President Donald Trump made 99 false claims over the two weeks that ended last Sunday.
Trump made 22 of the false claims at a campaign rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He made 16 of them in a lengthy exchange with reporters during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The economy was Trump’s top subject of dishonesty, with 25 false claims. He made 22 false claims about military affairs, largely on account of his presence at a NATO summit. He made 15 false claims about NATO itself, 11 about impeachment.
Trump is now averaging 63 false claims per week since we started counting at CNN on July 8, 2019. He made 38 false claims last week, 61 the week before.
He is now up to 1,450 total false claims since July 8. A breakdown of the lowlights from the last two weeks:
The most egregious false claim: An imaginary restraining order
Trump has no shortage of factual ammunition for bashing former FBI senior counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who exchanged anti-Trump texts while being involved in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia (and while having an affair).
But Trump is rarely satisfied with accurate attacks when he can do more damage to his foes’ reputations with inaccurate ones. At his December 10 campaign rally in Pennsylvania, he alleged that one of either Strzok or Page had obtained a restraining order against the other.
Most presidents try to limit their public storytelling to stories they know to be accurate. Not Trump, an eager purveyor of rumor and insinuation, he told the crowd: “I don’t know if it’s true. The fake news will never report it. But it could be true. No, that’s what I heard, I don’t know.”
There is not a hint of evidence that the story is true. Page tweeted that it was a “lie.”
The most revealing false claim: An assault in Maryland
Trump comes to many of his rally speeches armed with graphic accounts of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. At the Pennsylvania rally, he recited accurate details of a horrifying recent Maryland case during which a man allegedly strangled and raped a woman who was trying to enter her apartment.
Then, appearing to ad-lib for a moment, Trump said, “She was raped and killed, strangled to death.”
The victim was not killed. Police reported that doctors said she could have been killed by the strangulation, but she survived.
We might be inclined to think Trump had made an innocent error had he not done this kind of needless exaggerating before. At one event last year, for example, he began to read out his text’s accurate claim that the MS-13 gang on Long Island, New Yorkhad called for the murder of a police officer, then decided to turn it into a false claim that MS-13 actually did murder the police officer.
The most absurd false claim: Rewriting campaign history
Trump’s general approach to history: if you don’t like it, rewrite it.
The Louisiana governor candidate for whom Trump campaigned hard, Eddie Rispone, lost to incumbent John Bel Edwards by 2.7 percentage points. Trump claimed twice this month that Rispone lost by less than one percentage point.
And that was not the month’s most egregious attempt to revise his political past. At the NATO summit, Trump told reporters that, with the exception of that race in Louisiana and another governor’s race in Kentucky, “I’ve won virtually every race that I’ve participated in.”
“Virtually” is vague, but Trump was wrong however you slice things. He was omitting the defeats of two Alabama Senate candidates he had touted at rallies in 2017, a Virginia governor candidate he had repeatedly tweeted to promote in 2017, and a Pennsylvania congressional candidate and Montana and West Virginia Senate candidates he had promoted at rallies in 2018.
Here’s the full list of 99 false claims, starting with the new ones we haven’t previously included in one of these roundups:
Foreign and military affairs
The Turkey-Syria border
“We pulled our soldiers out and we said, ‘You can patrol your own border now. I don’t care who you do it with, but we’re not going to have soldiers patrolling the border that’s been fought over for 2,000 years.’” – December 3 exchange with reporters at meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron
“And I read a couple of stories just two days ago that, ‘Wow, that deal that Trump did with Turkey’ – because I want to get our soldiers out of there. I don’t want to be policing a border that’s been fought over for 2,000 years.” – December 3 exchange with reporters at meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Facts First: There is no basis for the claim that there has been fighting over the Turkey-Syria border for 2,000 years; modern-day Turkey and Syria were both part of the Ottoman Empire that was only dissolved after World War, and the border between them is less than 100 years old.
“The border he refers to – the Turkish-Syria border – was established in 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne and the founding of the Republic of Turkey. The exception to this is the province of Hatay, which passed from Syrian to Turkish control following a referendum,” said Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations and European studies at Johns Hopkins, who called Trump’s claims “patently and irresponsibly false.” Of the current conflict between Turkey and Kurdish groups based in Turkey and in Syria, Hintz added, “Not only have these groups not been fighting over a border for 2,000 years, none of these groups or even the border in question existed 200 years ago.”
Augusta University history professor Michael Bishku said “Trump is totally incorrect with his history.”
Germany’s military spending
“…Germany is paying 1 to 1.2% – at max, 1.2% – of a much smaller GDP. That’s not fair.” – December 3 exchange with reporters at meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Facts First: Trump’s “max” figure for Germany’s defense spending was out of date. While Germany did spend 1.24% its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense in 2018, according to NATO figures, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government increased defense spending in 2019 to an estimated 1.38% of GDP, according to NATO – still shy of the alliance’s 2% target, but higher than Trump said.
Trump might have simply been unaware of the German increase, but it also appeared in NATO’s official report in June. (At that point, the alliance estimated that Germany would be at 1.36% of GDP this year.)
Military spending by NATO members, part 1
On 10 separate instances, Trump made inaccurate claims about increases in military spending by NATO members. He claimed that: 1) He “got NATO countries to pay 530 Billion Dollars a year more.” 2) This increase in NATO spending will recur on an annual basis. 3) The increase will be $400 billion in “three years.”
Facts First: Trump was inaccurate in all three ways. NATO says that, by 2024, non-US members will have spent a total of $400 billion more on defense than they did in 2016 – not that they will be spending $400 billion more “a year.” Trump’s math was faulty when he added the $130 billion current increase over 2016 levels to the $400 billion increase expected by 2024; the $400 billion figure includes the $130 billion. And, again, the $400 billion increase is expected by 2024, not in “three years.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained during a meeting with Trump on December 3 that non-US NATO members have added a total of $130 billion to their defense budgets since 2016. By 2024, Stoltenberg said, “this number will increase to $400 billion.”
NATO has made clear in public documents and statements that the $400 billion figure represents the planned cumulative spending increase for non-US members since 2016; NATO is not saying that these countries will be spending $400 billion more every year, as Trump suggested. NATO spokesman Matthias Eichenlaub pointed CNN to November comments in which Stoltenberg said that the $400 billion was an “accumulated increase in defense spending by the end of 2024.”
We won’t call Trump wrong when he takes credit for the spending increases, since Stoltenberg himself has repeatedly given him credit, but it’s worth noting that non-US members began boosting their defense budgets following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and a 2014 NATO recommitment to the alliance’s target of having each member spend 2% of Gross Domestic Product on defense.
Military spending by NATO members, part 2
“In the 3 decades before my election, NATO spending declined by two-thirds…” – December 2 tweet
Facts First: There are numerous possible ways to interpret Trump’s vague claim, but we could not find any way to parse the data that resulted in a finding that “NATO spending declined by two-thirds” over the three decades prior to Trump’s election in 2016. Neither could two experts we asked to delve into the numbers.
“Short answer, this tweet makes no sense to me, and I don’t see any evidence backing up this ‘decline by two thirds’ business,” said Timothy Andrews Sayle, author of the book Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order and an assistant professor of history and director of the international relations program at the University of Toronto.
Expert Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher in the arms and military expenditure program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, noted that Trump might have been closer to correct had he said that the share of gross domestic product that European NATO members spent on defense declined by two-thirds in the three decades before his election. According to official NATO data, European NATO members were spending an average of 3.7% GDP on defense between 1980 and 1984 and 3.5% in 1986; the figure had dropped to about 1.5% in 2016, a reduction at least in the general vicinity of “two-thirds.”
But, again, Trump did not say the more-accurate version of the claim. And when you crunch the actual military spending by NATO members in various ways – we won’t delve into all of the possible ways the experts said Trump’s comment could be interpreted – there was nowhere near a two-thirds decline, both experts found.
Accounting for inflation, official NATO data shows a decline well under one-third in military spending by non-US members between 1989, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union neared an end, and 2016. (NATO noted that additional countries were added to the alliance over that period, so it is not an apples-to-apples comparison.) Wezeman analyzed the data using only the NATO countries that were part of the alliance in 1986 and still found an inflation-adjusted decrease of well under one-third.
CNN’s coverage of Middle East protests
Trump said that, after he announced in 2017 that he would move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, “A day went by, and a second day went by, and there was no violence. I heard there was going to be massive violence. They showed violence – because about 20 people were violent in the front row, but there was nobody behind them. So CNN had the cameras very low, pointing to the sky … They said, ‘Massive crowds have gathered. Massive crowds.’ And I looked, I said, ‘That’s a strange angle. I’ve never seen that angle.’ It was like – you had a cameraman sitting on the floor pointing up. But every once in a while, you say, ‘There’s nobody behind the people in the front row. What’s going on?’ And it was a con. It was fake news as usual.” – December 7 speech to the Israeli American Council National Summit
Facts First: CNN’s coverage of these 2017 protests did not use deceptive camera angles or exaggerate the size of the crowds. (FactCheck.org, which conducted its own in-depth review of CNN’s coverage, also found no evidence for Trump’s claims.)
It is possible Trump was referring to a CNN report from the West Bank on December 7, 2017, the day after Trump’s announcement about the embassy. The camera bobbed upward and downward during the last portion of segment – but only because the photojournalist carrying the camera was running from tear gas being used by Israeli forces.
CNN reporter Ian Lee, who now works for CBS, said in the report that “you are seeing a lot of people go out in the street and voice their anger,” but Lee did not describe the crowds as “massive.” CNN’s article on the day’s protests, written by Lee and two others, included the following sentences: “Speaking in Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN that protests there were relatively small and had been largely contained. ‘We’ve dealt with much larger, both in terms of number, scale, size, seriousness of incidents.’”
In a December 12, 2017, report on subsequent West Bank protests, CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon said, “The number of Palestinians who have taken to the streets remains, relatively speaking, low.” She said that the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces were “in fact, a little muted, at least by what the expectations were.”
Trump is correct that there was not major violence at protests immediately following his December 2017 announcement, but there was at protests on the day the Jerusalem embassy was officially opened in May 2018. The New York Times reported that day: “By late in the evening, 58 Palestinians, including several teenagers, had been killed and more than 1,350 wounded by gun fire, the (Israeli) Health Ministry said. Israeli soldiers and snipers used barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory. The Israeli military said that some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and that many were flying flaming kites into Israel; at least one kite outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, near Gaza City, ignited a wildfire.”
Adam Schiff’s comments and defamation law
“This guy is sick. He made up the conversation. He lied. If he didn’t do that in the halls of Congress, he’d be thrown into jail. But he did it in the halls of Congress, and he’s given immunity.” – December 3 exchange with reporters at meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau