President Donald Trump was relentlessly inaccurate last week – to the media, to his supporters and to legislators from his own party.
Trump made 90 false claims in all. That is the most in the 10 weeks we have been counting at CNN. It is not, however, an all-time Trump record; he made 240 false claims the week before the 2018 midterm elections, which we counted at the Toronto Star.
Trump made 25 of last week’s 90 false claims at his campaign rally in North Carolina, 22 in his speech to a retreat for House Republican members of Congress, 19 on Twitter, 18 in exchanges with reporters, two in a speech to a Historically Black Colleges and Universities conference, and one at a briefing on Hurricane Dorian damage.
Update: He also made three in an interview, with a North Carolina local television station, that we did not discover until after the original version of this article was posted. The original tally was 87 false claims.
The most egregious false claim: Iran and the media
Trump said as recently as June that he would meet with Iran with “no pre-conditions.” Vice President Mike Pence also said Trump would meet with Iran with “without pre-conditions.” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin all said the same.
Five days after Pompeo and Mnuchin both said “no pre-conditions” again, Trump tweeted…this: “The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’ That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).”
The most revealing false claims: Victory in North Carolina
A Republican candidate who had trailed in some polls won the 9th District, where the 2018 election result had been invalidated because the party faced credible allegations of election fraud. And a Republican won the 3rd District by more than 24 percentage points, slightly exceeding Trump’s margin in the 2016 election.
But all this was insufficient for Trump, who often prefers inaccurate claims to perfectly adequate accurate claims.
Trump decided to insist that 9th District winner Dan Bishop “was 17 points behind, three weeks ago,” though there is no public evidence that shows this, and that 3rd District winner, Greg Murphy had been “anticipated to win by two or three points, maybe less,” though polls had showed him up double-digits.
The most absurd false claim: The weather in Fayetteville
Trump likes to talk about the hardships his supporters endure to attend his rallies – long lines, hot sun. Last Monday, it was nonexistent rain.
Trump encountered stormy weather on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina, his first stop of the day. He was forced to cancel a planned tour of Dorian damage, instead getting a briefing on a parked Air Force One.
As he ended the briefing, he abruptly pivoted from the destruction in the Bahamas to the line for his rally in Fayetteville. Noting that it had rained in the area where he was himself sitting, he said, “So we have now people standing in line trying to get into the arena, and I will tell you that they are soaking wet.”
They were not wet. It was 88 degrees and sunny in Fayetteville, which is 130 miles away from where he was sitting.
Here’s this week’s full list:
The Iraq War
“Going into Iraq was something that he (John Bolton) felt very strongly about … and I disagreed with that decision from the beginning, even though I was a civilian, so nobody cared. But I was out there. I was outspoken about it. I thought it was a terrible mistake. Here we are, many, many years later – decades later – and we’re still there. And we’ve been acting as policemen.” – September 11 exchange with reporters at meeting on e-cigarettes
Facts First: Trump did not outspokenly oppose the Iraq War “from the beginning.” Radio host Howard Stern asked him in September 2002, “Are you for invading Iraq?” Trump was tentatively supportive, responding, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.” The day after the invasion in March 2003, he said, “It looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
Trump did not offer a definitive position on the looming war in a Fox News interview in January 2003, saying, “Either you attack or don’t attack.” Trump started questioning the war later in 2003, and he was an explicit opponent in an Esquire article published 17 months after the invasion.
Trump said that, “until President Trump,” military spending by non-US NATO members was declining. “The NATO cost of – spending was going like this,” he said, moving his hand in a downward sloping motion. – Sept. 9 campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina
Facts First: Military spending by NATO members had increased for two years prior to Trump’s presidency. According to official NATO figures, spending increased by 1.8% in 2015 and 2.8% in 2016, before Trump took office.
Trump-era increases have been bigger – 6% in 2017 and an estimated 3.8% in 2018 – and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has credited Trump for his role in prompting the increase. But the upward trend started two years before Trump’s tenure began.
In 2014, NATO countries who were not yet meeting the alliance guideline of spending 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on defense recommitted to meeting the target. Spending began rising after that.
Previous presidents and NATO
Trump indicated he is the first president to ask NATO members to boost military spending. “It just takes a little getting used to, because nobody has ever asked them. ‘Look, we’re defending your country, you’re rich as can be. You got to help us out. You got to pay a little bit.’ And they go, ‘No, no.’ I say, ‘No, no, no, King. You got to pay.’ ‘No, no, Mr. President.’ ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you got to pay. You got to pay.' And the answer is, ‘But, uh, nobody has ever asked us to do that before.’ I said, ‘That’s why I’m different. That’s why I’m different. I’m asking you to do it.’” – Sept. 12 speech at the House Republican Conference
Facts First: It’s not true that nobody ever asked NATO members to increase their military spending. Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both did so, though their public language was less confrontational.
Obama repeatedly urged NATO allies to spend more, including in 2014 when he said he, “had some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending among some of our partners in NATO.”
At George W. Bush’s final NATO summit, in 2008, he called on NATO allies to “increase their defense investments to support both NATO and EU operations.”
“This is a country that, 15 years ago, was one of the wealthiest countries, and now it’s dying. They don’t have water, they don’t have food, they don’t have medical.” – Sept. 11 exchange with reporters at meeting on e-cigarettes
“And, you know, we’re working very hard on a place called Venezuela. Fifteen years ago, it was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And, today, they don’t have food. They don’t have water. They don’t have anything.” – Sept. 12 speech to House Republican Member Retreat
Facts First: Venezuela was not one of the world’s wealthiest countries 15 years ago.
The International Monetary Fund ranked Venezuela 67th in the world in 2004 by GDP per capita, at $4,019 (US) – better than more than half of the world’s countries, but nowhere near the top.
“Venezuela was one of the richest countries in the world 60 years ago. The richest in Latin America 40 years ago. But not 20 years ago,” Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuelan planning minister and central bank board member, said in response to a previous version of this Trump claim. Hausmann, now a Harvard University professor of economic development, was chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank from 1994 to 2000.
Meeting with Iran
“The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’ That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).” – Sept. 15 tweet
Facts First: Trump said in June 2019 and in July 2018 that he would meet with Iran with “no pre-conditions.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin both said the same – five days before this tweet.
It is possible that Trump’s position had just changed. But journalists were reporting the position he and his top officials had repeatedly expressed over the previous 14 months. You can read our full fact check on this claim here.
Payments to Iran (two claims)
Trump claimed the US “paid” Iran “$150 billion” as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Facts First: The money in question was Iranian money frozen in foreign financial institutions because of sanctions, not US government money – and many experts say the total was significantly lower than $150 billion. You can read our full fact check on this claim here.
The war in Afghanistan
“Afghanistan is a very interesting situation. We’ve been there for 19 years. Nineteen years.” – Sept. 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: This was a small exaggeration. The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, less than 18 years ago. This was not a one-time slip though; Trump habitually says “19 years.”
The Green New Deal
“Over 100 Democrats have signed up to support the $100 trillion Green New Deal. That’s a beauty. No more cows. No more planes. I guess, no more people, right?” – Sept. 12 remarks at House Republican Conference
Facts First: The Democrats’ Green New Deal environmental resolution does not call for the elimination of cows or planes.
Trump did not make up this claim out of thin air. A “FAQ” page that once appeared on the website of a leading Green New Deal proponent, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls for the government to “build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” In explaining why Green New Deal proponents were aiming to get to “net-zero” carbon emissions in 10 years rather than the more ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions at all, the FAQ said, “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” You can read our full fact check here.
Democrats and energy
“Yet every leading Democrat running for president pledges to ban the energy that drives our economy … if you look at what’s going on, your way of life is under assault by these people.” – Sept. 9 campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina
Facts First: It’s not entirely clear what Trump was talking about – he had spoken about oil and gas moments earlier – but it was clear he was exaggerating. Almost all of the Democratic presidential candidates have told the Washington Post that they would end new fossil fuel extraction on federal land, but this is not the same as a complete ban on “the energy that drives our economy,” whatever Trump meant. Some of the candidates support a ban on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, but others do not. Similarly, some want to ban fossil fuel exports, but some do not.
Leading Democrats have made clear that they want to pass policies that will move the country away from fossil fuels. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, says his plan will “transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent energy efficiency and sustainable energy by 2030 at the latest”; his website says, “When Bernie is president, he is going to fully transform our energy sector away from fossil fuels, ensuring no one is priced out of this transition.” But a transition is not the same as a ban.
A quote from Democratic Rep. Al Green
“‘We can’t beat him, so lets impeach him!’ Democrat Rep. Al Green” – Sept. 12 tweet
Facts First: Green, a Texas congressman, is being misquoted; he told CNN, “I never said we can’t beat the President.” In May, he said this: “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach this President, he will get reelected.”