WASHINGTON — Judging from a recent tweet, President Donald Trump can’t be counted on to accurately reflect what he’s seeing on TV. His grasp of economic numbers is not always solid, either.
On the weekend, Trump botched a remark he heard on Fox News when he tweeted about it. On Monday, he misreported the pace of economic growth, though on this matter he was in the ballpark.
Meanwhile, his spokeswoman stated that Trump campaign associates pleaded guilty to criminal behavior “that took place long before they were involved with the president,” a misrepresentation of the record.
TRUMP, citing Fox News as he assailed Rep. Adam Schiff, lead author of a Democratic memo defending the FBI and Justice Department in the Russia investigation: “‘Congressman Schiff omitted and distorted key facts’ @FoxNews So, what else is new. He is a total phony!”
THE FACTS: That’s not at all what Fox News said.
Fox anchor Molly Line said this while questioning a journalist about the Democratic memo and one released earlier from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee: “Congressman Schiff, he argues the Republican memo omitted and distorted key facts.” In Trump’s distorted telling Saturday evening, that became “Congressman Schiff omitted and distorted key facts,” and he misattributed the quote to Fox News.
The anchor had accurately quoted Schiff’s position on the Republican memo. Trump twisted the remark into a commentary on the Democratic memo and its author.
TRUMP, addressing governors Monday: “We’ve done many other things, as you know, and I won’t go over them because I want to be hearing from you today. But many other things that, frankly, nobody thought possible. GDP: 3.2, 3, 3.”
THE FACTS: He cited three quarters of annualized growth of the gross domestic product and got one of them right. The correct percentages for each quarter last year are, in order, 1.2 percent, 3.1 percent, 3.2 percent and 2.6 percent. That fourth-quarter percentage is tentative and might still be adjusted. The first quarter encompassed Barack Obama’s final weeks as president.
Overall, the U.S. economy grew by 2.3 percent last year, subject to possible adjustments in the fourth quarter. That’s an improvement from Obama’s final year, 1.5 percent in 2016, but below the best year of the Obama presidency, 2.9 percent in 2015.
Trump has set high — even sky high — expectations for GDP growth, saying late last year, “I see no reason why we don’t go to 4 percent, 5 percent, and even 6 percent.” Federal Reserve officials and most mainstream economists expect economic growth closer to 2 percent. The economy rarely achieves phenomenal growth approaching 6 percent.
He told the governors Monday: “I think we’re going to have another really big one coming up this current quarter. Maybe a number that nobody would have thought would ever be hit.” Forecasts for the current January-March quarter are all over the map, but they have fallen recently. Sales of new and existing homes fell in January and Americans slowed their spending at retail stores that month. Macroeconomic Advisers, an economic consulting firm, on Monday forecast growth of 1.9 percent in the first quarter.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House press secretary, when asked about the fact that three Trump campaign figures have acknowledged criminal wrongdoing: “I think that those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the president, and anything beyond that, because those are active investigations, I’m not going to go any further than that.” Asked specifically about one of them, Rick Gates, she said: “The actions that are under review and under investigation took place prior to him being part of the president’s campaign.”
THE FACTS: That’s not true about Gates or the other two who have pleaded guilty, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. Nor is it true about Paul Manafort, the fourth Trump campaign aide charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the election and the Trump team’s ties with Russians.
The criminal conduct alleged by Mueller overlaps with the 2016 presidential campaign and stretches into 2017.
In one example, court papers filed Friday state that in November 2016, the month Trump was elected, and February 2017, when Trump was president, Gates and Manafort caused “false and misleading” letters to be sent to the Justice Department about their foreign lobbying work. The letters, intended to explain their failure to register as foreign agents as required by the law, falsely stated that their work did not include meetings or outreach in the United States, and that they could not recall conducting outreach to U.S. government officials or U.S. media outlets.
Gates was a 2016 Trump campaign deputy chairman; Manafort the campaign chairman for about five months in 2016.
Flynn, a campaign and transition aide who briefly became Trump’s national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in December 2016, after the election.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in January 2017 about his contacts during the campaign with people who claimed to have ties to Russian officials. He was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures