President Donald Trump just had a quiet week of dishonesty.
He made 15 false claims.
That would be remarkably high for many other politicians, but it was exceptionally low for Trump. Before last week, Trump had been averaging about 62 false claims per week since we started counting at CNN on July 8.
Why the improvement? Because he spoke very little. (There is a strong correlation between how many words Trump utters and the number of false claims he makes.) Like the week prior, when Trump made just nine false claims, he spent last week at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida and uttered few public remarks.
He did speak about his decision to order a deadly airstrike against Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. He also delivered a campaign speech at an “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign event at a Florida megachurch. There, he joked that maybe the media would be more honest because they were in church – and, naturally, made eight false claims of his own.
Trump is now up to 1,555 false claims since July 8, an average of about nine per day. The last two weeks’ totals have been his two lowest weekly totals since July 8.
The most egregious false claim: Pete Buttigieg’s faith
Trump, who famously struggled with some of his Christian campaign content during the 2016 election, decided at the megachurch that it was a good idea to take a religion-related shot at a 2020 presidential candidate: Democrat Pete Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who fluently discusses matters of religion.
“All of a sudden he’s become extremely religious. This happened about two weeks ago,” Trump said.
The most revealing false claim: Military spending
Threatening Iran with retaliation for any attack on “an American Base, or any American” in response to the killing of Soleimani, Trump warned, “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment.”
It hasn’t. While total US military spending for the last three years was about $2 trillion, about $420 billion of that total was on equipment procurement, explained Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Trump either knowingly exaggerated, got mixed up, or didn’t know and didn’t care enough to check.
The most absurd false claim: An impeachment…win?
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives. Therefore, he obviously lost the impeachment battle in the House.
That did not stop him from telling reporters, on New Year’s Eve, that “we won 196 to nothing.”
He meant, it seems, that there were no Republican defections on impeachment-related votes, which he lost 232-196 (on a vote to approve the rules for the impeachment inquiry) and then 230-197 and 229-198 (on the actual articles of impeachment).
He is free to tout the loyalty of Republican legislators, but claiming “we won,” without any further explanation, is pure nonsense.
Here is this week’s full list of false claims, starting with the ones we haven’t previously checked in one of these roundups:
The crowd outside Trump’s event
“They have thousands of people outside trying to get in.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: There were not thousands of people outside trying to get into this Evangelicals for Trump campaign event at the King Jesus International Ministry in Florida, which holds roughly 7,000 people.
Alejandra Martinez, a journalist for public radio station WLRN, said in an email, “I was outside the church and I would not say there were ‘thousands’ who could not get inside.” Martinez said a smaller number of people – she declined to venture an approximate estimate – were “eating with local vendors and hanging out.” A journalist for Al Jazeera took a photo of the crowd watching the speech on a screen outside; while we can’t count precisely how many people were in it, it did not appear to be anywhere close to “thousands.”
A federal judge
Boasting about the youth of the judges he has appointed to the federal bench, Trump said, “We have a judge in Texas, I believe he’s 38 years old. He went to Harvard, he was the top student. I believe he went to Oxford or something like that. He’s 38 years old.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: None of Trump’s appointees to any of the Texas district courts or to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Texas, precisely meets this biographical description, a search of the federal judicial database shows. Fifth Circuit judge Andrew Oldham is the closest candidate, but Trump would still be a little off if he were indeed referring to Oldham.
Oldham was confirmed to the Fifth Circuit at age 39, but he is now 41.
Oldham graduated from the University of Cambridge – possibly what Trump meant when he said “something like” Oxford – and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. That’s impressive, but Oldham did not win his class’ Fay Diploma, which is awarded to the Harvard Law student with the highest academic average.
We might be inclined to let that claim slide if Trump did not have a history of wrongly claiming that his appointees were the top student at Harvard Law. He has made the same false claim about Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The impeachment vote and witnesses
“We didn’t even have a witness, and we won 196 to nothing. Okay? We didn’t have a witness. That was all the Democrats’ witness(es).” – December 31 exchange with reporters at a New Year’s Eve party
Facts First: This claim is absurd. Trump did not win any vote related to impeachment, let alone win “196 to nothing.” In fact, he had decisively lost a key process vote and then the two votes to actually impeach him. He appeared to be referring to the fact that no Republican voted against him on these three occasions, but he wasn’t clear at all that this is what he meant.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 232-196 in October in favor of the Democrats’ proposed rules for the impeachment inquiry. (That is possibly the basis of Trump’s “196” figure in this quote, but the claim that “we won 196 to nothing” remains nonsensical.) The House voted 230-197 and 229-198 in December on the two articles of impeachment.
As for witnesses, the House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from three former officials whom Republicans had formally asked Democrats to call as witnesses: Kurt Volker, the former special representative for Ukraine; Tim Morrison, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia; and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs.
“The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!” – January 5 tweet
Facts First: We know Trump wasn’t specific about what he meant by “just,” but the United States has not “just” spent $2 trillion on military requirement by any reasonable definition of the word. Todd Harrison, director of Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, said on Twitter: “This is not correct. The TOTAL military budget over the past three years (FY17-19) was $2.0 trillion.” Harrison explained that about $420 billion was spent on equipment procurement over that time, about $680 billion if you include research and development.
In an email to CNN, Harrison added that the defense bill for the 2020 fiscal year includes about $134 billion in procurement and about $104 billion for research and development. So even if you include money that has not yet been spent – the 2020 fiscal year just began in October – total Trump-era spending still isn’t close to $2 trillion on equipment.
Trump claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is trying to “pretend” that he is “very religious.” Trump said, “All of a sudden he’s become extremely religious. This happened about two weeks ago.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: We can’t fact check the sincerity of anyone’s faith, but it’s not even close to true that Buttigieg suddenly started proclaiming himself a devoted Christian “about two weeks ago.”
Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, has regularly talked about his faith since he announced in January 2019 that he was launching an exploratory committee for a possible run for president. He spoke to CNN at length for an August story on his years-long religious journey.
Buttigieg told CNN’s DJ Judd in response to Trump’s claim: “I’m not sure why the President’s taken an interest in my faith journey, but I certainly would be happy to discuss it with him. I just don’t know where that’s coming from, you know – certainly has been a complex journey for me, as it is for a lot of people, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been a believer longer than he’s been a Republican.”
Here are the repeat false claims we have previously fact checked in one of these roundups:
Joe Biden and Hunter Biden
“The Democrats will do anything to avoid a trial in the Senate in order to protect Sleepy Joe Biden, and expose the millions and millions of dollars that ‘Where’s’ Hunter, & possibly Joe, were paid by companies and countries for doing NOTHING.” – December 31 tweet
Facts First: While former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden did make significant money from Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma (for sitting on its board of directors) – the New York Times has reported that he was paid up to $50,000 per month – there is no evidence that Joe Biden himself received money related to his son’s international business dealings or that Joe Biden has otherwise taken millions from foreign countries, much less that Joe Biden has raked in such cash for doing “NOTHING.”
The Biden campaign says he has not done paid speeches for foreign groups and that his nonprofit organizations have not accepted foreign contributions. Trump did say “possibly” when he suggested Joe Biden might have been paid millions from other countries for nothing, but we don’t think this hedge is sufficient to mitigate his baseless innuendo.
“One of my greatest honors was to have gotten CHOICE approved for our great Veterans. Others have tried for decades, and failed!” – December 31 tweet
Facts First: The Veterans Choice bill, a bipartisan initiative led by senators Bernie Sanders and the late John McCain, was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2014. In 2018, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expanded and changed the program.
NATO spending increases
“I was able to get, recently, at NATO – and you have to speak to Secretary General Stoltenberg – $530 billion additionally, over a very short period of time; $130 billion immediately.” – December 31 exchange with reporters at New Year’s Eve party
Facts First: Trump’s math was wrong: the $130 billion current increase in military spending by non-US NATO members (over 2016 levels) cannot be added to the $400 billion increase expected by 2024; the $400 billion figure includes the $130 billion.
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.”
Mexican soldiers and the border
“We right now have 27,000 Mexican soldiers on our southern border.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: Mexico has deployed around 27,000 troops, but Trump exaggerated how many are being stationed near the US border in particular. CNN reported on November 2: “Nearly 15,000 troops are deployed to Mexico’s northern border, where they’ve set up 20 checkpoints, Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said last week at a press briefing on the country’s security strategy. At the southern border, 12,000 troops are deployed and have set up 21 checkpoints.”
Acting US Customs and Border Protection commissioner Mark Morgan has offered similar numbers, telling reporters in September that 10,000 of approximately 25,000 troops were on Mexico’s southern border.
The supposed war on Christmas
“Even a thing like Merry Christmas. Remember I used to go around – in the summer, I’d say, we’re going to say Christmas again. We’re going to say Christmas again. And now they’re all saying Merry Christmas again, right? They’re all saying it. You’d go to these big department stores three years ago four years ago and they’d have the snow and they’d have the red and the white, they’d have everything, but they wouldn’t say Christmas. I said where’s Merry Christmas and they said we can’t say it They’re all saying it again. They’re saying it proudly.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: There is no evidence that people are now saying “Merry Christmas” any more frequently than they did under previous presidents, nor that all stores that declined to use the phrase before Trump’s presidency have changed their policies.
It’s hard to measure this stuff, but one metric is the socially conservative American Family Association’s annual list of retailers that it considers “naughty” or “nice” when it comes to its willingness to use the word “Christmas” in promotional materials. Not one of the 17 “naughty” companies the AFA listed in a press release in December 2015, the year Trump launched his presidential campaign, had been promoted to “nice” on the 2019 list, though two had moved from “naughty” to “marginal.”
Obama’s judicial vacancies
“Because of President Obama, we have 142 slots. Never happened before. The most anyone’s ever had is like one, maybe none.” And: “I don’t know what happened, but I had 142.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: Trump exaggerated. According to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial appointments, there were 103 vacancies on district and appeals courts on Jan. 1, 2017, just before Trump took office, plus a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
The visa lottery
“We have lottery. Put your name in a hat, lottery. Do you think that their governments put their best people in the lottery? No, they don’t put their best people. Common sense.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: Foreign governments don’t enter people into the green card lottery conducted by the State Department, let alone deliberately enter their countries’ bad apples. Individuals enter on their own because they want to immigrate.
The people whose names are selected are subjected to an extensive vetting process that includes a criminal background check.
Speaking of the investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia, Trump said, “If this had happened to a Presidential candidate, or President, who was a Democrat, everybody involved would long ago be in jail for treason (and more), and it would be considered the CRIME OF THE CENTURY, far bigger and more sinister than Watergate!” – January 2 tweet
Facts First: Nothing about the Russia investigation comes close to meeting the definition of treason.
Under the Constitution, treason is narrowly defined: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed and supervised by a Republican whom Trump appointed as deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. There is no evidence of any behavior that could even possibly qualify as treason.
“The Bay of Pigs Award”
“Two years ago they gave me the Bay of Pigs Award – Cuba. They gave me the Bay of Pigs Award. Meaning people formerly from Cuba, in Miami. And that was a big thing.” – January 3 speech to Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch
Facts First: Trump got an endorsement in 2016, not an award, from the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. The endorsement was the first the association had ever made in a presidential election, so Trump could fairly boast about it. But still, an award and an endorsement are different things. (Trump claimed in August to have received an award from the Log Cabin Republicans, which told CNN it gave him an endorsement but not an award.)
Approval among Republicans
“95% Approval Rating in the Republican Party. Thank you!” – January 4 tweet
Facts First: Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is very high, regularly in the 80s and sometimes creeping into the 90s, but it has not been 95% in any recent major poll we could find.
Trump was at 90% approval with Republicans in a CNN poll conducted December 12-15, 92% in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted December 11-15, 87% in an Ipsos/Reuters poll conducted December 16-17, 89% in a Gallup poll conducted December 2-15.
The CNN poll at which he was at 90% with Republicans had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, and the Quinnipiac poll at which he was at 92% had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, so those polls found that it’s possible Trump’s true number is somewhere around 95% – but it’s not accurate to make leaps from the numbers the polls actually found.