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Fact Checking Donald Trump's Interview With NBC's Lester Holt

In an exclusive interview with Lester Holt, Trump discussed at length his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. We fact checked his claims.
Image: President Donald Trump is interviewed by Lester Holt
President Donald Trump is interviewed by Lester Holt.NBC News

In an exclusive interview with NBC News' Lester Holt Thursday, President Donald Trump discussed at length his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

We fact checked the president's claims.

Claim 1: “He gave [Hillary Clinton] a total exoneration,” Trump said of Comey’s announcement two days before the election that the FBI's late-stage review of a new batch of Clinton emails had not changed their view of the case.

False. Two days before the election, Comey said the new emails had been reviewed and "we have not changed our conclusion.” He did not absolve the former secretary of state from blame or fault, then or during his initial announcement of the FBI's findings in July. His conclusion was that there was insufficient evidence that she had broken the actual statutes of law, which prohibit willfully mishandling classified information.

Claim 2: “[Comey's] testimony on Wednesday, it was terrible," Trump said. "And then you look more importantly, he made errors the day before yesterday, he had to go and correct his errors, he sent people to go and correct his errors.”

True. After media reports noted that Comey’s testimony overstated how many emails Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded to her husband, Anthony Weiner, the FBI issued a clarification.

Claim 3: “They found a vast number of emails. It could be 650,000, some ridiculous number of emails on the Anthony Weiner server, right,” the president said. “And it was gonna take months to go through them but the election was shortly thereafter. So they did it in a few days. Now you tell me, you can go through hundreds of thousands of emails in a few days?”

The number of emails discovered on Weiner's laptop is technically true, but not all of those were relevant to the Clinton email investigation. The 650,000 emails on Weiner’s laptop were seized by the FBI while investigating the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The FBI used a computer program that targeted the pertinent emails, and as onlookers noted, it would not take long to electronically review a large batch of emails.

Claim 4: "Obama perhaps knew" that Flynn had been paid by the Russian and Turkish governments.

During Obama's administration, Flynn lied to the Defense Intelligence Agency about the $34,000 he was paid by RT, a state-funded Russian media network. It's against the Constitution for former generals to receive foreign payments. In March, after Flynn's firing, it was learned that Flynn had received payments from Turkey while advising Trump's campaign. The Trump White House said it did not know that Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when he was appointed national security adviser.

Claim 5: “There is no collusion and everybody has said — and I think you will admit that — there's no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians."

"Everybody" is a major overstatement. Trump and allies have forcefully denied allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as anything improper about contacts between Trump campaign staffers and Russian government officials. But the various ongoing investigations have not come to a conclusion one way or the other on the issue.

Claim 6: The investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia "was set up by the Democrats," the president said. Asked whether he meant the FBI investigation or the Senate investigation, the president said “the whole concept of it.”

Democrats have been some of the loudest voices calling for investigations surrounding Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allegations of collusion between Trump's campaign and the Kremlin. But the Senate and House intelligence committee investigations into the matter are bipartisan. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, meanwhile, are also conducting non-partisan investigations.

Claim 7: “You know, you're talking about 2015. I don't know that I knew him in 2015,” Trump said of Flynn.

False. Flynn and Trump met in the summer of 2015, before Flynn took a paid trip to Russia and dined with Russian president Vladimir Putin in December 2015.

Claim 8: "I don’t even think we have 17 intelligence agencies," Trump said.

  1. Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  2. Central Intelligence Agency
  3. National Security Agency
  4. Defense Intelligence Agency
  5. Federal Bureau of Investigation
  6. Department of State - Bureau of Intelligence and Research
  7. Department of Homeland Security - Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  8. Drug Enforcement Administration - Office of National Security Intelligence
  9. Department of the Treasury - Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  10. Department of Energy - Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence
  11. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  12. National Reconnaissance Office
  13. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
  14. Army Military Intelligence
  15. Office of Naval Intelligence
  16. Marine Corps Intelligence
  17. Coast Guard Intelligence

Claim 9: “I want our borders to be strong, we’re setting new records now in terms of strength,” Trump said, boasting illegal border crossings are down 73% percent in his earliest months of his administration.

True, according to PolitiFact's detailed fact check; Homeland Secretary John Kelly credits Trump’s tough rhetoric for adding “enough confusion” to slow crossings.

Claim 10: "I remember seeing a piece of where I said something about Sweden, there was not exactly doing so great and I was very badly attacked and then the next day they had a unbelievable terrorist attack,” the president said.

Trump is blurring the timeline here.

Seven weeks after Trump repeatedly named Sweden as a place where immigration was threatening Europe, there was a terror attack — and some questioned whether Trump had predicted it. The day after Trump repeatedly named Sweden, Swedes were perplexed. Nothing had happened.