AP FACT CHECK: Reality in Washington took a beating

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Posted: Feb 06, 2017 3:06 AM
AP FACT CHECK: Reality in Washington took a beating

Reality took a beating from the Washington blame game this past week. Americans heard about a Kentucky massacre that never happened, a travel ban that was a ban despite it being called something else, and a dark plot to help Russian intelligence that was nothing of the sort. A look at some of the ways political figures strayed into fiction:

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SEAN SPICER, White House press secretary: "Well, first of all, it's not a travel ban." — On President Donald Trump's executive order halting travel to the U.S. for people from seven majority-Muslim countries.

JOHN KELLY, secretary of homeland security: "This is not a travel ban; this is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa-vetting system."

THE FACTS: That's not what their boss said the day before. President Donald Trump defended the order and its immediate implementation in a tweet: "If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the 'bad' would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad 'dudes' out there!"

Spicer himself also had called it a ban Monday at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, saying "the ban deals with seven countries that the Obama administration had previously identified as needing further travel restrictions."

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TRUMP, in a White House statement Sunday: "My policy is similar to what President (Barack) Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months."

THE FACTS: That's not what happened. According to State Department data, 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States during the 2011 budget year. The data also show that Iraqi refugees were admitted every month during the 2011 calendar year.

The Obama administration did slow processing for Iraqi nationals seeking refuge in the U.S. under the government's Special Immigrant Visa program for translators and interpreters who worked with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. That happened after two Iraqi nationals were arrested on terrorism-related charges. But that year, 618 Iraqis were allowed to enter the U.S. with that special visa.

As well, government data show that during the 2011 budget year, more than 7,800 Iraqis were allowed into the United States on non-immigrant visas, including tourists.

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TRUMP, in the same statement: "The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror."

THE FACTS: That's misleading. There were no special U.S. travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn't need visas — such as those from Britain — if they had visited the seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. This was included in a large spending bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by Obama.

As the law was enacted, the Obama administration announced that journalists, aid workers and others who traveled to the listed countries for official work could apply for exemptions.

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TRUMP, also in Sunday's statement: "To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order."

THE FACTS: Trump is right that there are many majority-Muslim countries that have not been included in the travel ban. But he's also being misleading. The executive order signed Jan. 27 does not specifically say Muslims can't visit the U.S., but it does create a temporary total travel ban for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. It also indefinitely bans Syrians.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently told Fox News that Trump had asked him to create a plan for a Muslim ban that would meet legal tests. Giuliani said he ultimately made recommendations that focused on security and what countries posed security threats.

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NANCY PELOSI, a California Democrat and House minority leader, on Thursday: "Less than two weeks after walking into the White House, President Trump lifts sanctions on the Russian Security Service. Vladimir Putin's thugs meddle with an American election, and President Trump gives them a thank you present. "

THE FACTS: Pelosi's complaint about Trump's revision of sanctions on the Russian intelligence service FSB doesn't hold water. If the revision is a gift to anyone, it's to U.S. sellers of consumer electronics.

The Dec. 29 sanctions imposed by the Obama administration were not intended to ban the U.S. sale of cellphones, tablets and other consumer electronics to Russia. But they had that effect, by barring U.S. firms from getting the permits needed from the FSB to sell in Russia. The FSB has regulatory as well as intelligence responsibilities.

Trump's change does not materially benefit the FSB, except in a minuscule way. It allows U.S. firms to pay the FSB a required fee of up to $5,000 per year to export encryption-capable consumer electronics to that country. It's of more benefit to the U.S. sellers and Russian buyers of those devices. It's not unusual to fine-tune sanctions to permit certain transactions.

Democrats incensed at alleged Russian hacking of their party's campaign communications have been watching for a sign that Trump would ease Obama's Russian sanctions in a consequential way. But this wasn't it.

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KELLYANNE CONWAY, senior Trump adviser, in an MSNBC interview Thursday: "President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre." She went on: "Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered."

THE FACTS: There was no massacre. Conway tweeted the next day that she'd misspoken, and meant to say "Bowling Green terrorists." But she didn't address another mischaracterization — that Obama had instituted a similar ban.

Obama never banned Iraqi refugees or other Iraqi travelers from coming to the United States. His administration did slow down the processing for Iraqis seeking Special Immigrant Visas, which are given to translators and interpreters who worked with the U.S. in that country.

The slowdown was prompted by the May 2011 arrest of two men in Kentucky charged with plotting to send weapons and money to al-Qaida operatives abroad. Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi had been mistakenly admitted to the U.S. as Iraqi refugees in 2009 and resettled in Bowling Green.

Alwan and Hammadi are in prison after pleading guilty. They were never accused of plotting to launch attacks inside the U.S.