PolitiFact on Tuesday named President Donald Trump's claim that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is a "made-up story' its "lie of the year" for 2017, marking the second time in three years that the fact-checking website has bestowed the title on comments Trump has made.
Classified and public U.S. intelligence reports have said that the highest levels of the Russian government ordered actions to interfere with the 2016 election, including propaganda efforts against certain candidates and resorting to cyber-theft of private data. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have also investigated their own networks after initially dragging their feet to discover that Russia used the online platforms to attempt to influence the election, according to PolitiFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times.
Trump has been an outspoken critic of ongoing federal investigations into Russian election meddling, calling then a "Russia hoax," PolitiFact noted.
"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 in May.
On Twitter in September, Trump said, "The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?"
And during an overseas trip to Asia in November, Trump spoke of meeting with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin: "Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn't do that.' And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it." In the same interview, Trump referred to the officials who led the intelligence agencies during the election as "political hacks."
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.
PolitiFact said that it labeled these statements as the "lie of the year" because Trump "refuses to acknowledge a threat to U.S. democracy," making it "all the more difficult to address the problem." The website also said that its readers chose Trump's claims by an overwhelming margin.
PolitiFact admits that it seems unlikely—though not impossible—that Russia interference changed the outcome of the 2016 election, but the site believes Trump should at least acknowledge that the Russian interference happened while also defending the legitimacy of his election.
Former President George W. Bush's ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, said that Trump's denial is not like most presidential posturing.
"I've worked for both parties," Burns said during public testimony to the Republican-controlled Congress over the summer. "It's inconceivable to me that any of President Trump's predecessors would deny the gravity of such an open attack on our democratic system."
"I don't believe any previous American president would argue that your own hearings in the Senate are a waste of time or, in the words of President Trump, a witch hunt. They're not; you're doing your duty, that the people elected you to do," he added.
Countries have meddled in each other's elections before, but PolitiFact claims that 2016 was different because Putin had animosity toward Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and felt that she was a threat to the Kremlin getting international sanctions lifted for Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Putin openly blamed Clinton for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012. A publicly available intelligence assessment said that Putin also "holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him."
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.)
This is not the first time that the fact-checking site has chosen comments Trump made as its lie of the year.
Trump received his first PolitiFact "lie of the year" in 2015 for several misstatements during the Republican primary.
"Donald Trump doesn't let facts slow him down," the site wrote at the time. "Bending the truth or being unhampered by accuracy is a strategy he has followed for years."