It's been a very intense week for President Donald Trump.
In a span of five days, the president has watched his former fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen plead guilty to campaign finance violations Cohen said he committed under Trump's orders.
He's seen the Senate rebuke his defense of the Saudi crown prince.
And he appeared goaded by veteran lawmakers into claiming responsibility for an impending government shutdown over the holidays in connection with his campaign pledge to build a new border wall.
This Fact Check Friday begins with the statements the president has made about his proposed southern border wall. If Congress doesn't come up with money fund it by next Friday, Trump says he'll shut down the government. Two days later, he said Mexico is already paying for it. Confusing right?
Mexico is paying for the wall
Finish this sentence: We are going to build a great wall and...
It was his signature campaign promise. Two years into his presidency, he's finally saying it's come true: "MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL."
I often stated, “One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.” This has never changed. Our new deal with Mexico (and Canada), the USMCA, is so much better than the old, very costly & anti-USA NAFTA deal, that just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018
There are just two small problems. There is no new wall and it’s still unclear whether Mexico will pay for any of it.
The president is claiming that his renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (which Congress has yet to approve) saves America money. By applying questionable economic logic, he thereby concludes Mexico is effectively paying for the wall.
His rival in the House, Leader Nancy Pelosi, disagrees, saying any economic benefit from a trade agreement that's spent on the wall, "instead of growing our economy" still puts the price on Americans workers.
But consider these two facts.
When President Trump signed the new agreement last month alongside the leaders of Mexico and Canada in Argentina, he made no mention of Mexico paying for the wall. And later that day when ABC News asked the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer directly whether anything in the new NAFTA deal could be construed as Mexico paying for the wall, he wouldn't answer. He would only say he doesn't know about walls.
Trump is threatening to shut down the government at the end of next week if he doesn't get $5 billion from the American taxpayer to build the wall. If Mexico were paying for it, would that really be necessary?
"A lot of the wall is built"
As part of his pitch to get Congress to fund his wall, the president suggested this week that much of his wall new has already been built.
"A lot of the wall is built. It has been very effective." That's what the president said on Tuesday in the Oval Office as he made his case to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"And we've -- right next to San Diego, we've completed a major section of wall, and it's really worked well," he added. "So a lot of wall has been built. We don't talk about that, but we might as well start because it's being built right now. Big sections of wall."
We don't talk about it because it's not true.
We asked the Department of Homeland Security hours after Trump made those remarks and they could not point to a single mile of new construction of wall where border fencing didn't already exist. DHS says 31 miles of upgraded border wall has been built to replace older fencing. But so far no new expansions have been built.
The president also rattled off figures about the effectiveness of border fencing in populated areas. "If you look at San Diego, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent once the wall was up. El Paso, illegal traffic dropped 72 percent, then ultimately 95 percent once the wall was up. In Tucson, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent. In Yuma, it dropped illegal traffic 95 to 96 percent."
But, again, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the president was referring to fencing that has been in place for well over 20 years, not anything he's put up recently.
For example, according to DHS spokesman, the “wall” in San Diego was built in 1992, and, “Illegal traffic has dropped 92 percent over the past 23 years.”
Finally, in that same meeting, the president falsely stated that the U.S. has captured 10 terrorists crossing the southern border.
"People are pouring into our country, including terrorists, Trump said. "We have terrorists. But we caught 10 terrorists. These are over the last very short period of time -- 10." It's likely he's referring to a statistic provided by Secretary of Homeland Security, Kristjen Nielsen, who has said "10 known or suspected terrorists a day from traveling to or attempting to enter the U.S."
But that figure doesn't necessarily referto anyone caught at the southern border. It applies to people being stopped from entering the country at all ports of entry, including overseas.
It's "like Obama's"
President Trump defense about hush payments to two women before the 2016 elections has evolved from total denial to blaming his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and now to a misleading comparison to President Barack Obama.
In a tweet this week he said Democrats wrongly called the payments a campaign contribution, adding "but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama's."
....which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018
But the reality is that the two circumstances have enormous differences.
The 2008 Obama campaign failed to report the identities of those who made last-minute large donations within the window requested and was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for the violations. It was one of the largest fines of its kind, clearly no small reprimand.
The 2008 FEC violations by Obama's campaign did not involve criminal charges, nor were the actions alleged to be ordered by Obama himself.
Effectively the Obama campaign failed an audit, and it was revealed that they had missed a number of deadlines for disclosing donations and in some cases received more donations than allowed.
In the case of Trump and his campaign, payment schemes were allegedly contrived to silence two women who allege to have had past affairs with Trump in an effort to bury potential news stories that could have been damaging to then-candidate Trump’s presidential election.
But perhaps the biggest distinction is that this case involves Trump directly.
Two witnesses, including the publisher who agreed to keep the stories quiet, and Trump's former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, say Trump was personally involved in on the deals.
Trump told Fox News in an interview this week that he never directed Cohen to do anything illegal.
But Cohen told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Friday morning that "[Trump] directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters." He added that "of course" Trump knew it was wrong.