Still smarting from the response to the indictments of 13 Russians over meddling in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to argue that he’s been tougher on Russia than his predecessor Barack Obama.
In multiple tweets, Trump again argued that Democrats are using the “Russian excuse” because they lost the election, claimed that it would be impossible to rig U.S. elections and cast blame on the Obama Administration for multiple “failures” on Russia, among other things.
Not all of these arguments hold up on closer inspection, however. Here’s a quick look at each of the claims.
There’s a difference between voter fraud and Russian meddling
As he faced low polling numbers in the waning weeks of the 2016 election, Trump repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the election, arguing that there was “large scale voter fraud” and that the election is “absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media.”
Both of these claims were baseless, as multiple fact-checkers and news stories attested. They led then-President Obama to push back against what was seen as an effort to undermine the election results in advance.
Speaking at a press conference in the Rose Garden on Oct. 18, Obama advised Trump to “stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”
“The larger point I want to emphasize here is that there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even — you could even rig America’s elections, in part, because they are so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved,” he said.
Trump attempted to use that quote against Obama on Tuesday, quoting Obama to argue that “the whole game changed” after he won the election and that Democrats are now focusing on Russian meddling to excuse their loss.
This muddies the distinctions between rigging the election and meddling in it, however.
Obama was specifically pushing back against Trump’s assertion that voter fraud would cost him the election — a baseless claim that he repeated even after winning the election. By contrast, nothing in the Russian indictments makes any claims about voter fraud; prosecutors allege that the Russians sought to use social media, paid ads and contacts with “unwitting” Americans to “sow discord” in the election.
Obama investigated Russian election meddling
In September of 2016, top intelligence leaders briefed Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill about Russia’s attempts to undermine the election, but they were blocked by GOP leaders, according to news accounts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was skeptical that the intelligence backed up the White House claims of Russian attacks, and key Democrats were upset that the White House did not push back harder, according to a 2017 report in the Washington Post.
In October, the Obama Administration offered a public comment about Russia’s “active measures” on the election signed by intelligence officials. After the election, the office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a declassified report that went further.
In his final days in office, Obama also sanctioned four Russian individuals and five Russian groups for election interference, closed two Russian compounds and ejected 35 Russian diplomats.
Obama has faced criticism for not taking stronger action against Russian meddling before the election. Whether that was because he thought Clinton would win and didn’t want to “rock the boat” is up for debate, though the pushback from Republican leaders also seemed to play a role.
But it’s not accurate to say that the Obama Administration or Democratic leaders in Congress didn’t believe that Russia was attempting to influence the election until after Trump won.
Trump isn’t tougher on Russia than Obama
In August of 2017, Congress passed a bill by an overwhelming veto-proof margin (419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate) that imposes new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for meddling in the election and limits the president’s ability to lift them.
Trump begrudgingly signed the bill, calling it “significantly flawed” and arguing that it contained “unconstitutional provisions” limiting his authority. He also criticized Congress for harming the U.S. “relationship with Russia.”
The Trump Administration missed an early deadline last fall to implement the sanctions, leading to concern among Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.
In late January, the Administration told lawmakers that the Russian sanctions are not yet necessary because the bill itself was already “serving as a deterrent.” A State Department spokesperson said that potential sanctions targets “have been put on notice, both publicly and privately.”
Trump has also repeatedly said that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of meddling, most recently after meeting with Putin briefly in November.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ ” Trump told reporters. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
As noted above, the Obama Administration publicized Russian election interference, sanctioned Russian individuals and entities, ejected diplomats and closed Russian compounds. By comparison, Trump has publicly sided with Putin and failed to enforce sanctions imposed by Congress.
Trump didn’t ‘easily’ win Electoral College
Finally, Trump argued in passing that he “easily won” the Electoral College, a claim he’s repeatedly made in the past. This is not true. In fact, Trump’s margin of victory was among the bottom tier, historically.