Donald Trump’s attack on Robert Mueller fact check

Donald Trump vs Robert Mueller Congressional testimony in July 2019

It was expected the moment that Congress announced special counsel Robert Mueller would be testifying openly in July that Donald Trump would pounce. Naturally, those expectation were met without any supporting evidence.

On Wednesday, Trump falsely accused special counsel Robert Mueller of deleting messages that would support the president’s contention that the Russia investigation was out to get him.

The provocative allegation of a “crime” by Mueller was one in a series of distorted claims made by the president in an interview on Fox Business Network and on Twitter on Wednesday.

TRUMP, on communications between two FBI employees: “Mueller terminated them illegally. He terminated the emails, he terminated all of the stuff between Strzok and Page, you know they sung like you’ve never seen. Robert Mueller terminated their text messages together. He would – he terminated them. They’re gone. And that’s illegal, he — that’s a crime.”

THE FACTS: Not true. Mueller had no role in deleting anti-Trump text messages traded by former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and there’s no basis for saying he was involved in anything illegal.

In fact, once Mueller learned of the existence of the texts, which were sent before his appointment as special counsel, he removed Strzok from his team investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump appears to be referring to the fact that the FBI, for technical reasons, was initially unable to retrieve months of text messages between the two officials. But the FBI was ultimately able to recover them and there’s never been any allegation that Mueller had anything to do with that process.

Trump’s Mornings with Maria Moment

Trump made his remarks about Mueller during a June 26 interview with Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.”

The host, Maria Bartiromo, asked Trump about the announcement that Mueller will testify on July 17 before the House intelligence and House judiciary committees. That led to a discussion, at around the 33:17-minute mark, about text messages exchanged between then-FBI agent Peter Strzok and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, that were critical of Trump at a time when they were assigned to the FBI investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information while secretary of state. 

Page, for example, referred to Trump as “a loathsome human,” and Strzok called Trump “an idiot” in a March 3, 2016, text exchange, according to a June 2018 report of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General.

Bartiromo, “Mornings with Maria,” June 26: Well Peter Strzok and Lisa Page wrote everything down, so we’ve got all the – we’ve got all the texts.

Trump: Well wait until you see the rest – wait until you see – no, wait until you see the rest of their –

Bartiromo: There’s more.

Trump: Now here’s the problem, Robert Mueller, they worked for him, and the two lovers were together and they had texts back and forth and e-mail back and forth.

Bartiromo: How come we haven’t seen it all? I mean you did – you gave William Barr the authority to —

Trump: He – you know why? Because Mueller terminated them illegally. He terminated the emails, he terminated all of the stuff between Strzok and Page, you know they sung like you’ve never seen.

Robert Mueller terminated their text messages together. He would – he terminated them. They’re gone. And that’s illegal, he — that’s a crime.

There is a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with this: There is no evidence that Mueller — or anyone else — illegally deleted text messages sent or received by Strzok and Page.

Here’s what happened: In December 2018, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report that detailed its efforts to retrieve data from phones that Page and Strzok were given by the FBI (Samsung Galaxy phones) and the special counsel’s office (iPhones).

As has been written by many outlets, the IG’s office said that it had recovered about 20,000 text messages sent and received by Page and Strzok on FBI-issued Samsung phones. That is why Bartiromo said “we’ve got all the texts” between the two former FBI employees.

However, the IG report also said that Strzok and Page received iPhones from the Department of Justice after they were assigned to the special counsel’s office in the spring of 2017.

No data could be recovered from the iPhones, because the special counsel’s office reset the phones to factory settings after Page and Strzok turned them in, according to the report. Both FBI employees had the iPhones for less than two months, and they continued to use their FBI-issued phones while working in the special counsel’s office, the IG report said.

Breitbart, a conservative website, said the special counsel’s office “scrubbed” Strzok’s iPhone before giving it to the IG’s office, but there is no evidence in the IG report of any wrongdoing. The report notes that the DOJ “routinely resets mobile devices to factory settings when the device is returned” by an employee.

Mueller is not mentioned in the IG report. According to public accounts, Mueller’s only role in the matter was to remove Strzok from the special counsel’s Russia investigation after he learned of the politically charged text messages. Page resigned from her position with the office.

The IG report said “Page left the SCO on July 15, 2017,” and “Strzok was removed from the SCO investigation in late July 2017.”

China Tariffs

TRUMP on his tariffs on Chinese goods: “Don’t let anyone tell you that we’re paying. We’re not paying, China’s paying for it. ”— Fox Business Network interview.

THE FACTS: Americans are paying for it.

Trump refuses to recognize a reality that his own chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has acknowledged. Tariffs are mainly if not entirely paid by companies and consumers in the country that imposes them. China is not sending billions of dollars to the U.S. treasury.

In a study in May, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with Princeton and Columbia universities, estimated that tariffs from Trump’s trade dispute with China were costing $831 per U.S. household on an annual basis. And that was based on the situation in 2018, before tariffs escalated. Analysts also found that the burden of Trump’s tariffs falls entirely on U.S. consumers and businesses that buy imported products.

Trump persistently mischaracterizes trade in all its dimensions, giving the wrong numbers for trade deficits, asserting that tariffs did not exist before him, and portraying them inaccurately as a windfall for the government and taxpayers. In that respect, he was correct when he said in the interview, “I view tariffs differently than a lot of other people.”

Poverty Index

TRUMP: “The poverty index is also best number EVER.” — tweet.

THE FACTS: Not true. The current poverty rate of 12.3% is not the lowest ever; it’s fallen below that several times over the last half-century, according to the Census Bureau’s official count.

The poverty rate dropped only modestly under Trump’s watch, to 12.3 percent in 2017 — the latest figure available — from 12.7 percent in 2016. At the same time, nearly 40 million Americans remained poor by the Census Bureau’s count, statistically unchanged from 2016.

The poverty rate previously has stood at 12.3% as recently as 2006, and was 11.3% in 2000.

The U.S. poverty rate hit a record low of 11.1% in 1973.

Obama’s Economy

TRUMP: “Obama’s economy was ready to crash.” — Fox Business Network interview.

THE FACTS: This is little more than blind speculation designed to make his own record look better. The data suggest he is wrong.

The U.S. economy added 2.5 million jobs in 2016, which was the final year of President Barack Obama’s term, more than were added in 2017 or 2018 during the Trump administration. The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index climbed 11% over the course of 2016. Economic growth did slump to 1.6% in 2016, though that hardly suggested a downturn, as growth had been a healthy 2.9% in 2015 — the same level achieved in 2018 when Trump was boasting about having fostered the strongest economy in U.S. history.