Fact-checking President Trump's reelection campaign kickoff
Here we are again, four years later, fact-checking a campaign kickoff speech by Donald Trump.
The fact-checkable claims were different this time around, but history repeated itself nonetheless. Trump's campaign kickoff speech in Orlando was littered with the same false or misleading claims he has so often repeated as president.
Phony numbers on trade. Unfounded claims about immigrants. False statements about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Fishy economic statistics and wild exaggerations about his presidential accomplishments.
Our task was easier this time because, by now, we've assembled a database of more than 10,000 false or misleading claims from Trump. The president often deploys the same lines, over and over, in interviews, tweets and campaign rallies.
So here are some of the highlights -- and lowlights -- of Trump's announcement on June 18 that he will run for reelection.
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"We went through the greatest witch hunt in political history. The only collusion was committed by the Democrats, the fake news media, and their operatives, and the people who funded the phony dossier: Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC."
Trump often seeks to deflect attention from the special counsel's investigation of his 2016 campaign by asserting that it was the Democrats who colluded with Russia.
But he has little evidence to make his case, which largely rests on the fact that the law firm Democrats hired to examine Trump's Russia ties, Perkins Coie, was working to defend a Russian company in U.S. court at the same time.
In fact, U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russian operatives hacked and strategically released Democratic leaders' emails during the 2016 campaign to damage Clinton's candidacy, help Trump win and erode confidence in U.S. democracy.
The U.S. investigation began with a tip from an Australian diplomat who relayed that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, disclosed that Russia had damaging emails concerning Clinton. The U.S. investigation was not spurred by a dossier from Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent.
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"They appointed 18 very angry Democrats to try to take down our incredible movement. After two years, 1.4 million pages of documents, 500 search warrants, 500 witnesses, 2,800 subpoenas and 40 FBI agents working round the clock, what did they come up with? No collusion, and the facts that led our great attorney general to determine no obstruction. No collusion, no obstruction. And they spent $40 million on this witch hunt, $40 million. That's right. They spent $40 million- probably a hell of a lot more than that."
Trump put Mueller and his team on full blast at the Orlando rally. He called the special counsel's investigation an "illegal witch hunt" and fired off other deceiving remarks.
Mueller, a former FBI director, is a lifelong Republican who was appointed by the acting attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee. Several judges upheld Mueller's appointment during the course of the investigation.
Mueller's report lays out evidence that the Trump campaign was aware of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and welcomed the help, but there was not enough evidence to bring conspiracy or illegal coordination charges. Mueller also presented substantial evidence that, in at least four cases, Trump met all the elements required by federal law for an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Mueller said he declined to reach a decision on whether to bring obstruction charges in part because of a Justice Department policy not to indict the sitting president and in part because he didn't want to get in the way of a potential impeachment process in Congress, among other reasons. Attorney General William Barr and Rosenstein found that the evidence Mueller gathered was not enough to prove obstruction.
Eleven of the 16 attorneys on Mueller's team whose identities have been disclosed so far have contributed to Democrats, including Clinton and Barack Obama. The other five have no record of political contributions, though the Daily Caller says 13 are registered Democrats. Under federal law, Mueller was not allowed to consider the political leanings of his staff when hiring them.
One of the lawyers on Mueller's team represented the Clinton Foundation in a 2015 lawsuit. Another lawyer without a record of political donations represented a Clinton aide at one point. Both lawyers worked for WilmerHale, a firm that also represented Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, as well as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
As of the end of September, Mueller had reported $25.2 million in costs from his investigation. That amount presumably will increase when the final tally is released. But the special counsel's office through asset forfeiture has seized properties and funds from Manafort, valued at between $42 million and $46 million, that could offset the entire cost of the investigation.
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"Just before the election, the FBI told President Obama about possible Russian interference, and he did nothing because he thought that Hillary Clinton, Crooked Hillary, was going to win ... He did nothing."
During the 2016 election campaign, the Obama administration raised alarms over possible interference by Moscow. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the time "raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics," The Washington Post reported.
Just weeks before the election, the Obama administration announced that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. On Dec. 29, 2016, Obama imposed sanctions, including the expulsion of some three dozen Russian diplomats and intelligence officials and the closure of diplomatic compounds.
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"We've ended the last administration's cruel and heartless war on American energy. What they were doing to our energy should never be forgotten. The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world."
The notion that a revolution in energy began under the Trump administration is dubious at best. The United States has led the world in natural gas production since 2009. Crude oil production has been increasing rapidly since 2010, reaching record levels in August 2018, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
In September 2018, the United States passed both Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the largest global crude oil producer. It is expected to hold that position, according to predictions from the International Energy Agency.
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"We are building the wall. We're going to have 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year ... I changed the design. It's stronger, bigger, better and cheaper."
This is a subtle but rare acknowledgment from Trump that he has stopped chasing plans to build a solid concrete wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He tried, he had prototypes built, he went to the border to look at them, but Congress refused to appropriate funds for the wall's construction. Now, Trump says a mix of barriers, bollard fencing and replacement fencing is "the wall."
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"We couldn't get the wall approved by the Democrats, even though they voted for it four years ago and six years ago and didn't get built, but they voted for it. All of a sudden Trump is president. 'We don't want a wall.' "
Many Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed by President George W. Bush and authorized building a fence along nearly 700 miles of the border. But the fence they voted for is not as substantial as the wall Trump is proposing. Trump himself has called the 2006 fence a "nothing wall."
It's worth noting that Democrats have offered support for $1.67 billion in security enhancements. That doesn't include funding for Trump's wall, but it includes 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the southeastern Texas border with Mexico, similar to what already exists.
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"We are taking in billions and billions of dollars into our treasury, and companies are leaving China because they want to avoid paying these large tariffs. And by the way, when the fake news tells you that you're paying -- in the case of China, they've devalued their currency. That helps them. And you know what else they're doing? They're subsidizing those companies. And you're not paying very much if you're paying anything at all."
This is wrong. Economists say Trump's tariffs are raising costs dramatically for Americans and slowing economic growth.
A paper published March 2 by three prominent U.S. economists found that "the full incidence of the tariff falls on domestic consumers, with a reduction in U.S. real income of $1.4 billion per month by the end of 2018.″ The economists found that "U.S. producers responded to reduced import competition by raising their prices" and that "U.S. tariffs were almost completely passed through into U.S. domestic prices, so that the entire incidence of the tariffs fell on domestic consumers and importers up to now, with no impact so far on the prices received by foreign exporters."
Another paper, published March 3 by a different set of economists, found similar results. "Tradable-sector workers in heavily Republican counties are the most negatively affected by the trade war," the paper said. One of those studies pegged the cost of tariffs announced thus far (including the most recent escalation on $200 billion of Chinese goods) at $831 per U.S. household.
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"We have never taken in 10 cents from China. We would lose $500 billion a year with China."
Tariffs have been collected on Chinese goods since the early days of the republic. President George Washington signed the Tariff Act of 1789, when trade between China and the United States already was established. Tariffs on China have generated at least $8 billion every year since 2009. But it's not China that pays the tariffs; it's American importers who generally pass on the costs to Americans in the form of higher prices.
The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services with China was $378 billion in 2018. Trump often cites only the goods deficit, which was $375 billion in 2017 and $419 billion in 2018, according to the Census Bureau. In any case, countries do not make or lose money on trade deficits. Trade balances simply reflect what consumers in one country chose to buy from another country.
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"If you take a look at the African American community, how much progress they have made: the lowest unemployment numbers in the history of our country."
This is a Three Pinocchio claim. Trump was president in May 2018, when the African American unemployment rate reached 5.9 percent. That was the lowest on record since 1972, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began calculating this rate with its current methodology.
But history did not begin in 1972, so it's a stretch to call these monthly figures the lowest ever seen in the United States. A slightly different data set shows black unemployment was lower in 1969, and another report shows it was lower in the 1950s.
Moreover, the president keeps touting his record on black unemployment even though the pattern of declines began under Obama and even as the black jobless rate has begun to climb in recent months.
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"We passed the largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history -- the largest."
This is a Bottomless Pinocchio claim, our worst rating. Trump's tax cut amounted to nearly 0.9 percent of gross domestic product, meaning it was far smaller than President Ronald Reagan's tax cut in 1981, which was 2.89 percent of GDP. Trump's tax cut is the eighth largest on record -- smaller, even, than two tax cuts passed under Obama.
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" ... the U.S. auto industry, which by the way is doing great. Many, many plants are now under construction in Michigan and Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida. They hadn't built one in decades, and now they're all over the place."
What a coincidence. These are all swing states in the 2020 presidential election, save for South Carolina. But it's a Three Pinocchio claim.
Automakers have announced new plants or expansions in Ohio, Michigan and South Carolina since Trump took office. No new car plants or automaker expansions have been announced in Florida, North Carolina or Pennsylvania.
From January through April, auto industry layoffs approached 20,000, "more than twice the level for the first four months of 2018," MarketWatch reported.
Meanwhile, automaker suppliers in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have announced nearly $2 billion in investments since 2017, according to data from the Center for Automotive Research's "Book of Deals" database.
"The one automaker investment in Pennsylvania, for example, represents Spartan Motors -- a relatively small specialty chassis and vehicle design, manufacturing, and assembly firm," Kristin Dziczek, the CAR's vice president of industry, labor and economics, told us last week. It was a $2.4 million investment, according to the CAR.
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"Thanks to our tariffs, American steel mills are roaring back to life."
An hour before Trump said this, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. Steel was idling two blast furnaces "in response to falling demand for steel from a weakening manufacturing sector." Here's more from the Journal report:
"U.S. Steel and rivals Nucor Corp. and Steel Dynamics Inc have all issued downbeat guidance for second-quarter profit this week, citing weaker-than-expected demand for steel. Production of cars and farm equipment have slipped recently and U.S. manufacturing output fell in three of the first five months of this year.
" 'Market conditions have softened,' U.S. Steel said on Tuesday. 'We will resume blast furnace production at one or both idled furnaces when market conditions improve.' "
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"In the eight years before I took office, on average we lost 2,000 manufacturing jobs a month. Since my inauguration, we've added 16,000 manufacturing jobs a month. That didn't happen by accident."
As often happens with data, the picture can change drastically depending on where you set the baseline. In this case, Trump's baseline is January 2009, smack-dab in the middle of the longest U.S. recession since World War II.
A close look at the numbers shows that most of the manufacturing job losses in the period Trump's talking about happened during the first year of Obama's administration, coinciding with the Great Recession that ended in June 2009. The bleeding did not extend throughout Obama's eight years in office.
In fact, the manufacturing sector began a slow but steady recovery in April 2010, during Obama's second year in office. That steady rate of growth has continued and accelerated under Trump.
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"We passed VA Choice so they can see their doctor. Our veterans were waiting online for two days, seven days, three weeks, five weeks. You had veterans waiting online that could've easily been taken care of. They waited so long they became terminally ill in many cases. The stories are horrible. We passed VA Choice. You go out now, you get a doctor. You fix yourself up. The doctor sends us the bill. We pay for it ... VA Choice for the veteran? They've been trying to get that passed also for about 44 years."
The VA Choice bill was mostly an update of a law signed by Obama in 2014, so 44 years is an exaggeration. Despite Trump's claims, veterans are still facing long wait times. A 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office found that veterans referred to Trump's "choice" program "could potentially wait up to 70 calendar days" to be seen by a doctor, which is inconsistent with the requirement that they receive care within 30 days. On average, the study found veterans using the choice program wait 64 days.
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"People are pouring in, but we've stopped them. And now, as I said, we have other people helping us, including the country of Mexico."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities apprehended 132,887 migrants in May and encountered another 11,391 migrants at legal ports of entry who were deemed inadmissible. So it's inaccurate to say "we've stopped them." Mexico agreed to tougher immigration enforcement measures at Trump's request and under threat of tariffs, but the impact of that agreement on U.S. border apprehensions or migration rates has yet to be seen.
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"Mass illegal migration reduces living standards and strains public resources."
In fact, research shows immigrants contribute more in tax revenue than they take in government benefits. Most academic studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born and that overall crime rates decline in areas where immigrants settle.
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"We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions, always."
Trump spent his first year in office attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including its requirement that health insurers not deny coverage to patients with preexisting conditions. The Trump administration in an ongoing court case is arguing that the entire law should be scrapped, including the guarantee for patients with preexisting conditions.