President Donald Trump's slam on Sen. John McCain flips reality on its head when it comes to who gave veterans the option to see a private doctor at public expense. He also pins some of his woes in the Russia investigation on a distorted account of the late senator's actions in the matter.
Trump overstates McCain's role in aiding the FBI with a false chronology on when the senator provided a so-called "dossier" that detailed many salacious but unconfirmed details about Trump and his aides.
The president also got his history wrong on veterans.
"McCain didn't get the job done for our great vets," Trump said. "I got it done."
Actually, McCain got it done.
Trump routinely takes full credit for enacting the Choice program, suggesting he had fulfilled a campaign promise to provide private-sector care for veterans while ignoring the fact that it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. This time, his boast came as part of a broad-brush denunciation of McCain, the senator from Arizona, Vietnam war naval aviator and tortured prisoner of war who died in August of brain cancer.
TRUMP: "John McCain received a fake and phony dossier. Did you hear about the dossier? It was paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton. Right? And John McCain got it. He got it. And what did he do? He didn't call me. He turned it over to the FBI, hoping to put me in jeopardy." — remarks Wednesday at an Army tank factory in Lima, Ohio .
TRUMP: "So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) 'last in his class' (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual)." — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump's chronology is incorrect. McCain did not present then-FBI Director James Comey with a copy of the memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele until December 2016, according to a deposition from a McCain associate, David Kramer. FBI officials had access to Steele's research on Trump before the election, as they referenced it as part of an application for a secret search warrant of Trump associate Carter Page.
Trump often claims falsely that special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe is based on the dossier. That probe is examining Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. The FBI's investigation actually began months before it received the dossier of anti-Trump research financed by the Democratic Party and Clinton's campaign. The FBI probe's origins were based on other evidence — not the existence of the dossier.
There is no evidence that McCain provided the dossier to the news media.
And while McCain famously racked up demerits and earned poor grades at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he ultimately graduated fifth from the bottom of his 1958 class, not last.
TRUMP: "The vets were on my side because I got the job done. I got Choice, and I got accountability. ... For many decades, they couldn't get it done. It was never done. I got it. Five months ago, I got it done. Choice." — remarks in Ohio.
THE FACTS: What Trump got done was an expansion of the program achieved by McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders, most prominent among the lawmakers who advanced the legislation signed by Obama.
McCain was a co-sponsor of the 2014 legislation to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs following a scandal at VA's medical center in Phoenix, where some veterans died while waiting months for appointments for medical care. He was a key negotiator for the legislation establishing the Veterans Choice program, working with Sanders, the co-author of the bill. Sanders was then chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
McCain didn't rest after the law was enacted. He fought to expand the program and achieved that, too, in his last months.
Congress approved the expansion in May and Trump signed the legislation in June. It's named after three veterans who served in Congress.
One of them is McCain.
It's called the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018.
TRUMP: "Instead of waiting in line for two days, two weeks, two months, people waiting on line — they're not very sick, by the time they see a doctor, they are terminally ill — we give them Choice. If you have to wait for any extended period of time, you go outside, you go to a local doctor, we pay the bill, you get yourself better, go home to your family — and we got it passed. We got it done." — remarks in Ohio.
THE FACTS: As he does routinely, Trump exaggerated what's been accomplished with his expansion.
Veterans still must wait for weeks before they can get private care outside the VA system.
The program currently allows veterans to see doctors outside VA if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles (65 kilometers) to a VA facility. Under new rules to take effect in June, veterans are to have that option for a private doctor if their VA wait is only 20 days (28 for specialty care) or their drive is only 30 minutes.
But the expanded Choice eligibility may do little to provide immediate help. That's because veterans often must wait even longer for an appointment in the private sector. Last year, then-Secretary David Shulkin said VA care is "often 40 percent better in terms of wait times" compared with the private sector. In 2018, 34 percent of all VA appointments were with outside physicians, down from 36 percent in 2017.
The VA also must resolve long-term financing because of congressional budget caps after the White House opposed new money to pay for the program. As a result, lawmakers could be forced later this year to limit the program or slash core VA or other domestic programs.
Also key to the program's success is an overhaul of VA's electronic medical records to allow seamless sharing of medical records with private physicians, a process expected to take up to 10 years. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said full implementation of the expanded Choice program is "years" away.
The silence in the room of pro-military tank plant workers was palpable Wednesday as President Trump turned a speech meant to be about the military and manufacturing into an opportunity to eviscerate the late decorated veteran Sen. John McCain.
Unprompted, the president blamed McCain for a failed Obamacare repeal vote and for the unproven dossier alleging ties between Mr. Trump and Russia, as he has on Twitter and in remarks over the last few days. But he stepped up those attacks in his speech Wednesday.
"I endorsed him at his request," Mr. Trump said. "And I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted. Which as President, I had to approve. I don't care about this - I didn't get thank you. That's OK. We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain."
Mr. Trump spoke at the plant after the Army announced earlier in the year it would spent $714 million to upgrade the M1A1 Abrams at the plant, owned by General Dynamics. The White House has said the infusion of spending will support more than 1,000 jobs. Defense cuts five years ago nearly caused the plant to shut down. It is considered America's last tank factory.
In his remarks, the president reiterated his earlier declaration that ISIS will be "gone by tonight." The president held up two maps he had shown to reporters earlier at the White House, one of which he said was from Election Night, and the other representing the current status of the caliphate.
Recently, the president pressured U.S. auto giant General Motors to reopen a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that closed earlier this month. Mr. Trump has been berating GM over Twitter and pressuring CEO Mary Barra to take action.
He continued that barrage in Wednesday's speech, imploring GM to "get that plant open, or sell it to somebody and they'll open it."
Mr. Trump is also in Ohio for a country club fundraiser.
Trump arrives at his fundraiser
Mr. Trump has arrived at the Brookside Country Club, where he will hold a roundtable with reporters ahead of a dinner. The president, who filed for reelection on Inauguration Day, has already raised tens of millions of dollars for his reelection effort.
Outside the country club were a smattering of protesters as the president motorcaded in. "Trump for Prison 2020," one sign read.
Trump ignores question about John McCain
As the president's Ohio trip continued, a reporter shouted as he reached for the door of his motorcade, "Why do you keep attacking John McCain?"
The president declined to answer, saying only, "Thank you."
Mr. Trump is en route to his fundraiser.
Trump says U.S. has killed key terrorists
Mr. Trump told the audience he learned only moments before that terrorists responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Syria, as well as other incidents, have been killed.
Trump eviscerates the late John McCain
Mr. Trump launched into an unprompted evisceration of the late Sen. John McCain, blasting the late war veteran for his vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Then the president said he gave McCain the funeral McCain would have wanted, but he never got a thank you for it.
"I endorsed him at his request," Mr. Trump said. "And I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted. Which as President, I had to approve. I don't care about this -- I didn't get thank you. That's OK. We sent him on the way but I wasn't a fan of John McCain."
"So now what we could say is now, we're all set, I don't think I have to answer that question but the press keeps -- 'what do you think of McCain? What do you think?' Not my kind of guy, but some people like him and I think that's great."
Trump tells audience at plant they'd better love him
Mr. Trump opened his remarks by telling his audience they'd better love him, since he kept their plant open.
"You'd better love me, I kept this place open," the president told the crowd.
Trump is wheels down in Ohio
Air Force One touched down in Ohio at roughly 2:20 p.m. ET.
Fundraiser attendees can pay $15,000 for a picture with Trump
People who attend Wednesday night's fundraiser can get their picture with the president -- for $15,000, according to the invitation reviewed by the White House television pooler.
Dinner costs $50,000 a person or $70,000 for a couple. Entrance to the fundraiser costs $2,800.
Trump insults George Conway again
The last few days, the president has spent some of his time attacking the late Sen. John McCain -- "I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be" -- and George Conway, the husband of his top aide Kellyanne Conway who has repeatedly criticized the president's mental fitness on Twitter.
"George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife's success & angry that I, with her help, didn't give him the job he so desperately wanted," Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!"
Mr. Trump, asked about Conway Wednesday, criticized him again, calling him wacky.
Trump claims he told Mueller he wouldn't be FBI director
Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters on the White House South Lawn, claimed he told Mueller he wouldn't be the FBI director.
Trump talks Mueller report, ISIS on departure
"Let it come out, let people see it. That's up to the attorney general," Mr. Trump told reporters when asked if the impending report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation would be made public.
"I want to see the report," he added, saying that he "looked forward" to its release.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump took credit for the driving out of the Islamic State group in Syria, using visual diagrams comparing ISIS territories currently in the region compared to that when he took office.
Trump has a fundraising head start
Mr. Trump already has a fundraising head start going into the 2020 election cycle. His campaign has raised more than $130 million since he became president.
Mr. Trump has expressed confidence that he can beat whomever the Democrats choose from their primary process.
"Whoever it is, I'll take him or her on," Mr. Trump told reporters earlier this month.
Trump hitting the campaign trail starting next week
The president, after largely taking a break from political travel since the midterms, will rally supporters in Michigan next week.
Mr. Trump is holding a "Make America Great Again" rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on March 28. There, he'll emphasize manufacturing as a part of his agenda.
At the same time, he's likely to attack what his campaign considers to be "radical socialist" policies embraced by Democrats.
"While President Trump has made good on his promises to American workers, 2020 Democrats are embracing radical socialist policies like the Green New Deal, which would raise taxes on all Americans and is opposed by the AFL-CIO because it would harm millions of its members and threaten their jobs," Michael Glassner, CEO of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., said in a statement. "While Democrat proposals would cause irreparable harm to the American economy, President Trump has added hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in just two years, a drastic change from Obama's disastrous two terms."
(CBS News, Associated Press)