Fact check: Trump delivers wildly dishonest speech at CPAC

Daniel Dale, CNN

CNN– As president, Donald Trump made some of his most thoroughly dishonest speeches at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

As he embarks on another campaign for the presidency, Trump delivered another CPAC doozy Saturday night.

Trump’s lengthy address to the right-wing gathering in Maryland was filled with wildly inaccurate claims about his own presidency, Joe Biden’s presidency, foreign affairs, crime, elections and other subjects.

Here is a fact check of 23 of the false claims Trump made. (And that’s far from the total.)

Crime and civil unrest

Crime in Manhattan

While Trump criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has been investigating Trump’s company, he claimed that “killings are taking place at a number like nobody’s ever seen, right in Manhattan.”

Facts FirstIt isn’t even close to true that Manhattan is experiencing a number of killings that nobody has ever seen. The region classified by the New York Police Department as Manhattan North had 43 reported murders in 2022; that region had 379 reported murders in 1990 and 306 murders in 1993. The Manhattan South region had 35 reported murders in 2022 versus 124 reported murders in 1990 and 86 murders in 1993. New York City as a whole is also nowhere near record homicide levels; the city had 438 reported murders in 2022 versus 2,262 in 1990 and 1,927 in 1993.

Manhattan North had just eight reported murders this year through February 19, while Manhattan South had one. The city as a whole had 49 reported murders.

The National Guard and Minnesota

Talking about rioting amid racial justice protests after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Trump claimed he had been ready to send in the National Guard in Seattle, then added, “We saved Minneapolis. The thing is, we’re not supposed to do that. Because it’s up to the governor, the Democrat governor. They never want any help. They don’t mind – it’s almost like they don’t mind to have their cities and states destroyed. There’s something wrong with these people.”

Facts FirstThis is a reversal of reality. Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Tim Walz, not Trump, was the one who deployed the Minnesota National Guard during the 2020 unrest; Walz first activated the Guard more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to deploy the Guard himself. Walz’s office told CNN in 2020 that the governor activated the Guard in response to requests from officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul – cities also run by Democrats.

Trump has repeatedly made the false claim that he was the one who sent the Guard to Minneapolis. You can read a longer fact check, from 2020, here.

Trump’s executive order on monuments

Trump boasted that he had taken effective action as president to stop the destruction of statues and memorials. He claimed: “I passed and signed an executive order. Anybody that does that gets 10 years in jail, with no negotiation – it’s not ’10’ but it turns into three months.” He added: “But we passed it. It was a very old law, and we found it – one of my very good legal people along with [adviser] Stephen Miller, they found it. They said, ‘Sir, I don’t know if you want to try and bring this back.’ I said. ‘I do.’”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. He did not create a mandatory 10-year sentence for people who damage monuments. In fact, his 2020 executive order did not mandate any increase in sentences.

Rather, the executive order simply directed the attorney general to “prioritize” investigations and prosecutions of monument-destruction cases and declared that it is federal policy to prosecute such cases to the fullest extent permitted under existing law, including an existing law that allowed a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for willfully damaging federal property. The executive order did nothing to force judges to impose a 10-year sentence.

Vandalism in Portland

Trump claimed, “How’s Portland doing? They don’t even have storefronts anymore. Everything’s two-by-four’s because they get burned down every week.”

Facts FirstThis is a major exaggeration. Portland obviously still has hundreds of active storefronts, though it has struggled with downtown commercial vacancies for various reasons, and some businesses are sometimes vandalized by protesters. Trump has for years exaggerated the extent of property damage from protest vandalism in Portland.

Russia, Ukraine and NATO

Russian expansionism

Boasting of his foreign policy record, Trump claimed, “I was also the only president where Russia didn’t take over a country during my term.”

Facts FirstWhile it’s true that Russia didn’t take over a country during Trump’s term, it’s not true that he was the only US president under whom Russia didn’t take over a country. “Totally false,” Michael Khodarkovsky, a Loyola University Chicago history professor who is an expert on Russian imperialism, said in an email. “If by Russia he means the current Russian Federation that existed since 1991, then the best example is Clinton, 1992-98. During this time Russia fought a war in Chechnya, but Chechnya was not a country but one of Russia’s regions.”

Khodarkovsky added, “If by Russia he means the USSR, as people often do, then from 1945, when the USSR occupied much of Eastern Europe until 1979, when USSR invaded Afghanistan, Moscow did not take over any new country. It only sent forces into countries it had taken over in 1945 (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968).”

NATO funding

Trump said while talking about NATO funding: “And I told delinquent foreign nations – they were delinquent, they weren’t paying their bills – that if they wanted our protection, they had to pay up, and they had to pay up now.”

Facts FirstIt’s not true that NATO countries weren’t paying “bills” until Trump came along or that they were “delinquent” in the sense of failing to pay bills – as numerous fact-checkers pointed out when Trump repeatedly used such language during his presidency. NATO members haven’t been failing to pay their share of the organization’s common budget to run the organization. And while it’s true that most NATO countries were not (and still are not) meeting NATO’s target of each country spending a minimum of 2% of gross domestic product on defense, that 2% figure is what NATO calls a “guideline”; it is not some sort of binding contract, and it does not create liabilities. An official NATO recommitment to the 2% guideline in 2014 merely said that members not currently at that level would “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did credit Trump for securing increases in European NATO members’ defense spending, but it’s worth noting that those countries’ spending had also increased in the last two years of the Obama administration following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and the recommitment that year to the 2% guideline. NATO notes on its website that 2022 was “the eighth consecutive year of rising defence spending across European Allies and Canada.”

NATO’s existence

Boasting of how he had secured additional funding for NATO from countries, Trump claimed, “Actually, NATO wouldn’t even exist if I didn’t get them to pay up.”

Facts FirstThis is nonsense.

There was never any indication that NATO, created in 1949, would have ceased to exist in the early 2020s without additional funding from some members. The alliance was stable even with many members not meeting the alliance’s guideline of having members spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.

We don’t often fact-check claims about what might have happened in an alternative scenario, but this Trump claim has no basis in reality. “The quote doesn’t make sense, obviously,” said Erwan Lagadec, research professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and an expert on NATO.

Lagadec noted that NATO has had no trouble getting allies to cover the roughly $3 billion in annual “direct” funding for the organization, which is “peanuts” to this group of countries. And he said that the only NATO member that had given “any sign” in recent years that it was thinking about leaving the alliance “was … the US, under Trump.” Lagadec added that the US leaving the alliance is one scenario that could realistically kill it, but that clearly wasn’t what Trump was talking about in his remarks on spending levels.

James Goldgeier, an American University professor of international relations and Brookings Institution visiting fellow, said in an email: “NATO was founded in 1949, so it seems very clear that Donald Trump had nothing to do with its existence. In fact, the worry was that he would pull the US out of NATO, as his national security adviser warned he would do if he had been reelected.”

The cost of NATO’s headquarters

Trump mocked NATO’s headquarters, saying, “They spent – an office building that cost $3 billion. It’s like a skyscraper in Manhattan laid on its side. It’s one of the longest buildings I’ve ever seen. And I said, ‘You should have – instead of spending $3 billion, you should have spent $500 million building the greatest bunker you’ve ever seen. Because Russia didn’t – wouldn’t even need an airplane attack. One tank one shot through that beautiful glass building and it’s gone.’”

Facts FirstNATO did spend a lot of money on its headquarters in Belgium, but Trump’s “$3 billion” figure is a major exaggeration. When Trump used the same inaccurate figure in early 2020, NATO told CNN that the headquarters was actually constructed for a sum under the approved budget of about $1.18 billion euro, which is about $1.3 billion at exchange rates as of Sunday morning.

The Pulitzer Prize

Trump made his usual argument that The Washington Post and The New York Times should not have won a prestigious journalism award, a 2018 Pulitzer Prize, for their reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 election and its connections to Trump’s team. He then said, “And they were exactly wrong. And now they’ve even admitted that it was a hoax. It was a total hoax, and they got the prize.”

Facts FirstThe Times and Post have not made any sort of “hoax” admission. “The claim is completely false,” Times spokesperson Charlie Stadtlander said in an email on Sunday.

Stadtlander continued: “When our Pulitzer Prize shared with The Washington Post was challenged by the former President, the award was upheld by the Pulitzer Prize Board after an independent review. The board stated that ‘no passages or headlines, contentions or assertions in any of the winning submissions were discredited by facts that emerged subsequent to the conferral of the prizes.’ The Times’s reporting was also substantiated by the Mueller investigation and Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the matter.”

The Post referred CNN to that same July statement from the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Awareness of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Trump claimed of his opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany: “Nord Stream 2 – Nobody ever heard of it … right? Nobody ever heard of Nord Stream 2 until I came along. I started talking about Nord Stream 2. I had to go call it ‘the pipeline’ because nobody knew what I was talking about.”

Facts FirstThis is standard Trump hyperbole; it’s just not true that “nobody” had heard of Nord Stream 2 before he began discussing it. Nord Stream 2 was a regular subject of media, government and diplomatic discussion before Trump took office. In fact, Biden publicly criticized it as vice president in 2016. Trump may well have generated increased US awareness to the controversial project, but “nobody ever heard of Nord Stream 2 until I came along” isn’t true.

Trump and Nord Stream 2

Trump claimed, “I got along very well with Putin even though I’m the one that ended his pipeline. Remember they said, ‘Trump is giving a lot to Russia.’ Really? Putin actually said to me, ‘If you’re my friend, I’d hate like hell to see you as my enemy.’ Because I ended the pipeline, right? Do you remember? Nord Stream 2.” He continued, “I ended it. It was dead.”

Facts FirstTrump did not kill Nord Stream 2. While he did approve sanctions on companies working on the project, that move came nearly three years into his presidency, when the pipeline was already around an estimated 90% complete – and the state-owned Russian gas company behind the project said shortly after the sanctions that it would complete the pipeline itself. The company announced in December 2020 that construction was resuming. And with days left in Trump’s term in January 2021, Germany announced that it had renewed permission for construction in its waters.

The pipeline never began operations; Germany ended up halting the project as Russia was about to invade Ukraine early last year. The pipeline was damaged later in the year in what has been described as an act of sabotage.

The Obama administration and Ukraine

Trump claimed that while he provided lethal assistance to Ukraine, the Obama administration “didn’t want to get involved” and merely “supplied the bedsheets.” He said, “Do you remember? They supplied the bedsheets. And maybe even some pillows from [pillow businessman] Mike [Lindell], who’s sitting right over here. … But they supplied the bedsheets.”

Facts FirstThis is inaccurate. While it’s true that the Obama administration declined to provide weapons to Ukraine, it provided more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016 that involved far more than bedsheets. The aid included counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, armored Humvees, tactical drones, night vision devices and medical supplies.

Biden and a Ukrainian prosecutor

Trump claimed that Biden, as vice president, held back a billion dollars from Ukraine until the country fired a prosecutor who was “after Hunter” and a company that was paying him. Trump was referring to Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, who sat on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.

Facts FirstThis is baseless. There has never been any evidence that Hunter Biden was under investigation by the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who had been widely faulted by Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and European countries for failing to investigate corruption. A former Ukrainian deputy prosecutor and a top anti-corruption activist have both said the Burisma-related investigation was dormant at the time Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire Shokin.

Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, told The Washington Post in 2019: “Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma. And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation.” In addition, Shokin’s successor as prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Bloomberg in 2019: “Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws – at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing.”

Biden, as vice president, was carrying out the policy of the US and its allies, not pursuing his own agenda, in threatening to withhold a billion-dollar US loan guarantee if the Ukrainian government did not sack Shokin. CNN fact-checked Trump’s claims on this subject at length in 2019.

The economy

Trump and job creation

Promising to save Americans’ jobs if he is elected again, Trump claimed, “We had the greatest job history of any president ever.”

Facts FirstThis is false. The US lost about 2.7 million jobs during Trump’s presidency, the worst overall jobs record for any president. The net loss was largely because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but even Trump’s pre-pandemic jobs record – about 6.7 million jobs added – was far from the greatest of any president ever. The economy added more than 11.5 million jobs in the first term of Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Tariffs on China

Trump repeated a trade claim he made frequently during his presidency. Speaking of China, he said he “charged them” with tariffs that had the effect of “bringing in hundreds of billions of dollars pouring into our Treasury from China. Thank you very much, China.” He claimed that he did this even though “no other president had gotten even 10 cents – not one president got anything from them.”

Facts FirstAs we have written repeatedly, it’s not true that no president before Trump had generated any revenue through tariffs on goods from China. In reality, the US has had tariffs on China for more than two centuries, and FactCheck.org reported in 2019 that the US generated an “average of $12.3 billion in custom duties a year from 2007 to 2016, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb.” Also, American importers, not Chinese exporters, make the actual tariff payments – and study after study during Trump’s presidency found that Americans were bearing most of the cost of the tariffs.

The trade deficit with China

Trump went on to repeat a false claim he made more than 100 times as president – that the US used to have a trade deficit with China of more than $500 billion. He claimed it was “five-, six-, seven-hundred billion dollars a year.”

Facts FirstThe US has never had a $500 billion, $600 billion or $700 billion trade deficit with China even if you only count trade in goods and ignore the services trade in which the US runs a surplus with China. The pre-Trump record for a goods deficit with China was about $367 billion in 2015. The goods deficit hit a new record of about $418 billion under Trump in 2018 before falling back under $400 billion in subsequent years.


Trump and the 2020 election

Trump said people claim they want to run against him even though, he claimed, he won the 2020 election. He said, “I won the second election, OK, won it by a lot. You know, when they say, when they say Biden won, the smart people know that didn’t [happen].”

Facts FirstThis is Trump’s regular lie. He lost the 2020 election to Biden fair and square, 306 to 232 in the Electoral College. Biden earned more than 7 million more votes than Trump did.

Democrats and elections

Trump said Democrats are only good at “disinformation” and “cheating on elections.”

Facts FirstThis is nonsense. There is just no basis for a broad claim that Democrats are election cheaters. Election fraud and voter fraud are exceedingly rare in US elections, though such crimes are occasionally committed by officials and supporters of both parties. (We’ll ignore Trump’s subjective claim about “disinformation.”)

War and peace

The liberation of the ISIS caliphate

Trump repeated his familiar story about how he had supposedly liberated the “caliphate” of terror group ISIS in “three weeks.” This time, he said, “In fact, with the ISIS caliphate, a certain general said it could only be done in three years, ‘and probably it can’t be done at all, sir.’ And I did it in three weeks. I went over to Iraq, met a great general. ‘Sir, I can do it in three weeks.’ You’ve heard that story. ‘I can do it in three weeks, sir.’ ‘How are you going to do that?’ They explained it. I did it in three weeks. I was told it couldn’t be done at all, that it would take at least three years. Did it in three weeks. Knocked out 100% of the ISIS caliphate.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim of eliminating the ISIS caliphate in “three weeks” isn’t true; the ISIS “caliphate” was declared fully liberated more than two years into Trump’s presidency, in 2019. Even if Trump was starting the clock at the time of his visit to Iraq, in late December 2018, the liberation was proclaimed more than two and a half months later. In addition, Trump gave himself far too much credit for the defeat of the caliphate, as he has in the past, when he said “I did it”: Kurdish forces did much of the ground fighting, and there was major progress against the caliphate under President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016.

IHS Markit, an information company that studied the changing size of the caliphate, reported two days before Trump’s 2017 inauguration that the caliphate shrunk by 23% in 2016 after shrinking by 14% in 2015. “The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” an analyst there said in a statement at the time.

Military equipment left in Afghanistan

Trump claimed, as he has before, that the US left behind $85 billion worth of military equipment when it withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. He said of the leader of the Taliban: “Now he’s got $85 billion worth of our equipment that I bought – $85 billion.” He added later: “The thing that nobody ever talks about, we lost 13 [soldiers], we lost $85 billion worth of the greatest military equipment in the world.”

Facts FirstTrump’s $85 billion figure is false. While a significant quantity of military equipment that had been provided by the US to Afghan government forces was indeed abandoned to the Taliban upon the US withdrawal, the Defense Department has estimated that this equipment had been worth about $7.1 billion – a chunk of about $18.6 billion worth of equipment provided to Afghan forces between 2005 and 2021. And some of the equipment left behind was rendered inoperable before US forces withdrew.

As other fact-checkers have previously explained, the “$85 billion” is a rounded-up figure (it’s closer to $83 billion) for the total amount of money Congress has appropriated during the war to a fund supporting the Afghan security forces. A minority of this funding was for equipment.

The Afghanistan withdrawal and the F-16

Trump claimed that the Taliban acquired F-16 fighter planes because of the US withdrawal, saying: “They feared the F-16s. And now they own them. Think of it.”

Facts FirstThis is false. F-16s were not among the equipment abandoned upon the US withdrawal and the collapse of the Afghan armed forces, since the Afghan armed forces did not fly F-16s.


The border wall

Trump claimed that he had kept his promise to complete a wall on the border with Mexico: “As you know, I built hundreds of miles of wall and completed that task as promised. And then I began to add even more in areas that seemed to be allowing a lot of people to come in.”

Facts FirstIt’s not true that Trump “completed” the border wall. According to an official “Border Wall Status” report written by US Customs and Border Protection two days after Trump left office, about 458 miles of wall had been completed under Trump – but about 280 more miles that had been identified for wall construction had not been completed.

The report, provided to CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, said that, of those 280 miles left to go, about 74 miles were “in the pre-construction phase and have not yet been awarded, in locations where no barriers currently exist,” and that 206 miles were “currently under contract, in place of dilapidated and outdated designs and in locations where no barriers previously existed.”

Latin America and deportations

Trump told his familiar story about how, until he was president, the US was unable to deport MS-13 gang members to other countries, “especially” Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras because those countries “didn’t want them.”

Facts FirstIt’s not true that, as a rule, Guatemala and Honduras wouldn’t take back migrants being deported from the US during Obama’s administration, though there were some individual exceptions.

In 2016, just prior to Trump’s presidency, neither Guatemala nor Honduras was on the list of countries that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) considered “recalcitrant,” or uncooperative, in accepting the return of their nationals.

For the 2016 fiscal year, Obama’s last full fiscal year in office, ICE reported that Guatemala and Honduras ranked second and third, behind only Mexico, in terms of the country of citizenship of people being removed from the US. You can read a longer fact check, from 2019, here.