Fact check: Interrupted by shooting, Trump continues to spin false narrative around mail-in voting and coronavirus
President Donald Trump turned his Monday news conference into a dishonesty spree, blitzing reporters with rapid-fire false claims on a variety of his favorite topics — the coronavirus pandemic, mail-in voting, China, Democrats generally and President Barack Obama in particular.
Trump made a false claim in the opening minutes of the briefing, wrongly saying it is easy for foreign countries to interfere with mail-in voting. After he was taken out of the room because of a Secret Service shooting near the White House, he returned to make a whole bunch more.
Trump uttered at least 12 false claims in total. That number may well rise once we delve into the transcript.
Russia and the election
Trump said China wants him to lose the election, then added, “You know who else is not happy with us winning? Russia.”
Facts First: The US intelligence community says the opposite about Russia. The intelligence community’s top election official, a Trump appointee, announced in a statement last week that Russia is actively working to hurt Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’ ” William R. Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in the statement.
The US intelligence community also found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump; special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee came to the same conclusion.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed in 2018 that he had wanted Trump to win in 2016.
Evanina’s statement last week did say that China “prefers” that Trump lose in 2020, since China views him as “unpredictable.” It did not, however, say China was actively working to defeat Trump like Russia is actively working to defeat Biden.
Virginia ballot applications
Trump once again sought to discredit mail-in-voting by referencing reports that half a million unsolicited absentee-ballot requests containing incorrect information were sent to Virginia voters by a third party organization.
“This was an unprecedented mailing flub that has heightened concerns about the integrity of expanding mail-in voting and mail-in voting efforts,” Trump said, calling it “a disaster all over Virginia.”
Facts First: It’s true that about half a million absentee ballot applications were mailed to Virginia voters that contained incorrect information about the return address of the local election office. What Trump did not mention is that the ballot applications were sent by a third party organization, or that the Department of Elections had disavowed the mailer.
An organization called the Center for Voter Information did recently mail out about half a million absentee ballot applications to Virginia voters, many of which contained incorrect information.
The Center for Voter Information issued a statement last Thursday acknowledging that “approximately half a million applications sent to eligible voters in Virginia included incorrect information,” attributing the error to “mistakes in our programming.” The group added that “we know that voters are on high alert as the November election approaches, and we regret adding to any confusion.”
The Virginia Department of Elections also made clear in a statement that it was not involved in the mailers. “The Center for Voter Information recently mailed absentee ballot applications to Virginia residents. The Virginia Department of Elections has no affiliation with this group nor coordinates with any third party groups on campaign efforts,” the agency wrote.
In its statement, the agency also said that, “Any applications that arrive in the wrong locality’s office will be forwarded immediately to the correct office for processing.”
The ‘1917’ pandemic and World War II
Trump said, as he has repeatedly in the past, that this is the worst pandemic since “1917” — then added that the “1917” pandemic “probably ended the Second World War.”
Facts First: A massive flu pandemic is known to have caused tens of millions of deaths worldwide in 1918 and 1919, not 1917; there has been some research suggesting this flu was circulating in 1917, but it caused its vast destruction in the two following years. Regardless, this pandemic obviously did not end the “Second World War,” which occurred from 1939 to 1945; it did sicken soldiers during the final year of World War I.
Trump also repeated several false claims he’s made many times before. Here’s a quick look at the facts:
Foreign countries and mail-in ballots
Trump claimed that mail-in voting is “something that can be easily attacked by foreign countries.”
Facts First: Experts say that ballot security measures and the distinct nature of each jurisdiction’s ballots — they use different paper, have different candidates listed, use different security coding — make it extraordinarily difficult for foreign countries to interfere with them.
Trump’s own intelligence officials have also dismissed the possibility of foreign powers being able to interfere on a mass scale to produce and send fake ballots to voters and election authorities.
Democrats and the election
After he was asked about the intelligence assessment that Russia is interfering in the election, Trump insisted that “I’ll tell you who’s meddling in our elections: The Democrats are meddling. By wanting and insisting on sending mail-in ballots, where there’s corruption all over the place.”
Facts First: This is nonsense. Democrats are not doing anything nefarious by attempting to let more people vote from home during a pandemic.
CNN has repeatedly fact-checked Trump’s false claims about mail-in voting. You can read more here.
A New York congressional primary
Trump claimed that there were thousands of “missing” and “fraudulent” ballots in the New York Democratic congressional primary won by Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
Facts First: There has been no evidence to date of fraudulent voting in the New York primaries, much less the kind of widespread voter fraud Trump has wrongly insisted is a common feature of mail-in voting generally and in this particular race.
Rather, New York’s ballot-counting was slow because the state has had administrative problems — ranging from insufficient staffing to outdated technology — in trying to count a much larger than usual number of absentee votes. There is a legal dispute about some ballots that had been invalidated because of issues like missing or late postmarks and missing signatures, but there is no evidence these issues involved fraud.
Testing in India
After boasting that the US has conducted nearly 65 million tests, Trump claimed again that India has conducted only 11 million coronavirus tests.
China and the virus
Trump said China had let the virus spread to other countries but not inside China.
Facts First: Though China did impose strict measures to try to contain the virus within its borders, it’s not true that the virus didn’t spread to other parts of China beyond Wuhan, where it originated. By late January, every region of China had confirmed cases. In May, a cluster of new cases in China’s northeast, more than a thousand miles from Wuhan, prompted the country to impose lockdown measures there. There have also been hundreds of confirmed cases in Beijing.
Tariffs on China
Boasting of his tariffs on China, Trump claimed that nobody had ever previously taken in “10 cents” from China.
Facts First: This is comprehensively inaccurate. Study after study has shown that Americans, not China, pay the cost of the tariffs. In addition, the US has had tariffs on China for more than two centuries, generating billions per year under Obama. And China purchases tens of billions per year in American products.
Testing and cases
Trump argued that more coronavirus testing leads to more cases.
Facts First: Testing doesn’t create cases, merely shows them, and tests are a pandemic-fighting tool that should help reduce cases.
Trump again suggested that the US did not have a stockpile of ventilators before the pandemic.
Facts First: In March 2020, there were 16,660 ventilators available in the national stockpile for immediate use, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services. There were also an additional 2,425 ventilators in maintenance at the time, putting the total at 19,085. “In general, prior to March of this year, the (stockpile) stored approximately 19,000 ventilators in its inventory for many years,” a spokesperson for HHS said, “and this number fluctuated on any given day depending on the number of ventilators in scheduled maintenance.”
The individual mandate and Obamacare
Trump claimed that when he eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate, which required people to obtain health insurance, he “really ended Obamacare, as it would be officially known, because the individual mandate was the biggest part.”
Facts First: The individual mandate was indeed a key part of Obamacare — but Trump did not end Obamacare when he got rid of it in his 2017 tax law; key components of the law remain. They include Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid insurance program for low-income people, protections for people with preexisting conditions, the federal and state marketplaces that allow people to shop for coverage, and the consumer subsidies that help many of them make the purchases.
Obama and spying
Trump said, “Well, look, the Obama campaign spied on our campaign, and they’ve been caught, all right?” He added, “It’s probably treason. It’s a horrible thing they did. … They used the intelligence agencies of our country to spy on my campaign, and they have been caught.”
Facts First: This is comprehensively wrong. Term-limited President Barack Obama did not run a “campaign” in 2016, when the FBI investigated the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia; there is no evidence that Obama personally directed the FBI to surveil people in the Trump campaign; nothing related to the Russia investigation comes remotely close to meeting the Constitution’s definition of treason.
Also, FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump, has said he would not use the word “spying” to describe what he called “surveillance activity.” But that is more subjective.