To set the record straight, FactCheck.org did not call the allegation that longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone had advance notice about hacked Democratic emails “false,” as Stone claimed in a recent op-ed. We said it is “not an established fact.”
There’s a difference.
In a piece written for InfoWars, Stone said he is anxious to testify before the House intelligence committee on Sept. 26 to refute “allegations in public session that I had advance notice of either the hacking of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails or advanced knowledge of the content of material published by WikiLeaks that proved embarrassing to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”
Stone then cited us to back that up. “As Factcheck.org, a non-partisan news organization funded by the Annenberg Foundation concluded on March 28th, 2017 both assertions are false,” Stone wrote.
The first assertion, that Stone had advance knowledge of the hacking of Podesta’s emails, is based on an Aug. 21, 2016, tweet: “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
We don’t know what Roger Stone knew or didn’t know about the hacked Democratic National Committee emails before they were publicly released by WikiLeaks. But we concluded that Stone’s Aug. 21, 2016, tweet was not, in and of itself, proof that Stone had been tipped off about the hacked emails.
So far, that’s all that has been made public to back up the speculation that Stone knew about Podesta’s hacked emails.
Stone, who noted that he is testifying before the House committee voluntarily and that he has neither requested nor received immunity, is referring to our story on March 28,”Misrepresenting Stone’s Prescience.” In that article, we challenged one aspect of a circumstantial case that Rep. Adam Schiff laid out to question whether Trump’s campaign associates may have colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be a victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?” Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in his opening statement at a March 20 hearing.
But as we wrote, “There is nothing in the public record so far that proves Stone, a political operative and longtime Trump associate, predicted the Podesta email hack.”
Schiff’s speculation assumes that Stone’s tweet was predicting the release of the Podesta emails two months later by WikiLeaks. But Stone has denied the tweet had anything to do with Podesta’s emails. Rather, Stone said, his tweet referred to Podesta’s business dealings with Russia, and the expectation that that would become a news story. The tweet makes no direct reference to Podesta’s email.
We didn’t call Schiff’s assertion “false” though. Here’s what we wrote:
FactCheck.org, March 28: Schiff is free to question what Stone meant by the tweet. But in the intelligence hearing, Schiff stated as a matter of fact that Stone predicted the release of Podesta’s hacked emails, and questioned whether Stone’s prediction was a coincidence or evidence of collusion with Russia. More information may emerge as a result of FBI and congressional investigations, but based on what is currently in the public domain, it’s not an established fact that Stone knew in advance that Podesta’s emails were hacked and would be published in October.
No new evidence has emerged since then.
We should note that Hillary Clinton engaged in similar speculation this week during an appearance on the “Today Show” on NBC. When talking about possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, Clinton referred to Stone’s tweet and asked, “How would [Stone] have known that?” (Her statement appears at the 6:50 mark of the first video.)
Hillary Clinton, “Today Show,” Sept. 13: And we know that there was a lot of interesting coincidences, if you will, between what people associated with Trump were saying at the time and what later came to pass. I mean, you had a Trump associate saying in August, “Oh, John Podesta is going to end up in the barrel.” Well, how would he have known that? The Russians hacked those emails. They stole them.
What we wrote about Schiff’s comment applies to Clinton’s comments as well. There is no evidence in the public record so far that shows that Stone was referring to the hacked Podesta emails.
But we also did not conclude that such speculation is “false.” That goes too far.
Stone also goes too far when he claims that we deemed “false” the assertion that he had “advanced knowledge of the content of material published by WikiLeaks that proved embarrassing to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”
The issue here is a series of direct Twitter messages that Stone privately exchanged with Guccifer 2.0 — who took credit for the DNC hack — and boasts by Stone in August 2016 that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published the emails. Both Guccifer 2.0 and Assange were deemed to have acted as proxies for Russian intelligence to release emails damaging to the Clinton campaign, according to a declassified intelligence community assessment released on Jan. 6.
Stone said that he published all of the messages between himself and Guccifer 2.0. We cannot independently verify that, but none of the publicly released messages proves Stone had advanced knowledge of the content of hacked emails.
Stone said in a speech on Aug. 8 that he had “communicated with Assange” and that he believed “the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”
Stone later clarified that he never spoke directly with Assange, but that the two have a mutual journalist friend who told him in August that Assange “has the mother lode on Hillary [Clinton]” and that those emails would be released in October. But Stone said the intermediary was no more specific than that. Stone said he was merely speculating that the emails would have something to do with the Clinton Foundation.
You can read more about Stone’s interactions with Guccifer 2.0 and Assange in our story “Misrepresenting Stone’s Prescience.”
We don’t know if Stone had further or more substantive communications with either Guccifer 2.0 or Assange. That is likely part of the congressional committee’s ongoing investigation. But even though there remains no concrete evidence in the public record that proves Stone had advance notice about the hacked emails, we can’t say those allegations are false either. We’ll update this post if more evidence emerges.
We should note that in a nearly identical op-ed published by USA Today a day earlier, Stone more accurately states: “FactCheck.org, a non-partisan news organization, reported that those allegations are not established by the record.” USA Today Deputy Editorial Page Editor David Mastio told us, “We asked Stone to write the piece we published to go with our editorial making the opposite point as is our practice every day. Just as with every opposing view and column we run, Stone’s submission was edited for style and accuracy in a collaborative process.” We don’t know whether the wording was changed in the editorial process, but we wanted to set the record straight that the wording in the InfoWars op-ed is inaccurate on this point.
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Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt criticized former President Barack Obama for leaving 40 percent of Americans with air quality that doesn’t meet EPA standards. By some measures, this is true. But a report Pruitt’s office cited as evidence said there had been a “major improvement” in air quality under Obama.
The American Lung Association’s 2017 air quality report does say that 38.9 percent of the population was breathing “unhealthy air,” based on EPA data from 2013 to 2015 for two of the most common air pollutants. However, that figure is down from 58 percent of the population before Obama took office.
Pruitt also failed to mention that the Obama administration updated the standard for four out of the six air pollutants that the EPA regulates under the Clean Air Act, one of which hadn’t changed since the early 1970s, when the act was first put into law.
Pruitt made his claim on Sept. 11 during an interview with the Washington Examiner:
Pruitt, Sept. 11: Everybody looks at the Obama Administration as being the environmental savior. Really? He was the environmental savior? He’s the gold standard, right? He left us with more Superfund sites than when he came in. Air quality standards, 40 percent of the country, nonattainment.
This isn’t the first time Pruitt has criticized Obama’s environmental record. In May, he cited the same 40 percent figure on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, adding, “What exactly did [the Obama administration] accomplish for the environment that folks are so excited about?”
Pruitt has a right to his opinion that the Obama administration shouldn’t be the “gold standard” for environmental protection. But he cites a statistic — that 40 percent of Americans live in nonattainment areas — without providing any context. In fact, there’s evidence of improvement in air quality under Obama.
(Pruitt also isn’t telling the whole story when it comes to Obama’s action on Superfund sites, which are areas that have been contaminated by hazardous waste. The EPA identifies these sites for cleanup when they could impact human health or the environment. But we’ll be explaining the ins and outs of that issue in a future article.)
Air Quality Improves with Clean Air Act
There are a number of different ways to evaluate whether air quality has gotten better or worse over time. Let’s start with the most straightforward — did the concentration of air pollutants go up or down during President Obama’s tenure?
Between 2010 and 2016, which makes up the bulk of his presidency, the concentrations of all six air pollutants the EPA monitors decreased, some by as much as 77 percent. This makes sense, because cars, power plants, factories and other sources decreased emissions of these pollutants during this same period.
However, emissions haven’t decreased just during this period — they’ve been decreasing since the inception of the Clean Air Act in 1970.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA regulates carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ground level ozone, particle pollution and sulfur dioxide. Each of these pollutants pose a risk to human health, the environment or both.
Particle pollution, for example, gets into the air via smokestacks, fires and other sources and can cause both respiratory and heart issues. It can also reduce visibility and damage forests, crops and water sources.
Unlike particulate matter, ground level ozone isn’t emitted directly into the air. It’s created when pollutants from cars, power plants and other sources react to sunlight. Ground level ozone shouldn’t be confused with the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which protects the planet from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
These two pollutants are the most widespread, according to the American Lung Association.
How Many Still Breathe ‘Unhealthy’ Air?
Another metric for air quality is the percentage of people in the country exposed to concentrations of air pollutants above the EPA’s standards. That’s what Pruitt means by 40 percent “nonattainment.” By this measure, air quality also improved under Obama.
When we reached out to the EPA for comment on Pruitt’s claim, agency spokeswoman Liz Bowman said he was “primarily” referring to ozone when he said the country is at 40 percent nonattainment.
Specifically, Bowman referred us to the page on the EPA’s website that gives regional and population-based nonattainment estimates for ozone’s older 2008 standard – which was strengthened by Obama along with the standards for nitrogen dioxide, particle pollution and sulfur dioxide. It wasn’t clear to us how data based on an outdated standard supported Pruitt’s claim. We asked for clarification, but she has yet to respond.
|ALA Report Year||Analysis Years||Percent of Population*||
Number of People (in millions)*
|2010||2006 – 2008||58||175.3|
|2011||2007 – 2009||50.3||154.5|
|2012||2008 – 2010||41||127|
|2013||2009 – 2011||42||131.8|
|2014||2010 – 2012||47||147.6|
|2015||2011 – 2013||44||138.5|
|2016||2012 – 2014||52.1||166|
|2017||2013 – 2015||38.9||125|
|*Refers to the share of Americans who live in areas that don’t meet the EPA’s air quality standards, according to the American Lung Association reports.|
Bowman also referred us to the American Lung Association’s 2017 air quality report that found that, between 2013 and 2015, 38.9 percent of the population — or about 125 million people — lived in areas with air that didn’t meet the EPA’s current standards for particle pollution or ozone (see table to left).
However, that report says there had been a “major improvement” in air quality under Obama.
According to the association’s 2010 report, between 2006 and 2008, before Obama took office in 2009, about 58 percent of the U.S. population — an estimated 175.3 million people — lived in areas where the levels of these two pollutants were worse than the EPA’s standards.
That’s an estimated 50 million fewer people living in nonattainment areas during Obama’s second term than before he took office.
The association attributes the lion’s share of these improvements “to cleaner power plants and increased use of cleaner vehicles and engines.”
Obama lowered the acceptable concentration of ozone in the air in 2015, and the American Lung Association began using the more strict standard on ozone in its 2016 report – even though that report covered 2012-2014. This initially increased the number of people living in nonattainment areas, but the figure then dropped. “One-quarter fewer people now live where the air quality hit unhealthy levels in 2013-2015 than in the 2016 report,” the ALA said in its most recent report.
During his presidency, Obama also finalized rules to increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. Higher fuel efficiency leads to less emissions, which contribute to both ozone and particle matter pollution. The average EPA city/highway sticker mileage of light duty vehicles sold rose from 21 miles per gallon in January 2009, when Obama took office, to 25.1 mpg by the time he left, according to the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan.
However, President Donald Trump said in March that he may roll back some of these Obama-era rules. At that time, Pruitt said he supported the review of Obama’s standards, calling them “costly for automakers and the American people.”
Despite improvements in air quality, the American Lung Association concluded in 2017 that “too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe.”
Climate Change Affects Air Quality, Too
Pruitt has repeatedly criticized Obama on air quality issues. As we already mentioned, he made similar claims on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show back in May.
In February, Pruitt also criticized Obama for being “so focused on climate change and so focused on CO2” that “other priorities were left behind.” These other priorities included “air quality issues and water quality issues that cross state lines.”
But it’s worth mentioning that the American Lung Association reports have emphasized that climate change will hinder efforts to further improve air quality.
In fact, the association attributes the 5 percent increase in the population exposed to “unhealthy” levels of ozone or particle pollution between its 2013 and 2014 reports (see table above) primarily to “warmer temperatures” worsening ozone levels. “Sunlight and heat create conditions that increase the risk of high ozone levels,” the association explains.
As we said, Pruitt is entitled to his opinion of Obama’s environmental record. But Pruitt cited a statistic without context, and the evidence shows air quality actually improved under Obama.
Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.
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