FactCheck

Who’s to Blame for Higher Gas Prices?

With gasoline prices rising, Sen. Chuck Schumer placed the blame on President Donald Trump, and specifically his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. But experts say that decision has had only a modest effect so far on rising prices at the pump.

One expert estimated the impact of the Iran deal on gasoline prices at “maybe 3 to 5 cents per gallon.”

Gasoline prices have been rising fairly steadily since late 2016 when OPEC decided to curb its oil production. Experts say that is the main driver of rising prices, though there are others outside Trump’s control as well.

Schumer complained about the rising prices of gasoline at a May 23 press conference at an Exxon station in Washington, D.C., where a sign showed regular gas selling for $3.89 a gallon (the national average on May 21 was $2.92). The Democratic Senate leader blamed Trump for not doing more to encourage leaders in oil-rich countries and domestic oil executives to lower prices. He also blamed Trump’s policies — specifically his decision to back out of the Iran deal — for helping to drive up prices at the pump.

“According to energy analysts and experts, President Trump’s reckless decision to pull out of the Iran deal has led to higher oil prices,” Schumer said. “These higher oil prices are translating directly to soaring gas prices, something we know disproportionately hurts middle- and lower-income people, since a larger chunk of their disposable income goes for gasoline.”

Schumer pointed to one analysis, from Goldman Sachs, that concluded higher oil prices were canceling the consumption benefits of the Trump-led tax cuts passed earlier this year.

“Whatever meager benefit working families might’ve seen from Trump’s tax scam for the rich is being wiped out by the gas prices that President Trump is responsible for,” Schumer said.

We asked Schumer’s office for backup for the claim that the decision to back out of the Iran deal “has led to higher oil prices … translating directly to soaring gas prices.” Schumer’s office pointed to several statements from industry experts immediately before and after Trump announced his decision on May 8 to pull out of the Iran deal.

For example, just prior to Trump’s announcement, Devin Gladden, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association, told Newsweek, “If sanctions are reinstated, the U.S. could see potential impact on gas prices this summer, leading to the national average ranging between $2.80 and $3.00. Any immediate impact will be to crude oil prices, which will then trickle over to retail later this summer.”

Dan Eberhart, CEO of oilfield services company Canary LLC, echoed those concerns, saying just after Trump’s announcement, “Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal will support higher oil prices.”

“I would have to say several dollars per barrel of what we’re seeing today is due to Iran concerns,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, told Vox just prior to Trump’s announcement.

We spoke to DeHaan, and he told us Trump’s decision on the Iran deal turned out to have a “relatively small impact,” pushing the price of crude oil up about $2 to $3 a barrel, which he said translates to “maybe 3 to 5 cents per gallon” extra. That could change if the United State’s allies join in the sanctions imposed by Trump, he said.

OPEC’s decision to limit oil production has played a far larger role in driving up gasoline prices, he said. A strong global economy also has contributed to rising prices, he said.

Gasoline prices were rising steadily long before Trump announced his decision to walk away from the Iran deal. Indeed, on the day Trump announced his decision, the Energy Information Administration released a short-term energy outlook that forecast a continuing rise in gasoline prices for the April–September summer driving season, and it made no mention of the Iran deal.

Energy Information Administration, May 8: For the 2018 April–September summer driving season, EIA forecasts U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.90/gallon (gal), 17 cents/gal higher than in last month’s STEO and up from an average of $2.41/gal last summer. The higher forecast gasoline prices are primarily the result of higher forecast crude oil prices. For the year 2018, EIA expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.79/gal. Monthly average gasoline prices are forecast to reach a summer peak of $2.97/gal in June, before falling to $2.86/gal in September.

Tom Kloza, an oil industry analyst and founder of the Oil Price Information Service, said Schumer is wrong to pin the blame for rising gasoline prices on Trump.

“Perhaps 75% of the ascent for crude oil and gasoline was tied to the usual factors; a very disciplined OPEC agreement and global demand growth that has outpaced global supply growth,” Kloza told us via email. “The withdrawal from the Iranian agreement helped promote a small geopolitical risk premium on oil, as did the continued deterioration of Venezuelan oil production and refinery output.

“In a sense, the rhetoric on Iran and worries about policies that hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton might pursue made oil markets a bit too risky for short sellers, and these markets depend on short sellers as circuit breakers. But most of the run-up in crude and gasoline prices had roots in robust global GDP and a higher appetite for oil from emerging economies,” Kloza said. “The other new factor this year has come via robust exports of U.S. crude, gasoline, and diesel fuel, but those trends are market-linked and not tied to political policy or bluster.”

Blaming the president for rising gasoline prices is a popular political ploy. Indeed, Trump often blamed Obama for rising gasoline prices.

“Gas prices are at crazy levels–fire Obama!” Trump tweeted on Oct. 22, 2012, when the national average for regular gas was $3.69 a gallon. (See Trump’s other tweets about Obama here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

For the record, we wrote in 2011 that those attacks on Obama for rising gasoline prices were misplaced as well.

Said DeHaan: “It wasn’t President Obama’s fault then, and it’s not President Trump’s fault now.”

The post Who’s to Blame for Higher Gas Prices? appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Scientist Schools Congressmen on Climate

During a recent hearing on the role of innovation in addressing climate change, several Republicans made faulty claims about the climate, past and present:

  • Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks falsely claimed river sediment deposits and rocks falling from cliffs cause sea level rise, later writing that this was “the #1 cause.” Melting ice at the poles and ocean thermal expansion are the dominant causes.
  • Brooks also said global warming leads to more ice on Antarctica. That’s false. The continent has been losing ice since the beginning of the 21st century.
  • Texas Rep. Lamar Smith falsely said there’s “no correlation” between sea level rise and carbon emissions. Sea level rise is strongly linked to global warming, which is primarily caused by increased carbon emissions from humans.
  • Florida Rep. Bill Posey falsely claimed it was “30 degrees warmer when the dinosaurs roamed.” It was never that hot when dinosaurs lived. More importantly, it has never been close to that hot when humans lived.
  • Posey also claimed the last ice age “was caused by a cataclysmic collision of an asteroid.” That’s false. Ice ages are caused by changes in the Earth’s orbit and related factors.

The congressmen — all members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee — made their claims while questioning Philip Duffy, a physicist and the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, a climate change think tank. On a number of occasions, Duffy contested what the Republicans said, to no avail. We’ll take their claims one by one.

An Alabaman in Antarctica

Brooks, the congressman from Alabama, made two false claims during the hearing — one about river sediments and cliff rocks and another about ice in Antarctica — both during a debate with Duffy about the causes of sea level rise.

Brooks asked why “sea levels have risen” since “human beings have been on the planet.” Duffy then correctly explained that “sea levels over the last 3 million years have gone up and down in line with the cycles of ice ages.”

During their exchange, Duffy also said that “ground subsidence” is “a factor in some regions.” Ground subsidence, or the sinking of land, does contribute to land loss in some regions, such as in Louisiana, which we wrote about in March 2017.

But those answers didn’t satisfy Brooks, so he pointed to factors he believed are causing sea level rise.

Brooks, May 16: What about erosion? Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system and, for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems. And every time you have that soil or rock, or whatever is it, that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up. What about the White Cliffs of Dover, California, where you have the waves crashing against the shoreline, and time and time again you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea? All of that displaces water which forces it to rise. Does it not?

Duffy’s response: “I’m pretty sure that on human time scales those are minuscule effects.” Duffy is right again, as we’ll explain.

Brooks doubled-down on these claims in a May 19 op-ed published on the news site AL.com. “Over the history of planet Earth, far and away the #1 cause of sea level rise has been erosion and its resulting deposits of sediment and rocks into the world’s seas and oceans,” he wrote, adding, “There is no close second cause of sea level rise.”

This is false.

According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, global sea level rise is “primarily driven by two factors,” both directly related to global warming.

First, the oceans are expanding because water swells as it gets warmer. According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the “oceans are absorbing more than 90 percent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity.”

Second, there’s also more water in the oceans because mountain glaciers and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting, explains the 2017 report.

We asked Steven Goodbred Jr., an environmental scientist at Vanderbilt University whom we interviewed for another piece on sea level rise, for his take on Brooks’ claim. He did say that “sediment does displace water,” but it has a minuscule effect “on shorter time scales (<100 years) due to the small volume of sediment relative to the immense volume of the oceans.”

On time scales longer than 100 years, “it has no real effect” because of a process called isostasy, where “the added weight of sediment to the oceans causes the crust to sink and the reduced weight of the sediment eroded from the land causes it to rise,” Goodbred added. In other words, there’s “no net change in water level relative to land,” he said.

Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, a geology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans whom we spoke with for the March 2017 piece on land loss in Louisiana, gave us the same explanation, adding that Brooks’ comments “are utter nonsense.”

This brings us to the second false claim Brooks made. As he continued his exchange with Duffy, Brooks asked “would it surprise you to know that as global temperatures rise — assuming for the moment that they do — that that actually increases the amount of ice that is collected on Antarctica?” Brooks repeated these claims in his May 19 op-ed.

Duffy’s response: “That’s not true sir.” Duffy is right — it’s not.

We wrote about ice levels in Antarctica and Greenland in January, after President Donald Trump falsely implied the globe’s ice caps are at “record” high levels. According to NASA, both of these ice sheets have declined in mass since 2002. “Both ice sheets have seen an acceleration of ice mass loss since 2009,” the agency adds. 

During the hearing, Brooks supported his claim by saying that he “made a trip down to Antarctica and met with National Science Foundation scientists and they all agreed with global warming and they emphasized that you’re going to have an increase in the amount of ice in Antarctica because of global warming.”

His explanation?

“[P]rojected global warming will LOWER sea levels because warmer Antarctic air will carry more moisture above the Antarctic land mass, and deposit that moisture in the interior of Antarctica, where it will take hundreds of years to glacially make its way to the sea,” wrote Brooks in his op-ed. NSF “scientists opined that the increase in Antarctic continental ice will more than offset the loss of ice elsewhere on planet Earth.”

We reached out to Brooks’ office to ask for the names of the NSF-funded scientists who gave him this information, but we received no response. We also contacted multiple researchers studying the topic, and they all agreed that Brooks’ explanation was inaccurate.

Santiago de la Peña, a researcher at Ohio State University who studies glacier dynamics, told us that, while he was there when Brooks and other politicians visited Antarctica in 2014, he did “not recall having said conversation” with Brooks.

“Current climate models do contemplate an increase of snowfall over Antarctica in a warming scenario, which is logical given a potential increase of moisture in the atmosphere,” he added, but “the increase would be of an order of magnitude smaller than total mass loss.”

Erin Pettit, an associate professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who studies glaciers, told us that she “did meet with the congressional visitors as a whole for about 10 minutes,” but she didn’t speak with Brooks specifically. “The vast majority of the peer reviewed papers in recent years would not agree with the congressman’s statement,” she added.  

In short, while there might be some ice gained in the interior of Antarctica, there’s a net loss because ice is retreating along the coasts at a faster rate. Other experts in this area — Eric Steig at the University of Washington, David Holland at New York University and Richard Alley at Penn State — also told us Brooks’ claim was inaccurate for the same reasons. 

Smith Strikes Again

We’ve written plenty of times about claims made by Rep. Lamar Smith, who is the chairman of the House science committee. But rarely, if ever, has a scientist corrected him on the spot, as Duffy did during the hearing.

While putting up a slide showing two graphs (see image below), Smith said, “You will see that for the last 100 years sea level rise has been basically constant,” adding, “It’s been going up at about 1.8 mm per year, and you’ll see that there appears to be no correlation between the increase in the sea level and carbon emissions.”

Duffy interjected, pointing out to Smith that he had “shown a sea level record from one location.”

Duffy, May 16: You’ve shown a sea level record from one location.

Smith: Right, this is San Francisco. I’ve looked at also Boston, which appears to be the same.

Duffy: The rate of global sea level rise has accelerated and is now four times faster than it was 100 years ago.

Smith: Is this chart inaccurate then?

Duffy: It’s accurate, but it doesn’t represent what’s happening globally. It represents what’s happening in San Francisco.

Smith: All of the charts I’ve seen, whether it be San Francisco, whether it be Boston, or anywhere else, show about the same degree of increase.

Again, Duffy is right.

First, the rate of global sea level rise is around four times faster than what it was about 100 years ago. We reached out to Duffy for support for his claim, and he sent us a study led by James Hansen, a climate scientist at Columbia University. That paper summed up previous research on the topic, which showed the average rate of sea level rise was about 0.6 millimeters per year between 1900 and 1930. Between 1993 and 2015, the rate was about 2.6 mm per year, which is 4.3 times faster — and that’s the conservative estimate. 

However, we should mention that we’ve written previously that other climate scientists have said the Hansen paper’s future projections for global sea level rise are exaggerated, one of those scientists being Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. We reached out to Mann to ask him if the paper’s summary of past observations is accurate, and he confirmed that it is. 

Second, Duffy is right that sea level rise in San Francisco, or any other specific location, “doesn’t represent what’s happening globally.” As we explained in March 2017, local sea level rise takes into consideration phenomena, such as ground subsidence, not just melting ice and the thermal expansion of the oceans, which is what scientists consider when they look at rise globally.

Plus, juxtaposing sea level rise in one location with global carbon emissions is an apples-to-oranges comparison. When you look at sea level rise globally and compare it with global temperature rise, there is a strong association, says the 2017 Global Change Research Program’s report. And as we’ve written countless times, there’s also a causal link between global temperature rise and carbon emissions from human activity.

When we reached out to Smith’s office for comment, his spokesperson didn’t provide us with any evidence to the contrary.

Posey’s Scientific Faux Pas

Florida Rep. Bill Posey also questioned Duffy about the Earth’s climate previous to the development of human civilization — and made several scientific misstatements along the way.

During their exchange, Posey asked Duffy what “the temperature on Earth [was] before the last ice age,” to which Duffy responded, “Before the last ice age, the last interglacial, well, similar to what it was about 100 years ago.”

Duffy is a little off here. According to NOAA, “global mean annual surface temperatures were warmer than preindustrial [times] by about 1° to 2°C” during the last interglacial period, which started about 125,000 years ago. 

Posey followed up by rhetorically asking, “You think? You don’t think maybe it was 30 degrees warmer when dinosaurs roamed the Earth?” As we’ll explain, he’s much more than a little off.

Duffy then responded by correctly stating, “There certainly have been epochs in the past when global temperature was warmer than it is now.”

There have been periods during which the Earth’s mean temperature was warmer than it is today, but Posey is wrong to say that the mean global temperature was 30 degrees warmer at any point when dinosaurs roamed.

NOAA explains: “Our planet probably experienced its hottest temperatures in its earliest days” at more than 3000 degrees Fahrenheit about 4.54 billion years ago. Even after “those first scorching millennia,” Earth “has sometimes been much warmer than it is now,” the agency adds. NOAA points to two such periods — between 600 and 800 million years ago and about 55 to 56 million years ago.

NOAA points out that these record periods “occurred before humans existed.” It added, “Those ancient climates would have been like nothing our species has ever seen.” But did dinosaurs roam during either of these periods? 

Dinosaurs are traditionally thought of as living between 247 and 66 million years ago, a time known as the Mesozoic Era. However, scientifically speaking, dinosaurs still exist today, as research has shown that modern-day birds are a group of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction of dinosaurs occurring 66 million years ago.

So, a record warm period didn’t occur when dinosaurs, as we typically think of them, roamed the Earth. Still, since modern-day birds are technically dinosaurs, one could say dinosaurs were still around about 55 to 56 million years ago. But how hot was it?

During this period — what scientists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum — evidence suggests that the planet’s global mean temperature rose “by as much as 5-8°C (9-14°F) to an average temperature as high as 73°F,” NOAA explains. The global average temperature over the past few years has hovered between 58 and 59 F, or upwards of 1.5 F above the 20th century average of 57 F

So that comes out to, at most, around 14.5 F warmer about 55 million years ago than now — not 30 F warmer, as Posey said. In degrees Celsius, the difference would be even smaller. And it’s also worth reiterating that this warm period did not occur during the previous interglacial period — or the last ice age — about 125,000 years ago, which is what Posey first asked Duffy about.

In short, Posey’s statement is wrong on multiple counts.

Posey made another false claim while questioning Duffy about the cause of the last ice age.

Posey, May 16: What caused the end of the last ice age?

Duffy: The ice ages are caused by oscillations in the Earth’s orbital parameters.

Posey: Yeah, the last one was caused by a cataclysmic collision of an asteroid on this planet, I believe.

Again, Duffy is right and Posey is wrong. There are additional factors, however.

NOAA explains, “Variations in Earth’s orbit through time have changed the amount of solar radiation Earth receives in each season.” And the warmer periods — the interglacials — “tend to occur during periods of peak solar radiation in the Northern Hemisphere summer.” But there are likely other factors at play as well.

Pettit, at the University of Alaska, put it this way: “Ice ages in general are caused by subtle changes in the Earth’s orbit and Earth’s tilt, with complexities introduced by feedbacks within our climate system and the arrangement of the oceans and continents.”

One example of a feedback in the climate system is the ice-albedo feedback, NOAA explains. As solar radiation increases with changes to the Earth’s orbit, it melts ice covering the planet, which, in turn, leads to more solar radiation being absorbed by surface, leading to more warmth. Why? Because ice is more reflective, or has a higher albedo, than land or water.

So where did Posey get this idea that an asteroid caused the last ice age? We contacted his office to find out, but we never received a response.

Posey may be confusing the cause of ice ages with the theory that asteroid impacts caused the Younger Dryas. This is a period between 11,600 and 12,900 years ago when the planet’s climate got drastically colder, explains Nature in a September 2013 article. 

But as Pettit explained to us in an email, “That theory is definitely not the leading one, but more importantly it only applies to *one* particular cold period of a thousand years at the very end of the last ice age. It did *not* cause the last ice age.”

Toward the end of their exchange, Posey asked Duffy: “What do you say to people who theorize that the Earth, as it continues to warm, is returning to its normal temperature?” Duffy responded: “If you want to characterize a temperature above today’s temperature as normal, you’re free to do that, but that doesn’t mean that’s a planet that we want to live on.”

Posey then replied, “I don’t want to get philosophical,” adding, “I’m trying to stay on the science here.” But the fact of the matter is — he didn’t stick to the science, and neither did Brooks nor Smith.

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CNN Not Shutting Down

Q:  Is CNN going to shut down because of poor TV ratings?

A: No. There is no evidence to support that headline from a known purveyor of viral deceptions.

FULL ANSWER

CNN is not preparing to shutter, despite what an online headline claims.

“CNN To Permanently Close Its Doors As Ratings Plunge 30 Percent,” reads the May 18 headline on Your News Wire, a routine publisher of fabricated news stories. The story was posted elsewhere online, and shared on Facebook, where users rightfully flagged it as potentially false.

It presents no actual evidence of CNN’s closing, and instead cherry-picked ratings data to show that the network is having a “ratings crisis.”

It’s true that CNN “posted double-digit audience losses” during a week earlier this month, according to an Adweek article to which Your News Wire linked. CNN experienced a 29 percent decline in prime-time viewers during the week of May 7, compared to the same time last year, according to data from the analytics company Nielsen.

But neither Your News Wire, nor the conservative website Breitbart, which wrote a sizable portion of the text used in the story about CNN’s alleged demise, provided additional information that would paint a less dire picture of the network’s viewership.

For example, during the month of April, CNN saw a 4 percent year-over-year increase in prime-time viewers. And two of its programs, “New Day” and “CNN Tonight,” saw their largest average April audience ever.

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told us that ratings can be “complicated.”

“Especially when you start cherry-picking individual ratings for a certain month or a certain week,” he said. “Whoever’s trying to make the argument that X show is doing horribly can usually find … data to support one argument or another.”

For instance, when comparing the first quarter of 2018 with the first quarter of 2017, Fox News was down both in total day viewers, by 16 percent, and in prime-time viewers, by 13 percent. And, among Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, MSNBC was the only cable network whose ratings rose for the first quarter, year-over-year, with a 30 percent increase in both total day and prime-time viewers. Even so, Fox News remained the top cable news network, by ratings standards.

Generally, it’s best to examine data over longer periods of time to address trends — a year is better than, say, a week — and consider things “across the board,” Thompson said. In the case of CNN, that would include considering other factors, such as CNN’s performance internationally. (Nielsen ratings are specific to the U.S.)

“There are so many different numbers that are relevant,” Thompson said, “and so many different ways one can try to make sense of those numbers.”

He added: “I think CNN is looking at a whole bunch of their data when they decide to stay in business.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.

Sources

Adl-Tabatabai, Sean. “CNN To Permanently Close Its Doors As Ratings Plunge 30 Percent.” Yournewswire.com. 18 May 2018.

Fox News Channel Continues to Top Cable News Landscape in Both Total Day and Primetime for 65 Consecutive Quarters.” Press Release. Fox News. April 2018.

Katz, A.J. “April 2018 Ratings: CNN New Day and CNN Tonight Each Post Their Best April Ratings Ever.” Ad Week. 1 May 2018.

Katz, A.J. “The Big Three Finish Among Top 10 in Total Day; Fox News Is No. 1 and Posts Year-Over-Year Growth.” Ad Week. 15 May 2018.

Thompson, Robert. Director, Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 23 May 2018.

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No New Charges for Maxine Waters

Q: Has Rep. Maxine Waters recently been “charged on 3 counts”?

A: No. The California Democrat was investigated for ethics violations following a 2008 meeting, but she was found to have broken no rules.

FULL ANSWER

Nearly a decade ago, Rep. Maxine Waters was investigated for potential ethics violations. That inquiry, which concluded more than five years ago, found that she had not broken any congressional rules, laws, or regulations.

But, several dubious websites have posted a story that picked up on the old allegations, suggesting that the investigation is recent and ongoing.

The headline circulating on Facebook says: “California Democrat Maxine Waters Charged on 3 Counts. Do You Support This?”

After readers click on the headline, the story claims: “The House Ethics Committee has at long last charged Maxine Waters (D-CA) with defilement.”

It’s unclear what the story is referring to when it says she was charged with “defilement.” The subcommittee that investigated Waters alleged three counts of misconduct under these rules:

  • The first clause of the Code of Official Conduct in the Rules of the House of Representatives, which says members must “reflect creditably on the House;”
  • The third clause of that conduct code, which bars members from using their influence to make money;
  • The fifth paragraph of the appendix to part 73 of the Code of Ethics For Government Service, which bars government workers from accepting “favors or benefits.”

Also, the inquiry was opened in 2009 and concluded in 2012, according to the final report, so the story’s claim that the committee has “at long last” charged the congresswoman isn’t accurate.

The situation that led to the years-long investigation dates back to 2008, when Waters arranged a meeting between Henry Paulson, who was the treasury secretary at the time, and the National Bankers Association, which represents minority-owned banks. According to the initial report from the Office of Congressional Ethics in 2009, though, the primary focus of the meeting, and the follow-up afterwards, was on one particular bank, OneUnited Bank, where Waters’ husband had previously been on the board of directors and was, at the time, a stockholder.

The investigation of potential ethical violations concluded that Waters did not violate any rules or laws, because she didn’t know that OneUnited would figure so prominently in the meeting that she arranged.

“Representative Waters reasonably believed she was arranging the Treasury meeting on behalf of a broad class of minority banks, and that in doing so she did not violate any House rule, law, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct,” the final report said.

The committee did, however, issue a letter of reproval to Waters’ chief of staff, Mikael Moore, for his role in facilitating help for OneUnited. Moore is also her grandson.

When the recent story mentioning the investigation showed up on Facebook, users of the social media site flagged it as potentially false.

It’s true that there was an investigation, but the story is misleading since it never discloses that the investigation concluded with a finding that Waters didn’t violate any rules.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.

Sources

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics. Report — In The Matter of Representative Maxine Waters. 25 Sep 2012.

California Democrat Maxine Waters Charged on 3 Counts. Do You Support This?” 7newspolitical.site. 20 May 2018.

Office of Congressional Ethics. Report and Findings. 6 Aug 2009.

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Trump’s Misleading L.A. Story

President Donald Trump claimed that federal immigration officials asked the Los Angeles Police Department in January to detain an “illegal immigrant,” but the police “let him go, and he killed somebody.” That’s not how it happened.

The murder occurred last summer — before federal immigration officials say they issued a detainer request — so it did not happen after police released him, as Trump implied.

Los Angeles has a history of being what Trump refers to as a “sanctuary city.”

In 2012, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that people living in the U.S. illegally who were arrested for low-level crimes would no longer be turned over to immigration officials for deportation. At the time, Beck said the city needed to focus on the most serious and violent criminals and initiating deportation for “petty” criminals eroded trust in the city’s Hispanic communities.

Two years later, the city — which has a Hispanic population of about 49 percent — announced that its police would not honor federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain unless they were accompanied by a federal warrant or “Judicial Determination of Probable Cause for that detainer.”

Since taking office, the president and his administration have clashed with jurisdictions that refuse to honor ICE detainer requests.

Less than a week after his inauguration, Trump issued an executive order threatening to deny federal funds to jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration laws. After that was nullified by a federal court, the administration turned to withholding law enforcement funds. But Los Angeles sued the Trump administration, and a federal judge last month ruled that the federal government could not give funding preference to localities based on their level of cooperation with immigration laws.

It was against this backdrop that the president told his L.A. murder story at a May 16 meeting, which the White House called a “California Sanctuary State Roundtable.

Trump, May 16: In January, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested an illegal immigrant from Mexico for drug possession. Instead of honoring the ICE detainer, they set him free. Just a few weeks later, he was arrested again, this time for murder. So they arrested him, they had him, they let him go. Tom, you’ve seen this. They let him go, and he killed somebody.

After the president made his remarks, we contacted the LAPD and the White House to get details on this case. The White House said that a 30-year-old Mexican national was arrested on Jan. 7, 2018, on a drug possession charge. That same day, the White House told us, ICE issued a detainer request, but the man was released.

“On February 26, 2018, he was again arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department for Murder, and booked into the Los Angeles County Jail, where he remains in custody,” the White House said in an email to us.

But the White House did not give us the man’s name, citing privacy rules, or the date of the murder. We also could not find any mention of a murder case in Nexis, the newspaper database, that matched the description of the one provided by the White House.

The LAPD declined repeated requests for information on the case, because we could not provide the name of the murder suspect. However, the police chief on May 22 told the Los Angeles Times that the president got his facts wrong.

Beck said the murder occurred during the summer and the suspect, Juan Ramirez, wasn’t arrested for the murder until February — so the police did not release an immigrant living in the country illegally who then went on to commit a murder.

Officer Tony Im told us that Ramirez, 30, was arrested on Feb. 26 for the murder of Isidro Alba, 39. The murder occurred on Aug. 27, 2017, in the Van Nuys section of the city, he said.

The police chief also told the Times that his office did not receive an ICE detainer for Ramirez in January, although he added that the department would not have honored it, anyway, “because we believe those requests are illegal.”

In a statement, ICE insisted that it issued three detainers for Ramirez. It said the LAPD arrested Ramirez three times and all three times the federal agency issued detainer requests (on Nov. 28, 2017, Jan. 8, 2018, and Feb. 27, 2018).

“ICE has placed three detainers on Mr. Ramirez in the last six months, all of which were not honored, leaving Mr. Ramirez free to reoffend in an escalating fashion rather than be placed in immigration court proceedings and removed from the United States,” the ICE statement said.

ICE’s claim that the LAPD’s release of Ramirez allowed him “to reoffend in an escalating fashion” is inaccurate. As we said, the murder occurred Aug. 27, 2017 — which was three months before the first detainer was issued. We don’t have information on the November arrest, but the January arrest was “on suspicion of a minor narcotics violation,” according to the Times.

We were not able to immediately resolve the disagreement over whether the detainers were issued (as ICE says) or not (as the LAPD insists). Lori K. Haley, an ICE spokeswoman who provided us with information on Ramirez, declined to provide copies of the detainers issued for Ramirez. We were instructed to file a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request, which takes time to process.

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Trump’s and Pelosi’s Immigration Spat

President Donald Trump’s use of the word “animals” in what he says was a reference to MS-13 gang members has resulted in a spat between the president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

  • Pelosi criticized Trump for saying “undocumented immigrants” were “animals,” adding that we have to “respect the dignity and worth of every person.” Trump later clarified that he was talking about MS-13, not all immigrants trying to enter the country illegally.
  • The president then said Pelosi “came out in favor of MS-13” and was “trying to find all sorts of reasons why they should be able to stay.” She didn’t do either of those things. Her remarks about treating “undocumented immigrants” with respect did not mention MS-13 members at all.

Trump made his original “animals” comment during a May 16 roundtable discussion at the White House with California political and law enforcement leaders. The discussion began shortly after 3 p.m., according to the White House transcript. Trump started off the event by claiming the state’s so-called “sanctuary” policy, limiting state and local law enforcement’s communications with federal immigration authorities, “provides safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on Earth, like MS-13 gang members putting innocent men, women, and children at the mercy of these sadistic criminals.”

Much later on during the event, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims talked about issues involving the communication between those working in local jails and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Mims mentioned MS-13, and Trump responded with comments on “people coming into the country,” without mentioning the gang:

Sheriff Mims, May 16: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 gang member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.

Trump: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.

Some news coverage of the event said Trump referred to some immigrants as “animals.” Other reports said his remarks were about immigrant gang members.

The following morning, on May 17, Pelosi commented on the president’s remarks during her weekly press conference. She criticized Trump for saying “undocumented immigrants” were “animals.”

Pelosi, May 17: We believe some of us who are attracted to the political arena and to government and public service that we’re all God’s children. There’s a spark of divinity in every person on Earth and that we all have to recognize that as we respect the dignity and worth of every person. … And so when the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, ‘these aren’t people, these are animals,’ you have to wonder, does he not believe in the spark of divinity? The dignity and worth of every person? ‘These are not people, these are animals,’ the president of the United States. … Calling people ‘animals’ is not a good thing.

Later that day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked what the president meant by the remark, and she said he “was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members.” Later that same day, Trump, too, was asked to clarify his remarks, and he said: “But I’m referring, and you know I’m referring, to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in.”

We can’t say what Trump meant when he made his remarks, but there is a history of Trump referring to MS-13 gang members as “animals.” Given that, and the larger context of the conversation about people who are in jails and in the country illegally, it’s certainly plausible that he was referring to the gang members.

At a July 25, 2017, rally in Ohio, Trump called MS-13 gang members “animals” who “slice and dice” young girls because they want their victims “to go through excruciating pain.” Three days later in New York, Trump retold the story of gang members using knives instead of guns because “it’s more painful, and they enjoy watching that much more. These are animals.”

Trump now has been putting his spin on Pelosi’s remarks.

At a May 22 gala event for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights group, Trump claimed: “And the other day — just the other day — Nancy Pelosi came out in favor of MS-13. That’s the first time I’ve heard that. She wants them to be treated with respect, as do other Democrats. That’s not going to be happening. We’re not going to release violent criminals into our country.”

But Pelosi did not come “out in favor of MS-13.” She didn’t mention the gang or gang members at all.

He also falsely implies that Democrats — by treating criminals with respect — would “release violent criminals into our country.” He went even further on May 23, when he said in an interview on Fox News: “You heard Nancy Pelosi the other day, like, trying to find all sorts of reasons why they should be able to stay.” Pelosi did not say violent gang members in the U.S. illegally “should be able to stay.”

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Trump Misquotes Clapper on FBI ‘Spy’

In a morning tweetstorm on the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump misquoted James Clapper. Trump claimed the former intelligence director said, “Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign,” when, in fact, Clapper said the FBI did not spy on his campaign.

Clapper said that Trump should have been happy to know that the FBI was investigating “what the Russians were doing” to infiltrate his campaign and influence a U.S. presidential election.

The president in recent days has repeatedly accused the FBI of spying on his campaign in the summer of 2016. He’s referring to media reports that an undercover FBI intelligence source met with Trump campaign aides in the summer and fall of 2016 as part of the agency’s counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential campaign.

In a tweet on May 20, Trump called for the Justice Department to “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” A day later, the Justice Department announced it asked the department’s inspector general to conduct a review.

Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation, said that “if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”

Even before the inspector general’s office begins its work, however, the president has determined that the FBI was illegally spying on his campaign. In a series of tweets on the morning of May 23, Trump claimed the FBI informant “was only there to spy for political reasons,” calling it “a major spy scandal” — which he dubbed “spygate.”

He also misquoted Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, who appeared on “The View” on May 22 to talk about his new book, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence.” The show’s co-hosts, Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, later asked Clapper about the FBI’s use of an undercover informant.

Behar specifically asked Clapper if the FBI was “spying on the Trump campaign.” He said it did not. Still, Trump distorted Clapper’s answer, putting these words in the mouth of the former intelligence head: “Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign.”

“Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign” No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2018

Trump’s choice of words is verbatim from a headline on Real Clear Politics — except that the website only put the words “happy” and “spying” in quotation marks.

In remarks to reporters later in the day, Trump said Clapper “sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign, yesterday, inadvertently.”

The exchange between Clapper and Behar shows that Clapper, in fact, never said that “the FBI was SPYING on his campaign.” Quite the opposite.

Clapper, May 22: With the informant business, well, the point here is —

Behar: Well, let me get to my questions.

Clapper: — are the Russians, not spying on the campaign. But what are the Russians doing and in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign.

Behar: … So, I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?

Clapper: No, they were not. They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence which is what they do.

Behar: Well, why doesn’t he like that? He should be happy.

Clapper: Well, he should be.

So, contrary to what Trump claimed, Clapper said the informant’s target was the Russians, not the Trump campaign.

In the course of its counterintelligence investigation, which is still ongoing, the U.S. intelligence community has found that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” according to a declassified intelligence report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Jan. 6, 2017. 

According to the report, Russian intelligence services gained access to the Democratic National Committee computer network and released hacked material to WikiLeaks and other outlets “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.” It also used “paid social media users or ‘trolls'” to wage a social media campaign to influence U.S. voters.  

So far, the special counsel’s office has charged three Russian organizations and 13 Russian nationals with illegal campaign activities and conspiracy to defraud the United States. According to the Feb. 16 indictment, Russians used the names of U.S. citizens and companies to illegally buy political ads on social media and paid “real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates.” U.S. citizens did not knowingly participate in these illegal activities, Rosenstein said at the time. 

In addition, the special counsel’s office has indicted Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business associate and a Trump campaign aide, on charges related to their work, conducted before the Trump campaign, for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements to federal investigators, and is now cooperating with investigators.

Also, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a professor who Papadopoulos “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. Flynn admitted he lied to FBI agents about two discussions he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, in December 2016 when Flynn was still a private citizen and before Trump took office.

Both Papadopoulos and Flynn are now cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation. (For more about these and other key moments in the investigation, please see “Timeline of Russia Investigation.”)

Papadopoulos was among three Trump campaign officials who were contacted by the FBI informant in the summer and fall of 2016, according to the Washington Post. The others were Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and foreign policy adviser Carter Page, the Post reported.

The FBI informant’s contacts with Trump campaign officials will be the subject of the inspector general’s report, so it remains unclear whether the agency acted properly or not. But it is clear that Clapper thinks the agency did exactly what it should have done, and the president distorts his words in claiming otherwise.

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