Fact-checking latest spin from Trump, Giuliani with Mueller report days away
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani preemptively attacked the Mueller report in anticipation of its (redacted) release.
Leveraging Attorney General William Barr’s recent statement that “spying did occur” against Trump’s presidential campaign, Trump and Giuliani questioned the origins of the Russia investigation and claimed the real crimes were committed by none other than Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent.
Trump made his comments on Twitter and Giuliani did so in a syndicated radio interview Sunday with fellow New Yorker John Catsimatidis. Trump’s campaign also sent out fundraising emails with false claims about the Russia investigation. Here’s a look at what they all said and the surrounding facts.
Trump campaign twists Barr’s “spying” comments
Trump campaign email:
“Just this week, Attorney General William Barr said what the President has thought all along, he believes ‘unlawful spying did occur’ against Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Trump campaign text message:
“AG Barr believes the Obama Admin. Illegally spied on Pres. Trump. We Need Answers!”
Facts first: The Trump campaign is misquoting the attorney general.
The Trump campaign is seemingly twisting Barr’s words. And it looks like they misquoted him as well, adding the word “unlawful” before “spying did occur.” He never said the phrase “unlawful spying did occur” during his multiple hours of testimony before House and Senate committees.
Here’s what Barr actually said: “I think there is spying that did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated, and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation.”
It’s not entirely clear what Barr was referring to with these explosive comments. He’s likely referencing how the FBI used secret surveillance and an informant to monitor Trump aides. Some of that snooping was done under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows investigators to wiretap someone’s phones and read their messages with court approval.
Regardless — Barr never said “unlawful spying” occurred against Trump. His comments that “spying did occur” were a huge boon to the White House, to be sure. But it’s mostly a matter of semantics around the word “spying.” We’ve known for a while that there was court-approved surveillance of at least two Trump associates after they left the Trump campaign in 2016.
The President’s re-election campaign is twisting Barr’s words in an attempt to raise money and rile up the GOP base. They have already raised $30 million in the first quarter of this year.
Casting doubt on court-approved surveillance
Giuliani radio interview:
“(Barr) also seemed pretty certain that there were real questions about the validity of those affidavits for the FISA warrants.”
“THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN (We will never forget)!”
Facts first: Barr did use the word “spying” but did not say the surveillance of Trump aides was illegal. Giuliani leaned into Barr’s comments and omitted a key caveat from his testimony.
Indeed, Barr surprised many when he used the word “spying” and announced that he was reviewing some of the FBI’s actions regarding the early stages of the Russia investigation.
But even after he threw some red meat to the White House, Barr took pains to make it clear that he wasn’t trying to prejudge the outcome of his internal review of the surveillance in 2016. As explained above, Barr included a caveat in his testimony to lawmakers. He said: “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated but I need to explore that” as part of his review.
The FBI controversially used some material from a dossier of explosive memos written by a retired British spy alleging widespread Trump-Russia collusion, when applying for the first FISA, and Giuliani referred to this in the interview. But Trump appointees sought to continue the surveillance in 2017 and four Republican-appointed judges approved the warrants.
Giuliani touts myth about investigation’s origins
Giuliani radio interview:
“You’re going to see no collusion of any kind, which raises the question, why do we have this investigation in the first place? And that’s a very good question, which I’m working on the answer to. I don’t think it happened accidentally, I think it was the product of, you wanna call it a political dirty trick or you wanna call it a crime, I don’t know?”
Facts first: It’s unclear exactly what Giuliani is referring to by “political dirty trick,” but both he and the President have falsely claimed in the past that Mueller’s investigation was started because of the dossier.
Trump and his allies have slammed the FBI for starting the Russia investigation in the first place, and Giuliani raised questions about the origins of the investigation over the weekend. But their arguments hang on a widely debunked lie that the probe began because of “the dossier.”
Bipartisan reports from Congress say the FBI opened the investigation after it got a tip from a foreign diplomat that a Trump campaign aide knew about Russian hacks before the emails were released by WikiLeaks. The campaign aide was George Papadopoulos, who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts and served two weeks in prison.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an enterprise counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign after receiving information related to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos,” according to a 2018 report from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee after their own yearlong investigation. Their Democratic colleagues agreed with almost nothing in the GOP report except for this point about Papadopoulos.
Going after Hillary Clinton, three years later
Giuliani radio interview:
“Hillary committed every crime you could possibly imagine.”
“Why should Radical Left Democrats in Congress have a right to retry and examine the $35,000,000 (two years in the making) No Collusion Mueller Report, when the crime committed was by Crooked Hillary, the DNC and Dirty Cops? Attorney General Barr will make the decision!”
(Trump and Giuliani appear to be talking about the Clinton email scandal, which the FBI investigated throughout the presidential campaign and came to a head in the summer of 2016.)
Facts first: After an exhaustive investigation, the FBI determined there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Clinton with any crimes relating to her emails.
While serving as Secretary of State, Clinton used a private email server for several years, and the investigation found that some classified information did go on Clinton’s private server. Then-FBI director James Comey determined that her actions were “extremely careless” but said the FBI could not “find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.”
It should also be noted that there is no zero-sum game afoot. Resources exist to investigate both the Trump campaign as well as Clinton and her emails, which is precisely what happened.