WASHINGTON — With release of the special counsel’s fuller report looming, President Donald Trump and his campaign are twisting the words of his attorney general and the facts of the Russia investigation.
His 2020 campaign is telling supporters in fundraising pitches that Attorney General William Barr had revealed illegal spying against Trump during the 2016 presidential race. But it’s not true. While Barr told lawmakers that he believed spying took place, he never concluded it was illegal and made clear several times he was not suggesting a crime had occurred.
Meanwhile, Trump kept up his refrain that special counsel Robert Mueller had totally exonerated him despite Mueller’s exact quotes in Barr’s summary that he did not. A redacted version of Mueller’s full report is expected in the coming days.
The misstatements were among a number of factual faux pas and flips in rhetoric this past week.
With his government seeking to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Trump seemed to draw a blank on a hacking organization he praised to the rafters during the 2016 campaign because of the discomfort it caused his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
And speaking before Monday’s tax filing deadline, Trump seemed to change the grounds upon which he is refusing to release his taxes: It’s not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to.
A look at the claims:
TRUMP CAMPAIGN: “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.” — fundraising email sent Saturday to Trump supporters.
TRUMP CAMPAIGN: “AG Barr believes the Obama Admin illegally spied on Pres Trump.” — text sent Friday to Trump supporters.
THE FACTS: The email puts words in Barr’s mouth and seeks to raise money in doing so.
Barr never said there was illegal spying.
During a Senate hearing Wednesday, the attorney general actually made clear he had no specific evidence to cite that any surveillance was illegal or improper.
“I think spying did occur,” Barr told lawmakers. “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
He later added: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it.”
TRUMP: “I’ve been totally exonerated. No collusion. No obstruction.” — remarks Wednesday at the White House.
TRUMP: “I’m not concerned about anything, because frankly there was no collusion and there was no obstruction.” — remarks Thursday with South Korea’s president.
THE FACTS: Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s nearly 400-page report did not “totally” exonerate Trump. Mueller specifically states in the report, as quoted by Barr: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The summary of principal conclusions by Barr, released in late March, notes Mueller did not “draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” but rather set out evidence for both sides, leaving the question unanswered of whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said ultimately he decided as attorney general that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient” to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump committed obstruction.
In Senate testimony Wednesday, Barr acknowledged that Mueller did not ask him to draw a conclusion on the obstruction question, nor did he know whether Mueller agreed with him. Barr said he would be able to explain more fully after releasing a public version of Mueller’s report.
TRUMP, asked if he still “loves” WikiLeaks: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.” — remarks Thursday with South Korea’s president.
THE FACTS: WikiLeaks was very much Trump’s thing in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, when candidate Trump showered praise on the anti-secrecy organization night after night.
On the same October day that the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged, revealing that Trump had bragged in 2005 about groping women, WikiLeaks began releasing damaging emails from Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Trump and his allies seized on the dumps and weaponized them.
“WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks,” Trump said in Pennsylvania.
“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” Trump said in Michigan.
“Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks,” Trump said in Ohio.
All told, Trump extolled WikiLeaks more than 100 times, and a poster of Assange hung backstage at the Republican’s debate war room. At no point from a rally stage did Trump express any misgivings about how WikiLeaks obtained the emails from the Clinton campaign or about the accusations of stealing sensitive U.S. government information, which led to the charges against Assange on Thursday. The U.S. is seeking Assange’s extradition from Britain.
Asked Sunday about Trump’s claim he knew nothing about Wikileaks, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News the president “was making a joke during the campaign and was talking about the specifics of the case at that moment.”
TRUMP: “As you know, I got elected last time with this same issue. … I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do…