It’s time for our annual roundup of the biggest Pinocchios of the year.
Usually, this is an easy task, as we sort through the craziest Four-Pinocchio claims on issues of substance made by members of both parties. But this is the era of Trump, and nothing is ever easy. If we were not careful, we’d end up with an all-Trump list.
After all, there has never been a serial exaggerator in recent American politics like the president. He not only consistently makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proved wrong. He always insists he is right, no matter how little evidence he has for his claim or how easily his statement is debunked. Indeed, he doubles down when challenged.
At the same time, the president flip-flops repeatedly, with little consistency in his previously held and supposedly firm positions. An unemployment rate that during the campaign he claimed was bogus and really 42 percent is now hailed as the lowest in 17 years.
When we last updated our database of false or misleading claims made by the president, the number stood at 1,628 after 298 days. That’s an average of 5.5 per day.
Given the profusion of Trump claims, in two cases we have wrapped some of his statements into all-around categories: flip-flops and taking all credit. Even so, he still ended up with six of the “biggest Pinocchios,” topping his 2016 record (when he received five.)
The president is surrounded by people who also consistently stretch the truth or ignore the facts, adding to our burden. Democrats, obviously, also make outrageous misstatements, but they are completely shut out of power.
We tend to focus on statements that have impact — and are made by people in power. Just keeping up with the Trump administration — and the Republicans, who run both houses of Congress — has left The Fact Checker struggling to also keep up with Democratic claims. Divided government is much better for the fact-checking business.
In compiling this list, which is in no particular order, we primarily focused on claims that had earned Four Pinocchios during the year. To keep it simple, in some cases, we have shortened the quotes in the headlines. To read the full column, click on the link embedded in the quote.
Despite the vast intelligence resources available to the leader of a powerful nation, Trump decided to base an unfounded claim on sketchy reporting from Breitbart News that misinterpreted a British report. Even the reporter of the original article said Breitbart got it wrong. FBI Director James B. Comey also said that the claim was not true. The president likes to scream “fake news” and criticize sloppy reporting, yet he has never apologized for this statement, even though there is no evidence to support it.
Under orders from Trump, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer marched out to the podium and insisted that Trump had much larger crowds at his inauguration than Barack Obama. Spicer, in his tongue-lashing of reporters, offered little evidence to back up his claims — and what he did say was wrong. His claims were easily disproved by photo and video evidence. It was an inauspicious start for the presidency.
The year-long investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election was repeatedly denounced by Trump as “fake news,” even though the top U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to undermine Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and a special prosecutor brought charges against Trump campaign officials and his first national security adviser. Trump’s claim that there were no contacts with Russian officials was undermined by revelations of such contacts.
Trump began making this claim when the shape of the GOP tax legislation was still rather unclear. He kept making this claim even after the bill was drafted and experts determined that, at best, one could say the Trump tax plan would be the eighth-largest tax cut, as measured as a percentage of the size of the economy. Notably, most lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t make this claim because they know better. Trump also claimed that the tax bill would “cost me a fortune” — when, in fact, various versions probably would save him millions of dollars.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin repeatedly claimed that the tax cut would pay for itself — and then some. At one point, he even asserted that the $1.5 trillion plan “will cut down the deficits by a trillion dollars.” Other Republican leaders also made such irresponsible claims, but Mnunchin promised he would release a comprehensive study proving his claim — and then never did. All of this happy chatter was poppycock. No credible outside analysis of the plan backed these claims. Generally, economic growth created by a tax cut makes up only about 35 percent of the lost revenue.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) conjured up this striking statistic by accepting a high estimate for the number of people who would lose insurance if Republicans killed the Affordable Care Act without any replacement. (That never happened.) Then he used mortality figures for what happened when people gained insurance in Massachusetts, not if they lost insurance nationwide. The result was the kind of scare statistic that lacks credibility and gives politics a bad name.
The history books will record that, compared with other recent presidents, Trump had few legislative victories and strikingly poor approval ratings. But that has not stopped him from repeatedly claiming that he had a record of accomplishment unmatched since Franklin D. Roosevelt. There is no evidence to support the claim; the president falls short based on just about every metric.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) attacked the House GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act by asserting that most people with health insurance could be denied coverage for preexisting conditions. But the proposed law did not change the ACA’s guarantee of coverage. Moreover, the individual market has only 18 million participants. Harris came up with her figure by asserting that employer-provided insurance would be affected through a Rube Goldberg-like interaction between federal regulations and the law.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez was one of several Democrats (including Harris) who jumped on reports that there was a provision in the Senate tax bill that provided regulatory clarity on a tax that has never successfully been imposed on private jet management companies. Perez falsely called it a “tax break” that came at the expense of college students. The tax provision is so minor that the cost to the Treasury is under $50,000 a year — less than the tuition and fees for one student at Harvard University.
Obama’s national security adviser Susan E. Rice made this claim during an NPR interview in the waning days of the Obama administration. But then it was proved false when Trump in April launched cruise-missile strikes against Syria for the apparent use of sarin nerve agent against civilians. Rice was referring to weapons declared by Syria. She failed to make clear that Syria’s declaration was believed to be incomplete and, thus, was not fully verified — and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement.
All presidents brag, but few have bragged so often based on so little. Trump claimed credit for jobs returning to the United States — but the deals were announced before he became president. He said, “I turned around West Virginia” by boosting coal, but he’s using data from only the first two months of his presidency, which reflects a 2016 surge in Asia-Pacific metallurgical coal demand as well as a temporary boost in demand from Australia after Cyclone Debbie. He touted hundreds of billions of dollars in deals reached overseas, but many deals are not concluded and are simply aspirational. He even said he personally created 1 million jobs in United States. Those jobs were created by businesses — and, in any case, job growth under Trump has lagged compared with the recent Obama years.
For Trump, time appears to have begun when he took the oath of office. He repeatedly promised that he would punish China for manipulating its currency even though it had not done so for at least two years. Once he became president, he declared he didn’t need to punish China because it suddenly had stopped manipulating its currency (not true.) Before Jan. 20, he said the stock market was in a bubble that would soon pop; afterward, he repeatedly celebrated its rise. As noted above, he also flipped 180 degrees on the accuracy of unemployment statistics.
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