Independent fact-checking services have found that 70 percent of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s statements are “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies. As the candidates prepare to face off in the presidential debates, debate moderators must be aware of, and prepared to address, Trump’s biggest and most common lies that have been debunked time and again.
Seventy Percent Of Trump’s Claims Are “Mostly False,” “False,” Or “Pants On Fire”
PolitiFact Found That 70 Percent Of Donald Trump’s Assertions Are “Mostly False,” “False,” Or “Pants On Fire.” According to fact-checking service PolitiFact, 70 percent of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claims are either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” Moreover, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote that because Trump “never takes anything back — and often repeats the same false claims — voters are likely to hear these time and again during the campaign season.” [PolitiFact, accessed 9/21/16; The Washington Post, 3/22/16]
Trump’s Most Prevalent And Oft-Debunked Lies Debate Moderators Should Be Prepared To Quash:
Donald Trump Falsely Claimed That “The Birther Movement Was Started By Hillary Clinton In 2008." Trump has asserted on numerous occasions that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “started” and “was all in” on claims that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In September 2015, Trump tweeted, “The birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton in 2008. She was all in!" At the time PolitiFact rated the statement “false,” noting “There is no record that Clinton herself or anyone within her campaign ever advanced the charge that Obama was not born in the United States.” Trump has continued to push the lie, most recently during a September 16 speech, where Trump stated, “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.” PolitiFact once again rated the claim “false,” noting that while “Trump has repeatedly claimed that Clinton began the whole issue in the first place … PolitiFact and our friends at FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact-Checker have debunked this zombie claim multiple times:
Trump has repeatedly claimed that Clinton began the whole issue in the first place. Trump said “Hillary is a birther” in February 2015 at CPAC, tweeted that “she was all in” in September 2015, and said “she brought it up years before it was brought up by me” on CNN in May 2016. The morning of his press conference, Trump brought it up again on Fox Business.
PolitiFact and our friends at FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact-Checker have debunked this zombie claim multiple times.
There is no evidence that Clinton or her 2008 campaign ever floated the theory. While Clinton supporters circulated the allegations the last time she ran for president, they had no ties to either the candidate or her staff. [PolitiFact, 9/23/15, 9/16/16]
Trump Falsely Claimed That He “Finished” Conspiracy Theories About Barack Obama’s Birthplace, Which PolitiFact Rated “Pants On Fire.” In September 2016, Trump finally admitted that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period,” but added Clinton’s campaign was the source of the claim, and that he “finished it.” PolitiFact rated Trump’s claim “Pants on Fire,” writing “in no credible sense is this true,” and noting that Trump continued “fanning the flames of birther conspiracies … for at least another three and a half years” after Obama released his birth certificate:
Trump himself had made this case as early as Aug. 22, 2013, when he tweeted, “Why are people upset w/ me over Pres Obama’s birth certificate? I got him to release it, or whatever it was, when nobody else could!”
But for Trump’s argument to hold water, we see two conditions that have to be met. First, did Trump “finish” advocating for the birther viewpoint once Obama released the long-form birth certificate? And second, did Obama’s release of the long-form certificate “finish” the idea among American voters that Obama was born outside the United States?
In both cases, the answer is no.
Aug. 6, 2012: “An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud.”
Trump said of the birther controversy, “I finished it.”
In no credible sense is this true. Trump didn’t “finish” fanning the flames of birther conspiracies once Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011 -- he kept tweeting about it for at least another three and a half years. And a core group of Americans hasn’t “finished” expressing birther sentiments. As recently as a year ago, various polls have found that 13 percent of Americans supported the viewpoint.
We rate Trump’s claim Pants on Fire. [PolitiFact, 9/16/16]
Trump Has Repeatedly Falsely Claimed That He “Was Totally Against The War In Iraq.” Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that he “was totally against the war in Iraq," most recently during NBC’s September 7 Commander-In-Chief Forum. However, in 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq, when asked by Howard Stern if he was “for invading Iraq,” Trump said “I guess so.” Multiple fact-checkers have called out Trump’s claim that he was “totally against the war in Iraq,” with PolitiFact rating it “False,” and the Washington Post fact-checker giving it “four pinocchios” because despite documentation of Trump’s “bogus claim,” Trump “repeatedly claims he opposed the war from the beginning.”
As our timeline shows, Trump was not “totally” against the Iraq War. Trump expressed lukewarm support the first time he was asked about it on Sept. 11, 2002, and was not clearly against it until he was quoted in the August 2004 Esquire cover story. (We even made a video documenting how this is a bogus claim.) Yet he repeatedly claims he opposed the war from the beginning — and thus, earns Four Pinocchios.[The Washington Post, 2/25/16; PolitiFact, 9/7/16]
Trump Has Repeatedly Falsely Claimed That The “Real Unemployment Rate Is 42 Percent.” Trump has asserted that the unemployment rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics,” and claimed that the “real unemployment rate is 42 percent.” But, according to ThinkProgress, the approach to calculating the unemployment rate “doesn’t change between presidential administrations,” and, “To get anywhere close to Trump’s 42 percent figure, you have to count everyone who’s out of the labor force, or in other words isn’t working,” which includes, among others, “retirees, college students, and stay-at-home parents who don’t actually want a job.” Fact-check organizations including PolitiFact and FactCheck.org have also called out Trump’s inflated numbers:
But one claim stood out for its especially blatant falsehood. Trump asserted that the official unemployment rate is “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported last week that the unemployment rate in July was 4.9 percent. This is the number Trump took issue with. Instead, he said that “one in five American households do not have a single member in the labor force,” which constitutes the “real unemployment numbers.”
It’s not the first time that Trump has called the BLS’s numbers into question. Last year, he claimed that the “real unemployment rate is 42 percent,” not the current 4.9 percent.
The BLS, a government statistics agency respected by Republicans and Democrats alike, calculates the unemployment rate each month by looking at everyone who is out of work but actively looking to get a new job, no matter how long the search is taking. The way it measures the health of the job market doesn’t change between presidential administrations and has stayed the same dating back to 1940.
To get anywhere close to Trump’s 42 percent figure, you have to count everyone who’s out of the labor force, or in other words isn’t working, which currently comes to just under 93 million people. But that includes retirees, college students, and stay-at-home parents who don’t actually want a job. [ThinkProgress, 8/9/16; FactCheck.org, 2/10/16; PolitiFact, 2/11/16]
Trump Has Falsely Claimed That “It Could Be 30 Million” Undocumented Immigrants Currently Residing In The United States. Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States “could be 30 million” and that the government has “no idea what the number is.” His most recent attempt to peddle this false claim was during an August 31 speech in Arizona. But, according to PolitiFact, “The U.S. Homeland Security Department last estimated the size of the undocumented immigrant population at 11.4 million in January 2012, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007.” Moreover, as PolitiFact notes, “Every credible estimate” approximates that the population of undocumented immigrants in the United States is “in the 11 million range, with a margin of error of around 1 million”:
In a major policy speech on immigration, Donald Trump criticized the government’s approach to the undocumented population, sayings the feds don’t even know the scope of the problem.
“Honestly we've been hearing that number for years. It's always 11 million. Our government has no idea. It could be 3 million. It could be 30 million,” Trump said. “They have no idea what the number is. Frankly our government has no idea what they're doing on many, many fronts, folks.”
Trump questioned the 11 million figure early in his presidential bid last year, and floated 30 million and 34 million as alternative estimates. That claim rates Pants on Fire.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department last estimated the size of the undocumented immigrant population at 11.4 million in January 2012, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. This count includes people who entered the United States illegally and people who overstayed their visas.
There is “absolutely zero possibility” for the number to be just 3 million or as many as 30 million," according to Robert Warren of the Center for Migration Studies, a nonpartisan immigration policy think tank.
“There is strong evidence that the number is 11 million, with a plausible margin of error of plus or minus 1 million,” he said.
Trump said the number of illegal immigrants “could be 3 million. It could be 30 million.”
Both figures are not within the range of possibility. Every credible estimate we found was in the 11 million range, with a margin of error of around 1 million. The figure has “always” been 11 million, in recent years, because of the flow of undocumented immigrants in and out of the United States.
Trump Falsely Claimed Clinton Wants To Bring In Refugees “Pretty Much Unvetted.” Trump claimed in June that Clinton wants to allow “radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country,” and will admit refugees “pretty much unvetted.” Trump also claimed “Under the Clinton plan, you'd be admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East with no system to vet them or to prevent the radicalization of their children.” This is not true. Clinton has consistently advocated for “vigilant” and “rigorous vetting” of refugees. [The Associated Press, 6/19/16; Media Matters, 9/19/16]
Trump And His Campaign Have Frequently Falsely Claimed That Trump’s Tax Returns Are Not “A Burning Issue To Most” Americans. Trump, his campaign, and his surrogates have repeatedly claimed that Americans “don’t care” about his tax returns. Trump’s campaign manager claimed on September 13 that Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns wasn’t “a burning issue to most of Americans,” while Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, declared “I don’t hear a lot of people talking” about it. However, a recent Quinnipiac University poll revealed that 62 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of all voters want Trump to release his tax returns. [Politico, 9/6/16; Media Matters, 9/13/16]
Trump Has Lied That, Because His Taxes Are Under Audit, He “Can’t” Make Them Public. Trump and his campaign have asserted that Trump “can’t” make his tax returns public because he is “being audited” by the IRS. But, as The Washington Post noted, the IRS has “said nothing, including an audit, ‘prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.’” Moreover, the Post pointed out that Trump’s own tax lawyers have said Trump’s tax “returns from 2002 to 2008 are no longer being audited,” and “President Richard Nixon released his tax returns while under audit”:
Republican presidential nominee and self-described billionaire Donald Trump says he makes a lot of money, gives millions of dollars to charity and has no investments in Russia. But when it comes time to give evidence, he refuses to release the independently verified documents that could support (or refute) all of those claims: his tax returns.
All major presidential nominees over the past 40 years, including Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, have released their tax returns. They are important documents reviewed by accountants and federal auditors, and they must be accurate under penalty of law.
Excuses that Trump and his supporters have given for not releasing tax returns
Trump: “I’m being audited … so I can’t.” (See next section.) (Repeatedly since February)
Trump: “There’s nothing to learn from them.” (Fact checkers say this is false.) (February, February, May, May)
Why IRS audits would not prevent Trump from releasing his tax returns
1. Trump’s tax attorneys said in March that his returns since 2009 were being audited. The IRS said nothing, including an audit, “prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”
2. His tax attorneys said returns from 2002 to 2008 are no longer being audited. Trump said he will still not release those returns because “they’re all linked.”
3. President Richard Nixon released his tax returns while under audit.
4. All major presidential nominees of the past 40 years have released their tax returns.
5. Trump can delay the completion of his audits. [The Washington Post, 9/15/16]
Trump Has Falsely Claimed That Clinton “Soundly Slept In Her Bed” During The 2012 Attack In Benghazi, Libya. Trump has repeatedly claimed that, while secretary of state, Clinton “soundly slept in her bed” during the 2012 Benghazi attack. However, as PolitiFact noted, the attack “took place at about 9:30 p.m. Benghazi time, or 3:30 in the afternoon Washington time on a Tuesday” and “Clinton was at her State Department office” at the time. Moreover, according to PolitiFact, Clinton “worked late into the night” on September 11, 2012, and “[n]one of the numerous congressional investigations into the attacks have faulted Clinton for her actions as the attacks unfolded that day”:
Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton slept through the Benghazi attack, missing the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call.
In a June 22 speech, Trump said Clinton’s decisions as secretary of state “spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched. Among the victims was our late Ambassador Chris Stevens. I mean what she did with him was absolutely horrible. He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed. That’s right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at 3:00 in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping.”
Trump has made this claim before. Was Clinton really asleep in her bed Sept. 11, 2012, while terrorists killed four Americans in the Libyan city of Benghazi
No. The, attack took place at about 9:30 p.m. Benghazi time, or 3:30 in the afternoon Washington time on a Tuesday. Clinton was at her State Department office.
None of the numerous congressional investigations into the attacks have faulted Clinton for her actions as the attacks unfolded that day or said she could have done something different on Sept. 12 that would have saved lives.
Clinton was not literally sleeping when the Benghazi attacks unfolded, as it was mid afternoon on a Tuesday in Washington. She worked late into the night, as is evidenced by an 11 p.m. email.
If we take Trump’s claim more broadly, that Clinton was inattentive throughout the hours in which the attacks occurred, none of the many congressional investigations into Benghazi have made that assertion.
Trump Claimed That “Inner-City Crime Is Reaching Record Levels," Which Is False. In an August 29 tweet, Trump asserted that “Inner-city crime is reaching record levels.” But, according to PolitiFact, “the trend” in crime statistics from large cities “is unmistakable: The frequency of violent crime has declined since the early-to-mid 1990s,” adding that “patterns for homicide are the same as they are for violent crime generally -- they have been declining.” PolitiFact rated Trump’s assertion “Pants on Fire”:
In an Aug. 29, 2016, tweet, Trump wrote, “Inner-city crime is reaching record levels. African-Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!”
The two lines track each other fairly well, but the trend is unmistakable: The frequency of violent crime has declined since the early-to-mid 1990s.
We also looked at one subset of the violent crime rate -- the homicide rate -- for both the country as a whole and for cities over 250,000 in population.
Criminologists say that it is worth watching the recent jump in homicides in certain big cities to see whether it represents a lasting trend or just a blip. However, the homicide rate and the violent crime rate has fallen to such an extent over the past quarter century -- both in big cities and in the country at large -- that it would take many years of significant increases to return to the “record levels” of the early 1990s.
We rate the statement Pants on Fire. [PolitiFact, 8/30/16]
Trump Lied That Clinton Wants To “Abolish The Second Amendment.” Trump has repeatedly lied that Clinton wants to “abolish the Second Amendment” right to bear arms, saying Clinton “wants to take your guns away.” That is not true. PolitiFact rated the claim false, saying “We found no evidence of Clinton ever saying verbatim or suggesting explicitly that she wants to abolish the Second Amendment, and the bulk of Clinton’s comments suggest the opposite. She has repeatedly said she wants to protect the right to bear arms while enacting measures to prevent gun violence.” Clinton has repeatedly explained that the country can regulate guns while respecting the Second Amendment. [PolitiFact, 5/11/16; New York Times, 9/17/16, Media Matters, 9/21/16]
Trump Claims He’s “Really The Friend Of” The LGBT Community But He Supports Anti-LGBT Legislation And Surrounds Himself With Anti-LGBT Extremists. Trump openly opposes marriage equality and said in a January interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace that he would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Trump also supports legislation that allows for discrimination against transgender people, like North Carolina’s infamous HB 2, which bans transgender people from using the public bathroom that doesn’t match the gender on their birth certificates. In June, Trump announced that he was creating an “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” stocked with anti-LGBT activists, including hate group leaders who have claimed that the “homosexual lifestyle” is a product of “the devil” and destroys society and who have labeled LGBT families “discombobulated Frankenstein structures.” [Media Matters, 6/18/16, 7/21/16; PolitiFact, 9/18/16]
Note: This post has been updated to include additional information.