alternative facts
January 30, 2019

On Tuesday, the heads of America's intelligence agencies testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about their annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and other intelligence chiefs warned about the continued threats from the Islamic State, Russia and China, cyber-warfare, and the enduring nuclear threat from North Korea. They said Iran is not taking steps to develop nuclear weapons and is in compliance with the nuclear deal negotiated with President Barack Obama. And they barely mentioned Mexico.

"Their analysis stands in sharp contrast to [President] Trump’s almost singular focus on security gaps at the border as the biggest threat facing the United States," and it directly contradicts Trump on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, and Russia, The Associated Press notes. "None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall," The Washington Post says, though the U.S. intelligence chiefs "tried to avoid directly questioning administration policies," The New York Times adds.

The 42-page Worldwide Threat Assessment also found that current U.S. trade policies and "unilateralism" have harmed traditional U.S. alliances and sent some foreign allies looking for other relationships. And the intelligence chiefs weren't the only ones implicitly criticizing Trump's "America first" policy. Foreign enemies "want to see us abandon our friends and our allies," Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said at the hearing. "They want to see us lessen our global presence. They want to see us squabble and divide. But their tools are different."

Senators also pressed the intelligence chiefs about reports that White House officials had overruled CIA security specialists in awarding Jared Kushner top secret security clearance, NBC News reports. "Coats responded that all the intelligence agencies could do is provide information, and it was up to the White House to decide who gets access to the nation's secrets." Peter Weber

August 22, 2018

President Trump's longtime personal attorney pleaded guilty to an assortment of crimes Tuesday, but some of them were apparently only crimes of the "fake news" variety.

Trump on Wednesday insisted that Michael Cohen's guilty plea regarding campaign finance violations is unfair, because those actions are "not a crime." Ignoring the fact that breaking campaign finance laws is indeed a crime, Trump also breezed past Cohen's other counts of tax evasion.

The tweet was Trump's first substantial comment on his former fixer's legal peril; he remained silent on the issue in the hours after the news, and has mainly focused on the "witch hunt" facing his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Trump pointed to former President Barack Obama, whose campaign was fined $375,000 back in 2008 for failing to report all donors. Trump complained that Obama's case was "easily settled," while Cohen faces possible jail time. Trump dispensed his legal advice for both Cohen and Manafort on Twitter, perhaps because Trump thinks Cohen is a terrible lawyer who can't figure it out for himself. Summer Meza

April 20, 2018

"Well, a coordinated smear campaign is underway against both Robert Mueller and James Comey, a joint effort by the president's supporters and Fox News, two groups which are increasingly indistinguishable from one another," Anderson Cooper said on CNN Thursday night. "The smear campaign includes a number of claims that are just plain false — the whole thing's frankly kind of weird, so stay with me here."

Cooper began with the quickly debunked claim by President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski that Comey had been in charge of the FBI during the Boston Marathon bombing — a story that, when confronted, he changed to something about Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. Lewandoski was just trying to "grasp at another straw in this bale of B.S.," Cooper said, and he traced the Bulger thread back to Alan Dershowitz, who was talking about Mueller. Dershowitz walked back his Mueller claim, but "of course, by then, the genie was out of the bottle, and the president's supporters, hellbent on smearing the Russian investigation, have taken said genie and run with it," he added. "And you know what that means — enter Sean Hannity." You can watch Cooper walk through and pull down these two allegations below. Peter Weber

March 19, 2018

Snowy weather in the nation's capital has inspired some unconventional meteorology.

Washington D.C. councilman Trayon White Sr. apologized for posting a video in which he pushed a conspiracy theory that the Rothschild family, a prominent Jewish business dynasty, controls the weather. White, a Democrat, took to Facebook on Friday when flakes began to fall, posting a video to his official page that insisted the flurry was more than it appeared, reports The Washington Post.

"Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y'all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation," White said in the video. "And D.C. keep talking about, 'We a resilient city.' And that's a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful."

The Rothschilds have been the subject of a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the Post reports, many of which claim that the billionaire family, along with other Jews, manipulate world events to gain control. White apologized for the video in a statement to the Post.

"I work hard everyday to combat racism and prejudices of all kinds. I want to apologize to the Jewish community and anyone I have offended," he said. "The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues."

Read the full report at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

March 16, 2018

On Wednesday night, The Washington Post printed some of President Trump's remarks to Republican donors in Missouri in which Trump boasted about snowing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with incorrect facts about U.S.-Canadian trade. When Trudeau said the U.S. has no trade deficit with Canada, Trump recounted, "I said, 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know. Josh, I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.'"

At Thursday's White House press briefing, Fox News Radio's Jon Decker asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Trump admitting "he was not exactly truthful in his conversation with his counterpart from Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau," and Sanders cut him off. "That's actually not what he said," she insisted, before repeating his four-Pinnochio claim that the U.S. does actually have a trade deficit with Canada. (The U.S. exports more goods and services to Canada than it imports.)

As luck would have it, a GOP donor also gave audio of Trump's comments to NBC News, which broadcast them on Thursday morning.

Maybe someone will point this out to Sanders at Friday's press briefing, and we can do this all again. Peter Weber

March 7, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston on Tuesday that "there's no such thing as free energy," which is undeniably true. But in arguing that the costs were roughly equal for various forms of energy production, he marshaled some alternative facts.

"Certainly oil and gas and coal have a consequence on carbon," Zinke told the oil and gas executives and others at the conference. But solar energy takes land out of use for recreation and hunting, he said, and "we probably chop us as many as 750,000 birds a year with wind, and the carbon footprint on wind is significant."

President Trump has attacked wind farms, claiming in 2016 that "more than 1 million birds a year" die with wind energy. But like Trump, "Zinke is exaggerating the figure beyond virtually all published estimates," says Amy Harder at Axios, and "turbines are a drop in the bucket when it comes to the human-related causes of bird deaths." Also, over their life cycles, wind turbines generate up to 3 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that coal does and 7 percent of the emissions from gas-fired electricity.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, a part of the Interior Department, the "most comprehensive and statistically sound estimates" put the number of birds killed in wind turbines at 134,000 to 437,000 a year. That number will grow as wind generation expands, but for context, a 2012 Bureau of Land Management memo estimates that 500,000 to 1 million birds die each year in oilfields. "Regardless of the estimate, wind turbines rank much lower than many other human-caused threats in terms of total birds killed," says University of Oklahoma professor Scott Loss. Peter Weber

October 17, 2017

President Trump has gotten some flak for claiming, falsely, that former President Barack Obama and other ex-presidents did not call the families of fallen troops, but that was only one of the bits of indisputably "fake news" Trump spread during his two interactions with reporters on Monday, by Mike Allen's count at Axios early Tuesday. ObamaCare isn't "dead," for example, because Trump's "repeated efforts to repeal it failed," Allen notes, and the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aren't "closer than ever before," because "both men and their staffs have been trashing each other in public and private for months."

Trump spreading fake news isn't new, Allen concedes, "and, yes, 35 percent of voters don't seem to care. But that doesn't make it any less dangerous." You can read his list of other demonstrable untruths, a few Trump "keeper" quotes, and a bonus prognostication from Stephen Bannon at Axios. Peter Weber

July 19, 2017

President Trump shared some alternative history during his interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, confidently saying that "out of courtesy," the FBI director began reporting to the Department of Justice during Richard Nixon's tenure as president, but "the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States." This is not true.

The FBI director is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but reports to the attorney general. As the FBI spells it out on its website: "Within the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI is responsible to the attorney general, and it reports its findings to U.S. Attorneys across the country. The FBI's intelligence activities are overseen by the Director of National Intelligence." The president does have the power to fire the FBI director, as Trump showed earlier this year when he canned former FBI Director James Comey, without even having to give a reason.

Trump said he believes that it's just a courtesy for the FBI to report to the Justice Department because "there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress," he told the Times. "There was nothing — anything. But the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we're going to have a great new FBI director."

He started talking about his nominee, Chris Wray, who is "highly thought of by everybody," when the conversation turned to Comey, but the interview was soon interrupted by Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and 6-year-old granddaughter, Arabella Kushner. The proud grandfather told the Times that young Kushner "speaks fluent Chinese" and spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and requested she say, "I love you, Grandpa." After Kushner responded, "Wo ai ni, Grandpa," Trump asked, "She's unbelievable, huh? Good, smart genes." Catherine Garcia

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