Veracity of statements by Donald Trump
Donald Trump has made many false or misleading statements, including thousands during his presidency. Commentators and fact-checkers have described the rate of his falsehoods as unprecedented in politics, and they have become a distinctive part of both his business and political identity. He has a pattern of making controversial statements and subsequently denying having done so. By June 2019 many news organizations had started describing some of Trump's falsehoods as lies.
- 1 Business career
- 2 In The Art of the Deal
- 3 2016 presidential campaign
- 4 Presidency
- 4.1 Fact-checking Trump
- 4.2 Credibility polling
- 4.3 Commentary and analysis
- 4.4 Specific topics
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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.
Trump often appeared in New York tabloid newspapers. Recalling her career with New York Post's Page Six column, Susany Mulcahy told Vanity Fair in 2004, "I wrote about him a certain amount, but I actually would sit back and be amazed at how often people would write about him in a completely gullible way. He was a great character, but he was full of crap 90 percent of the time". (Trump told the magazine, "I agree with her 100 percent".)
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."
Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization executive vice president who worked for Trump from 1978 until 1998, said "he would tell the staff his ridiculous lies, and after a while, no one believed a single word he would say."
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 affect 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. Trump later said, "My father is German. Right? Was German. And born in a very wonderful place in Germany, and so I have a great feeling for Germany." Trump's father was born in the Bronx, New York.
2016 presidential campaign
Within six months of Trump's announcement of his presidential candidacy, FactCheck.org declared Trump the "King of Whoppers" stating, "In the 12 years of FactCheck.org's existence, we've never seen his match. He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong."
Trump has promoted a number of conspiracy theories that have lacked substance. These have included Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories from 2011. Known as "birther" theories, these allege that Barack Obama was not 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 conspiracy theories.
In 2016, Trump suggested that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He also claimed that he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election only because of the "millions" of illegal voters in that election cycle.
Trump claimed repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2015 that the actual unemployment rate of around 5% "isn't reflective [of reality]...I've seen numbers of 24%, I actually saw a number of 42% unemployment." Politifact rated this claim "Pants on Fire", its rating for the most egregious falsehoods.
Jeremy Adam Smith, writing for the Greater Good Magazine, stated that Trump's falsehoods may be "blue lies," which are "told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group." As a result, he posited, Trump's dishonesty does not cause him to lose the support of his political base, even while it "infuriates and confuses most everyone else."
In November 2015, Buzzfeed News' Andrew Kaczynski reported that Trump, despite having claiming to have the best memory in the world, actually has a history of "conveniently forgetting" people or organizations in ways that benefit him. In July 2016, PolitiFact's Linda Qiu also pointed out that despite Trump's boast for his memory, he "seems to suffer bouts of amnesia when it comes to his own statements". Both Kaczynski and Qiu cited examples of Trump stating he did not know anything about former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke despite past statements showing that he clearly knew who Duke was.
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."
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 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.
At the end of 2018, Kessler provided a run-down summary of Trump's accelerating rate of false statements during the year:
Trump began 2018 on a similar pace as last year. Through May, he generally averaged about 200 to 250 false claims a month. But his rate suddenly exploded in June, when he topped 500 falsehoods, as he appeared to shift to campaign mode. He uttered almost 500 more in both July and August, almost 600 in September, more than 1,200 in October and almost 900 in November. In December, Trump drifted back to the mid-200s.
Several major fact-checking sites regularly fact-check Trump, including:
- PolitiFact, which awarded Trump its "Lie of the Year" in 2015 and 2017.
- FactCheck.org, which dubbed Trump the "King of Whoppers" in 2015.
- The Washington Post, which said on April 29, 2019, that Trump had made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims as president, an average of more than 12 such statements per day.
- The Toronto Star, which said that, as of May 2019, Trump had made almost 5,000 false statements since his inauguration.
As late as summer 2018, the news media were debating whether to describe use the word "lie" to describe Trump's falsehoods. However, by June 2019, many news organizations, including CNN, Star Tribune, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The New Yorker, and Foreign Policy, had started describing some of Trump's false statements as lies. The Toronto Sun was one of the first outlets to use the word "lie" to describe Trump's statements, and continues to do so frequently. Still, some organizations have continued to shy away from the term. Glenn Kessler, author of The Washington Post 's "Fact Checker" column, has used the word "lie" only once to describe Trump's statements, although he has sometimes used other terminology that implies lying.
According to a September 2018 CNN-SSRS poll, only 32% percent of Americans find Trump honest and trustworthy, the worst read in CNN polling history. The number was 33% on election day, November 8, 2016.
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. By the Post's tally, it took Trump 601 days to reach 5,000 false or misleading statements and another 226 days to reach the 10,000 mark. For the seven weeks leading up to the midterm elections, it rose to an average of 30 per day from 4.9 during his first 100 days in office. The Post found that Trump averaged 15 false statements per day during 2018.
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".
In the journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Dr. Donnel B. Stern commented on Trump's falsehoods during his presidency. Stern wrote that "Donald Trump lies so often that some have wondered whether he has poisoned the well [...] We expect politicians to stretch the truth. But Trump is a whole different animal. He lies as a policy. He lies to get whatever he wants, and he clearly feels entirely justified in doing it...He will say anything to please what gets called 'his base' and to inflate his own sense of importance."
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 three of the states he did not win in the 2016 election had "serious voter fraud"; and that Clinton received 3 million to 5 million illegal votes. Trump made his Trump Tower wiretapping allegations in March 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.
Dismissal of FBI director
On May 9, 2017, Trump dismissed James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stating that he had accepted the recommendations of U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to dismiss Comey. In their respective letters, neither Trump, Sessions nor Rosenstein mentioned the issue of an FBI investigation into links between Trump associates and Russian officials, with Rosenstein writing that Comey should be dismissed for his handling of the conclusion of the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy, while Sessions cited Rosenstein's reasons. On May 11, Trump said in a videoed interview: "...regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey...in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." On May 31, Trump wrote on Twitter: "I never fired James Comey because of Russia!"
In 2017 and in the first half of 2018, Trump repeatedly praised his personal attorney Michael Cohen as a "a great lawyer", "a loyal, wonderful person", "a good man", and someone Trump "always liked" and "respected". In the second half of 2018, with Cohen testifying to federal investigations, Trump attacked Cohen as a "rat", "a weak person, and not a very smart person", and described Cohen as "a PR person who did small legal work, very small legal work...He represented me very little."
In May 2018, Trump developed and promoted the false Spygate conspiracy theory alleging that the Barack Obama administration planted a spy inside Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to assist Hillary Clinton in winning the 2016 US presidential election.
Special Counsel Investigation
In March 2019, Trump asserted that the special counsel investigation is "illegal"; previously in June 2018, Trump argued that "the appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!" However, in August 2018, Dabney Friedrich, a Trump-appointed judge on the DC District Court ruled the appointment was constitutional, as did a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in February 2019.
The Mueller Report asserted Trump's family members, campaign staff, Republican backers, administration officials, and his associates lied or made false assertions, with the plurality of lies from Trump himself (mostly while he was president), whether unintentional, or not to the public, Congress, or authorities, per a CNN analysis.
Also in March 2019, following the release of Attorney General William Barr's summary of the findings of the completed special counsel investigation, Trump tweeted: "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION." However, Barr had quoted special counsel Mueller as writing that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him" on whether he had committed obstruction of justice. Barr declined to bring an obstruction of justice charge against the President. In testimony to Congress in May 2019, Barr said that he "didn't exonerate" Trump on obstruction as that was not the role of the Justice Department.
Through his first 28 months in office, Trump repeatedly and falsely characterized the economy during his presidency as the best in American history.
As of March 2019, Trump's most repeated falsehoods, each repeated during his presidency over 100 times, were: that a U.S. trade deficit would be a "loss" for the country; that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, passed during his term, was the largest tax cut in American history; that the American economy was the strongest ever during his administration; and that the Trump wall was already being built. By August, he had made this last claim at least 190 times. He has also made 100 false claims about NATO spending, whether on the part of the United States or other NATO members.
Trump claimed during the campaign that the U.S. real GDP could grow at rate of "5 or even 6" percent under his policies. During 2018, the economy grew at 2.9%, the same rate as 2015 under President Obama. Longer-term projections beyond 2019 by the CBO and Federal Reserve are for growth below 2%. President Obama's advisers explained growth limits as "sluggish worker productivity and shrinking labor supply as baby boomers retire".
Trump claimed in October 2017 that he would eliminate the federal debt over 8 years, even though it was $19 trillion at the time. However, the annual deficit (debt addition) in 2018 was nearly $800 billion, about 60% higher than the CBO forecast of $500 billion when Trump took office. The CBO January 2019 forecast for the 2018–2027 debt addition is now 40% higher, at $13.0 trillion rather than $9.4 trillion when Trump was inaugurated. Other forecasts place the debt addition over a decade at $16 trillion, bringing the total to around $35 trillion. Rather than a debt to GDP ratio in 2028 of 89% had Obama's policies continued, CBO now estimates this figure at 107%, assuming Trump's tax cuts for individuals are extended past 2025.
Trump claimed in March 2019 that Chinese exporters were bearing the burden of his tariffs. However, studies indicate consumers and purchasers of imports are bearing the cost and that tariffs are essentially a regressive tax. While Trump has argued that tariffs would reduce the trade deficit, it expanded to a record dollar level in 2018.
Trump has sought to present his economic policies as successful in encouraging businesses to invest in new facilities and create jobs. In this effort, he has on several occasions taken credit for business investments that began before he became president.
The following table illustrates some of the key economic variables in the last two years of the Obama Administration (2015–2016) and the first two years of the Trump Administration (2017–2018). Trump often claims the economy is doing better than it was when he was elected.
|Real GDP Growth||2.9%||1.6%||2.2%||2.9%|
|Job Creation per Month (000s)||227||193||179||223|
|Unemployment Rate (December)||5.0%||4.7%||4.1%||3.9%|
|Inflation Rate (CPI-All, Avg.)||0.1%||1.3%||2.1%||2.4%|
|Real Median Household Income $||$58,476||$60,309||$61,372||Avail. Sept '19|
|Real Wage Growth %||2.2%||1.3%||0.4%||0.6%|
|Mortgage Rate 30-yr Fixed (Avg.)||3.9%||3.7%||4.0%||4.5%|
|Stock Market Annual % Increase (SP 500)||−0.7%||+9.5%||+19.4%||−6.2%|
|Budget Deficit % GDP||2.4%||3.2%||3.5%||3.9%|
|Number Uninsured (Millions)||28.4||28.2||28.9||29.4 Sept|
|Trade Deficit % GDP||2.7%||2.7%||2.8%||3.0%|
Family separation policy
President Trump has repeatedly and falsely said that he inherited his administration's family separation policy from Obama, his predecessor. In November 2018, Trump said, "President Obama separated children from families, and all I did was take the same law, and then I softened the law." In April 2019, Trump said, "President Obama separated children. They had child separation; I was the one that changed it." In June 2019, Trump said, "President Obama had a separation policy. I didn’t have it. He had it. I brought the families together. I'm the one that put them together...I inherited separation, and I changed the plan." Trump's assertion was false because the Obama administration had no policy systematically separating migrant families, while the "zero tolerance" policy was only instituted by Trump's own administration in April 2018. Politifact quoted immigration experts saying that under the Obama administration families were detained and released together and separations rarely happened.
Article II and unlimited executive power
In July 2019, during a speech addressing youth at Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit in Washington, The Washington Post reported that, while criticizing the Mueller investigation, Trump falsely claimed that Article Two of the United States Constitution ensures that "I have to the right to do whatever I want as president." The Post clarified that "Article II grants the president 'executive power.' It does not indicate the president has total power."
As Hurricane Dorian approached the Atlantic coast in late August 2019, Trump presented himself as closely monitoring the situation, tweeting extensively about it as The New York Times reported he was “assuming the role of meteorologist in chief.” On September 1, Trump tweeted that Alabama, among other states, "will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" by Dorian. By that time, no weather forecaster was predicting that Dorian would impact Alabama and the eight National Hurricane Center forecast updates over the preceding 24 hours showed Dorian steering well away from Alabama and moving up the Atlantic coast. The Birmingham, Alabama office of the National Weather Service (NWS) contradicted Trump twenty minutes later, tweeting that Alabama “will NOT see any impacts from Dorian.” After ABC News White House reporter Jonathan Karl reported the correction, Trump tweeted it was "Such a phony hurricane report by lightweight reporter @jonkarl."
On September 4 in the Oval Office, Trump displayed a modified version of an August 29 diagram by the National Hurricane Center of the projected track of Dorian. The modification was done with a black marker and extended the cone of uncertainty of the hurricane's possible path into southern Alabama. Modifying official government weather forecasts is illegal in the United States. A White House official later told The Washington Post that Trump had altered the diagram with a Sharpie marker. Trump said he did not know how the map came to be modified and defended his claims, saying that he had "a better map" with models that "in all cases [showed] Alabama was hit." Later on September 4, Trump tweeted a map by the South Florida Water Management District dated August 28 showing numerous projected paths of Dorian; Trump falsely asserted "almost all models" showed Dorian approaching Alabama. A note on the map stated it was "superseded" by National Hurricane Center publications and that it was to be discarded if there were any discrepancies.
On September 5, after Fox News correspondent John Roberts reported about the story live from the White House, Trump summoned him to the Oval Office. Roberts later characterized Trump as "just looking for acknowledgment that he was not wrong for saying that at some point, Alabama was at risk — even if the situation had changed by the time he issued the tweet." Late that day, Trump's Homeland Security Advisor Peter Brown issued a statement asserting Trump had been provided a graphic on September 1 showing tropical storm force winds touching the southeastern corner of Alabama; a White House source told CNN that Trump had personally instructed Brown to issue the statement.
On September 6, at Trump's direction, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross to order acting NOAA administrator Neil Jacobs to fix the contradiction by Birmingham NWS, and Ross threatened to fire top NOAA officials if he did not. NOAA then tweeted a statement by an unnamed spokesman disavowing the Birmingham NWS tweet, asserting "the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama," adding that the Birmingham tweet "spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time." The president of the NWS Employees Organization responded, "the hard-working employees of the NWS had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management tonight." Former senior NOAA executives were also sharply critical. That evening, Trump tweeted a video of a CNN hurricane forecast from the Wednesday before his Sunday tweet in which the forecaster mentioned Alabama could be affected by Dorian — with the video altered to show "Alabama" being repeated several times; the video ended with a CNN logo careening off a road and bursting into flames. Trump continued to insist he was correct through September 7, asserting "The Fake News Media was fixated" on the matter and tweeting forecast maps from at least two days before his original Sunday tweet, as the media dubbed the episode "Sharpiegate." Numerous commentators expressed bafflement that Trump chose to continue insisting he was correct about what might otherwise have passed as a relatively minor gaffe.
On September 9, NWS director Louis Uccellini said that the Birmingham NWS had not tweeted in response to Trump's tweet, but rather in response to numerous phone calls and social media contacts their office had received in response to Trump's tweet. "Only later, when the retweets and politically based comments started coming to their office, did they learn the sources of this information," he said.
- Fake news
- Post-truth politics
- Fear: Trump in the White House
- Fire and Fury
- The Making of Donald Trump
- The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney, for background
- Truth Decay by Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich
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- Fact-checker archives