WASHINGTON (AP) – Former President Barack Obama’s recent denunciation of President Donald Trump’s treatment of the press overlooks the aggressive steps the Justice Department took to keep information from the public during his administration. Obama also made a problematic claim that Republican “sabotage” has cost 3 million people their health insurance.
With his return to the political donnybrook on behalf of Democrats in the November elections, Obama has brought a once-familiar style back into the discourse. It’s measured, nuanced and distinct from the torrent of misstatements from Trump. That doesn’t mean Obama always tells the story straight.
Obama campaigned in Illinois and California last week, with more politicking planned. Here’s a look at some of his remarks:
OBAMA: “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.” – rally Friday at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
THE FACTS: Trump may use extraordinary rhetoric to undermine trust in the press, but Obama arguably went farther – using extraordinary actions to block the flow of information to the public.
The Obama administration used the 1917 Espionage Act with unprecedented vigor, prosecuting more people under that law for leaking sensitive information to the public than all previous administrations combined. Obama’s Justice Department dug into confidential communications between news organizations and their sources as part of that effort.
In 2013 the Obama administration obtained the records of 20 Associated Press office phone lines and reporters’ home and cell phones, seizing them without notice, as part of an investigation into the disclosure of information about a foiled al-Qaida terrorist plot.
AP was not the target of the investigation. But it called the seizure a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news-gathering activities, betraying information about its operations “that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
Obama’s Justice Department also secretly dogged Fox News journalist James Rosen, getting his phone records, tracking his arrivals and departures at the State Department through his security-badge use, obtaining a search warrant to see his personal emails and naming him as a possible criminal conspirator in the investigation of a news leak.
“The Obama administration,” The New York Times editorial board wrote at the time, “has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.”
OBAMA: “The actions we took during that crisis returned the economy to healthy growth and initiated the longest streak of job creation on record.” – Illinois rally.
THE FACTS: He’s right on jobs, but whether the economy experienced “healthy growth” is a matter of dispute.
As measured by the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy’s output, the U.S. economy expanded at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent from 2010, after the Great Recession ended, through 2016, Obama’s last year in office. That is the weakest growth of any post-recession recovery since World War II.
OBAMA: “When the job numbers come out, the monthly job numbers, and suddenly Republicans are saying it’s a miracle, I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.” – Illinois rally.
THE FACTS: Obama is correct, though many economists are surprised that hiring has continued at such a solid pace after more than nine years of expansion. Job gains even picked up a bit in 2018.
Still, in 2015 employers added an average of 226,000 jobs a month. Last year, Trump’s first in the White House, that figure fell to 182,000 a month. So far in 2018, hiring has come in a bit better, averaging 207,000 a month.
In some ways, Obama isn’t giving himself enough credit: The strongest year for job growth since the recession was 2014, when employers added more than 250,000 on average every month.
Associated Press writer Ricardo-Alonso Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd
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Quarterly GDP growth: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/fredgraph.png?g=l90i
Household income: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/fredgraph.png?g=k861
Job growth: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/fredgraph.png?g=k861
CDC health insurance survey: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/Insur201808.pdf
EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures