TV news highlights: wiretaps, Gitmo detainees, and more

By Katie Dahl

Our weekly TV News highlight reel features fact checks by reporters at The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, PolitiFact, and FactCheck.org of President Donald Trump, his spokespeople, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Claim: Obama wiretapped Trump Tower (unsupported)

President Donald Trump took to Twitter this week with an allegation that President Barack Obama tapped his phones during the election. He wrote: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

FactCheck.org’s Eugene Kiely broke down Trump’s claims, the sources he used, and the White House press team’s response, writing “there is no evidence that the FBI wiretapped Trump’s phone or his campaign offices in Trump Tower. Indeed, the director of national intelligence flatly denied it. [hyperlink added]”

Glenn Kessler, reporting for The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, wrote that the author of the Heat Street article, the “most important one” of the articles the White House provided as evidence for the president’s claims, now says she “never reported there was wiretap and instead pointed the finger at Breitbart.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy press secretary for the White House, said “[e]verybody acts like President Trump is the one that came up with this idea and just threw it out there… There are multiple news outlets that have reported this.” For PolitiFact, Allison Graves wrote that Huckabee’s defense of the tweets is “False.” Lauren Carroll went further and concluded that “given recent comments from White House spokespeople, it appears more likely that Trump took several media reports about legitimate intelligence investigations into his associates’ possible Russia ties and wove them into a new, unsubstantiated theory that Obama himself did something illegal.”

Claim: Clinton impeached for far less (two Pinocchios)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D., Calif., drew a comparison between the circumstances of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the disclosures about communications between Attorney General Sessions and the Russian ambassador. “I remind you that this Congress impeached a president for something so far less, having nothing to do with his duties as president of the United States,” she said. Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post’s Fact Checker examined the two cases and observed: “If one were to weigh Pelosi’s claim based on whether Sessions and Clinton lied under oath, it’s clear Clinton’s case is not ‘far less’ than Sessions’s. But the content of Clinton’s lies (his sex life) was ‘far less’ important than the content of Sessions’s statements (about potential foreign influence in U.S. elections).”

Claim: Jeff Sessions lied to Congress (unclear)

During Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing in January, Sen. Al Franken, D., Minn., asked “what will you do” if evidence surfaces to support a CNN report that “‘[t]here was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’” In answering the question, Sessions said “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians.” Then March 1, The Washington Post reported that Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice.

In response to the now confirmed meetings, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted Sessions “lied under oath” and called for his resignation. FactCheck.org’s Robert Farley reported, though, that “legal experts say it would be difficult to prosecute a perjury charge against Sessions, given the ambiguity of the context of his statement.” In defending himself, Sessions said “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” which he argues was the focus of Franken’s question.

Lauren Carroll for PolitiFact similarly reported, “[I]t’s not 100 percent clear that Sessions made an intentionally false statement, though he appears to have omitted relevant information.” One result is that the attorney general has recused himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.” Louis Jacobson offered additional context in answering “four questions about when senators meet with ambassadors.”

Claim: People go to Planned Parenthood for mammograms (referrals mainly)

Echoed in a statement in a press conference yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D., N.Y.,  claimed in a tweet that “#Trumpcare cuts @PPFA funds, hurting millions of women who turn there for mammograms, maternity care, cancer screenings & more.” Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote that “[m]ammograms have come to symbolize whether Planned Parenthood truly is a health-care organization, as supporters say, or mainly an abortion provider that masquerades as a reproductive health organization, as opponents say.” But, reported Lee, “Planned Parenthood does referrals for mammograms… It does not have mammogram machines at its affiliate clinics.”

Claim: Obama released 122 Gitmo detainees now back on battlefield (mostly false)

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee released under the Obama administration was killed in a U.S. military airstrike in Yemen this month. President Trump reacted on Twitter, writing, “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” But Robert Farley reported “it’s only nine former detainees. The other 113 were released under President George W. Bush.”

Lauren Carroll weighed in as well, writing “Trump’s claim that the Obama administration released 122 prisoners from Guantanamo that “returned to the battlefield” is right on the numbers but wrong on who is to blame.”

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Due to an editing error now fixed, we inadvertently referred to Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D., Calif., when we meant to refer to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D., N.Y., March 10, 2017.

About Nancy Watzman

Nancy Watzman is Managing Editor, Television Archive.

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