Why Trump's Claim That Russia Didn't Interfere Was Chosen As "Lie Of The Year"

by Seth Millstein
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

PolitiFact announced in early December that it would be giving its Lie Of The Year award to President Trump's repeated claims that Russia didn't interfere with the 2016 election. On Sunday, the fact-checking website's editor explained the reasoning behind their pick: Trump's Russia denials became PolitiFact's Lie of the Year in part because of how often Trump repeated them.

"We're not saying there was collusion [between the Trump campaign and Russia]," PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan told CNN on Christmas Eve. "What we’re saying is, this Russian interference definitely happened. and President Trump has said several times that it hasn’t. Well, it has. And it really goes to the heart of American democracy and our elections and how we decide who do we pick to be our leaders in Congress and the White House.”

Many government organizations have determined that Russia sought to influence the 2016 presidential election. An investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee determined that that "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election," the primary goals being to "undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency." The CIA concluded that Russia interfered with the election with the explicit goal of electing Trump, while the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement in late 2016 alleging that "the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions" in order to interfere with the US election process."

Several private organizations have released findings that support these conclusions. Facebook announced that during the 2016 election, a single Russia-based firm purchased political ads that were seen by 150 million Facebook users. According to Bloomberg, Google has identified $4,700 in ads that ran on its network during the election and were tied to the Russian government, as well as an additional $53,000 in election ads that came from Russia in general.

Importantly, none of the aforementioned organizations determined that the Trump campaign actually colluded with Russia during the election, an allegation Trump has staunchly denied on several occasions. Likewise, investigators haven't argued that Russian interference changed the outcome of the election, and PolitiFact says it has "seen no compelling evidence" that this is the case.

Trump, however, has denied that Russia interfered with the 2016 elections at all, claiming at various times that such reports are "phony," a "hoax," a "Witch Hunt" and "a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election." In one interview, Trump said that he believes Putin's personal assurances that Russia didn't interfere with the election. In another, he told NBC's Lester Holt that "this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." He's made similar denials in many tweets as well.

Strangely, although he denies that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, Trump has occasionally criticized the Obama administration for failing to take reports of Russian election interference seriously.

"Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia," Trump tweeted in June. "Did nothing about it. WHY?"

The president sent a similar tweet in August, claiming that "according to report just out, President Obama knew about Russian interference 3 years ago but he didn't want to anger Russia!"

Holan argued that Trump's claims, in addition to being factually incorrect, make it harder for the U.S. government to thwart foreign interference with American elections.

"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," Holan wrote in explaining why Trump's Russia denials the Lie of the Year. "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."