Trump made 38 false claims during week of Dorian dishonesty
President Donald Trump spoke less than usual last week as the country prepared for Hurricane Dorian. As is often the case, that coincided with a drop in the number of false claims he made.
Trump's weekly tally of falsehoods came in at 38, the third-lowest in the nine weeks we have counted at CNN. Eight of those claims were about a single topic he refused to stop talking and tweeting about: his previous claim about Hurricane Dorian possibly hitting Alabama, which he falsely insisted was correct.
Last week's Dorian total was nine false claims if you count the time he displayed a hurricane forecast map that appeared to have been crudely altered with a marker to try to prove his point. We did not count that, since a black squiggle is not, per se, a claim.
Trump held only three public events last week, including a hurricane briefing and a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony. Of the 38 false claims, he delivered 22 on Twitter.
The most egregious false claim: Dorian and Alabama
We would have forgotten fast about Trump's original false claim about Alabama and Dorian, though it was pretty egregious, if he had quickly moved on to other deception.
The most revealing false claim: Lester Holt and criminal justice
Trump, an inveterate credit-seeker, criticized NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, whom he belittlingly called an "anchor" in quotation marks, for failing to mention him during a report on criminal justice reform.
" 'Anchor' @LesterHoltNBC doesn't even bring up the subject of President Trump or the Republicans when talking about the importance or passage of Criminal Justice Reform. They only talk about the minor players, or people that had nothing to do with it," Trump tweeted.
As you may have guessed, Holt did bring up the subject of Trump in his reporting.
During a segment that aired on both NBC and MSNBC, Holt showed a video of the President signing the bill he referenced in his tweet. Holt said in a voiceover: "You may have heard of the First Step Act signed into law late last year by President Trump..."
Holt did a whole series on criminal justice, so Trump might have seen some other clip and missed this one. Still, in the best-case scenario, the President was spending time watching television and then blasting a public figure without checking his facts.
The most absurd false claim: The Bahamas
Asked if he would travel to the Bahamas, which experienced severe damage from Dorian, Trump could have just said no. Instead, he began his response as follows: "Well, it's -- again, I guess you would call it a British protectorate."
And, thus, the President managed to demean a country that had just been hit by a hurricane.
The Bahamas is not a British protectorate. It gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1973, though it remains -- like Canada, Australia and other independent non-protectorates -- a member of the Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Trump's nominee for ambassador to the Bahamas, Doug Manchester, even claimed to Congress in 2017 that the Bahamas was essentially a protectorate of the United States. (Manchester later said that this too was wrong.)
This week's full list:
China's economy, part 1
"China wants very much to make a deal. We'll see. They had the worst year in over 50. You know, they had a year that was a disaster for them." -- September 4 remarks at announcement of State Opioid Response Grants
"China has now had the worst year that they've had in 57 years. This is the worst year they've had in 57 years." -- September 4 exchange with reporters at Hurricane Dorian update
China's economy, part 2
"They've lost, probably, $20 trillion." -- September 4 exchange with reporters at Hurricane Dorian update
Facts First: There is no apparent basis for this figure. Experts on the Chinese economy have even rejected previous Trump claims of a $10 trillion drop in Chinese wealth, noting that the market capitalization of China's main stock market was just over $5 trillion at the time.
The trade deficit with China (two claims): Trump claimed the US has lost "$500 billion" per year or "$600 billion" per year to China. (Facts First: Trump refers to trade deficits as losses, though this characterization is rejected by many economists. The US trade deficit with China has never been $500 billion; it was $381 billion last year when counting goods and services, $420 billion when counting goods alone.)
Who's paying for Trump's tariffs on China (three claims): Trump claimed that "China is eating the tariffs," that "billions" are "pouring into USA," and that "THEY" are paying the tariffs. (Facts First: Americans make the tariff payments to the US government, and economic studies have found that Americans have borne most of the cost.)
DACA and Obama
"President Obama never had the legal right to sign DACA, and he indicated so at the time of signing. But In any event, how can he have the right to sign and I don't have the right to "unsigned.' Totally illegal document which would actually give the President new powers." -- September 6 tweet
Facts First: Obama didn't "sign" DACA, which was created through a memo by Obama's then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and not an executive order signed by the President himself. Obama had, earlier in his presidency, said he could not unilaterally suspend the deportation of undocumented high school students, but he obviously did not make such comments at the moment he created DACA.
In his speech on the day of DACA's creation, Obama said: "In the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system, what we've tried to do is focus our immigration enforcement resources in the right places...We focused and used discretion about whom to prosecute, focusing on criminals who endanger our communities rather than students who are earning their education. And today, deportation of criminals is up 80%. We've improved on that discretion carefully and thoughtfully. Well, today, we're improving it again."
Mexican troops at the border
"And, as you know, we have 26,000 Mexico troops on our border. And they're also bringing their numbers way down. It's -- we were with the Commissioner a little while ago, the Secretary, and it's down over 50% from last year. So they're really making a lot of progress. But the Mexican government has been great. So we have 26,000 soldiers from Mexico guarding our border." -- September 4 remarks at announcement of State Opioid Response Grants
"They have 25,000 soldiers right now protecting our border. And they've done a fantastic job." -- September 4 exchange with reporters at Hurricane Dorian update
Building the wall
"The media won't tell you this, but we're building the wall and we're building it on an expedited basis. It's going up fast." -- September 8 tweet
"And the wall is being built. It's going up rapidly. It's -- I guess, most of you have been able to see it. We're building very large sections of wall." -- September 4 exchange with reporters at Hurricane Dorian update
Facts First: Trump is not building a border wall "fast" or "rapidly." No new miles of wall had been built during Trump's presidency as of August, Customs and Border Protection told CNN's Geneva Sands. Sixty miles of existing barrier had been replaced.
"Well, it's -- again, I guess you would call it a British protectorate." -- September 4 exchange with reporters at Hurricane Dorian update
Facts First: The Bahamas is an independent country; it gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1973. Like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, it is a Commonwealth realm which has Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state -- but that does not make those countries "British protectorates." (A protectorate is controlled at least in part by the other country.)
The war in Afghanistan: Trump said the US has been at war in Afghanistan for "19 years." (Facts First: The US invaded in October 2001, just under 18 years ago. This was not a one-time slip though; Trump habitually says "19 years.")
The length of the Iran deal: Trump said the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran is "expiring in a very short period of time." (Facts First: Some central provisions of the agreement were written to expire in the next 10 to 15 years. But the deal as a whole -- including a blanket prohibition on Iran developing nuclear weapons -- was written to continue in perpetuity. You can read a fuller fact check here.)
Payments to Iran: Trump claimed that 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 a fuller fact check here.)
Alabama and Hurricane Dorian
Trump made eight false claims about his previous comments about Alabama being at risk of being hit by Hurricane Dorian. We did a lengthy fact check of this saga here.
In summary: Over and over again, Trump insisted he had been right when he claimed on September 1 that Alabama would be hit "(much) harder than anticipated." His argument was that the "original forecast," the "originally projected path," "certain original scenarios" or "certain models" in the "early days of the hurricane" did suggest Alabama might be "hit or grazed."
Facts First: Some early models did suggest Alabama might be hit by Hurricane Dorian, but they were out of date by the time Trump issued the September 1 tweet and made two similar remarks later that day -- and in all three of those comments, he suggested he was referring to new information, not outdated original forecasts. Federal forecasts as of September 1 had actually shown Alabama's prospects improving, not worsening, from days prior; at the time Trump tweeted on September 1, a small southeastern portion of the state had a 5% to 10% chance of experiencing tropical storm-force winds, the same chance as parts of New Jersey.
In other words, Trump was making new false claims after September 1 about what he had said in his original false claims on September 1, in order to argue that the original false claims were actually true.
"But again, it looks like Florida is going to be in fantastic shape by comparison to what we thought. We thought it (Hurricane Dorian) was going to be a direct hit. We were thinking in terms of Andrew -- Hurricane Andrew -- from many years ago, where it went right through the middle of Miami, and that was a disaster." -- September 4 Hurricane Dorian update
Facts First: Trump could have accurately said Hurricane Andrew hit the Miami area or Miami-Dade County hard, but "right through the middle of Miami" was false. The 1992 hurricane made landfall in the southern portion of the county, not the city of Miami. Trump's claim is "totally inaccurate," said Eugene Provenzo Jr., a University of Miami emeritus professor and co-author of two books about Hurricane Andrew. "The dense urban area of Miami was largely spared, as was Miami Beach."
Others interpreted Trump's comment more generously. Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University and an expert on Atlantic basin hurricanes, said in an email: "While Trump's statement isn't completely true, I would say that it is somewhere in between truth and a lie, given that Andrew's landfall was only about 20 miles south of downtown. The reason that its impacts weren't felt more in downtown Miami was due to its small size."
This claim is certainly less false than some of the things Trump says, but we say that "went right through the middle" is inaccurate.
"The LameStream Media has gone totally CRAZY! They write whatever they want, seldom have sources (even though they say they do)..." -- September 2 tweet
Facts First: There is simply no basis for Trump's claim that media outlets regularly make up sources they do not actually have. There is reasonable criticism of how media outlets make use of anonymous sources, but there is no evidence for Trump's repeated claim that outlets that cover him are serially fabricating the sources' very existence.
Trump has repeatedly made this claim about The Washington Post, which has published multiple stories that have cited large numbers of anonymous administration officials. But he has never provided any proof that the sources cited by the Post and other prominent outlets have been made up -- and stories based on anonymous sources' information have often proved accurate even after the Trump administration has denied them.
For example, CNN reported Friday that there was a rift between national security adviser John Bolton and others in the administration; a National Security Council spokesman said "nearly everything in this article is false" -- and then Trump fired Bolton on Tuesday, citing disagreements between Bolton and others in the administration, including himself.
When Trump has accused The New York Times of inventing sources, the Times has called the accusation "false."
Unemployment: Trump said the US has its "lowest unemployment." (Facts First: The unemployment rates in June, July and August, 3.7% each, and in April and May, 3.6% each, were the lowest since August 1969 -- 50 years and just under 50 years ago, but not the lowest ever. The record is 2.5% in 1953.)
Energy production: Trump claimed that the US "now leads the world in energy production." (Facts First: The US has not just "now" become the world's top energy producer: it took the top spot in 2012, under former President Barack Obama, whom Trump accuses of perpetrating a "war" on the US energy industry. "The United States has been the world's top producer of natural gas since 2009, when US natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world's top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia's," the Energy Information Administration says.)
Inflation: Trump claimed there is "no inflation." (Facts First: Trump could fairly say that inflation is low, but "no inflation" is incorrect. The inflation rate was 1.8% for the 12 months ending in July, up from 1.6% for the 12-month period ending in June.)
Asian unemployment: Trump said Asian Americans are at the lowest unemployment rate "in the history of our country." (Facts First: The unemployment rate for Asian Americans was 2.8% in August -- higher than the 2.6% rate in December 2016, Obama's last full month in office.)
Prescription drugs and the opioid epidemic
The opioid epidemic
"So we've done a great job with drugs, generally. But it's a tremendous worldwide problem. But we've done a very good job with opioids and getting fewer people to use them and prescribe them. And we're about 17% down from a little more than a year ago. That's a big number, when you think 17%. But we're about 17% down." -- September 4 exchange with reporters at Hurricane Dorian update
Facts First: Trump didn't explain what exactly he was referring to, but the most prominent statistic associated with the opioid epidemic, the number of overdose deaths, is not down 17% nationally, according to the latest available data. Overdose deaths were down an estimated 3.4% between January 2018 and 2019, according to preliminary data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number was down more than 17% in some states, such as Ohio, Maine and Iowa, but Trump suggested he was talking about the country as a whole.
Prescription drug prices: Trump said that drug prices declined last year for the first time "in 51 years." (Facts First: Prescription drug prices declined last year for the first time in 46 years, according to one method of reading Consumer Price Index data; Trump habitually says "51 years.")
"The Amazon Washington Post did a story that I brought racist attacks against the 'Squad.' No, they brought racist attacks against our Nation. All I do is call them out for the horrible things they have said." -- September 2 tweet
Facts First: Trump did more than "call out" any comments from these Democratic congresswomen (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib). The four women are all people of color; he told them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," using a "go back" trope widely acknowledged to be racist. (For the record, three of the four congresswomen were born in the United States, and all, of course, are US citizens.)
We'll ignore Trump's claim that the congresswomen are the real racists, since he is entitled to his opinion. But it's false to suggest the Post was calling him racist for merely challenging the congresswomen's own remarks.
Air and water
Trump claimed twice that the US has the world's cleanest air and water. (Facts First: The US does not have the world's cleanest air, according to the Environmental Performance Index developed by Yale University, Columbia University and the World Economic Forum; it ranked 10th. It was tied for the number-one spot on drinking water, though it ranked 29th on the "water and sanitation" category more broadly.)
Judges and criminal justice
"I want to congratulate @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and all Republicans. Today I signed the 160th Federal Judge to the Bench. Within a short period of time we will be at over 200 Federal Judges, including many in the Appellate Courts & two great new U.S. Supreme Court Justices!" -- September 7 tweet
Facts First: As of two days after Trump tweeted this, the Senate had confirmed 148 of Trump's judicial nominees (and that's if you count four appointees to the Court of International Trade), said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial appointments. The tally: two Supreme Court justices, 43 judges to appeals courts and 99 to district courts. Trump has regularly exaggerated the number of confirmations.
" 'Anchor' @LesterHoltNBC doesn't even bring up the subject of President Trump or the Republicans when talking about the importance or passage of Criminal Justice Reform. They only talk about the minor players, or people that had nothing to do with it." -- September 8 tweet
Facts First: Holt did mention Trump and the criminal justice reform bill Trump signed, the First Step Act. A Holt piece that aired on NBC on Friday night and again on MSNBC on Sunday night included a video clip of Trump signing the First Step Act; in a voiceover, Holt said, "You may have heard of the First Step Act signed into law late last year by President Trump, which is projected to reduce the sentences of thousands of non-violent offenders in federal prisons. But that doesn't affect more than 90% of the US prison population, which is locked up in state and local facilities."
Holt's "Justice for All" series had multiple parts, so it is possible Trump saw a different segment that did not mention him. But it's false that Holt simply did not bring up Trump at all.