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PolitiFact's Lie Of The Year: Russian Election Interference 'Made-Up'

Dec 15, 2017

It's that time of the year again for PolitiFact's Lie of the Year. And this year's whopper goes to... drum roll please... President Donald Trump. That may not be such a surprise, given the president's propensity for - shall we say - stretching the boundaries of the truth.

The big one goes for comments he made like this, in May:

"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won," said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.

Is "This Russia thing" made up? Here's PolitiFact's ruling:


Trump continually asserts that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election is fake news, a hoax or a made-up story, even though there is widespread, bipartisan evidence to the contrary.

When the nation’s commander-in-chief refuses to acknowledge a threat to U.S. democracy, it makes it all the more difficult to address the problem. For this reason, we name Trump’s claim that the Russia interference is a hoax as our Lie of the Year for 2017.

Readers of PolitiFact also chose the claim as the year's most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin.

It seems unlikely — though not impossible — that Russia interference changed the outcome of the election. We at PolitiFact have seen no compelling evidence that it did so.

Trump could acknowledge the interference happened while still standing by the legitimacy of his election and his presidency — but he declines to do so. Sometimes he’ll state firmly there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, an implicit admission that Russia did act in some capacity. Then he reverts back to denying the interference even happened.

In July 2016, Wikileaks released thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. The release led to DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down after grassroots activists accused her of favoring Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Both intelligence officials and cybersecurity specialists concluded the hack had all the marks of a Russian operation. In October, Wikileaks began publishing the emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

Meanwhile, media websites connected to Russia, such as RT and Sputnik, spread suspicious or even fake news reports during the election, aided by online trolls and bots. Sputnik published an article that claimed Podesta’s email included incriminating information about events in Benghazi, an allegation that turned out to be incorrect. (Trump himself repeated this false story.)

Russian hackers attempted to get into the computer systems of local elections officials around the country. The attempts never penetrated vote tallying systems, according to federal agencies, but the federal government warned local officials to redouble efforts to secure their systems.

Obama administration’s failures

If Trump wanted to address the Russia controversy head on, he could argue that he was correcting a lack of action on the part of the Obama administration, which learned in summer 2016 that election-related hacks could be traced back to the Russian government.

President Barack Obama personally confronted Putin at the September G20 Summit in China; other high-level contacts took place as well. Back home, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned state-level elections officials to protect voting-related systems from cyber intrusions.

Trump’s obsession with fake news

Trump’s labeling of the Russia story as a hoax fits in with his pattern of dismissing critical coverage as "fake news." He’s used the term when he believes his administration doesn’t get complimentary coverage, such as hurricane cleanup in Puerto Rico, or even when his comments have been reported accurately, such as his remarks about white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va.  

Since the beginning of 2017, President Trump has publicly invoked the phrase "fake news" more than 170 times. Virtually every instance has been in response to critical news coverage.

Trump has insisted there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. Some legal experts have said that it would be far-fetched to think the Trump campaign has broken laws.

"Even if it were to turn out that the Trump campaign collaborated, colluded or cooperated with Russian agents, that alone would not be a crime, unless the campaign asked them or helped them to commit criminal acts such as hacking," said attorney Alan M. Dershowitz in an op-ed for the New York Times.

But Trump has gone further than simply saying the campaign didn’t break laws. He has said the whole story is fake.