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Fact-checking President Trump’s news conference

The president spoke to and took questions from reporters at the White House for more than an hour, Feb. 16. Here are key moments from that event. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.”
— President Trump, news conference, Feb. 16, 2017

We can’t quite fact check the statement above — it’s certainly open to debate what counts as achievements — but we can fact-check 15 dubious claims made by the president in his lengthy news conference. Some of these are from his greatest hits of falsehoods, which we have fact-checked many times before. The claims are addressed in the order in which Trump made them.

“A new Rasmussen poll just came out just a very short while ago, and it has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up.”

Trump has a tendency to focus only on polls that are good for him. Rasmussen has a right-leaning bias and earns a C+ grade from Other polls show Trump with significantly lower approval ratings, such as Gallup (40 percent) and Pew Research Center (39 percent).

“Trump’s overall job approval is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office,” Pew said. “Nearly half (46%) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 29% strongly approve.”

But Trump apparently dismisses such findings:

“The stock market has hit record numbers.”

This is a flip-flop for Trump. Before he was elected, he dismissed the stock-market performance under President Barack Obama as “artificial” and “a bubble,” as Sopan Deb of The New York Times noted:

“Plants and factories are already starting to move back into the United States, and big league — Ford, General Motors, so many of them.”

Trump keeps giving himself credit for business decisions made before he became president. Ford’s decision has more to do with the company’s long-term goal — particularly its plans to invest in electric vehicles — than with the administration. Here’s what Ford chief executive Mark Fields said about the company’s decision to abandon plans to open a factory in Mexico: “The reason that we are not building the new plant, the primary reason, is just demand has gone down for small cars.”

“To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”

Trump indicated he was backing up this statement by noting that “jobs are pouring out of the country…. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea.”

The state of foreign policy is open to interpretation — Trump claimed he was developing “a plan for the defeat of ISIS,” the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

But the economy was in pretty good shape when Trump became president, especially compared to the economic crisis that Obama inherited in 2009. In January 2009, coinciding with the last labor report of the George W. Bush administration, nearly 800,000 jobs disappeared, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to the nearly 230,000 jobs added in January 2017. (Trump has given himself credit for the January numbers, but the data was collected when Obama still held office.)

“We got 306 [electoral college votes] because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before, so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”

This statement is wrong on several levels.

Trump ended up with 304 electoral votes, because two electors he earned voted for someone else.

Trump did get more raw votes than any other Republican candidate in history — but he also earned 2.9 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Another 8 million people voted for third-party or write-in candidates. Moreover, turnout of the voting-age population (54.7 percent) was lower than in the elections of 2012, 2008 and 2004. [Correction: Once all the votes were counted, turnout of the voting-age population in 2016 was higher than 2012, but lower than 2004 and 2008.]

Finally, Trump was wrong on the size of his electoral college win. Of the nine presidential elections since 1984, Trump’s electoral college win ranks seventh. When a reporter pointed out his error, Trump first indicated that he was talking about Republican candidates. But George H.W. Bush received 426 electoral votes in 1988. Trump’s response: “I don’t know, I was given that information.”

“We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens, and we have ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border. No more release. No matter who you are, release. We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.”

There is limited research on the impact of sanctuary policies and crime. And the research that does exist challenges Trump’s claim. We previously awarded Three Pinocchios to Trump’s claim that sanctuary cities “breed crime.”

There’s no official definition of “sanctuary,” but it generally refers to rules restricting state and local governments from alerting federal authorities about people who may be in the country illegally. Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and state and local law enforcement can decide how much they want to cooperate with the federal government for immigration enforcement. There are between 165 and 608 local and state governments with sanctuary policies, and they vary in their approach.

A handful of studies looked at whether there is a causation between sanctuary cities and crime. They either found no statistically significant impact of sanctuary policies on crime, or a reduction in crime due to immigrant-friendly policing strategies. Sanctuary jurisdictions release inmates after their criminal case is complete, and extensive research shows that noncitizens are not more prone to criminality than U.S.-born citizens. Moreover, some sanctuary jurisdictions do cooperate with the federal government if they believe the inmate is a public safety threat.

“In fact, we had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent. I find that hard to believe. That is just a number I heard, that they are overturned 80 percent of the time. I think that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further.”

Trump is referring to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled against reinstating his travel ban. But there are other ways to slice the data, and it’s important to put this number into context. None of the data supports Trump’s contention that the court is “in chaos” and “in turmoil.”

Each court’s reversal rate changes every year, so it’s easy to cherry-pick this data. Under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the 9th Circuit court did not set a “record” for reversals. The 9th Circuit’s reversal rate was usually higher than the average, but not always the highest. In the 2014-2015 term, the 9th Circuit’s reversal rate was 63 percent, below the average rate of 72 percent. In the 2015-2016 term, the latest year of data available, the 9th Circuit court’s reversal rate was 80 percent, and the average rate was 67 percent.

Most cases that are reviewed by the Supreme Court are reversed. For this reason, a 2010 analysis by the American Bar Association also looked at the number of cases reversed in each appellate court compared to the total number of cases terminated by the appellate court. From 1999 to 2008, 80 percent of 9th Circuit court cases reviewed by the Supreme Court were reversed (compared to the median rate of 68.3 percent). But the number of reversed cases represented only one-fifteenth of 1 percent of the total number of appeals terminated by the 9th Circuit Court during that 10-year period.

Moreover, the 9th Circuit rules on more cases in general. According to SCOTUSblog: “Far more cases come to the Court from the Ninth Circuit than any other court, and — not surprisingly — Ninth Circuit rulings make up a sizeable portion of the docket of argued and decided cases — 75 cases, or 25.7% for the last four Terms including the current session.”

“We have also taken steps to begin construction of the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines. Thousands and thousands of jobs, and put new buy-American measures in place to require American steel for American pipelines.”

Trump, in saying “thousands and thousands of jobs,” leaves himself some wiggle room here. (He’d previously incorrectly said 28,000 jobs.) Moreover, some of these jobs have already been created. Workers in Arkansas, for instance, have already built about half of the high-strength line pipe needed for the project, some 333,000 tons.

“You [the media] have a lower approval rate than Congress. I think that’s right.”

Trump indicated that he wasn’t sure if this assertion is correct. It is not. The public’s trust in the media has certainly fallen over the years. But a 2016 Gallup poll shows that Congress is viewed positively by 9 percent of respondents, compared to 20 percent for newspapers and 21 percent for television.

That’s not a high confidence level — besides Congress, only “big business” ranks lower than the media — but it’s enough to make Trump’s claim incorrect.

“When WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information.”

WikiLeaks actually released hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables, in a significant blow to U.S. diplomacy.

“Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates.”

Trump overstates the disclosure about Clinton reportedly getting a single debate question. During the Democratic primaries, a debate was held in Flint, Mich., to focus on the water crisis. Donna Brazile, then an analyst with CNN, sent an email to the Clinton campaign saying that a woman with a rash from lead poisoning was going to ask what Clinton as president could do the help the people of Flint.

There’s no indication Clinton was told this information, but in any case it’s a pretty obvious question for a debate being held in Flint. In her answer, Clinton committed to remove lead from water systems across the country within five years. Lee-Anne Waters, who asked the question, later said Clinton’s answer “made me vomit in my mouth” because that was too long to wait in Flint.

“You know, they say I’m close to Russia. Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. She’s close to Russia.”

Trump repeated this claim, worthy of Four Pinocchios, several times during the news conference.

An entire chapter is dedicated to this uranium deal in Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash.” In the book, Schweizer reveals ties between the Clinton Foundation and investors who stood to gain from a deal that required State Department approval.

Trump’s claim suggests the State Department had sole approval authority, but the department is one of nine agencies in the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States to vet and sign off on all U.S. transactions involving foreign governments. As we’ve noted before, there is no evidence Clinton herself got involved in the deal personally, and it is highly questionable that this deal even rose to the level of the secretary of state. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also needed to approve, and did approve, the transfer.

“We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision.”

Trump appears to have forgotten that imprecise wording in the executive order led to confusion over whether U.S. permanent residents — green-card holders — were also banned from returning to the United States. The White House counsel later issued guidance making clear that they were not covered. The Court of Appeals later said that the counsel’s statement was not a sufficient fix.

“Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia.”

The Wall Street Journal reported during the campaign that before Trump gave a foreign-policy speech in April, he met with the Russian ambassador: “A few minutes before he made those remarks [calling for improved relations with Russia], Mr. Trump met at a VIP reception with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak. Mr. Trump warmly greeted Mr. Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors who came to the reception.”

Trump also is being misleading when he says has “nothing to do with Russia.” Trump repeatedly sought deals in Russia. In 1987, he went to Moscow to find a site for a luxury hotel; no deal emerged. In 1996, he sought to build a condominium complex in Russia; that also did not succeed. In 2005, Trump signed a one-year deal with a New York development company to explore a Trump Tower in Moscow, but the effort fizzled.

In a 2008 speech, Donald Trump Jr. made it clear that the Trumps want to do business in Russia, but were finding it difficult. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son said at a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization, told The Washington Post in May: “I have no doubt, as a company, I know we’ve looked at deals in Russia. And many of the former Russian republics.”

“You go to some of these inner city places and it’s so sad when you look at the crime. You have people — and I’ve seen this, and I’ve sort of witnessed it — in fact, in two cases I have actually witnessed it. They lock themselves into apartments, petrified to even leave, in the middle of the day. They’re living in hell.”

“Inner cities” is not a category by which crime is measured, and Trump often uses this term to refer to large, urban cities. In 2016, there was an uptick in the homicide rate in the 30 largest cities. One outlier city — Chicago — was responsible for 43.7 percent of the total increase in homicide rates in 2016. Overall, violent crime is on a decades-long decline, since the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the early 1990s.

The homicide rate in the 30 largest cities also increased in 2015, but the two-year trend does not indicate the return of a crime wave in “inner cities.” Crime trends can randomly fluctuate year to year, and criminologists consider the data over much longer periods of time — at least 10 to 15 years — to draw conclusions about trends.

We explored Trump’s exaggerated rhetoric on crime here.

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"I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”
in a news conference
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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“Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States.”
in a news conference
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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Two Pinocchios
“We had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent."
in a news conference
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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Four Pinocchios
"I have nothing to do with Russia."
in a news conference
Thursday, February 16, 2017