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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, June 06, 2019 12:30 pm

Fact check: Trump's parade of false claims overseas

GLENN KESSLER | Washington Post

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Piers Morgan of "Good Morning Britain" at the conclusion of his trip to London. Here's a roundup of some of the president's false and misleading claims during the discussion, one that he repeated a few hours later in Ireland.

"The United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are, based on all statistics, and it's even getting better." -- Interview with Morgan

"We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president. We have the cleanest water; it's crystal clean." -- Remarks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar

Trump withdrew the United States from participation in the Paris accord to combat climate change, and he falsely asserted the United States had the world's "cleanest air" and "cleanest climate" and even the "cleanest water."

The United States actually ranks 27th in the world, according to the authoritative Environmental Performance Index, a project of Yale and Columbia Universities. It ranks 10th for air quality -- but 88th on exposure to particulate matter, an indication of the health effects from pollution -- and 29th for water and sanitation. The U.S. is tied for first place -- with nine other countries -- for the quality of drinking water.

As for whether things have improved under Trump, that's hard to track in the available data, but he has taken a number of actions that could reverse or slow the gains made in air and water quality since 1990.

"In the 1890s, we had our worst hurricanes, and I would say we've had some very bad hurricanes." -- interview with Morgan

The 1890 hurricane season was actually not especially active, but for some reason, this is one of Trump's go-to claims.

What's "worse" is open to interpretation. It could mean cost, damage or lives lost, but regardless of how you measure, several lists suggest that more recent hurricanes were the "worst" or "biggest," including Hurricanes Maria and Harvey, which hit in 2017.

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. At least 6,000 people were killed, and 30,000 people in the Texas city were left homeless.

Oddly, when Trump asserted in 2017 that hurricanes in the 1930s and 1940s were "bigger" than more recent storms, his staff directed The Fact Checker to a report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That report was updated in 2018, and it shows that the costliest storms, adjusted for inflation, are Katrina (2005), Harvey (2017), Maria (2017), Sandy (2012) and Irma (2017). So three of the costliest storms occurred on Trump's watch.

"I just found out we have 94 percent support in the Republican Party. That's higher. Ronald Reagan was the highest at 86. And we have 94 percent. It just came out." -- interview with Morgan

We had just fact-checked this but here's this Four-Pinocchio claim again. What's odd is: a) Trump has been making this claim for almost a year, and yet he claims it's a new poll, and b) he claims that Reagan was "highest at 86" percent when in fact the president has previously acknowledged that George W. Bush had the record, with 99 percent approval among Republicans, in the Gallup poll. Reagan hit a high of 94 percent -- but not Trump. With a high of 90 percent, Trump ranks sixth out of the seven post-World War II Republican presidents.

"You're talking about Vietnam, and at that time, nobody ever heard of the country." -- interview with Morgan

In justifying his decision not to serve in Vietnam -- a conflict waged two-thirds by volunteers and one-third by draftees -- Trump makes the astonishing assertion that nobody had ever heard of Vietnam in 1968, when he received a possibly fraudulent diagnosis of having bone spurs to obtain a medical exemption.

The first Marines landed in Danang in 1965, and by the end of 1967, there were almost 500,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. At the start of 1968, the Vietcong (rebel forces) and North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, weakening U.S. support for the war, and President Lyndon B. Johnson announced in March that he would not seek re-election.

Vietnam -- and the U.S. desire to thwart communist expansion in Southeast Asia -- had been part of the national conversation since President John F. Kennedy first sent military advisers to the country in the early 1960s.

"In the military, you're not allowed to take any drugs. You take an aspirin. And they [transgender individuals] have to, after the operation, they have to, they have no choice, they have to. You would actually have to break rules and regulations in order to have that." -- interview with Morgan

False. As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake documented, experts said the president is wrong to claim that service members are "not allowed to take any drugs" or that they can't take the specific drugs used for gender reassignment.

Hormones are permissible for service members, as are opioids and psychotropic drugs. Moreover, not all transgender people undergo gender reassignment surgery or take prescription hormones, so even if Trump were correct that such prescribed drugs were prohibited, it wouldn't necessarily mean transgender troops would have to be banned from serving.

"President Obama made a deal, the Iran nuclear deal, which was a terrible deal because it was a short-term deal. Didn't do the trick. Paid 150 billion dollars, paid 1.8 billion in cash if you can believe it, in cash." -- interview with Morgan

Trump in recent weeks has claimed that the nuclear deal negotiated by President Barack Obama would in five years give Iran "an open path to make nuclear weapons." Presumably, that's what he means by "short-term."

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known, actually bars Iran from ever seeking, developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Trump is alluding to the argument that some restrictions in the deal sunset in time and that Iran could pursue a nuclear weapons program in secret once those restrictions are gone. But Iran was said to be abiding to the agreement when Trump terminated U.S. participation.

As for the $150 billion payment, Trump often makes it sound as though the United States cut a check to Iran. He also always uses too high an estimate, $150 billion, for the assets involved.

But this was always Iran's money. Iran had billions of dollars that were frozen in foreign banks around the globe because of international sanctions related to its nuclear program. The Treasury Department estimated that once Iran fulfilled other obligations, it would have about $55 billion left. The Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion.

The cash was related to the settlement of a decades-old claim between the two countries. An initial payment of $400 million was handed over Jan. 17, 2016, the same day Iran's government agreed to release four American detainees, including the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian. The timing -- which U.S. officials insisted was a coincidence -- suggested the cash could be viewed as a ransom payment.

But the initial cash payment was Iran's money. In the 1970s, the then-pro-Western Iranian government under the shah paid $400 million for U.S. military equipment. But the equipment was never delivered because the two countries broke off relations after the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. Two other payments totaling $1.3 billion -- a negotiated agreement on the interest owed on the $400 million -- came some weeks later.

"No, I don't attack him. People ask me like you're asking me, I didn't bring his name up, you did. You brought his name up, John McCain. So I'm not attacking him at all. I don't think about him. I was not a fan. I didn't like what he did to health care. I didn't like how he handled the veterans because I got him choice. He was always unable." -- interview with Morgan

Our database of Trump's false and misleading claims lists 20 times that Trump has attacked McCain by name -- for his vote on Obamacare, for his passage of the dossier compiled by a British intelligence agent, and more recently for the false charge that he failed to achieve expanded private health-care options known as Veterans Choice.

In reality, a bill signed by Trump expanded an effort spearheaded by McCain in 2014 and was actually named after the late senator.