As he so often does, President Trump falsely declared on “60 Minutes” that North Korea and the United States were going to war before he stepped in to thwart it.
Interviewer Lesley Stahl was having none of it. “We were going to war?”
Trump immediately retreated to safer ground, expressing a view rather than trying to assert a fact: “I think it was going to end up in war,” he said, before moving on to his “impression” of the situation.
The 26-minute interview that aired Oct. 14 was typical Trump — bobbing and weaving through a litany of false claims, misleading assertions and exaggerated facts. Trump again demonstrated what The Fact Checker has long documented: His rhetoric is fundamentally based on making statements that are not true, and he will be as deceptive as his audience will allow.
.. Trump resorting to all of his favored moves to sidestep the truth.
.. On Stahl’s first question, about whether Trump still thinks climate change is a hoax, the president dodged by saying “something’s happening.” He then completely reversed course and declared that climate change is not a hoax and that “I’m not denying climate change.”
.. Trump also falsely said the climate will change back again, even though the National Climate Assessment approved by his White House last year said that there was no turning back. He said he did not know whether climate change was man-made, though the same report said “there is no convincing alternative” posed by the evidence.
.. Trump did his usual shrug when asked whether North Korea is building more nuclear missiles. “Well, nobody really knows. I mean, people are saying that.” Among the people who are saying that are U.S. intelligence agencies, who have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile and is instead working to conceal its weapons and production facilities.
.. Even when he adjusts his rhetoric, at times contradicting what he has just said, Trump almost always appears to believe firmly in what he is saying.
.. On trade, the president continues to suggest that deficits mean the United States is losing money: “I told President Xi we cannot continue to have China take $500 billion a year out of the United States.”
That’s wrong. The trade deficit just means Americans are buying more Chinese products than the Chinese are buying from the United States, not that the Chinese are somehow stealing U.S. money.
.. Trump also continues to misstate the trade deficit with China. It’s not $500 billion, as he told Stahl; it was $335 billion in 2017
.. Curiously, he denied to Stahl that he ever said he was engaged in a trade war with China, even though he has said and tweeted it many times, including on Fox News last week.
.. He also falsely said that “the European Union was formed in order to take advantage of us on trade.” That’s a misreading of history, at best. The E.U. got its start shortly after World War II as the European Coal and Steel Community — an early effort to bind together bitter enemies such as Germany and France in a common economic space to promote peace.
.. Trump surfaced another old favorite knock on U.S. allies — “we shouldn’t be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe.” Actually, the United States pays 22 percent of NATO’s common fund. Trump keeps counting U.S. defense spending devoted to patrolling the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the world as part of NATO funding.
When it was pointed out that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former general who served in the military for 44 years, says he believes NATO had kept the peace for 70 years, Trump sniffed, “I think I know more about it than he does.”
.. Questioned about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump conceded that “they meddled.” But he added, “I think China meddled, too.” When Stahl said he was “diverting the whole Russia thing,” Trump insisted he was not. “I’m not doing anything,” he demurred. “I’m saying Russia, but I’m also saying China.”
There is no evidence China engaged in the same disinformation effort as Russia, which intelligence agencies have said was designed to swing the election toward Trump.
.. Finally, Trump continued his habit of mischaracterizing what his predecessor did. He claimed that Barack Obama “gave away” the Crimea region of Ukraine, when actually Russia seized it and Obama then led an effort to impose sanctions in response.
.. In one of the testier back-and-forths, Trump tried to shut down Stahl with one line that was indisputably true: “I’m president,” he said, “and you’re not.”
We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.
But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.
.. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children.
.. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border.
.. The laws that Mr. Trump’s Justice Department cites — which apply to unaccompanied children, not children with parents — require no such thing.
.. Instead, the Homeland Security law, a statute governing the Office of Refugee Resettlement, gives custody of unaccompanied minors to that department, and very clearly not to the Department of Homeland Security, to address the challenges that children without parents face in the immigration system.
.. The statute that addresses child trafficking — part of the Trafficking Victims law — is designed to reduce the risk that children who are alone will fall victim to human trafficking. The administration is arguing that the laws do the opposite — that they make children more vulnerable to human trafficking and place children at greater risk in the immigration system — and so require the D.H.S. to separate families that would otherwise be together.
.. This is a specious use of law: It inverts the laws governing child immigration and uses them to exacerbate the very evil the law was designed to address.
.. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department is thus lying about what the tax bill did, and about Congress’s intent in passing it. And the department, like the president himself, is doing so as part of a transparent effort to rid the country of a law that Mr. Trump and his Republican caucus do not like but could not repeal through normal channels.
.. Lawyers, including at the Department of Justice, sometimes make aggressive arguments. But there is a difference between aggressive and preposterous, and between truths and untruths. The rule of law depends on these distinctions — to hold governments officials to the law, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law says.
.. The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.
.. More likely, the administration will not persuade the current Supreme Court with these arguments. But it may be playing a long game that shifts expectations about legal arguments, and what falls within the bounds of reasonable — to make the law seem as manipulable, and therefore as easy to write off, as the facts.
This is a test for the courts. The executive and legislative branches have in too many ways capitulated to the president’s post-factual world. Will the legal system allow a post-legal one as well?
Mr. Trump, who had to sign off on the memo’s release, has been at odds for much of the past year with several Justice Department leaders having to do with the Russia probe. He fired FBI Director James Comey and publicly criticized his own appointees, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, over his recusal from the Russia matter, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who now oversees the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
.. A person who has reviewed the surveillance-warrant application said Mr. Steele’s research formed only a part of the application. The other information included in the application hasn’t been declassified, though Mr. Trump has that authority... “This was about telling a political story that’s helpful to the president. It’s about telling a political story that’s designed to injure the work of the special counsel and to discredit it,” said Mr. Schiff... Democrats on the committee have compiled their own memo on the matter, which addresses the information that prosecutors used beyond Mr. Steele’s research, but the GOP-controlled committee has so far blocked its release... Mr. Page has been on the radar of U.S. intelligence since 2013, when Russian spies made an attempt to recruit him... He left Mr. Trump’s campaign in September 2016 after reports that a July 2016 trip he took to Moscow was of interest to investigators... At least two of those renewals occurred while Mr. Trump was president and at least one was authorized by a Justice Department official he appointed. A person familiar with the matter said that four separate federal judges approved the surveillance of Mr. Page, and all of those judges were appointed by Republican presidents... The memo is critical of Mr. Steele and notes that prosecutors in their application for the warrant didn’t explicitly state that he was working for a firm funded by Democrats. But the FISA application did disclose Mr. Steele was being paid by a law firm working for a major political party .... The bureau considered Mr. Steele a reliable source from previous investigations, having helped provide information during a federal probe into alleged corruption at FIFA, the world soccer organization.. The memo alleges that Mr. McCabe testified before the House Intelligence Committee in December that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought…without the Steele dossier information.”.. Officials in Congress and the Justice Department familiar with Mr. McCabe’s testimony said the memo mischaracterized what he told lawmakers. He was asked what percentage of information in the FISA application was provided by Mr. Steele, and he demurred, saying the FBI didn’t evaluate such applications in such a way. Mr. McCabe was asked if it might have accounted for half of the warrant application, and he said he didn’t know, one person familiar with the matter said... Mr. Trump and other Republicans cheered the buildup to the document’s release, fueled by social-media campaigns, saying it would expose law-enforcement wrongdoing in prosecuting the president... One person close to Mr. Trump said this week that the president believes the memo undermines the credibility of Mr. RosensteinAsked Friday if he had confidence in Mr. Rosenstein, Mr. Trump said: “You figure that one out.”