President Donald Trump’s ‘duct’ tales and more: Weekly Fact Check

This may be known as the week President Donald Trump’s own administration got involved in the fact-check game.

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ABC News really didn’t have to do much checking of its own. This week we leave it to officials in his own administration.

Welcome to Fact Check Friday.

Intelligence school

On Tuesday, the administration’s intelligence chiefs challenged the president’s beliefs that “tremendous progress” has been made defeating ISIS, that there is a “decent chance of denuclearization” in North Korea, and that Iran is “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear deal, prompting the president to lash out over Twitter and suggest they “go back to school.”

On Friday he said he disagrees with things they said, and that eventually “time will prove me right, probably.”

Let’s pause a minute here to absorb that.

The president is yet again undermining the assessments of his hand picked director of national intelligence and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, saying they don’t know what they are talking about, and insulting them publicly.

Here are the facts.

When President Trump announced a sudden and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria last month he declared “we have won against ISIS” and that “our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now.”

Over a month later not a single U.S. service member has returned from Iraq, his defense secretary resigned, and Congress passed a powerful rebuke of the president in an attempt to dissuade the him from engaging in a precipitous withdrawal.

Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux
Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies testify before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 29, 2019.

Because as his intelligence chief Dan Coats put it Tuesday, “ISIS is intent on re-surging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”

Earlier this month ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack in Manbij, Syria that killed four Americans.

But the disagreements didn’t stop in Syria.

His chiefs assessed that Iran is still in compliance with the Obama-era nuclear non-proliferation agreement despite president Trump’s effort to derail the international accord by withdrawing U.S. involvement.

Trump called that position “wrong” in a Tweet on Wednesday and warned: “Be careful of Iran.”

His chiefs also said plainly that North Korea remains a serious threat — contradicting the president’s assurance, after meeting with Kim Jong Un, when he tweeted that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Now just weeks before the two leaders are set to meet again, CIA Director Gina Haspel told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that Kim’s regime remains “committed to developing a long range armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States.”

Trolling the climate

Weather or not it was intentional (they say it wasn’t) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fact checked a Trump’s climate tweet this week.

Trump, who claims to have a “natural instinct for science,” took to Twitter this week to troll scientists and others who understand the earth’s rising temperature is rising.

As much of North America faces a record cold-snap Trump tweeted in part, “What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast, we need you!”

The next morning NOAA sent out a tweet of its own (complete with an instructional cartoon) declaring “Winter storms don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening.” A spokesman denied the tweet was aimed at the president.

The fact of the matter is that climate and weather are two separate things. In other words, just because it’s cold in one place during one week, it doesn’t mean the planet isn’t warmer overall than it has been in the past.

Duct tales

Without citing any evidence President Trump is telling Americans his border wall is needed because human traffickers are binding and gagging women with “duct tape” and smuggling them into the United States.

Using graphic and specific detail, he’s made the claim about duct taped victims no less than 14 times this month.

On occasion he also drops in a reference to Muslim “prayer rugs” found a the border – a false and xenophobic claim meant to further his erroneous assertion that terrorists are crossing into the U.S. from the southern border.

His most recent telling of the duct tape story came last Friday at the White House.

“Women are tied up, they’re bound, duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths,” he told reporters. “In many cases, they can’t even breathe. They’re put in the backs of cars or vans or trucks.”

But according to an administration official who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, there is no evidence to back either claim about the tape or the prayer rugs.

What’s more, media outlet Vox reported it had obtained a memo written by a top U.S. Border Patrol official asking agents to quickly supply “any information” they had on claims that traffickers “tie up and silence women with tape,” an apparent effort to substantiate Trump’s claim after the fact.

PHOTO: A construction crew works on replacing the U.S.-Mexico border fence near Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 9, 2019.Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images
A construction crew works on replacing the U.S.-Mexico border fence near Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 9, 2019.

As for the prayer rugs, the president tweeted a dubious report from the Washington Examiner that failed to produce any physical or photographic evidence of any rugs.

Several news outlets have noted there is one place where both prayer rugs at a border and duct-taped women can be found: the 2015 fictional crime film “Sicario,” in which FBI agents fight Mexican drug cartels.

The White House has not provided any information to back the president’s claims. An article the president referenced includes a list from Arizona’s Customs and Border Protection of the countries of origins of people arrested on the border. None of those countries are predominantly Muslim.

Tape or no tape, rugs or not, human trafficking and illegal migration are serious problem. Sadly, salacious and unverified claims from the White House distract from reality, rather than advance solutions.

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