President Trump made 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years

January 22, 2020 - 12:13

Three years after taking the oath of office, President Trump has made more than 16,200 false or misleading claims — a milestone that would have been unthinkable when we first created the Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement he has uttered.

We started this project as part of our coverage of the president’s first 100 days, largely because we could not possibly keep up with the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements. We recorded 492 claims — an average of just under five a day — and readers demanded that we keep it going for the rest of Trump’s presidency.

Little did we know what that would mean.

In 2017, Trump made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018, he added 5,689 more, for a total of 7,688. And in 2019, he made 8,155 suspect claims.

In other words, in a single year, the president said more than the total number of false or misleading claims he had made in the previous two years. Put another way: He averaged six such claims a day in 2017, nearly 16 a day in 2018 and more than 22 a day in 2019.

As of Jan. 19, his 1,095th day in office, Trump had made 16,241 false or misleading claims. Only 366 days to go — at least in this term.

The president added to his total on Sunday evening with more than 20 Trumpian claims — many old favorites — during a triumphant speech at the annual conference of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He incorrectly described trade agreements — suggesting Canadian dairy tariffs were eliminated and an agreement with Japan to reduce tariffs on $7 billion of farm products was “a $40 billion deal” — and also falsely asserted that “tough” farmers and ranchers were crying as he signed a repeal of Obama-era regulations. A video of the event shows no one crying.

In 2018 and 2019, October and November ranked as the months in which Trump made the most false or misleading claims: October 2018: 1,205; October 2019: 1,159; November 2019: 903; and November 2018: 867.

In 2018, Trump barnstormed the country in an effort to thwart a Democratic takeover of the House. The two biggest false-claim days were before the election: Nov. 5: 139, and Nov. 3: 128.

The key reasons for last year’s surge in October and November was the uproar over a phone call on July 25 in which Trump urged Ukraine’s president to announce an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 election rival — and the ensuing House impeachment inquiry. Almost 1,000 of the false and misleading claims made by the president deal with the Ukraine investigation, even though it only became a category four months ago.

The president apparently believes he can weather an impeachment trial through sheer repetition of easily disproved falsehoods.

For instance, nearly 70 times he has claimed that a whistleblower complaint about the call was inaccurate. The reportaccurately captured the content of Trump’s call and many other details have been confirmed. Nearly 100 times, Trump has claimed his phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect,” even though it so alarmed other White House officials that several immediately raised private objections.

Three claims about the Ukraine investigation have now made it onto our list of Bottomless Pinocchios. (It takes 20 repeats of a Three- or Four-Pinocchio claim to merit a Bottomless Pinocchio, and there are now 32 entries.) Besides the claim about the whistleblower, the two other claims on the Bottomless Pinocchio list are that Biden forced the resignation of a Ukrainian prosecutor because he was investigating his son Hunter Biden and that Hunter Biden scored $1.5 billion in China after hitching a ride on Air Force Two with his father.

Trump crossed the 10,000 mark on April 26. From the start of his presidency, he has averaged nearly 15 such claims a day.

About one in five of these claims are about the economy or jobs.

As Trump approaches a tough reelection campaign, his most repeated claim — 257 times — is that the U.S. economy today is the best in history. He began making this claim in June 2018, and it quickly became one of his favorites. The president can certainly brag about the state of the economy, but he runs into trouble when he repeatedly makes a play for the history books. By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton — or Ulysses S. Grant. Moreover, the economy is beginning to hit the head winds caused by Trump’s trade wars, with the manufacturing sector in an apparent recession.

About one in six of Trump’s claims are about immigration, his signature issue — a percentage that increased in early 2019 when the government was partly shut down over funding for his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, his second-most-repeated claim — 242 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete barrier he envisioned, so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and mostly repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.” (Almost all of the 100 miles that have been completed replaced previous barriers.) The Washington Post has reported that the bollard fencing is easily breached, with smugglers sawing through it, despite Trump’s claims that it is impossible to get past.

Trump has falsely said 184 times that he passed the biggest tax cut in history. Even before his tax cut was crafted, he promised that it would be the biggest in U.S. history — bigger than Ronald Reagan’s in 1981. Reagan’s tax cut amounted to 2.9 percent of the gross domestic product, and none of the proposals under consideration came close to that level. Yet Trump persisted in this fiction even when the tax cut was eventually crafted to be the equivalent of 0.9 percent of gross domestic product, making it the eighth-largest tax cut in 100 years. This continues to be an all-purpose applause line at the president’s rallies.

On 176 occasions, Trump has claimed the United States has “lost” money on trade deficits. This reflects a basic misunderstanding of economics. Countries do not “lose” money on trade deficits. A trade deficit simply means people in one country are buying more goods from another country than people in the second country are buying from the first country. Trade deficits are also affected by macroeconomic factors, such as currencies, economic growth, and savings and investment rates.

The president’s constant Twitter barrage also adds to his totals. Nearly 20 percent of the false and misleading statements stemmed from his itchy Twitter finger.

Trump’s penchant for repeating false claims is demonstrated by the fact that the Fact Checker database has recorded more than 400 instances in which he has repeated a variation of the same claim at least three times.

The award-winning database website, created by graphics reporter Leslie Shapiro, has an extremely fast search engine that will quickly locate suspect statements the president has made. We encourage readers to explore it in detail. We recently added a new feature that provides a URL for every claim that is fact-checked, allowing readers to post the link on social media.

Note: The Fact Checker welcomes academic research of the Trump claims database. Recent examples include work done by Erasmus University, University College London and the University of California at Santa Barbara. You can request our data files with an explanation of your research plans by contacting us at factchecker@washpost.com.

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