AP FACT CHECK: Trump plays down white nationalist threat

Hope Yen, Seth Borenstein and Calvin Woodward, Associated Press

President Donald Trump speaks about border security in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, March 15, 2019, in Washington. Trump issued the first veto of his presidency, overruling Congress to protect his emergency declaration for border wall funding. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump appears to be oblivious to the threat of white nationalism.

Following a deadly mosque shooting in New Zealand, he said white supremacy isn't a rising danger.

But data — including from his own Justice Department — point to rising hate group activity while he's been in office.

Trump also asserts the U.S. is No. 1 in the world on the environment and suggests that Toyota's announcement of U.S. job creation is due to his revised trade agreement with leaders from Mexico and Canada. Both claims are problematic. According to several studies, the U.S. lags several countries on air quality. And Trump's proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement has yet to take effect and faces uncertain prospects in Congress.

The misstatements came in a week of distorted truth on several fronts. On one, Beto O'Rourke opened his Democratic presidential campaign with a call to action on global warming that misrepresented the science.

A look at some of the claims:

WHITE NATIONALISM

TRUMP, when asked if he views white nationalism as a rising threat worldwide: "I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's the case. I don't know enough about it yet. They're just learning about the person and the people involved. But it's certainly a terrible thing." — remarks Friday in Oval Office.

THE FACTS: Both data and many experts who track violent extremists point to white nationalism as a rising threat in the U.S. and abroad.

According to data released this month by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, for instance, white supremacist propaganda efforts nearly tripled last year from 2017. Reports of the propaganda — which can include fliers, stickers, banners and posters that promote hateful ideology — rose 182 percent to 1,187 cases. That's up from the 421 reported in 2017.

The number of racist rallies and demonstrations also rose last year, according to the group. At least 91 white supremacist rallies or other public events attended by white supremacists were held in 2018, up from 76 the previous year.

The Anti-Defamation League in January said domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S. in 2018, up from 37 in 2017, and noted that "white supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case."

Separately, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the U.S. had more hate groups last year than at any point in at least the past two decades. The organization, which tracks white supremacists and other far-right extremists, said the 1,020 groups it counted in 2018 amounted to the highest number since the center broadened its survey of such groups in the 1990s.

The center said it was the fourth straight year of hate group growth, representing a 30 percent increase roughly coinciding with Trump's campaign and presidency. That came following three straight years of decline near the end of the Obama administration.

And the Justice Department reported in November that hate crimes across the U.S. spiked 17 percent in 2017 — marking a rise for the third straight year. There were 7,175 reported hate crimes that year, up from 6,121 in 2016, according to the FBI report. More than half of the crimes were motivated by bias against a person's race or ethnicity. Anti-Semitic hate crimes increased 37 percent.

Among the episodes in the last few years: a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 after which Trump blamed "both sides" for violence, and last October's shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in which the gunman accused of killing 11 people allegedly drew inspiration from white nationalism. Authorities last month arrested a Coast Guard lieutenant, an alleged white supremacist who appeared interested in attacking top Democrats and network TV journalists.

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ENVIRONMENT

TRUMP: "How is the Paris Environmental Accord working out for France? After 18 weeks of rioting by the Yellow Vest Protesters, I guess not so well! In the meantime, the United States has gone to the top of all lists on the Environment." — tweet Saturday.

THE FACTS: The United States is not No. 1.

Several databases and reports show countries with cleaner air, as measured both in dangerous small particles and in ozone, which is smog.

For example, the Health Effects Institute's state of global air report found 65 countries with less smog when adjusted for season and population. Those include Sweden, Switzerland, France, Germany, Norway, Canada and Venezuela. And in the more dangerous small particles, eight countries bested the U.S. Among them were Finland, Sweden and Norway.

As well, Yale's performance index ranks the United States 10th in overall air quality behind Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and others. But when it comes to dangerous soot exposure levels, the United States ranked 87th, just worse than the Philippines. On water quality, the Yale index placed the U.S. at 29th and gives the U.S. an overall environmental performance ranking of 27th in the world.

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TRUMP ON JOHN MCCAIN

TRUMP: "'Last in his class' (Annapolis) John McCain." — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: He's wrong that the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona graduated last in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

While McCain famously racked up demerits and earned poor grades, he ultimately graduated fifth from the bottom of his 1958 class.

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TRADE

TRUMP: "Congratulations @Toyota! BIG NEWS for U.S. Auto Workers! The USMCA is already fixing the broken NAFTA deal." — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump suggests that Toyota's announcement that it would create hundreds more U.S. jobs is the result of his United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That's a lot of credit to give a trade pact that doesn't yet exist.

Trump's tweet links to a Toyota press release in which the automaker said it would invest nearly $13 billion in its U.S. operations by 2021, adding new jobs at U.S. manufacturing plants.

Trump did sign a draft of a revised trade agreement with leaders from Mexico and Canada in November. It is intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the tentative agreement's fate in Congress, which must approve the deal, remains uncertain. For instance, some Democrats, who now control the House, have voiced concerns that the deal could force Americans to pay more for prescription drugs, which has dimmed the outlook for one of the president's signature causes.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

BETO O'ROURKE, on global warming: "This is our final chance. The scientists are absolutely unanimous on this. That we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis." — remarks in Keokuk, Iowa, on Thursday.

THE FACTS: There is no scientific consensus, much less unanimity, that the planet only has 12 years to fix the problem.

A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, drawn from the work of hundreds of scientists, uses 2030 as a prominent benchmark because signatories to the Paris agreement have pledged emission cuts by then. But it's not a last chance, hard deadline for action, as it has been interpreted in some quarters.

"Glad to clear this up," James Skea, co-chairman of the report and professor of sustainable energy at Imperial College London, told The Associated Press. The panel "did not say we have 12 years left to save the world."

He added: "The hotter it gets, the worse it gets, but there is no cliff edge."

"This has been a persistent source of confusion," agreed Kristie L. Ebi, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle. "The report never said we only have 12 years left."

The report forecasts that global warming is likely to increase by 0.5 degrees Celsius or 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit between 2030 and 2052 "if it continues to increase at the current rate." The climate has already warmed by 1 degree C or 1.8 degrees F since the pre-Industrial Age.

Even holding warming to that level brings harmful effects to the environment, the report said, but the impact increases greatly if the increase in the global average temperature approaches 2 degrees C or 3.6 degrees F.

"The earth does not reach a cliff at 2030 or 2052," Ebi told AP. But "keep adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and temperatures will continue to rise."

As much as climate scientists see the necessity for broad and immediate action to address global warming, they do not agree on an imminent point of no return.

Cornell University climate scientist Natalie M. Mahowald told the AP that a 12-year time frame is a "robust number for trying to cut emissions" and to keep the increase in warming under current levels.

But she said sketching out unduly dire consequences is not "helpful to solving the problem."

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THE BORDER

TRUMP: "Since 1976, presidents have declared 59 national emergencies. ... The only emergency Congress voted to revoke was the one to protect our own country. So, think of that: With all of the national emergencies, this was the one they don't want to do. And this is the one, perhaps, they should most do." — Oval Office remarks Friday after vetoing the congressional resolution seeking to strike down his declaration of a border emergency.

THE FACTS: His declaration was not the only one designed to protect the country.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency in 2009 to protect the nation from the swine flu, which had killed more than 1,000 people and spread to 46 states before he took that step. The H1N1 flu strain was linked to more than 274,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths in the U.S. between April 2009 and April 2010.

It enabled the activation of emergency plans, such as moving emergency rooms offsite to keep those infected with the virus away from other emergency room patients, and it had Republican support. Unlike Trump's order, it was not designed to free up money that Congress had already refused to spend.

Most national emergencies declared by presidents have been narrowly drawn, designed to protect U.S. interests in foreign countries, often in response to crises breaking abroad.

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TRUMP on border security: "We're apprehending record numbers of people." — drug-trafficking meeting Wednesday.

THE FACTS: One major record has been broken — the number of migrant families arrested for crossing into the U.S. illegally. Other records have not.

More than 76,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last month, more than double the number from the same period last year. Most were families coming in increasingly large groups.

Overall numbers of Border Patrol arrests were the highest in 12 years, but not the highest ever.

The annual numbers are far from a record. About 400,000 people were arrested for crossing the border illegally in the last budget year, just one-quarter of the 1.6 million in 2000. That is the record.

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RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

TRUMP, on the sentencing of his former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, to a second federal prison term: "I can only tell you one thing: Again that was proven today, no collusion." — remarks Wednesday to reporters at the White House.

THE FACTS: There was no such proof in that trial or in Manafort's other trial. The question of collusion was not a part of the charges against Manafort. It's one of the central issues in Mueller's separate and continuing investigation, which is believed to be winding down soon.

In the case that produced Manafort's first prison sentence, he was convicted of tax and bank fraud related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians. Judge T.S. Ellis III neither cleared nor implicated the president, instead emphasizing that Manafort was "not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government."

Trump ignored that point afterward, tweeting: "Both the Judge and the lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia." Trump misquoted the lawyer as well as the judge.

On Wednesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Manafort for misleading the government about his foreign lobbying work and for encouraging witnesses to lie on his behalf. Again, the case did not turn on his leadership of Trump's campaign. "The investigation is still ongoing," she noted, scolding Manafort's lawyers for bringing up the "no collusion" refrain during the trial.

The two judges sentenced Manafort to 7.5 years altogether.

As with other Americans who were close to Trump and have been charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn't been accused of involvement in Russian election interference. Nor has he been cleared of that suspicion. The same is true of Trump.

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TRUMP, asserting political bias in the FBI based on testimony by former FBI lawyer Lisa Page: "Comey testified (under oath) that it was a 'unanimous' decision on Crooked Hillary. Lisa Page transcripts show he LIED." — tweet Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Nothing in Page's testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last year indicates that former FBI Director James Comey lied about his investigative team's decision not to recommend charges against 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Clinton in her handling of an email server while secretary of state. A transcript of Page's testimony was released by the panel's top Republican this past week.

Trump is correct that Comey did testify to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July 2016 that the decision on no charges was unanimous among his investigative team.

In the newly released transcript, Page said the investigative team determined it did not have "sufficient evidence" against Clinton to bring a charge of "gross negligence" in her handling of emails.

Page did note there was some "smack talk" by higher-level FBI officials expressing a desire to "get" Clinton. "So I am aware of senior FBI officials talking to subordinate FBI officials on the Hillary Clinton investigative team who unquestionably had anti-Hillary sentiment, but who also said: You have to get her or — again, I don't have an exact quote — but like we're counting on you, you know," Page said.

But Page also noted that none of those officials was in a position of authority over the investigation any longer.

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MELANIA TRUMP

TRUMP: "The Fake News photoshopped pictures of Melania, then propelled conspiracy theories that it's actually not her by my side in Alabama and other places. They are only getting more deranged with time!" — tweet Wednesday.

THE FACTS: No, there's no evidence that the news organizations Trump likes to call the "Fake News" doctored pictures of Melania Trump to peddle the falsehood that a stand-in took the first lady's place in Alabama last week or other places at other times. Some wrote about the fakery, spread by a mix of satirical, gullible and anti-Trump people online, and Trump's tweet gives them more visibility than they would have had otherwise.

Among them, The Guardian columnist Marina Hyde tweeted in October 2017 that she was "absolutely convinced Melania is being played by a Melania impersonator these days." She followed up with an admission that she had indulged in a "parallel fake universe" in which she fantasized that the first lady had escaped to small-town Missouri and was volunteering at a shelter for refugees.

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RAIL SAFETY

TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY ELAINE CHAO, on positive train control: "Nothing happened on this until we came into office. And I would like some credit for that." — remarks to reporters on March 11.

THE FACTS: Her comment is inaccurate that "nothing" was done on positive train control before she took control of the Transportation Department.

The Federal Railroad Administration took an aggressive posture on the braking technology under the Obama administration. After an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia in 2015, the agency's administrator, Sarah Feinberg, pushed railroads to move faster on installing positive train control, which has been available for years. The GPS-based technology is designed to automatically slow or stop trains that are going too fast and can take over control of a train when an engineer is distracted or incapacitated.

Congress had mandated that railroad companies install the braking technology by 2015, after a 2008 Metrolink crash in California killed 25 people. But the rail industry persuaded Congress to push back the installation deadline to 2018, while allowing railroads to apply for an extension until 2020 in some circumstances.

Feinberg said she wouldn't accept further delays and had her agency post quarterly updates about each railroad's progress on her agency's website.

She warned railroads that any extensions beyond the 2018 deadline would only be considered if the railroads could prove they made a good-faith effort to meet the mandate. She also told railroads to submit plans that spelled out their detailed schedules for the braking systems and warned that the agency could fine them up to $5,000 per day if they didn't file the required plans.

In contrast, Chao was noncommittal on the deadline at her confirmation hearing, saying she needed to be briefed on the technology.

Progress with the system has continued under the Trump administration but is not complete.

As of December, the braking technology was in use on 30 percent of the miles for which it is required for passenger railroad travel, up from 24 percent at the end of the Obama administration, according to federal statistics. It's in use on 83 percent of the required miles for freight railroads, up from 16 percent in the same period.

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BREXIT

TRUMP, on how he stood at his Scottish golf resort, Turnberry, on the eve of the Brexit referendum and predicted that the British would vote to leave the European Union: "I predicted it was going to happen and I was right and people laughed when I predicted it and they won by about two points. And I was standing out on Turnberry and we had a press conference and people were screaming. That was the day before, if you remember. I think you were there. And people were screaming and I said, 'No, I think it's going to happen.' And people were surprised I made the prediction ...because President Obama made the opposite prediction. And I was right." — remarks Thursday at White House.

THE FACTS: As when he has told this story before, Trump is mixing up his predictions and his days. A month before the vote, he did predict accurately that Britain would vote to leave the EU. The day after the 2016 vote — not the day before — he predicted from his Scottish resort that the EU would collapse because of Britain's withdrawal. That remains to be seen.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Chad Day, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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