After announcing the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President Donald Trump on Sunday took questions from journalists – and made a major false claim about his past statements on Osama bin Laden.
Trump claimed he had been prescient about the danger posed by bin Laden, having called for the death of the al Qaeda leader in a “very successful” book he published in the year before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Trump said that he knew the threat from bin Laden at a time when “nobody” had “ever heard of” bin Laden.
“About a year – you’ll have to check it, a year, year and a half before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out. I was talking about Osama bin Laden. I said, ‘You have to kill him. You have to take him out.’ Nobody listened to me,” he said.
“Let’s put it this way: if they would have listened to me, a lot of things would have been different,” he said.
Trump said he still hears people marveling about his supposed declaration.
“To this day, I get people coming up to me,” he said. “They said, ‘You know what one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen about you is that you predicted that Osama bin Laden had to be killed before he knocked down the World Trade Center.’ It’s true. Now, most of the press doesn’t want to write that, but, you know – but it’s true. If you go back, look at my book.”
We went back and looked at his book. It’s not true.
Facts First: Trump’s January 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” mentioned bin Laden once, but it did not call for bin Laden to be killed or warn that he would perpetrate a major attack if he were not killed. In a separate section, the book said the US was in danger of a major terrorist attack that would make the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center look minor in comparison – but it did not predict that bin Laden or al Qaeda would be the perpetrator of this attack.
There is also no basis for Trump’s claim that bin Laden was unknown to everyone else at the time. Bin Laden was a well-known figure in 2000, though he had not achieved the prominence he would gain with the attacks of 2001; the FBI had added him to its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1999.
Here’s the one mention of bin Laden in Trump’s book: “Instead of one looming crisis hanging over us, we face a bewildering series of smaller crises, flash points, standoffs, and hot spots. We’re not playing the chess game to end all chess games anymore. We’re playing tournament chess – one master against many rivals. One day we’re all assured that Iraq is under control, the UN inspectors have done their work, everything’s fine, not to worry. The next day the bombing begins. One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin-Laden is public enemy number one, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”
That was all – a passing reference.
Elsewhere in the book, Trump wrote, “I really am convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the bombing of the Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers. No sensible analyst rejects this possibility, and plenty of them, like me, are not wondering if but when it will happen.”
So Trump explicitly acknowledged that it was a widespread belief among analysts, not a special insight of his own, that a major attack was coming.
Concerns about bin Laden plotting an attack were public knowledge by 2000. In June 1999, CNN published an article that began, “US officials fear that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden ‘may be in the final stages’ of planning an attack against the United States.”
Bin Laden had been publicly linked to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and President Bill Clinton retaliated later that year with cruise missile strikes on sites the Clinton administration claimed were connected to bin Laden.
Sunday was not the first time Trump had made false claims about what he said about bin Laden in the 2000 book. He made similar comments during his presidential campaign, once in an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show.