The federal investigation into whether Russia actively sought to help Donald Trump win the White House in 2016 has been hanging over his head since even before the election. As president, he has repeatedly criticized the special counsel inquiry and has questioned whether it is the best use of time and taxpayer funds.
Some of the criticism has amounted to presidential opinion — like in calling James Comey “the worst FBI director in history.” On Twitter alone, he has used the words “witch hunt” in more than 100 posts.
“That whole situation is a rigged witch hunt,” Trump told reporters Friday at the White House. “It’s a totally rigged deal. They should be looking at the other side.”
But hundreds of other statements, since Trump’s inauguration, included bold assertions about the Russia investigation that have demanded being fact checked.
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He hasn’t always been wrong. Trump’s estimates of the inquiry’s price tag, and his accusations of political bias as demonstrated in texts between FBI officials, are among presidential claims that have passed the truth test.
An analysis by The New York Times found more than 250 examples of exaggerated, misleading or flat-out false claims by Trump about the Russia investigation.
Here is a look at how those statements have evolved since the start of his presidency — and how they stand up against the facts.
— DOUBTING RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE
Trump has consistently questioned the basic facts of the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid his campaign.
“The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign.”
— Twitter post, March 20, 2017
Trump has suggested at least 19 other times that Democrats fabricated concerns about Russian interference as an excuse for losing the election.
False. Democrats sounded the alarm about Russian campaign interference months before the November 2016 election. So did Republicans.
“Why did the DNC REFUSE to turn over its Server to the FBI, and still hasn’t? It’s all a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!”
— Twitter post, June 22, 2017
Based on the findings of the private security firm CrowdStrike, the Democratic National Committee said in the summer of 2016 that it was hacked by Russian operatives. A month later, nearly 20,000 of the Democratic Party’s internal emails were released. The U.S. intelligence community, in an October 2016 report, said Russians were behind the attack — a finding that was backed up by indictments issued in July against 12 Russian intelligence officers.
Trump has pointed out at least 32 other times the FBI did not directly examine the DNC’s servers. In doing so, he has suggested that the DNC was not hacked during the 2016 campaign.
This requires context. Trump is right that the FBI never physically seized the servers from the DNC headquarters. However, CrowdStrike provided forensics to federal investigators — which James Comey, the former FBI director, has called an “appropriate substitute.”
“And I heard that they were trying, or people were trying, to hack into the RNC, too. The Republican National Committee. But we had much better defenses.”
— Interview with CBS News, June 14, 2018
Trump has also blamed the DNC for inadequately protecting itself from cyberattacks. He told “Face the Nation” that “the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked” and compared it to the Republican National Committee.
Largely true. The Times reported in December 2016 that Russian operatives did hack the RNC’s systems. In January 2017, Comey said in congressional testimony the hackers had penetrated old computer systems that were no longer used by the committee. But Comey said there was no evidence that the RNC’s newer computer systems — or ones used by the Trump campaign — were hacked successfully.
“What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers?”
— News conference in Helsinki with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, July 16, 2018
Trump has referred five other times to Imran Awan, a Pakistani-American and former IT specialist who had worked part-time for several Democratic staffs in the House, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC’s former chairwoman. Awan was arrested last summer on unrelated charges of obtaining a fraudulent bank loan and pleaded guilty in July. Conservative media commentators have suggested that Awan may have stolen and leaked the DNC’s emails, again implying that the Russian hacking never happened.
This is misleading. Trump’s own Justice Department has rejected this as a conspiracy theory.
“If you don’t catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”
— Interview on “Face the Nation,” April 30, 2017
On at least eight other occasions in his presidency, Trump suggested that Russia might not be the culprit. He has cited Moscow’s denial — or explicitly denied it himself — and offered other explanations for the hacking.
False. The U.S. intelligence community, the investigators with the Senate and House intelligence committees and technology companies have all concluded that Russia interfered in the election.
“Russia was against Trump in the 2016 Election”
— Twitter post, July 29, 2017
Trump has repeatedly asserted that Putin’s government did not want him to win the U.S. presidential election. He once claimed that Russia “spent a lot of money on fighting me” and another time asserted that Putin “wants Hillary.”
False. Not only does this contradict various U.S. intelligence reports, Putin himself said both before and after the November 2016 vote that he wanted Trump to win because of Trump’s desire to restore Russian-American relations.
— PLAYING DOWN CONTACT WITH RUSSIANS
The president has confronted reports of contacts between his campaign and influential Russian by playing down his ties to political aides or by shifting the blame to Democrats.
“There’s nobody on the campaign that saw anybody from Russia.”
— Interview with The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2017
Trump has flat out denied, at least three times, that several people in the Trump campaign met with or spoke to people associated with Russia.
False. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, discussed lifting sanctions with the Russian ambassador in December 2016, and resigned for misleading White House officials about those conversations. Trump’s son, son-in-law and former campaign chairman — Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — met with a Russian lawyer who had connections to the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign. And two foreign policy advisers to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, met with people linked to the Kremlin before the 2016 vote. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse Trump and advised him during the campaign, met with the Russian ambassador at least twice in 2016.
“They weren’t even a part, really — I mean, they were such a minor part — I hadn’t spoken to them.”
— News conference at the White House, Feb. 16, 2017
Trump has also played down the roles of campaign aides who had met with people linked to the Kremlin.
This is misleading. It is not clear how high Papadopoulos or Page ranked in the Trump campaign hierarchy. But it is implausible to suggest that Flynn, Manafort, Kushner and Trump Jr. played “minor” parts in the campaign.
“Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign.”
— News conference at the White House, June 15, 2018.
False. Manafort was the Trump campaign chairman during the last stretch of the Republican primary campaign. He worked for the campaign for 144 days — not 49 days or 3 1/2 months, as Trump alternately has claimed.
“Now there has been collusion between Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and the Russians.”
— Remarks to reporters at Camp David, Jan. 6, 2018
The Washington Post first reported in October that the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign paid for opposition research that led to a dossier about Trump compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy. Trump has repeatedly accused Democrats of “colluding” with Russia. But it was a conservative website, The Washington Free Beacon, that first paid a research firm for the opposition research. It stopped when Trump won the nomination. The firm, Fusion GPS, was then paid by the Democrats for the research that became the dossier.
This is misleading. Collusion, which is generally understood as secretive and often illicit collaboration, has no defined legal meaning. Steele did use Russian sources to compile his dossier, and reported his findings to the FBI. But there is no evidence anyone from the Clinton campaign met with Russian officials directly and conspired to manipulate the American election.
“Nobody asks John Podesta about the company that he has with his brother in Russia.”
— Interview with The Washington Examiner, April 26, 2017
As evidence of Democratic collusion, Trump has said John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, owned a company in Russia.
False. Podesta does not own a company in Russia. The consulting firm that he and his brother, Tony Podesta, co-founded is based in Washington, not Russia. (The firm did, however, lobby on behalf of a Russian bank.)
“We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country.”
— News conference at the White House, Feb. 16, 2017
Trump has accused Clinton of selling U.S. uranium to Russia at least 16 other times, sometimes briefly referring to the issue simply as “Uranium One.”
This is misleading.Uranium One is a uranium production company with holdings in the United States. Clinton was secretary of state when the Obama administration allowed Russia’s nuclear agency to purchase the company. The State Department was one of nine agencies — as well as federal nuclear regulator and a state regulator — that had to sign off on the sale. There is no evidence that Clinton was personally involved.
“Collusion is not a crime”
— Twitter post, July 31, 2017
This is Trump’s latest defense.
This is misleading. Trump is playing a semantics game. “Collusion” is not a crime in the federal code of criminal procedure, but a potential conspiracy between a campaign and a foreign government that violates U.S. election laws is indeed illegal.
— CLAIMING A POLITICAL SETUP
Trump has asserted that he and his campaign are the victims in the Russia investigation.
“The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?”
— Twitter post, June 23, 2017
Trump has repeatedly claimed that President Barack Obama did not act — sometimes by adding: “because he thought Crooked Hillary Clinton would win” — to sow doubts about the independence of those who accuse Russia of election interference.
False. The Obama administration warned Russian officials against interfering before the election in August, September and October, and imposed sanctions in December 2016.
“Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
— Twitter post, March 4, 2017
False. In four subsequent interviews between March and April 2017, Trump corrected himself to say he had been under surveillance, generally, by the Obama administration — but not by a telephone wiretap.
He also claimed to have learned of the surveillance from The New York Times and accused The Times of removing the word “wiretap” from the article’s headline.
False. The Times did not report that Obama ordered surveillance of Trump’s phone conversations, nor did the headline ever change.
“Wow, @FoxNews just reporting big news. Source: ‘Official behind unmasking is high up. Known Intel official is responsible. Some unmasked … not associated with Russia. Trump team spied on before he was nominated.’”
— Twitter posts, April 1, 2017
Trump repeatedly claimed that the Obama administration “spied on” the Trump campaign in referring to the process of “unmasking.” When Americans’ communications are swept up in surveillance of foreigners, their names are normally obscured to protect their privacy. Only authorized national security officials can ask to have the identities of Americans “unmasked.”
This requires context. Trump is correct that Trump campaign officials were caught up in surveillance of foreign targets and their identities were unmasked — a request made by Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser. Trump then accused Rice of committing a crime.
But that was not unlawful or unusual. The National Security Agency revealed almost 2,000 American identities in 2016, and more than 2,200 in 2015, according to a statistical report. Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the agency’s former director, said in congressional testimony last June that the NSA approves requests only if revealing the names of Americans will help the official understand intelligence better, “not so you can use that knowledge indiscriminately.”
“Disproven and paid for by Democrats ‘Dossier used to spy on Trump Campaign. Did FBI use Intel tool to influence the Election?’”
— Twitter post, Jan. 11, 2018
Trump first made this claim in January and has repeated it at least 11 other times. It refers to accusations that the Justice Department used unverified information from Steele’s dossier in its court application to put Page under surveillance.
This is misleading. The FBI cited information from Steele’s dossier, but also other information in its application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The initial application was filed in October 2016, after Page had left the Trump campaign.
The Mueller investigation “was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC.”
— Twitter post, March 17, 2018
Trump has claimed repeatedly that the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller was opened because of the information in Steele’s dossier.
False. Republicans who hold the majority vote on the House Intelligence Committee have confirmed that the investigation was the result of Papadopoulos telling an Australian ambassador in May 2016 that the Russians had political dirt on Clinton.
“So you have all these investigators; they’re Democrats. In all fairness, Bob Mueller worked for Obama for eight years.”
— Remarks to reporters at the White House, May 4, 2018
Trump has described the special counsel investigation as “rigged,” given the political affiliations of the people on the team. He’s referred to them as “13 Angry Democrats” since May, and increased the count to 17 in late July.
This needs context. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office confirmed the names of 17 investigators on Mueller’s legal team in May. An additional prosecutor, Uzo Asonye, was later brought on to help in the case against Manafort, raising the number on the team to 18.
Fourteen of the 18 have donated to Democratic candidates in the past or self-identify as Democrats — including Asonye, who donated to Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. But Trump ignores the fact that the political affiliations of the other four are unknown. Mueller himself is a registered Republican, and he was appointed as FBI director by President George W. Bush in 2001.
It is worth noting that four other prosecutors have been named in notices of appearances in certain cases initially brought by the special counsel. The Washington Post has reported they have not joined Mueller’s team, but may take on those cases after the special counsel investigation ends.
“Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!”
— Twitter post, July 25, 2017
As evidence of the “scam” against his campaign, Trump has cited the links between Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, and Clinton at least seven other times.
This needs context. McCabe’s wife, Jill, ran for a seat in the Virginia state Senate in 2015, and accepted nearly $500,000 in contributions from Common Good VA. That political action committee is run by Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a longtime fundraiser and friend of Clinton. Clinton did not donate to the campaign.
Andrew McCabe became the FBI’s deputy director in February 2016 — and began overseeing the investigation into Clinton’s email server — nearly three months after his wife lost her race. Trump also has noted several times, accurately, that it was a Clinton ally — not Clinton herself — who donated to Jill McCabe’s campaign.
“SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!”
— Twitter post, May 23, 2018
The claim that the Obama administration planted a spy inside the Trump campaign first emerged in Trump’s Twitter posts in mid-May; he repeated it at least 13 times by early June. It refers to reports that an FBI informant had contacted Trump campaign aides.
This requires context. As The Times has reported: In fact, FBI agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign.
Trump also falsely claimed that James Clapper, the Obama administration’s director of national intelligence, “admitted” to spying on his campaign. Clapper said the exact opposite.
“Take a look at the horrible statements that Peter Strzok, the chief investigator, said.”
— Remarks to reporters at the White House, June 15, 2018
True. In August 2016, Peter Strzok, a senior FBI counterintelligence agent, made disparaging remarks about Trump in texts sent to Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer. The Justice Department’s inspector general said in a June report the texts “cast a cloud” over the FBI’s handling of the investigation and its credibility. But the report did not find political bias that directly affected the investigation.
Strzok was fired on Aug. 13 for violating bureau policies.
“The Russian Hoax Investigation has now cost our government over $17 million, and going up fast.”
— Twitter post, June 1, 2018
True, but … The special counsel’s investigation reported expenditures of about $16.7 million from May 17, 2017, to March 31, 2018 — so Trump’s estimate is reasonable. But there is an important caveat: About $9 million was in indirect costs that the Justice Department would have spent regardless of the investigation.
— DECLARING VINDICATION
According to Trump, officials and even certain developments in the Russia investigation have absolved his campaign of wrongdoing.
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
— Twitter post, March 20, 2017
Trump has repeatedly said the following people have cleared his campaign of wrongdoing: Clapper; Comey; Jeh Johnson, the former Department of Homeland Security secretary; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
This is misleading. These officials have said they personally had not seen evidence or proof of collusion, but did not rule it out.
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe.”
— Twitter post, Feb. 3, 2018
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a memo accusing the Justice Department of monitoring Page without disclosing who paid for Steele’s dossier. Trump claimed the memo proved his campaign did not collude with Russia. He also later said his innocence was verified by a Democratic memo that responded to some of the Republican claims.
False. Neither memo explicitly clears Trump of collusion.
“We’re very happy with the decision by the House Intelligence Committee, saying there’s absolutely no collusion with respect to Russia.”
— Remarks to reporters at the White House, March 13, 2018
True, but … Republicans on the committee said in March they had found no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia; a report they released in April concluded the same. But in their own report, Democrats disputed the Republicans’ findings, saying that Republicans absolved the Trump campaign without doing due diligence.
“James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”
— Twitter post, April 19, 2018
False. Memos written by Comey, and released in April, do not mention collusion. That is not the same as clearing anyone of collusion, nor obstruction of justice, which is one of the issues being examined by the special counsel investigation.
“It is a very unfair situation, but the IG report totally exonerates me.”
— Interview with Fox & Friends, June 15, 2018
False. The Justice Department’s inspector general released an internal report in June that criticized Comey and other FBI agents for their handling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails. But the report did not examine or issue conclusions about the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.