Fact check: Trump says he’s a ‘very honest guy’ while making multiple false claims
Updated 1:01 PM ET, Fri July 5, 2019
Washington (CNN)In a lengthy exchange with reporters on the White House South Lawn on Friday, President Donald Trump claimed that the outcome of the Mueller investigation shows “I’m a very honest guy.”
Before and after that pronouncement, he made false claims about Barack Obama, NATO and tariffs.
Here’s our fact check:
In responding to a question about the veracity of his previous statements that President Barack Obama had “begged” for meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump defended his claim and repeated it.
“He called Kim Jong Un on numerous occasions to meet,” Trump said. “President Obama wanted to meet with Kim Jong Un, and Kim Jong Un said no. Numerous occasions he called.”
Facts First: As CNN laid out in an extensive fact check earlier this week, there is no evidence Obama ever tried to secure a meeting with Kim Jong Un, let alone that he “called” North Korea on “numerous occasions.”
Multiple former Obama officials, including former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, have gone on the record to declare Trump’s claim false. Independent experts contacted by CNN also said Trump was wrong.
Obama’s administration did conduct occasional diplomatic outreach to North Korea, but its primary intent was to convince Kim Jong Un and his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il to return to the six-country negotiations that had collapsed. No presidential summit is known to have been floated at any point.
Obama pursued a policy, commonly known as “strategic patience,” of declining to directly engage with the Kims’ regime at all, let alone at the presidential level, as long as they refused to stop their belligerent behavior.
Tariffs on China
Trump again claimed that China is single-handedly paying for the US tariffs.
“(B)y the way, billions and billions of dollars of tariffs are coming in and China is paying for it, not our people.”
Facts First: No matter how many times Trump makes this claim (and he’s made it a lot recently), it’s false to say that China is paying the tariffs. The majority of the costs of these tariffs fall on American consumers and businesses.
CNN’s Facts First team has looked into this claim from Trump several times. Here’s what we found:
Economic studies have found that US consumers bear the majority of the weight of these tariffs, not China.
Two recent papers have found that tariffs on Chinese goods have raised prices on American consumers because importers often pass along the tariff price tag to domestic producers, which sometimes increase the price of their product to cover the cost, and sometimes eat the cost themselves.
A March paper from economists at Columbia, Princeton and the New York Federal Reserve found that the “full incidence” of Trump’s tariffs have fallen on domestic companies and consumers — costing them $3 billion a month by the end of 2018. The paper also found that the tariffs led to a reduction in US income, by $1.4 billion a month.
A separate academic paper also found that the tariffs led to higher consumer prices. It estimated that the tariffs will result in a $7.8 billion per year decline in income.
The Chinese supplier might take on some of the burden of the tariff by reducing its prices to maintain a market in the United States, but these studies show that the burden heavily falls on US consumers and companies.
For their part, the White House’s Economic Report of the President, also released in March, acknowledged that American consumers do pay some of the cost of these tariffs. Domestic producers, according to the report, benefit from price increases from the tariffs, but “offsetting these benefits are the costs paid by consumers in the form of higher prices and reduced consumption.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Trump praised his daughter Ivanka for her work on jobs.
“Ivanka has worked on almost 10 million jobs, training and going to companies and getting them to hire people,” Trump said.
Facts First: Trump is right that Ivanka has worked on job training, but it’s not true that 10 million jobs have been created.
In July of last year, Trump signed an executive order creating the National Council for the American Worker, co-chaired by Ivanka Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. One of the council’s priorities is asking companies across the US to sign the Pledge to America’s Workers. The pledge involves “committing to expand programs that educate, train, and reskill American workers from high-school age to near-retirement,” according to the White House.
Two hundred and eighty-two companies have agreedto the pledge, with each providing different numbers of training opportunities. According to the White House website, the total number of opportunities pledged is just over 9.9 million.
Earlier this year, CNN checked out a similar — but not identical — claim Trump made that Ivanka Trump had “created millions of jobs.” That wasn’t true.
This time, Trump is hewing closer to the truth by saying she “worked on” job creation. But is overstating what the administration has secured from companies.
It’s true that Ivanka is working with companies on job training programs. But it’s not accurate to say they all constitute new jobs. Instead, they are training opportunities. In a press release last year, the White House described these opportunities as “apprenticeships and work-based learning, continuing education, on-the-job training, and reskilling.” These opportunities can be for current employees.
Many of these opportunities pledged were also already planned by the companies. As CNN previously reported, Walmart’s pledged amount over five years would just about match the rate that its program Walmart Academies has trained since it started in 2016. The Associated Builders and Contractors provides a similar example as it pledged to provide roughly as many opportunities in five years as it trains in one year.
So it’s inaccurate to suggest that the number of training opportunities pledged are “jobs.” The timeline for these opportunities spans five years. And many of them match existing company goals and numbers.
Trump criticized the previous administration’s policy toward NATO.
“Tell Biden that NATO has taken total advantage of him and President Obama … we were paying for almost all of NATO. We’re protecting countries. Those countries have to protect themselves with us. They have to make a contribution. In my first year I raised over $100 billion from those countries. Biden didn’t know what the hell he was doing and neither did President Obama. NATO was taking advantage of them. Now they’re paying. They still owe us a lot of money. Biden doesn’t know about that.”
Facts First: This is inaccurate in multiple ways. US military spending has long represented the majority of military spending by the entire NATO alliance, but it was not “almost all” during Biden’s tenure as vice-president. NATO countries do not “owe” the US money to make up for their previous military spending levels. Spending by NATO members began rising before Trump took office. And Trump was exaggerating how fast the additional spending has occurred during his tenure.
US spending represented close to 72% of all NATO members’ military spending each year from 2015 to 2017, according to official NATO figures. In 2014, it was 69%. Those are big numbers, but “almost all” is at least a slight exaggeration. Separate from the military spending of individual nations, NATO has its own direct budget to run its offices and programs. The US pays for an agreed-upon 22% of that budget.
NATO countries have agreed to a guideline of spending 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on their militaries. Contrary to Trump’s repeated claims, a failure to meet the 2% guideline does not result in anyone having any debt. Trump is free to argue that countries that are spending little on defense owe the US a debt of gratitude or a policy favor, but he is wrong to suggest they owe actual money.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has credited Trump for pressuring members into increasing their spending, but Trump is slightly exaggerating the size of the increase: Stoltenberg has made clear that it is $100 billion extra by the end of 2020, not $100 billion in Trump’s “first year.”
Also, Trump is wrong to suggest that spending increases are only “now” happening. Military spending by non-US NATO members increased by 1.8% in 2015 and 2.8% in 2016, while Biden was still vice president.
Mexican troops at the border
In addressing the crisis at the border, President Trump said Friday that between 16,000 and 21,000 Mexican troops have been sent to the US border as part of an agreement to prevent more immigrants from crossing into the US, claiming that their deployment was a result of his tariff threat earlier this summer.
“Mexico is doing far more than the Democrats. We all know it,” Trump said. “It’s because of tariffs, but they’ve been great.”
“They have many of them now on the southern border — their southern border,” Trump added, referring to Mexico’s deployment of troops. “On our southern border, which is the main border that you think of, they’re going to have anywhere between 16,000 and 21,000 troops. It’s had a big effect. (They’ve) only been there for about a week, where they actually had the troops. But it’s had a tremendous effect.”
Facts First: Trump is in the ballpark when it comes to the total number of Mexican troops deployed to address migration, but he appears to be conflating the number deployed to the US-Mexico border with the number of Mexican troops deployed at both the northern and southern borders of Mexico. On the tariff claim, it’s not entirely clear that Mexico is responding solely to Trump’s tariff threat. Reporting suggests the groundwork had already been laid for Mexico to deploy troops to the border.
On June 24, Mexican Secretary of Defense Luis Sandoval announced that Mexico has deployed almost 15,000 troops to the US-Mexico border, composed of National Guard and military units. An additional 6,500 Mexican troops are spread across the southern border of Mexico, aimed at deterring Central American migrants from coming north.
Though Trump said Mexico is increasing troop efforts “because of tariffs,” the New York Times reported that the Mexican government had pledged to deploy the National Guard nationwide, focusing on its southern border, months before Trump’s tariff threat. The pledge came during talks between former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Mexican interior secretary Olga Sanchez in March.
Migrant separation under Obama
Trump also claimed that under President Obama undocumented migrants were separated from their children.
“President Obama had separation. President Obama in 2014 built the cells that you that you always show on television.”
Facts First: The Obama administration did separate children from adults on a case-by-case basis if authorities had concerns for their well-being or could not confirm that the adult was their legal guardian. By contrast, the Trump administration issued a blanket policy for a period of two months that increased the number of children separated from their family.
Before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, where the administration set out to prosecute every undocumented migrant caught crossing the border, previous administrations infrequently prosecuted migrants for that same offense. Under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, adults were sent to jails while awaiting their criminal proceedings and children were sent to holding facilities. (Trump ended the policy in June 2018 — two months after it was instituted — by signing an executive order mandating families be detained together.)
In 2018, Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, told the New York Times that the administration had contemplated implementing a policy to separate children from adults illegally crossing the border. “I do remember looking at each other like, ‘We’re not going to do this, are we?’ We spent five minutes thinking it through and concluded that it was a bad idea,” she told the Times. “The morality of it was clear — that’s not who we are.”
Trump is correct that under Obama, migrant children were held in chain link cells. Indeed, some of Trump’s most vocal critics circulated photos of an Obama era detention facility showing immigrant children in cells made of chain link fencing, falsely claiming the photos captured Trump’s separation policies. Under Trump, children have also been held in similar cells and questions have been raised about whether their basic needs are being met.
Trump also addressed the controversy over his administration’s efforts to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census
“We’re spending $15 billion to $20 billion on a census. We’re doing everything. We’re finding out everything about everybody. Think of it, $15 billion to $20 billion. And you’re not allowed to ask them, ‘Are you a citizen?’ And by the way, if you look at the history of our country, it’s almost always been asked.”
Facts First: Trump’s cost estimate is accurate. However his claim that the citizenship question has “almost always” been asked is an exaggeration. Of the 23 cenuses that have been conducted in American history (every 10 years from 1790 to 2010) the citizenship question has been asked of all households a total of 10 times. The question was posed to a minority of households an additional four times. It has not been asked of all households, as Trump is currently pressing to do again, since 1950.
The Census Bureau estimated in 2017 that the census would carry a total cost of $15.6 billion, within Trump’s range of “$15 to $20 billion.”
A citizenship question was first asked on the 1820 census. It was omitted in 1840, 1850 and 1860, reinstated in 1870, omitted in 1880, and reinstated in 1890, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics.
The question remained on the census sent to all US households through 1950. That year’s census, though, was the last one to ask a citizenship question of every household.
Between 1970 and 2000, the question was included only on a version of the census, the long form, that is sent to a minority of households (one in six households in 2000).
The question was not asked at all on the 2010 census. That year, though, the government asked about citizenship in another survey, the American Community Survey, that was sent to 3.5 million households.
The Supreme Court blocked the government’s request to include the citizenship question on the census sent to all households in 2020. The Trump administration is now attempting to find alternative ways to include the question on the 2020 census form even though printing has already begun.
Asked if he is confident that there are no undocumented immigrants working at his Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey and his other golf clubs, Trump said, “Well, that I don’t know because I don’t run it. But I would say this: probably every club in the United States has that because it seems to be, from what I understand, a way that people did business.” He added: “But we’ve ended — whatever they did, we have a very strict rule that — those rules are very strict.”
Facts First: Undocumented immigrants were employed at Bedminster for years before Trump gave up the management of his business to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump in 2017, according to the Washington Post and New York Times.
We can’t say that Trump was inaccurate here. He was asked about his knowledge of Bedminster’s employment practices in the present day, and it is quite possible he is genuinely unaware of the status of every employee.
However, the Post and Times have reported on the accounts of people who claimed they worked as undocumented immigrants at Bedminster while Trump was still running the business — as far back as the construction of the club in 2002, according to the Post. The Post said all 16 of the Latin Americans who told the paper that they had worked at Bedminster without legal status also claimed “their managers knew.”
The Times reported on the accounts of two women who claimed they were hired at Bedminster as undocumented immigrants in 2010 and 2013 respectively.
After he was elected, Trump faced pressure to relinquish his ownership of the company. Instead, he announced in 2017 that he would retain his ownership but would put his holdings in a trust controlled by his sons.
In 2016, Trump said on MSNBC, “I’m using E-Verify on just about every job.” But his company did not begin using the immigration verification system at every course until 2019, the Post reported; it was only three of 12 courses as of late 2018.
This story has been updated.
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