds employment figures to the nearest 100.)
The outlook for coal miners remains bleak. The U.S. Energy Information Administration currently projects that U.S. coal production will decline 5 percent this year. EIA expects there will be less demand for exports, and increased use of natural gas to generate electricity.
Carbon Emissions — Carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption continued going down under Trump — but perhaps not for much longer.
They fell by 0.7 percent in 2017, after declining 1.6 percent the year before, according to the most recent estimates available from the Energy Information Administration. Since 2007, U.S. carbon emissions have gone down by a total of 14 percent, mainly due to electric utilities shifting away from coal-fired plants in favor of cheaper, cleaner natural gas, as well as solar and wind power.
Officials say that downward trend in emissions soon may be reversed. This month, EIA projected that carbon emissions would rise 0.9 percent this year, and by another 1 percent next year. But it said these projections “are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, and energy prices.”
Illegal border crossings declined sharply at first, but are now rising again.
The number of people caught while illegally trying to cross the U.S. border with Mexico each month plunged to a low of 11,127 in April of last year, according to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But since then the number has more than tripled, hitting 37,393 last month.
Despite the recent surge, the monthly average during the first 14 full months of Trump’s tenure is still just under 22,100, a drop of 40 percent from the monthly average in 2016, the year before he took office (and 36 percent lower than the monthly average for all the months Barack Obama was in office).
Nevertheless, Trump on April 4 signed a memorandum authorizing the use of National Guard troops to curb what he called a “drastic surge” in both illegal border crossings and drug smuggling.
Meanwhile, Trump’s promised border wall is still little more than that — a promise. So far Congress hasn’t approved full funding for construction (and Mexico says it isn’t paying, either). A bipartisan spending bill that Trump signed in late March included enough money to start building some new barriers and to upgrade existing fencing and walls — but only along about 100 miles of the 2,000-mile border. Trump called that “just a down payment.”
Corporate profits rose to a record high under Trump, hitting an estimated $1.78 trillion in 2017.
That figure for after-tax profits comes from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (see line 45) and is the most recent available. It’s 5.5 percent higher than the full-year figure for 2016, and tops the previous record of $1.74 trillion set in 2014.
After-tax profits are expected to get a further boost in 2018, when the top federal tax rate on corporate income falls to 21 percent, from 35 percent, under the tax bill Trump signed into law Dec. 22.
Stock prices continued their long rise under Trump, setting record after record. But in recent weeks, they’ve given up some of the gain over fears Trump might trigger a trade war with China, or a shooting war in the Middle East.
As of the close on April 13, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock average was down 7.5 percent from the record high set on Jan. 26. But it was still 17.3 percent higher than it was on the last trading day before Trump’s inauguration.
Other indexes also hung onto gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, made up of 30 large corporations, was up 23.5 percent under Trump. And the NASDAQ Composite index, made up of more than 3,000 companies, was still 28.3 percent higher than before he took office.
The bull market that began in March 2009, at the depths of the Great Recession, has now passed its ninth anniversary. It would require a 20 percent drop from the Jan. 26 high to qualify as a bear market.
Wages and Inflation
The upward trend in wages continued under Trump, while prices continued to rise slowly.
CPI — The Consumer Price Index rose 2.2 percent during Trump’s first 14 months, continuing a period of historically low inflation.
The CPI rose an average of 6.8 percent each year during the 1970s, 5.7 percent during the 1980s, eased down to 3.1 percent during the 1990s and 2.1 percent in the next decade (measuring the 12-month change ending in December each year). Since 2010 that average 12-month increase has been 1.8 percent.
Wages — Wage increases outpaced inflation, and the purchasing power of weekly paychecks rose. The average weekly earnings of all private-sector workers, in “real” (inflation-adjusted) terms, rose 1.2 percent during his first 14 months, after going up 4.0 percent during Obama’s eight years.
Those figures are for all workers, including managers and supervisors. The real average weekly earnings of rank-and-file production and nonsupervisory workers have gone up 0.9 percent so far under Trump, after rising 3.7 percent during Obama’s years. Production and nonsupervisory workers make up 82 percent of the private sector workforce.
Consumer confidence in the economy rose to the highest level in 14 years.
The University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers reported that its Index of Consumer Sentiment hit 101.4 in March, the highest since January 2004.
The preliminary figure for April, released April 13, was a bit lower at 97.8. The survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, said this was “mainly due to concerns about the potential impact of Trump’s trade policies on the domestic economy.” The final figure for April won’t be out until April 27.
The figure has waxed and waned during Trump’s time, reaching 100.7 in October, then dropping in November, December and January, only to rise again in the next two months.
Home Prices and Ownership
Home Prices — Home prices rose at nearly triple the rate of inflation under Trump.
The most recent sales figures from the National Association of Realtors show the national median price of an existing, single-family home sold in February was $243,400. That’s 6.4 percent above the median price of $228,700 for homes sold during the month he took office. The rise in the Consumer Price Index during the same period was 2.2 percent.
The median price was even higher earlier, hitting a record $265,500 in June 2017.
Home Ownership — Meanwhile the percentage of Americans who own their own homes has continued to recover from a years-long slide, gaining 0.5 percentage points since Trump took office.
The home ownership rate peaked at 69.2 percent of households for two quarters in 2004, then lost 6.3 percentage points in the next dozen years, hitting bottom at 62.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016. That 62.9 percent rate was the lowest point in more than half a century, and tied the lowest on record.
From there, the rate recovered 0.8 points before Trump took office, hitting 63.7 percent in the last quarter of 2016. Under his presidency, it has reached 64.2 percent in the last quarter of 2017, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures.
The trade deficit that Trump promised to reduce grew steadily larger instead.
The most recent government figures show that during the 12 months ending in February the U.S. imported nearly $590 billion more in goods and services than it exported. That trade gap was $84.8 billion higher (16.8 percent) than in 2016.
China — The goods-and-services trade deficit with China grew by 9 percent last year, to more than $337 billion.
Trump didn’t label China a “currency manipulator” as he had promised to do before he was elected. But in January he imposed a 30 percent tariff on solar panels to counter a surge of imports from China, and on March 22 Trump ordered officials to draw up a list of $50 billion in additional tariffs on Chinese goods in retaliation for China’s appropriation of U.S. intellectual property. China countered with proposed tariffs of its own on 106 items it imports from the U.S., setting the stage for possible negotiations. Later, China’s President Xi Jinping promised to open China “wider and wider” to world trade, but the practical outcome of this U.S.-China war of words remains to be seen.
Mexico — Meanwhile, the much smaller trade deficit in goods and services with Mexico grew by nearly 10 percent, to more than $69 billion.
Trump’s negotiations to alter the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada bogged down for all of 2017. The U.S. was reported to be showing more flexibility in 2018 and pushing to finish before Mexico’s elections in July, but at last report major issues remained to be resolved.
Health Insurance Coverage
The number of people lacking health insurance went up only somewhat, but millions more are expected to drop or lose coverage next year and in subsequent years.
The most recent report from the National Health Interview Survey estimates that during the first nine months of last year 28.9 million people were uninsured. That’s an increase of only 300,000 people from 2016, and still 19.7 million fewer than were uninsured in 2010, the year Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.
More recent polling by the Gallup organization found a larger increase — estimating that 3.2 million Americans entered the ranks of the uninsured in 2017.
Trump conspicuously failed to “repeal and replace” Obama’s Affordable Care Act as he promised to do. But in December, he signed a tax bill that will end Obamacare’s tax penalty for people who fail to obtain coverage. At that point, Trump boasted to reporters that “Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone.” But that’s not so; the mandate remains in effect until 2019.
Trump notwithstanding, the number of people signing up in December through the ACA exchanges for coverage in 2018 dropped only slightly, to 11.8 million. That’s down from 12.2 million in 2017 and 12.6 million in 2016, according to the government’s final enrollment report released April 3.
The big impact is expected later. According to an estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the end of the mandate next year will cause 4 million people to lose or drop coverage in 2019, rising to 12 million two years later and 13 million in 2025.
CBO said that ending the mandate would cause policy premiums for those buying individual policies to rise 10 percent in most years. “[H]ealthier people would be less likely to obtain insurance and … the resulting increases in premiums would cause more people to not purchase insurance,” CBO said.
The number of food stamp recipients went down under Trump — even as he proposed to cut the program.
As of January, the most recent month for which figures are available, more than 40.7 million people were receiving the aid, the lowest number since April 2010. The number has gone down nearly 2 million, or 4.5 percent, since January 2017, when Trump took office.
Now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the program was greatly expanded under President George W. Bush, during whose time 14.7 million beneficiaries were added, swelling the rolls by 85 percent. The rolls grew by another 33 percent during Obama’s time, when a net total of 10.7 million more were added.
But the number has generally been going down since peaking at nearly 47.8 million in December 2012, as the economy recovered from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and incomes improved. The numbers jumped up in August, September and October last year as part of the federal government’s disaster relief efforts following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and after wildfires in eight Western states. But that increase proved to be a temporary blip in the downward trend, with 4 million going off the rolls in November alone.
Trump is putting his mark on the federal courts more quickly than Obama was able to do in his first months.
Supreme Court — So far Trump has won Senate confirmation for one Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Obama also was able to fill one high court vacancy during his first year, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
District Court — Meanwhile, 17 of Trump’s nominees to be federal District Court judges have been confirmed (including two who were cleared by voice votes on April 12). That’s five more than the 12 for whom Obama had won confirmation at the same point in his presidency.
Federal Debt and Deficits
Trump inherited rising federal debt and deficits, and his tax cut and spending increases are projected to make both rise faster.
The federal debt held by the public stood at nearly $15.4 trillion at the last count on April 12, up 6.9 percent under Trump. And that figure will go up even faster in coming years unless Trump and Congress impose massive spending cuts, or reverse course and increase taxes.
The annual federal deficit for fiscal year 2017 (which ended Sept. 30 and was largely the result of spending and taxes set under Obama) was nearly $666 billion, up from just under $586 billion the year before.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had expected that deficit to drop a bit in the current year before resuming an indefinite upward path. But Trump’s cuts in corporate and individual income tax rates — as well as the bipartisan spending deal he signed Feb 9 — stand to cause the red ink to gush even faster.
On April 9, CBO officially estimated that the deficit for the current fiscal year (ending Sept. 30) would rise to $804 billion, and continue rising for the foreseeable future, exceeding $1 trillion annually starting in FY2020. (Deficit projections are in Summary Table 2, page 4.) Further, CBO said that under present law, federal debt held by the public will within a decade near 100 percent of the nation’s entire economic output, an amount “far greater than the debt in any year since just after World War II.”
CBO’s projections take into account an increase in economic growth expected from Trump’s tax cuts. But the cuts fall well short of paying for themselves.
CBO projected that GDP would be 0.7 percent higher on average each year over the next 11 years as a result of the cuts. That’s enough to reduce the projected $2.3 trillion initial cost of the tax rate reductions (including both lost revenue and higher borrowing costs) by $461 billion — or about one-fifth. (See table B3.)
Oil Production and Imports
U.S. crude oil production resumed its upward trend under Trump, rising 6 percent during the most recent 12 months on record (ending in January), compared with all of 2016.
Domestic oil production has increased every year since 2008, except for a 5.6 percent drop in 2016 after prices plunged to below $30 a barrel, from more than $100 previously. The price returned to more than $50 a barrel by the end of 2016, prompting increased drilling and production.
As a result, the trend to reduce reliance on foreign oil also resumed. The U.S. imported only 18.8 percent of its oil and petroleum products in 2017, down from 24.4 percent in 2016. That figure continued to fall in the first two months of 2018, to 17.9 percent.
Dependence on imports peaked in 2005, when the U.S. imported 60.4 percent of its petroleum, and has declined every year since except for 2016, when it ticked up by 0.3 percentage points.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Nonfarm Employment, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 12 Apr 2018.
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In our latest fact-checking collaboration with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jake Tapper looks at President Donald Trump’s repeated claim that a proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border will stop the illegal flow of drugs into the U.S.
At an April 9 cabinet meeting, the president said: “We need a wall. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, we need a wall. And it’ll stop your drug flow. It’ll knock the hell out of the drug flow.”
We fact-checked a similar statement last year when the president said that a “wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth.” As we said at the time, most illicit drugs pass undetected through legal ports of entry.
A 2015 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration said the Mexican cartels “transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers.”
Q: Did former President Barack Obama announce he’s seeking the U.N. secretary general position?
A: No. There was no announcement. Obama’s office has said a story claiming otherwise is false.
Former President Barack Obama has not announced plans to seek the top position at the United Nations, as an online story claims. It would be major news if he did.
“Obama Announces Bid To Become UN Secretary General,” reads the April 12 headline on the website usanews24h.tk.
While rumors of Obama’s alleged interest in the job date back several years, we could find no evidence of Obama ever making such an announcement. In fact, it’s something that his office has previously denied.
“Obama’s office says the story is not true and he’s happy as a private citizen,” the Associated Press reported in February.
Even if the claims were accurate, such a “bid” would be moot for now. The current U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres of Portugal, took the position last year, replacing South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon. Guterres was appointed to a five-year term, concluding at the end of 2021.
The recycled story on USA News didn’t bother to update the fact that Ban was no longer the secretary-general. It says, “U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s term expires in early 2017, making Obama’s bid for the position a possibility.” But it is no longer a possibility.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
“Appointment Process | United Nations Secretary-General.” United Nations. Accessed 13 Apr 2018.
“Biography | United Nations Secretary-General.” United Nations. Accessed 13 Apr 2018.
“Obama Announces Bid To Become UN Secretary General.” usanews24h.tk. 12 Apr 2018.
“Obama not bidding for top United Nations post.” Associated Press. 28 Feb 2018.
Q: Has President Donald Trump started building the wall between United States and Mexico?
A: Congress approved $1.6 billion to replace existing barriers and add some fencing in new areas. The new barriers are not concrete and not like any of Trump’s wall prototypes.
Has Trump started building the wall between USA & Mexico?
Since the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 passed in late March, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed his long-promised wall is now under construction.
“We’ve already started building it,” Trump said in West Virginia on April 5. “We have a billion-six. We’ve started building it and fixing miles and miles of wall that’s already up — and fence. And we’re going to have our wall.”
“We’ve started building the wall,” he proclaimed in remarks with Baltic leaders on April 3.
“We started building our wall,” he said in Ohio on March 30. “I’m so proud of it. We started. We started. We have $1.6 billion, and we’ve already started. … We have $1.6 billion toward the wall, and we’ve done the planning.”
By contrast, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, founder of the House Freedom Caucus, said of the omnibus bill, “The one thing we don’t fund is the one issue we all campaigned on — a border security wall — and that is not in the legislation.”
And here’s House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s version of what the bill does: “Democrats won explicit language restricting border construction to the same see-through fencing that was already authorized under current law.”
Those seemingly conflicting statements may lead to some confusion. One of our readers asked, “Has Trump started building the wall between USA & Mexico?”
The short answer is that the omnibus bill funds some new fencing, though far less than Trump had hoped it would. The new barriers are also not the kind of solid, concrete wall Trump once described during the campaign. Nor is it anything like any of the prototypes Trump visited in mid-March.
Trump and others in his administration are calling what is going up “the wall.” The omnibus describes it as “fencing.” Some may say that’s a matter of semantics, and indeed many officials and journalists use the terms interchangeably. But Trump has often insisted there is a difference between a fence and wall, and that he’d be building a wall.
Finally, Trump officials say the omnibus will fund about 100 miles of “new” wall, but most of that is replacing existing border fencing deemed inadequate or dilapidated.
Let’s take a deeper look at what the bill does and does not fund for barriers along the border with Mexico. And then let’s dig deeper into what Trump promised.
What’s in the Omnibus?
On March 23, Trump signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill (also known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018), though he said there “are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill.”
Although Trump had asked for $25 billion for wall construction, the bipartisan spending bill provides what Trump called only an “initial down payment” of $1.6 billion in funding. But even that sum comes with significant strings attached.
Here’s what that $1.6 billion is for (see Section 230, starting on page 673):
- $251 million for “secondary fencing” near San Diego.
- $445 million for “primary pedestrian levee fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley.
- $196 million for “primary pedestrian fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley.
- $445 million for replacement of primary pedestrian fencing.
- $38 million for border barrier planning and design.
- $196 million for border security technology.
The bill further states that the money can only be used to build “operationally effective designs deployed as of the date of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, [May 5, 2017] such as currently deployed steel bollard designs, that prioritize agent safety.”
Readers may recall Trump on March 13 toured eight wall prototypes — which you can see here — that he had put out to bid early in his presidency. The language in the omnibus bill precludes funding for any of those designs.
In a March 30 briefing, Customs and Border Protection Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald D. Vitiello said the spending bill will fund about 100 miles of “border wall system,” though he added that “does not fully fund our needs in the most critical locations.”
According to Vitiello, the construction near San Diego will include 14 miles of “new border wall,” replacing “old, dilapidated [Vietnam War-era helicopter] landing mats in favor of a steel bollard wall” and replacing 14 miles of secondary barriers.
In Calexico, California, the federal government will replace two miles of pedestrian barrier with “a new 30-foot border wall,” he said. In Santa Teresa, New Mexico, the government will build 20 miles of border wall, he said. According to the Washington Examiner, the new barriers in Santa Teresa will replace “three-foot-tall posts and a taller mesh fence.”
Vitiello said the government will build four miles of new border wall in El Paso, Texas, and 35 new gates along a 55-mile stretch of existing border wall in the Rio Grande Valley.
Finally, Vitiello said, the Department of Homeland Security will replace 47 miles of “dilapidated border fencing with new border wall system in various locations along the southwest border.” Also in the Rio Grande Valley, he said, it plans to build 25 miles of new levee wall in Hidalgo County, and eight miles of “new border wall system” in Starr County, Texas. All of that is made possible by funding in the 2018 spending bill, he said.
By our count, that comes to less than 40 miles of new barrier where there wasn’t any before.
Although most of the new barrier will replace old or ineffective fencing, Vitiello said, “I would say that it’s all new because there’s a different design going in. It’s replacing stuff that is unsuitable, the dilapidated wall, this old landing mat fence. It doesn’t serve our needs anymore.”
The president would ultimately like to have 1,000 miles of barrier, Vitiello said, and there is currently 654 miles of fencing. So the funding bill leaves the president well short of his goal.
On March 28, Trump tweeted photos from a briefing “on the start of our Southern Border WALL!”
Great briefing this afternoon on the start of our Southern Border WALL! pic.twitter.com/pmCNoxxlkH
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
The pictures show steel bollards, which look like a comb, and provide a barrier that border patrol agents can see through — a feature that Trump has repeatedly said over the last nine months is critical for enforcement purposes.
That raises the question, though: Is the barrier funded through the omnibus a wall or a fence? At one time, that distinction was important to Trump.
Wall or Fence?
According to Vocabulary.com, “The difference between a fence and a wall is that you can almost always see through a fence, at least to some degree, while a wall is solid.”
If that’s the case, then what is going up is fence. But, to be fair, many politicians, media figures and even border experts often use the terms wall and fence interchangeably.
And so has Trump — at times.
Prior to announcing his presidential candidacy, for example, Trump said in an interview with CBN News in May 2015, “I would build a wall like nobody can build a wall.” But later he added, “Nobody can build a fence like me … I build great buildings all over the world.”
By the time Trump announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015, he had settled on the nomenclature: wall.
Trump, June 16: I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.
Two days later, in an interview on Fox News, Sean Hannity said, “You said you — you would build a fence — nobody could build a better fence than Donald Trump.”
Trump corrected him. “A wall,” Trump said.
In August of that year, Trump again stressed that he was proposing a wall, not a fence, as he made very clear in a tweet attacking Republican primary opponent Jeb Bush, who criticized Trump’s plan for a border “fence.” “It’s not a fence, Jeb,” he wrote. “It’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!”
Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a "fence." It's not a fence, Jeb, it's a WALL, and there's a BIG difference!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2015
So Trump saw a difference between fences and walls. But he did not explain exactly what those differences were.
We could find only one instance where he described the details of the wall as a solid structure, as he described laying down “precast planks.” It came during a campaign speech in August 2015 in New Hampshire. It’s height? Trump pointed to the ceiling of the auditorium and said, “Higher.”
Trump, Aug. 19, 2015: I will build the greatest wall that you’ve ever seen. … I already know what it should look like. … Did you ever see precast plank for parking garages? OK, as an example. … So you take precast plank. It comes 30 feet long, 40 feet long, 50 feet long. You see the highways where they can span 50, 60 feet, even longer than that, right? And you do a beautiful, nice precast plank with beautiful everything. … You put that plank up and you dig your footings. And you put that plank up — there’s no ladder going over that. If they ever go up there, they’re in trouble, because here’s no way to get down. Maybe a rope.
In a “60 Minutes” interview shortly after his election, Trump continued to distinguish between walls and fences, and allowed that fences might be appropriate in places.
Lesley Stahl, Nov. 13, 2016: So let’s go through very quickly some of the promises you made and tell us if you’re going to do what you said or you’re going to change it in any way. Are you really going to build a wall?
Stahl: They’re talking about a fence in the Republican Congress, would you accept a fence?
Trump: For certain areas I would, but certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction.
Stahl: So part wall, part fence?
Trump: Yeah, it could be – it could be some fencing.
On March 17, 2017, Customs and Border Protection issued two requests for proposals “to acquire multiple conceptual wall designs with the intent to construct multiple prototypes.” One RFP was for a “solid concrete border wall,” and the second RFP was for “other border wall.” For the “other border wall,” the RPF says: “Prototypes constructed in response to this solicitation must offer designs that are alternatives to reinforced solid concrete walls (i.e. no solid concrete external faces).”
That summer, Trump began talking about the need to be able to see through the wall.
Speaking with reporters on Air Force One on July 14, 2017, Trump said, “One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. … You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.”
In an interview on Fox News in November, Trump said the wall would be drawn from one of the prototypes, and he again stressed the need to be able to see through the wall. “You know, you think we’re going to build a nice, simple concrete wall, but it’s not that simple.”
The eight companies were ultimately chosen to build prototypes 18 to 30 feet tall. Half were made primarily of reinforced concrete; the other four were made out of “other materials.” After viewing them in March, Trump said, “some work very well; some don’t work so well. When we build, we want to build the right thing.”
Again, the funding in the omnibus appropriations bill precludes construction of the prototype designs. The bill funds about 100 miles of border barrier in various places, according to Customs and Border Protection. That’s far less than what Trump said he intends to ultimately build. And much of that is replacement for existing fencing that is dilapidated or inadequate. The spending bill funds nearly $1.6 billion worth of what it refers to as “fencing.” Trump now calls that “wall.” But he didn’t always think those were the same thing.
Whitehouse.gov. Transcript: “Remarks by President Trump at a Roundtable Discussion on Tax Reform.” 05 Apr 2018.
Whitehouse.gov. Transcript: “Remarks by President Trump and Heads of the Baltic States in Joint Press Conference.” 03 Apr 2018.
Whitehouse.gov. Transcript: “Remarks by President Trump on the Infrastructure Initiative.” 30 Mar 2018.
Fox News. Interview with Rep, Jim Jordan. 22 Mar 2018.
House Democratic Leader website. Pelosi Statement on Introduction of Omnibus Spending Bill. 22 Mar 2018.
House of Representatives website. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018.
Whitehouse.gov. Transcript: “Remarks by President Trump at Signing of H.R. 1625.” 23 Mar 2018.
Congress.gov. H.R.244 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017.
Whitehouse.gov. Transcript: “Remarks by President Trump After Review of Border Wall Prototypes | San Diego, CA.” 13 Mar 2018.
Mark, Michelle. “Trump is visiting the 8 prototypes for his border wall — see what they look like.” Business Insider. 13 Mar 2018.
Giaritelli, Anna. “Border Patrol breaks ground on Trump’s wall: ‘This project is underway.’” Washington Examiner. 09 Apr 2018.
Brody, David. The Brody File: “Exclusive: Donald Trump on Southern Border: ‘Nobody can build a fence like me.’” CBN News. 20 May 2015.
Time Magazine. “Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech.” 16 Jun 2015.
Fox News. “Exclusive: Donald Trump on what made him run for president on ‘Hannity.'” 18 Jun 2015.
Real Clear Politics. “Trump on Border: Maybe They’ll Call It “The Trump Wall.” 19 Aug 2015.
CBS News. ’60 Minutes’ Interview: “President-elect Trump speaks to a divided country.” 13 Nov 2016.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “CBP Requests Proposals for Border Wall Prototypes.” 17 Mar 2017.
Federal Business Opportunities website. “Solid Concrete Border Wall RFP.” 01 Apr 2017.
Federal Business Opportunities website. “Other Border Wall RFP.” 01 Apr 2017.
Kopan, Tal. “Trump on border wall: ‘You have to be able to see through it.‘” CNN. 14 Jul 2017.
Real Clear Politics. “Trump Full Interview With Fox News’ Ingraham: Dossier, Justice Department, Immigration, DNC Primary & Sanders.” 02 Nov 2017.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “CBP Awards Contracts for Border Wall Prototypes.” 31 Aug 2017.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “CBP Awards Contracts for “Other Materials” Border Wall Prototypes.” 07 Sep 2017.
Q: Is Facebook planning to give Charles and David Koch “unprecedented access” to users’ personal information?
A: No. A story making that claim misrepresents a research initiative that is being funded by seven organizations including the Charles Koch Foundation.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent two days this week on Capitol Hill answering questions from Congress amid widespread concerns about the company’s ability to protect users’ personal information.
What he hasn’t done, as a story shared on social media this week claims, is decide “simply to give our data to different conservative political operatives,” including the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Headlined “Facebook Will Give Koch Brothers ‘Unprecedented Access’ to Our Personal Information,” the story was published April 9 on the website gritpost.com, which bills its work as “real news for the working class.” The same story was also published April 11 on allagainsttrump.com. Facebook users flagged the posts as potentially false.
Both the headline and story misrepresent a recently announced research initiative that will bring together scholars to examine how the social media giant impacts elections and democracy. Those involved say the endeavor is momentous because it marks the first time Facebook will provide access to its proprietary data to independent researchers, who without such information face “significant research gaps.”
The Charles Koch Foundation (not the “Charles and David Koch Foundation,” as the story says) is indeed one of several groups helping to finance that endeavor. The others include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Democracy Fund; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Laura and John Arnold Foundation; and Omidyar Network.
But Vidya Krishnamurthy, a spokeswoman for the Hewlett Foundation, told FactCheck.org in an email that the story “is false – the funders will NOT have access to the data.”
Krishnamurthy pointed us to a “frequently asked questions” page about the research on the website of the nonpartisan Social Science Research Council, which will manage the peer-review process and proposal selection for the project, dubbed the Social Data Initiative.
That page says “funders are supporting an independent process and independent research; they will not have access to data.”
“Facebook and the funders will have no say in the selection of research proposals or the publication of the research findings,” it adds. “An independent steering committee of scholars will create the decision-making criteria and research agenda and the SSRC will oversee the peer review process.”
The council also explains that “only anonymized Facebook data will be shared” with researchers, “although the specific types of data are to be determined.” Data will come from Facebook and possibly from other sources, such as surveys or focus groups, it says.
Grit Post did not respond to an inquiry from FactCheck.org about the story.
Update, April 14: Two days after we published our story, Grit Post responded to our inquiry.
“After further review by our editorial team, we have chosen to retract the story,” Grit Post told us in an email, saying it “did not meet with our editorial standards.”
The website took down the story and apologized to its readers. “We apologize for any potential confusion to our readers,” it told us. “Grit Post strives to be as factual and as accurate as possible in its reporting.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Benac, Nancy. “Who are the Koch brothers?” Associated Press. 28 Jan 2015.
“Hewlett, Knight, Koch foundations, with other funders, will support independent research on Facebook’s role in elections and democracy.” Press release. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 9 Apr 2018.
Kivel, Katelyn. “Facebook Will Give Koch Brothers ‘Unprecedented Access’ to Our Personal Information.” Gritpost.com. 9 Apr 2018.
Krishnamurthy, Vidya. Director of communications, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 11 Apr 2018.
“Social Data Initiative.” Social Science Research Council. Accessed 11 Apr 2018.
Q: Did a federal judge rule that evidence collected from Michael Cohen’s office is inadmissible?
A: No. That claim was invented by a website that labels its content as satire.
The FBI seized records from Michael Cohen, one of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers, on April 9.
Stephen Ryan, the lawyer representing Cohen, said in a statement that the raid was partly related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It is unclear what will happen to the evidence agents collected.
What is clear is that a federal judge has not ruled that the evidence is “completely illegal and inadmissible in any court of law.”
That claim was made up by a self-described satirical website and copied by another site that posted it on Facebook as if were real news. Users of the social media site flagged the story as potentially false. It is.
The story originated on a website called Daily World Update, which is part of a network of sites that labels its content as satire aimed at conservatives. But it was copied by a site called Only Politics, which has no satire disclaimer, and was shared on at least four different Trump-themed Facebook pages with a combined following of 850,000. Each of the people who posted the story on those pages appear to live outside of the U.S. Three of them say on their Facebook profiles that they live outside of the U.S., and the fourth doesn’t provide a location, but “likes” several politicians and sports teams from Kosovo.
The story draws on existing discord over Mueller’s investigation, which Trump has called a “witch hunt.” The president also referred to the raid on Cohen as “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!” So, the made-up story claims that the judge who tossed the evidence from the Cohen raid called his ruling a “politically motivated favor.”
But, the judge named in the story doesn’t even exist; he’s a completely made-up character. There has never been a federal judge named “Earl Manuel Mariano,” according to records kept by the Federal Judicial Center.
The court doesn’t exist, either. There is no “Northern California 43rd Circuit Federal and State Court of Appeals.” The federal court system is separate from state court systems. The federal appellate court that covers California is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. There are 13 total federal appellate courts below the U.S. Supreme Court, not 43.
Another red flag indicating that the story is bogus are the hyperlinks: one goes to a picture of Jim Carrey in the 1994 movie “Dumb and Dumber;” the link attached to the word “clerk” goes to a picture from another 1994 movie, “Clerks“; and the last one takes readers to a Google search for the word “dumbass.”
Ryan, Stephen. Statement as Michael Cohen’s lawyer. 9 Apr 2018.
“BREAKING: Federal Judge Tosses Michael Cohen Warrant And All Evidence With It.” DailyWorldUpdate.com. 9 Apr 2018.
Federal Judicial Center. Biographical Directory of Federal Judges. FJC.gov. Accessed 11 Apr 2018.
Trump, Donald. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Twitter. 18 May 2017.
Trump, Donald. “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!” Twitter. 10 Apr 2018.
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “Comparing Federal & State Courts.” UScourts.gov. Accessed 11 Apr 2018.