Fact check: Six false claims fully disproven by the newly released Paul Pelosi evidence
The conspiracy theories about the October attack on Paul Pelosi never made sense. And now the public can see that a whole bunch of these false claims have been definitively disproven by audio and video evidence.
Prominent right-wing figures — including former President Donald Trump and some Republican members of Congress — spread a variety of inaccurate assertions and baseless innuendo in the wake of the brutal hammer assault on the husband of Democratic then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by an intruder who broke into their California home looking for her.
Local and federal law enforcement were always clear that the incident was an act of violence perpetrated by an assailant unknown to Paul Pelosi, not some sort of salacious consensual encounter gone wrong. The trove of recordings released by a court last week confirms that the authorities were right.
One of the people who promoted the false claims, billionaire businessman and Twitter chief executive officer Elon Musk, tweeted a brief apology this past weekend after the evidence emerged. On Wednesday, CNN reached out to the other individuals whose debunked statements we mention in this article to ask if they wanted to express any regret about what they had said. None of them responded except for a representative of One America News, the far-right entity that spread some of the wildest false claims about the incident. They provided a statement acknowledging it is now “clear that an unwanted intruder with evil intent broke into the Pelosi home.”
Below is a list of six false claims about the incident that the newly released evidence proves are untrue.
False claims that there was no break-in
Echoing claims that had circulated among right-wing social media accounts, Trump claimed in a radio interview that aired in early November: “But the glass, it seems, was broken from the inside to the out — and you know, that was — so it wasn’t a break-in, it was a break-out.”
False. It was a break-in. Surveillance footage released by the court last week shows alleged assailant David DePape smashing a back door at the Pelosi home with a hammer, then maneuvering his body to enter the home.
Nothing about this footage was a surprise. At the time Trump made his false claim, the FBI had already said in a court filing that DePape had admitted to breaking the glass with a hammer. This law enforcement assertion, too, is corroborated by the newly released recording of DePape’s interview with San Francisco police. (DePape has pleaded not guilty to federal and state charges that include burglary, assault, attempted kidnapping and attempted murder.)
False claims that Pelosi called the intruder a ‘friend’
Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Florida claimed in a Newsmax interview in early November that Pelosi, in his 911 call, had referred to the intruder “as his friend.” Right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza made a similar claim, tweeting in late October that “Paul Pelosi KNEW his attacker and NAMED him in his 911 call.” Fox host Tucker Carlson said on his show in late October that “in Pelosi’s 911 call he knew DePape’s first name and apparently referred to him as a friend.” Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted in late October that the attacker was “Paul Pelosi’s friend.”
False. The audio of Pelosi’s 911 call, released by the court last week, proves that Pelosi repeatedly said he didn’t know who the intruder was and that Pelosi refused to call the man a friend.
On Pelosi’s 911 call, it was DePape, in the background, who identified himself as “David.” Pelosi repeated “the name’s David” for the benefit of the dispatcher, but he quickly reiterated that he didn’t know who the man was. DePape then spoke up again to profess to be Pelosi’s “friend,” but Pelosi told the dispatcher, “He says he’s a friend, but as I said…” When the dispatcher responded, “But you don’t know who he is,” Pelosi said that was correct.
The audio of the call corroborates what the FBI said in the October court filing and what federal prosecutors said in a more detailed November court filing.
In fairness, the false claims about what Pelosi said on the 911 call likely originated with police scanner audio from the night of the incident, played by Carlson on his late-October show, in which a male dispatcher — not the woman who actually spoke to Pelosi — seemed to say that Pelosi had reported that the person in his home was named David and was a friend. But the audio of Pelosi’s 911 call shows that this comment from the dispatcher was likely heat-of-the-moment imprecision about what had happened.
False claims of a sexual relationship
Right-wing commentator Raheem Kassam tweeted in late October, “They’re still pretending it wasn’t Paul Pelosi’s gay lover.” Republican Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana tweeted in late October that the assailant was a “male prostitute,” then deleted the tweet. And Musk, also in late October, tweeted a link to a baseless article alleging the incident involved a dispute between Pelosi and a prostitute. Musk wrote, “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.” He deleted his tweet hours later.
These claims are false. All of the evidence, including a recording of DePape’s interview with police, confirms that Pelosi was confronted in his home in the middle of the night by an unknown intruder bent on confronting the Democratic speaker of the House out of political antipathy toward her and other Democrats.
False claims that the intruder was in his underwear
Right-wing figures including D’Souza claimed or suggested that Pelosi’s attacker was in his underwear.
The claim is false. Police body camera footage released by the court last week proves that DePape was wearing shorts when officers arrived at the house, as the FBI said in the October court filing, and that he was fully clothed in a sweatshirt and shoes, as federal prosecutors added in the November court filing.
This claim that the intruder was in his underwear originated with an erroneous report from a San Francisco local television station on the day of the attack. But D’Souza made his claims a full day after the local station, a Fox affiliate, had corrected that report.
False claims that Pelosi had a second hammer
Some right-wing commentators promoted the idea that Pelosi also wielded a hammer during his interaction with DePape, again insinuating that some sort of consensual encounter had occurred.
On Twitter, Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York wrote “LOL” while amplifying a meme showing a group of men holding hammers near an LGBT pride flag; she eventually deleted it. On Instagram, Donald Trump Jr. posted and then deleted a crude meme that suggested Pelosi was using a hammer during a sexual scenario (while laughably claiming the meme had nothing to do with anything in the news). On Facebook, Republican North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson posted a meme that suggested there were two hammers involved in a half-naked encounter. Robinson wrote in the post that remains online today: “I’m sorry Paul I don’t believe you or the press!!!!”
All of this is nonsense. The police body camera footage shows Pelosi and DePape each holding on to a single hammer just inside the door of the Pelosi home before DePape ripped that hammer away and hit Pelosi with it. There is zero indication that Pelosi had his own hammer at any point of the incident.
There was arguably at least a smidgen of grammatical ambiguity in a remark made by San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott at a news conference on the day of the attack; Scott said that, upon arriving at the home, “Our officers observed Mr. Pelosi and the suspect both holding a hammer. The suspect pulled the hammer away from Mr. Pelosi and violently assaulted him with it.” But even if a listener was genuinely confused by the phrase “both holding a hammer,” it was irresponsible for prominent figures to start making jokes about salacious scenarios involving Pelosi carrying a hammer himself.
False claims that the attack was a false flag
The most ludicrous of the false conspiracy theories was that the incident was staged or that Pelosi’s injuries were imaginary. At least two hosts on One America News made such claims in late-October comments that were previously noted by liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America. And Republican Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers retweeted a meme showing a supposed online store listing for a “Paul Pelosi Fake Attack” novelty party accessory.
The attack was, obviously, real; both the break-in and assault were captured on the video footage the public has now seen. And the recording of DePape’s interview with police features him openly discussing the break-in and the assault, though, again, he subsequently pleaded not guilty.
Here is the full statement that One America News provided to CNN on Wednesday: “With the release of the video and other evidence, it’s clear that an unwanted intruder with evil intent broke into the Pelosi home. Mr. Pelosi’s 911 call reveals an incredibly calm and highly intelligent victim trying to relay key information and asking for immediate help without further aggravating a mentally disturbed intruder. We wish Mr. Pelosi a speedy and full recovery.”
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