"The Whoppers of 2017" by Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, and D'Angelo Gore - FactCheck.org 12/20/2017
We first dubbed President Donald Trump, then just a candidate, as “King of Whoppers” in our annual roundup of notable false claims for 2015.
He dominated our list that year – and again in 2016 – but there was still plenty of room for others.
This year? The takeover is complete.
In his first year as President, Trump used his bully pulpit and Twitter account to fuel conspiracy theories, level unsubstantiated accusations and issue easily debunked boasts about his accomplishments.
And a chorus of administration officials helped in spreading his falsehoods.
Trump complained — without a shred of evidence — that massive voter fraud cost him the 2016 popular vote. He doubled down by creating the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and appointing a vice chairman who falsely claimed to have “proof” that Democrats stole a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire.
Even as he mobilized the federal government to ferret out Democratic voter fraud, Trump refused to accept the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign.
Trump disparaged the “so-called ‘Russian hacking’” as a “hoax” and a “phony Russian Witch Hunt,” and compared the conduct of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Nazi Germany.” He then falsely accused the “dishonest” news media of making it “sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”
When he spoke of himself, Trump’s boastfulness went far beyond the facts.
He Claimed that his inaugural crowd “went all the way back to the Washington Monument,” and sent out his press secretary to declare it the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” He described his tax plan as the “biggest tax cut in the history of our country,” and took credit for making the U.S. nuclear arsenal “far stronger and more powerful than ever” after seven months on the job. None of that was true.
Trump is clearly an outlier. If he and his aides were removed from our list, we would be left with a dozen or more notable falsehoods roughly equally distributed between the two parties. You’ll find those at the end of this very long list.
Forgive us for the length. But consider this: It could be even longer.
(And for a short summary on the highlights, see our video on six of these claims.)
The Russia Investigation
Two weeks before Trump took the oath of office, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified intelligence report that described an “influence campaign” ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election.
The report said, among other things, that Russian intelligence services hacked into computers at the Democratic National Committee and gave the hacked material to WikiLeaks and other outlets to publicize in an effort “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”
A day after the report came out, Trump declared on Twitter that the intelligence community “stated very strongly that there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.” Not so. The report specifically stated that the intelligence community “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
This would be one in a long line of false, misleading or unsubstantiated statements by Trump and his aides this year about the ongoing federal investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.
There is evidence of contacts between Trump aides and Russian representatives during the campaign, as documented in our timeline, but the question of collusion remains unresolved.
To date, two Trump aides — former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — have pleaded guilty to giving false statements to the FBI. Two other Trump campaign aides — Paul Manafort and Rick Gates — were indicted on money laundering and tax evasion charges related to their work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine prior to the 2016 election.
Here are some of the false and unsubstantiated claims that Trump and his aides made about the Russia investigation:
- In a March 4 tweetstorm, Trump called it a “fact” that “Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Trump offered no evidence of what he equated to “Nixon/Watergate” crimes. Then-FBI Director James Comey told the House intelligence committee on March 20 that the FBI and Justice Department had “no information that supports those tweets.”
- Two days after Comey’s testimony, Trump doubled down by claiming the House intelligence committee chairman “just got … new information” (during a meeting at the White House) that proved he was “right” about Obama wiretapping his phones. There’s still no evidence of that.
- When asked in July to give a definitive “yes or no” answer if he believes Russia interfered with the election, Trump said, “I think it could very well have been Russia but I think it could very well have been other countries.” There is no evidence that other countries were involved.
- Trump tweeted in May that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows – there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.” Clapper didn’t say that. Clapper said he had no such information “at the time,” meaning before he left office in January.
- The White House issued a statement on May 9 saying the President fired Comey as FBI director “based on the clear recommendations” of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said the firing had “zero to do with Russia.” That was all spin. Trump later said he would have fired Comey “regardless of recommendation,” and he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to act.
- National Security Adviser Mike Flynn told the Washington Post in February that he did not speak to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, about U.S. sanctions leveled by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s election meddling. Flynn shortly after admitted he did talk about sanctions with Kislyak and resigned. About 10 months later, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak.
- In response to Flynn’s guilty plea, Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton “lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her.” There is no evidence Clinton lied to the FBI. In fact, Comey, then serving as the FBI director, told Congress last year that there was “no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.”
- In an interview, Vice President Mike Pence was asked if “there was any contact in any way” between the Trump campaign and “the Kremlin or cutouts they had.” Pence responded, “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?” That proved to be false.
- Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet on June 9, 2016, with Russians who promised damaging information on Clinton as part of Russia’s support for Trump’s candidacy. The President’s son at first misleadingly described the meeting as “primarily” about the adoption of Russian children, but later acknowledged he agreed to the meeting to obtain dirt on Clinton.
- Jay Sekulow, one of the President’s attorneys, said on July 12 that “the President wasn’t involved” in drafting his son Donald Jr.’s statement about the June 2016 meeting with the Russians. That turned out to be false. Two weeks later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted the President “offered suggestions like any father would do.”
- Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, met with Kislyak on Dec. 1, 2016, during the transition. It was reported in May that Kushner asked Kislyak at the meeting if Russia could set up a secure communications channel for discussions with the Trump transition team. In rebuttal, Trump retweeted a “Fox & Friends” tweet that said, “Jared Kushner didn’t suggest Russian communications channel in meeting, source says.” That’s false. Kushner later told Congress that he “asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use.”
During the campaign, Trump vowed that if elected, “We’re going to win with every single facet, we’re going to win so much you may even get tired of winning.” That kind of over-the-top boasting didn’t end with his election:
- Trump claimed that China ended its currency manipulation out of “a certain respect” for him, when in reality China had not been devaluing its currency to create a trade advantage since 2014.
- Trump claimed that “the world is starting to respect the United States of America again,” despite surveys that suggest otherwise. The White House provided no support for the statement.
- He said that his “first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal” and “it is now far stronger and more powerful than ever,” when all he did was initiate a review that won’t be done until the end of the year and is yet to result in any improvements.
Jobs and the Economy
- Trump stated that his administration is “spending a lot of money on the inner cities,” although we found that there has been little change in spending so far. His first budget proposed to cut or eliminate funding for programs that benefit cities.
During the campaign, Trump promised he would be “the greatest jobs President that God ever created,” and ridiculed the official unemployment rates (which were steadily declining) as “phony numbers.”
In what has been a running theme since he assumed the presidency, Trump regularly boasts that he has turned the economy around — citing the official job gains and unemployment rates in speeches and tweets.
In Trump’s telling, the economy was in shambles until he won the election, and has dramatically turned around since due to his leadership. As he put it in a speech on Dec. 14, “And you remember how bad we were doing when I first took over — there was a big difference, and we were going down. This country was going economically down.” That’s not true.
Here’s a list of some of his economic boasts that were off base:
- Trump took credit for companies moving to the U.S., claiming that they are “creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time.” In fact, the U.S. has been steadily adding jobs every month since early 2010, and the job gains for the first 11 months of 2017 were slightly smaller than the gains during the first 11 months of each of the four previous years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Trump repeatedly took credit for investment and job-creation announcements that had nothing to do with him: Ford, GM, and Charter Communications, to name a few. The President, for example, said Toyota’s announcement that it would invest $1.3 billion in an assembly plant in Kentucky “would not have been made if we didn’t win the election.” That’s false. Toyota spokesman Aaron Fowles told us in an interview that the investment “predates the Trump administration” and had been planned “several years ago.”
Immigration, Crime and Terrorism
- Trump also said he is “putting the miners back to work,” citing as evidence a new coal mine in Pennsylvania that was under construction before he won the election.
Trump frequently ties immigrants to crime and terrorism without the benefit of facts.
In December, Trump lobbed the baseless charge that other countries are gaming a lottery-based immigration program known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Trump said foreign countries “take their worst and they put them in the bin” so that when the lottery occurs, “we end up getting them.” That’s not how it works.
Other claims that Trump made on immigration and terrorism:
- Trump drew rebuke from the Netherlands Embassy in the United States and British Prime Minister Theresa May for retweeting an anti-Muslim video that purported to show a “Muslim migrant” beating up “a Dutch boy on crutches.” The tweet was wrong. The attacker was born and raised in the Netherlands and was not an immigrant.
- He also exaggerated when he said Sweden was “having problems like they never thought possible” as a result of accepting refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. There was an increase in some categories of crime in Sweden since 2015, but government statistics do not corroborate the claim of a major crime wave due to immigrants.
- Trump, who regularly criticizes the media, made the nonsensical claim that “radical Islamic” terrorist attacks are “not even being reported” by the “very, very dishonest press.” The White House later said Trump was talking about terrorist attacks that have gone “underreported,” not unreported. But even that criticism was proved wrong when the White House produced a list of “underreported” terrorist attacks that contained numerous widely covered attacks between September 2014 and December 2016.
- Trump incorrectly tweeted that “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield,” when the total at the time was really eight former detainees.
- Trump falsely claimed that border apprehensions, an indicator of attempts to illegally enter the U.S. through Mexico, “didn’t go down” under “past administrations.” Before Trump took office, there was a 75 percent decrease in apprehensions at the Southwest border from the peak in fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2016.
The President made the baffling claim that under his tax overhaul proposal, “the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan.”
That was in September, when Trump had only a one-page outline for a plan. But the general details — abolish the estate tax, cut the corporate rate and abolish the alternative minimum tax — would clearly benefit the rich. And as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged the following month, “when you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class.”
Trump continued the false theme after Republican lawmakers introduced legislation:
- The President claimed in late November that the tax plan would “cost me a fortune.” Unlike past Presidents, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns, so we can’t say exactly how he would be affected. But, again, several provisions would cut taxes for wealthy individuals like Trump. The final legislation cuts the corporate rate, increases exemptions for the AMT and estate tax, and cuts the top individual income tax rate. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found 91 percent of the top 1 percent income earners would get a tax cut in 2018, averaging nearly $62,000.
- He repeatedly and wrongly claimed the plan was “the biggest tax cut in our history.” The final GOP plan will reduce tax revenues by nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years, which still ranks it eighth or fourth place, as measured by a percentage of gross domestic product or in inflation-adjusted dollars, respectively.
- Trump said “more than 30 million” small-business owners would get a marginal tax rate reduction that, in reality, could have affected no more than about 670,000 high-income taxpayers who report business income.
- Trump also pushed the popular myth that farm families often have to “sell the farm” in order to pay the estate tax. One expert told us he has never seen such a case in decades of studying the issue.
At a campaign-style rally in Kentucky in March, Trump falsely said that “many of our best and brightest are leaving the medical profession entirely because of Obamacare.” The number of active physicians increased 8 percent from 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law, to 2015, the most recent data available from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
- Trump also wrongly claimed that “Obamacare covers very few people,” despite the fact that the number of Americans without health insurance had fallen by 20 million since the ACA was enacted. That’s according to the National Health Interview Survey, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Trump said, without evidence, that by allowing insurers to sell plans across state lines, “your premiums will be down 60 and 70 percent.” The White House provided no support for those figures. Experts told us they knew of no study to back up the claim, and they disputed the idea that average premiums would drop significantly.
Months after a convincing victory in the Electoral College, the new President continued to insist — without evidence — that millions of illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
But the “evidence” provided by the White House to substantiate claims about widespread voter fraud — from noncitizens voting, people voting in multiple states and so-called “dead people” voting — did not hold up. Nevertheless, the President formed a commission to investigate voter fraud, which has met twice. In November, one of the members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Matthew Dunlap, filed a complaint in district court to find out what exactly the commission is doing. He wrote: “The commission was formed in May to answer monster-under-the-bed questions about ‘voter fraud,’ but the implicit rationale for its creation appears to be to substantiate President Trump’s unfounded claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016.”
In September, Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the commission, claimed to have “proof” of voter fraud in New Hampshire that was widespread enough to have swung a U.S. Senate election in favor of the Democrats. His evidence? Several thousand people who registered to vote on Election Day with an out-of-state driver’s license had not since registered a car or gotten a driver’s license in New Hampshire. But it is likely that most of those voters were college students who are allowed by state law to vote in New Hampshire even though they only live in the state part of the year.
The President continues to relitigate an election that he won and repeat false claims from a year ago about his defeated opponent. Other election-related whoppers Trump told this year:
- A day after his inauguration, Trump claimed the crowd at the event “looked like a million-and-a-half people,” saying it “went all the way back to the Washington Monument.” He accused the news media of lying about it. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary at the time, read from a statement that said: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” Both were wrong.
- Trump claimed his November victory was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” It wasn’t. Three Presidents since Reagan captured a larger share of electoral votes than Trump did, including Republican George H.W. Bush.
Whoppers from the Rest
- In a blast from the campaign past, Trump repeated his claim that “Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States” to Russia. He’s wrong on several counts. The deal that allowed Russia to take control of a company with uranium assets in the U.S. was approved by two government bodies, not any one person. As secretary of state, Clinton was one of nine voting members of the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States that approved the deal. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which also approved the deal, told us Russia has not received any U.S. uranium as a result of the transaction. Trump’s use of the 20 percent figure is also wrong.
Beyond Trump and his team, there were certainly others in both parties who spread false and misleading information in 2017.
Consider the statements of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican whose wife is the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat who is perhaps the President’s fiercest critic.
In a Fox News interview, Gingrich claimed “it wasn’t the Russians” that hacked into the DNC computers, but a former DNC staffer “who, I suspect, was disgusted by the corruption of the Democratic National Committee.” He said Seth Rich “apparently was assassinated” after “having given WikiLeaks something like … 53,000 [DNC] emails and 17,000 attachments.”
This fanciful tale has no basis in fact. Gingrich repeated an inaccurate report by the local Fox News affiliate in Washington, D.C., about Rich, who was shot to death in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what local police have described as a likely botched robbery. Gingrich spread this widely debunked conspiracy theory even though the Fox affiliate days earlier had largely retracted its report.
For her part, Waters spread unsubstantiated rumors about Trump in an MSNBC interview. Asked about an opposition research report compiled by a former British intelligence officer on Trump’s alleged ties with Russia, Waters falsely claimed that the unsubstantiated allegations of “sex actions” made against Trump in the report are “absolutely true.” Those claims haven’t been confirmed.
Here are other notable claims made by members of both parties this year — many of them about the failed Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act:
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats “don’t get much support from Wall Street.” That’s not so. The party’s congressional candidates got nearly $47 million from bankers, stockbrokers, hedge fund officials, venture capitalists and private equity firms in the 2016 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was slightly more than the $44 million that Democratic congressional candidates received during the same period from labor union PACs and officials.
- Republican Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that “Obamacare is discouraging people from going to medical school.” There’s no evidence of that. In fact, the number of medical school applicants and enrollees reached an all-time high this year.
- President Barack Obama, before leaving office, boasted that a treaty he signed in 2011 with Russia “has substantially reduced our nuclear stockpiles, both Russia and the United States.” In fact, the treaty does not require either nation to destroy any nuclear weapons or reduce its nuclear stockpile. The treaty, among other things, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 for each country, but at the time of Obama’s boast, Russia had actually increased deployed nuclear warheads under the treaty by 17 percent, from 1,537 to 1,796. As of Sept. 1, Russia reported having 1,561 deployed nuclear warheads — still 11 more than the treaty allows, although Russia has until February 2018 to comply with the 1,550 limit.
- House Speaker Paul Ryan said he didn’t think anyone would be hurt by an $800 billion reduction in Medicaid spending over 10 years in the Republican health care bill. But, at the time, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 14 million fewer Americans would have Medicaid coverage by 2026, compared with current law.
- Ryan and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders both distorted the CBO’s analysis of the Republican health care bill. Sanders claimed that the bill “would throw 22 million Americans off of health insurance,” while Ryan said no one would be thrown off insurance. “It’s not that people are getting pushed off our plan,” Ryan said. “It’s that people will choose not to buy something they don’t like or want.” Actually, CBO said the bill would reduce the number of people with health insurance by 22 million through a combination of both: Some would voluntarily choose not to buy health insurance, but others would no longer be eligible for Medicaid or would not be able to afford coverage.
- Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, wrongly claimed that “over 1.2 million Nevadans with preexisting conditions … would be denied coverage or face exorbitant, unaffordable premiums” under the GOP health care bill. The bill would not have allowed insurers to deny coverage. Also, the 1.2 million figure is a high-end estimate for all Nevadans with some preexisting condition — not just those likely to buy plans on the individual market who would be affected by the GOP bill.
- Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican who voted against the health care bill, said subsidies “are actually greater under the Republican bill than they are under the current Obamacare law.” That’s wrong. CBO said the average subsidy under the bill would be “significantly lower than the average subsidy under current law,” and the government would save $424 billion over 10 years — compared with current law — due mainly to reductions in government subsidies.
- Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to disclose that he met twice as a senator with the Russian ambassador during the campaign in 2016. Sessions said he did so as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a statement and on Twitter, McCaskill falsely claimed that in her 10 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee she had “no call from, or meeting with, the Russian ambassador. Ever.” She did.
- Hillary Clinton falsely claimed that no debate moderator ever asked Donald Trump, “exactly how are you going to create more jobs?” It was asked in two of the three Presidential debates between Clinton and Trump.