President Donald Trump was relentlessly dishonest last week about the scandal over his dealings with Ukraine, making false claims about just about every component of the story.
Trump made 96 false claims last week, the second-highest total of the 16 weeks we’ve counted at CNN. He made 53 false claims last Monday alone – a remarkable 31 in rambling comments at his Cabinet meeting and 22 more in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
Fifty-three false claims is by far the most Trump has made in any day in the 16 weeks we’ve tracked, beating the previous high of 41. Trump has averaged about 68 false claims per week over the 16-week period – just shy of 10 false claims per day.
His deception last week was focused on his conduct toward Ukraine and Democrats’ related impeachment inquiry. Deep breath now:
He falsely claimed he had released an exact transcript of his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He falsely claimed he did not ask Zelensky for anything on the call. He falsely claimed people aren’t talking about the call anymore.
He falsely claimed the whistleblower complaint about the call was “totally wrong.” He falsely claimed the whistleblower alleged he had made seven or eight mentions of a “quid pro quo.” He falsely claimed the whistleblower has vanished. He falsely claimed Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff was the whistleblower’s source.
He falsely claimed Schiff had spoken about the call at a committee hearing before, not after, the release of the rough transcript. He falsely claimed Schiff’s committee comments were illegal. He falsely claimed Republicans aren’t allowed to ask questions in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry hearings. And he falsely claimed those closed-door hearings are unprecedented.
The most egregious false claim: Trump’s “prediction” about Osama bin Laden
The President complained that the media doesn’t want to talk about his declaration, in a 2000 book, that Osama bin Laden needed to be killed. In fact, he didn’t say anything like that.
The President claimed that things would be different today if his prescient words had been listened to. Again, those words do not exist.
The President claimed that he still has people coming up to him marveling at his amazing “prediction” about bin Laden. Again, he did not make any prediction about bin Laden.
And the president claimed that it was an especially remarkable prediction because “nobody” had ever heard of bin Laden at the time. Bin Laden was being pursued by the CIA and had been put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list the year before.
Here’s a full fact check of Trump’s elaborate fiction.
The most revealing false claim: How people “don’t talk” about his call with Ukraine’s president
Trump’s phone call with Zelensky is at the center of Democrats’ push to impeach him. It remains the subject of discussion in the media and in the impeachment inquiry hearings.
Trump said last week: “They don’t talk about it anymore.”
“They don’t like to talk about the phone call,” he told Hannity, “because it was perfect.”
Most politicians spin, exaggerate, mislead. Trump invites people to join him in a fantasyland that bears no resemblance to what they can see with their own eyes.
The most absurd false claim: George Washington’s “two desks”
Trump is fond of adding vivid little details to his tales to theoretically make them sound more authentic.
Attempting last week to defend himself against criticism of his aborted plan to hold a G7 summit at one of his own resorts, he claimed that George Washington not only ran a business while in office – Washington was a major landowner and took an active interest in his farm, so there’s at least a smidgen of truth there – but that Washington, “they say, had two desks. He had a presidential desk and a business desk.”
For good measure, Trump gestured as if there were two desks near him, side-by-side.
Fact checking Trump involves asking weird questions to experts who do not traditionally get roped into articles on the dishonesty of elected officials. In this case, one of our recruits was Mary Thompson, a research historian at Mount Vernon, Washington’s historic home.
“I am not aware of Washington having had two desks in the study in the presidential mansion, which was a fairly small room,” Thompson said.
Here’s a full fact check of this claim. And below is this week’s full list of 96, starting with the ones we haven’t included in a weekly update before:
Polls, elections and accomplishments
Trump’s poll numbers
“And I had great polls. I have my best polls now. I think it’s because people think that it’s terrible what they’re doing. Pelosi, Shifty Schiff, Schumer – these people are trying to destroy the country.” – October 21 exchange with reporters at Cabinet meeting
“I do say this – and I can see it, because I’ve been – I mean, look at our fundraising. The money’s never come in like this. Look at – my poll numbers have been, like, the highest.” – October 21 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity
Facts First: Trump did not say what polls he was referring to, but there is no sign that he is at his “highest” or “best” level ever or that there has been any kind of spike in his numbers as a result of Democrats’ impeachment push.
Trump was at 41.8% approval and 54.1% disapproval in the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregate on the day of these comments, October 21. That was down from 43.8% approval and 52.1% disapproval on September 25, his recent peak. Trump was above 44% approval at various points of 2017 and 2018.
Trump’s approval numbers with Republicans in particular are consistently over 80%, but even these numbers were not at their peak at the time he spoke here.
“We revoked the ridiculous Waters of the United States rule. … When I did that, I had people in my office – I had miners and I had farmers and I had builders building homes. And many of them were tough, strong men and women. And almost all of them were crying. They said, ‘Sir, you’ve given our life back to us.’” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: We checked the video of this 2017 event, and nobody standing behind Trump was crying. (Trump had previously claimed that “half” of the people behind him were crying.)
A report from “Moody’s”
Trump spoke three times about data on household income growth under himself and Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. He said all three times that the figures were from “Moody’s.”
Facts First: These figures were not from Moody’s, company spokesman Gene Kim confirmed; they were produced by a different firm, Sentier Research. (Trump might well just have been confused – he did refer correctly to a recent Moody’s analysis that found he is on track to win the 2020 election if the economy remains roughly as it is today.)
The Sentier Research data had been recently referenced by Stephen Moore, an economic fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a Fox News contributor.
Median household income and energy
“A recent analysis found that middle class income has risen by $5,000. But add to that – that’s median household income – add to that $2,000 from the tax cuts and then $2,000 for energy, because our energy is much cheaper. … And so that would be $9,000 per household. Median income.” – October 25 speech to 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum
Facts First: There is no basis to add “$2,000 for energy” on top of the $5,000 figure for median household income.
The $5,000 figure came from Sentier Research, a private company run by former Census Bureau officials. The company uses a different methodology than the Census Bureau, and the Trump-era household income increase it calculated is much larger than the increase the Census Bureau itself found between 2016 and 2018.
Whichever figure is more accurate, there is no credible estimate that the median household gained “$2,000 for energy” over and above the $5,000 overall pre-tax gain found by Sentier. Household energy costs have increased since Trump took office, as have gasoline costs.
The Sentier data and inflation
“You know, a number just came out … under the Bush administration, for eight years, median household income went up $400. That’s over eight years. OK? So, remember: $400, eight years … so remember this: eight years, eight years, 400 bucks – 400 bucks. You don’t even – that gets wiped out by inflation. Four hundred dollars.” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: As the Washington Post noted, Trump was incorrect that the $400 median household income increase under Bush “gets wiped out by inflation.” The Sentier data is already adjusted for inflation, company partner Gordon Green confirmed.
The construction of the Empire State Building
“America built the Empire State Building in just one year. Believe it or not, in nine months.” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: The Empire State Building was built in 13 months, not nine months. (We’d have let it go if Trump had stuck to “just one year,” but nine months is objectively wrong.)
The pace of road approvals
“… I mean, roads are under consideration for – we have roads, 21 years, 22 years. They end up costing many, many times more… But permits that took 17, 18, 19 years, we think we can get – we’re down to two years. And we think we can get it around one. And you may get rejected, folks, but it’s going to be fast.” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: There is no apparent basis for Trump’s claim that it now takes just two years to get environmental approvals for “roads,” though he was not very specific about which roads he was talking about. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) page, the department’s median environmental impact statement completion time was 47 months in 2018, up from 46 months in 2017 and 44 months in 2016.
A White House report in December 2018 found an average environmental impact statement completion time of 4.5 years and median completion time of 3.6 years across the government, for various kinds of projects.
Brad Karkkainen, a University of Minnesota law professor and expert on environmental and land use law, said in an email that he has “never heard of a highway project taking 18 or 20 years, though it’s certainly possible that when the median time was six or seven years, a few projects took twice as long, perhaps more.” He said some projects can “sail through” much faster than the median time, “but to suggest as Trump does that the typical time has gone from 17+ years to two years is just nonsense.”
The governor of Louisiana
“…In Louisiana the other night, the governor was at 66 – he couldn’t get 50%.” – October 21 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity
Facts First: Trump was vague here, but Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was not “at 66” either in the polls or in his previous election. Edwards got 56% of the vote when he was elected in 2015; public polls listed by FiveThirtyEight did not have him higher than 55% in this year’s open primary.
The Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines
“In my first week in office, I approved permits for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. And that’s a big thing.” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: This was not quite what happened. Trump did sign an executive order in his first week in office to advance both pipelines, but he did not grant final approval of Keystone XL until just over two months into his presidency. The Army announced during Trump’s third week in office that it would grant the final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A quote from Charlie Kirk
” ’… Our studends (sic) feel EMPOWERED. There’s a movement happening on these campuses like I’ve never seen before. When you have 3000 students wanting to get into an event that couldn’t get in, that’s pretty remarkable!’ @charliekirk11 Turning Point USA KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” – October 23 tweet
Facts First: Trump’s tweet omitted an important part of Kirk’s quote on Fox News: Kirk’s reference to protests at an event featuring himself and Donald Trump Jr. The President also added a hyperbolic statement Kirk did not utter in this quote.
Introducing Kirk, the founder of conservative organization Turning Point USA, the hosts of Fox & Friends made mention of the protests around the event at Colorado State University. Kirk said: “There’s a movement happening on these campuses. There were some of the protests from the non-students in the local area, but when you have 3,000 people that wanted to get but couldn’t get out, that’s pretty remarkable!”
Trump replaced Kirk’s reference to the protests with his own words, “like I’ve never seen before.”
A quote from Steve Doocy
“A majority do not want him Impeached and removed from office. 94% of the people in these battleground states who voted for President Trump want him to continue as President. That’s squarely in his corner.’” @SteveDoocy – October 22 tweet
Facts First: Trump’s tweet omitted a significant part of Doocy’s quote: Doocy noted that this poll showed that a majority of those polled supported House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Doocy, a co-host of Fox & Friends, actually said, “A majority is for the inquiry but do not want him impeached and removed from office, and it also said that I think 94% of the people in these battleground states who voted for President Trump want him to continue as President. That’s squarely in his corner.”
The impeachment inquiry
Republicans and the impeachment inquiry
“But no lawyers – we have no lawyers – Republican – because it’s the minority. We have no lawyers, we can’t question, we can’t do a thing. We can’t – they can’t even go into the room…” – October 21 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity
Facts First: Trump was correct that the Democratic House majority was not permitting White House lawyers into its closed hearings. However, the 48 Republican members of the three committees holding the hearings – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight – were indeed allowed into the room, and they were given equal time to question witnesses.
Trump might have been referring to a stunt in which Republicans who were not members of any of the three committees, along with some Republicans who were members, stormed the secure committee room to make a political point; the non-members were not allowed to be there. But the members were allowed to be full participants in the proceedings.
Closed-door impeachment meetings
“Well, I think they are – I will be honest: I loved when I saw that scene of the unity yesterday with the congressmen going downstairs, because they have a cabal going on. It’s – you know, you look at what’s happening downstairs in the little room – that little secret room. Nobody ever had a thing like that. That’s never happened before.” – October 25 interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Eric Bolling
Facts First: It’s not true that “nobody ever had a thing like” the closed-door hearings House Democrats are holding as part of their impeachment inquiry. The impeachment processes for both Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon also involved closed-door meetings in which members of Congress gathered evidence.
“The President’s comments are entirely, wholly, and completely, wrong,” said Jeffrey Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “It is simply normal for those discussions to take place behind closed doors because as everyone across the board will tell you, in investigations you get better answers when there are no cameras.”
The impeachment witnesses
“They’re interviewing – they’re interviewing ambassadors who I’d never heard of. I don’t know who these people are. I never heard of them. And I have great respect for some of them. … Don’t forget, many of these people were put there during Obama, during Clinton, during the Never Trump or Bush era. You know, you had a Never Trump or Bush.” – October 21 exchange with reporters at Cabinet meeting
Facts First: As FactCheck.org noted: “Actually, among the nine government officials who have testified in closed sessions so far, just two were appointed to their current or recently resigned positions under the Obama administration. The other seven were appointed by Trump or Trump appointees, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”
We can’t definitively fact check whether Trump has heard of his own appointees, but it’s worth noting that they are indeed his own appointees, that he professed respect for “some of them” immediately after saying he’d never heard of them, and that he has a history of minimizing his relationships with former associates when that is convenient for him.
Barack Obama and Kim Jong Un
“But in the meantime, North Korea, I like Kim, he likes me. We get along. I respect him, he respects me. ‘You could end up in a war.’ President Obama told me that. He said, ‘The biggest problem, I don’t know how to solve it.’ He told me he doesn’t know how to solve it. I said, ‘Did you ever call him?’ ‘No.’ Actually, he tried 11 times. But the man on the other side, the gentleman on the other side, did not take his call. OK? Lack of respect. But he takes my call.’” – October 21 exchange with reporters at Cabinet meeting
Facts First: There is no apparent basis for the claim that Obama tried to call Kim Jong Un 11 times. In fact, there is no evidence that Obama called him even once. His former national security officials say he did not. Read our full fact check here.
Conor Lamb and Trump
“So, Conor Lamb – right here from Pittsburgh. And I appreciate – Conor, whoever you are – I have no idea what you even look like. But there’s some guy named Conor Lamb who speaks very nicely about – you know why? Because you’re in like a Trump district. No, it’s right. It’s true. Right? ‘No, the President is excellent. He’s doing a good job.’ I thought he was a Republican until I found out.” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: Lamb, a Democratic congressman in Pennsylvania who has positioned himself as a moderate, has made an effort to avoid attacking Trump, expressed a willingness to work with Trump, and expressed qualified support for Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum (he called for a focus on China rather than allies like Canada) – but Lamb has not called Trump “excellent” or said “he’s doing a good job.”
Trump has previously exaggerated how positive Lamb has been toward him, falsely claiming Lamb had endorsed the Trump tax law Lamb had campaigned against.
Conor Lamb and guns
“They want to take away your guns. Conor Lamb wants to take away your guns.” – October 23 speech at Shale Insight Conference
Facts First: There is no evidence that Lamb “wants to take away your guns.” Lamb says he supports universal background checks, but he opposes a ban on assault weapons and says new gun laws are not the answer to the problem of mass shootings.
Obama’s response to Russian election interference
“And President Obama in September (2016) was told about Russian influence, and he didn’t want to do anything about it. He didn’t want to do a thing about it. Because he assumed Hillary was going to win. So he didn’t do a thing about it. Nobody brings that up.” – October 21 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity
Facts First: Obama has been criticized, even by some Democrats, for not acting more forcefully when he was notified of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Still, it’s an exaggeration to say “he didn’t do a thing.” Obama and his senior officials did several things in response to the information.
San Francisco and the environment
“I can’t believe that Nancy Pelosi’s District in San Francisco is in such horrible shape that the City itself is in violation of many sanitary & environmental orders, causing it to owe the Federal Government billions of dollars - and all she works on is Impeachment. We should all work together to clean up these hazardous waste and homeless sites before the whole city rots away. Very bad and dangerous conditions, also severely impacting the Pacific Ocean and water supply. Pelosi must work on this mess and turn her District around!” – October 26 tweet
Facts First: San Francisco does not owe the federal government billions of dollars over its supposed environmental violations. And the claim that pollution from San Francisco’s homeless population is “severely impacting the Pacific Ocean and water supply” is sharply disputed by environmental experts.
In September, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, sent a letter to the governor of California to allege “deficiencies” in the state’s implementation of federal environmental laws. The letter, which followed a dispute between the Trump administration and the state over automotive emissions standards, is seen by many Democrats, former EPA officials and environmental experts as retaliatory.
Regardless of the administration’s true motives, the letter did not allege that San Francisco or the state owes the federal government billions. It said San Francisco “must invest billions of dollars” to modernize its sewer system; that is not the same thing.
Ann Carlson, a professor of environmental law at the University of California, Los Angeles and faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, noted the absence of evidence for the administration’s claims about environmental problems caused by homeless people in San Francisco.
“Trump’s tweet is misleading or flatly false on several fronts. Although he claimed in late September that the city’s failure to manage its homelessness problem was causing serious water pollution problems from needles and human waste, his EPA has produced no evidence to back up its claim,” she said.
“In fact, after he made that accusation, EPA sent what is called a notice of violation to San Francisco accusing the City of violating the federal Clean Water Act in the operation of its wastewater and sewer system. EPA made no mention of any problems caused by the homeless population – you can bet if the agency had any evidence, it would have included mention of the evidence in the letter.”
The presidential salary
“But I give away my presidential salary. They say that no other president has done it. I’m surprised, to be honest with you. They actually say that George Washington may have been the only other president.” – October 21 remarks at Cabinet meeting
Facts First: Trump does donate his salary, but the rest of his claim was inaccurate. He is not the only president to have donated the official salary; both John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover did so. Washington did not.
Although Washington initially declined his salary, he relented after Congress insisted.
George Washington’s “two desks”
“But other presidents, if you look – other presidents were wealthy. Not huge wealth. George Washington was actually considered a very, very rich man at the time. But they ran their businesses. George Washington, they say, had two desks: He had a presidential desk and a business desk.” – October 21 exchange with reporters at Cabinet meeting
Facts First: Washington, a major landowner, did continue to own property while serving as president, and he took an interest in his farm at Mount Vernon while in office – even writing to a United Kingdom official to discuss getting help finding renters for Mount Vernon land. But historians say Trump’s claim about Washington having a separate desk for business work is baseless.
You can read a longer fact check here.
Foreign and military affairs
Escaped ISIS prisoners
“General Mazloum has assured me that ISIS is under very, very strict lock and key, and the detention facilities are being strongly maintained. There were a few that got out – a small number, relatively speaking – and they’ve been largely recaptured.” – October 23 speech on the situation in Syria
Facts First: Trump’s anti-ISIS envoy, James Jeffrey, testified to Congress about an hour earlier that he does not know the whereabouts of the escaped prisoners. “We do not know where they are,” Jeffrey, who serves as both special envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS and as special representative for Syria engagement, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Trump’s statements on Iraq and oil
“I always used to say, ‘If they’re going to go in…’ Nobody cared that much, but it got written about. ‘If they’re going to go in…’ I’m sure you’ve heard the statement, because I made it more than any human being alive. ‘If they’re going into Iraq, keep the oil.’ They never did. They never did.” –