Veracity of statements by Donald Trump
Donald Trump, the President of the United States, has made a record number of false or misleading statements. Such statements have been so numerous that commentators and fact-checkers have described the rate of his falsehoods as unprecedented in politics.
Within years of expanding his father's property development business into Manhattan in the early 1970s, Trump attracted the attention of The New York Times for his brash and controversial style, with one real estate financier observing in 1976, "His deals are dramatic, but they haven't come into being. So far, the chief beneficiary of his creativity has been his public image." Der Scutt, the prominent architect who designed Trump Tower, said of Trump in 1976, "He's extremely aggressive when he sells, maybe to the point of overselling. Like, he'll say the convention center is the biggest in the world, when it really isn't. He'll exaggerate for the purpose of making a sale."
In 2018, journalist Jonathan Greenberg released audio recordings from 1984 in which Trump, posing as his own spokesman John Barron, made false assertions of his wealth to secure a higher ranking on the Forbes 400 list of wealthy Americans, including claiming he owned over 90 percent of his family's business.
A 1984 GQ profile of Trump quoted him stating he owned the whole block on Central Park South and Avenue of the Americas. GQ noted that the two buildings Trump owned in that area were likely less than a sixth of the block.
Alair Townsend, a former budget director and deputy mayor of New York City during the 1980s, and a former publisher of Crain's New York Business, said "I wouldn't believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized." Leona Helmsley later used this line as her own when she spoke about Trump in her November 1990 interview in Playboy magazine.
When the stock market crashed in October 1987, Trump told the press that he had sold all of his stock a month before and taken no losses. But SEC filings showed that he still owned large stakes in some companies. Forbes calculated that Trump had lost $19 million on his Resorts International holdings alone.
Challenging estimates of his net worth he considered too low, in 1989 Trump stated he had very little debt. Reuters reported Trump owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks at the beginning of 1990.
In 1997, Ben Berzin Jr., who had been tasked with recovering at least some of the $100 million his bank had lent Trump, said "During the time that I dealt with Mr. Trump, I was continually surprised by his mastery of situational ethics. He does not seem to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction."
David Fahrenthold investigated the long history of Trump's claims about his charitable giving and found little evidence the claims are true. Following Fahrenthold's reporting, the Attorney General of New York opened an inquiry into the Donald J. Trump Foundation's fundraising practices, and ultimately issued a "notice of violation" ordering the Foundation to stop raising money in New York. The Foundation had to admit it engaged in self-dealing practices to benefit Trump, his family, and businesses. Fahrenthold won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for his coverage of Trump's claimed charitable giving and casting "doubt on Donald Trump's assertions of generosity toward charities."
In 1996, Trump claimed he wagered $1 million on 20-to-1 odds in a Las Vegas heavyweight title boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. The Las Vegas Sun reported that "while everyone is careful not to call Trump a liar," no one in a position to know about such a sizable wager was aware of it.
A 1998 New York Observer article entitled "Tricky Donald Trump Beats Jerry Nadler in Game of Politics" reported that "Nadler flatly calls Mr. Trump a 'liar'," quoting Nadler stating, "Trump got $6 million [in federal money] in the dead of night when no one knew anything about it" by slipping a provision into a $200 billion federal transportation bill.
Promoting his Trump University after its formation in 2004, Trump asserted he would handpick all its instructors. Michael Sexton, former president of the venture, stated in a 2012 deposition that Trump selected none of the instructors.
During a 2005 deposition in a defamation lawsuit he initiated about his worth, Trump stated "My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings... and that can change rapidly from day to day."
In The Art of the Deal
Tony Schwartz is a journalist who ghostwrote Trump: The Art of the Deal. In July 2016, Schwartz was interviewed by Jane Mayer for two articles in The New Yorker. In them he described Trump, who was running for president at the time, highly unfavorably, and described how he came to regret writing The Art of the Deal. When Schwartz wrote The Art of the Deal, he created the phrase "truthful hyperbole" as an "artful euphemism" to describe Trump's "loose relationship with the truth." This passage from the book provides the context, written in Trump's voice: "I play to people's fantasies...People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration — and it's a very effective form of promotion." He said that Trump "loved the phrase".
Schwartz said that "deceit" is never "innocent." He added, "'Truthful hyperbole' is a contradiction in terms. It's a way of saying, 'It's a lie, but who cares?'" Schwartz repeated his criticism on Good Morning America and Real Time with Bill Maher, saying he "put lipstick on a pig".
Fearing that anti-German sentiments during and after World War II would negatively impact his business, Fred Trump began claiming Swedish descent. The falsehood was repeated by Fred's son Donald to the press and in The Art of the Deal, where he claimed that his grandfather, Friedrich Trump, "came here from Sweden as a child". In the same book, Donald also said that his father was born in New Jersey when, in fact, he was born in the Bronx.
2016 presidential campaign
Trump has promoted a number of conspiracy theories that have lacked substance. These have included Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories from 2011 ("birther" theories); that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States; In 2011, Trump took credit for pushing the White House to release Obama's "long-form" birth certificate, while raising doubt about its legitimacy, and in 2016 admitted that Obama was a natural-born citizen from Hawaii. He later falsely stated that Hillary Clinton started the Obama "birther" movement.
Another was that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 2016; that he would have won the popular vote in the 2016 election (in addition to his electoral college win) if there had not been "millions" of illegal voters in that election cycle; and the Spygate conspiracy theory alleging that the Barack Obama administration planted a spy inside Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to assist Hillary Clinton win the 2016 US presidential election. The latter claim has been widely described as blatantly false.
Trump also made his Trump Tower wiretapping allegations in 2017, which the Department of Justice has twice refuted. In January 2018, Trump claimed that texts between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were tantamount to "treason", but The Wall Street Journal reviewed them and concluded that the texts "show no evidence of a conspiracy against" Trump.
Trump's presidency began with a series of falsehoods originated by Trump himself. The day after his inauguration, he falsely accused the media of lying about the size of the inauguration crowd. Then he exaggerated the size, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer backed up his claims. When Spicer was accused of intentionally misstating the figures, Kellyanne Conway, in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, defended Spicer by stating that he merely presented alternative facts. Todd responded by saying "alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods."
Trump went on to claim that his electoral college victory was a landslide; that the three states he did not win in the 2016 election had "serious voter fraud"; and that Clinton received 3 million to 5 million illegal votes.
Glenn Kessler said in 2017 that in his job as a fact-checker for The Washington Post there was no comparison between Trump and other politicians. Kessler gave his worst rating to other politicians 15 percent to 20 percent of the time, but gave it to Trump 63 percent to 65 percent of the time. Kessler wrote that Trump was the most fact-challenged politician that he had ever encountered and lamented that "the pace and volume of the president's misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up."
The New York Times editorial board has frequently lambasted Trump's dishonesty. In September 2018, the board called him "a president with no clear relation to the truth". The following month, the board published an opinion piece titled, "Donald Trump Is Lyin' Up a Storm".
Trump's statements as president have engaged a host of fact-checkers. Tony Burman wrote: "The falsehoods and distortions uttered by Trump and his senior officials have particularly inflamed journalists and have been challenged — resulting in a growing prominence of 'fact-checkers' and investigative reporting." The situation is getting worse, as described by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ashley Parker: "President Trump seems to be saying more and more things that aren't true."
The Washington Post fact-checker created a new category of falsehoods in December 2018, the "Bottomless Pinocchio", for falsehoods that have been repeated at least 20 times (so often "that there can be no question the politician is aware his or her facts are wrong"). Trump was the only politician who met the standard of the category, with 14 statements that immediately qualified for the category. According to the Washington Post, Trump has repeated some falsehoods so many times that he has effectively engaged in disinformation.
Professor Robert Prentice summarized the views of many fact-checkers:
"Here's the problem: As fact checker Glenn Kessler noted in August, whereas Clinton lies as much as the average politician, President Donald Trump's lying is "off the charts." No prominent politician in memory bests Trump for spouting spectacular, egregious, easily disproved lies. The birther claim. The vote fraud claim. The attendance at the inauguration claim. And on and on and on. Every fact checker — Kessler, Factcheck.org, Snopes.com, PolitiFact — finds a level of mendacity unequaled by any politician ever scrutinized. For instance, 70 percent of his campaign statements checked by PolitiFact were mostly false, totally false, or "pants on fire" false."
Several major fact-checking sites regularly fact-check Trump, including:
- PolitiFact who awarded Trump their "Lie of the Year" in 2015 and 2017
- FactCheck.org who dubbed Trump the "King of Whoppers" in 2015.
- The Washington Post, which says that as of October 30, 2018, Trump had made more than 6,400 false or misleading claims as president.
- The Toronto Star's Daniel Dale, who maintains an "unauthorized database of false things".
Commentary and analysis
As president, Trump has frequently made false statements in public speeches and remarks. Trump uttered "at least one false or misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days" in office according to The New York Times, and 1,318 total in his first 263 days in office according to the "Fact Checker" political analysis column of The Washington Post. On Trump's 601st day in office, the Post's tally exceeded 5,000 false or misleading claims, and it had risen to an average of 8.3 per day from 4.9 during his first 100 days in office. According to one study, the rate of false statements has increased, with the percentage of his words that are part of a false claim rising over the course of his presidency. In general, news organizations have been hesitant to label these statements as "lies".
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- Fact-checker archives