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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Video: FactChecking Trump’s 9/11 and Iraq Claims

This week, CNN’s Jake Tapper looks at claims President Donald Trump made about Osama bin Laden and the Iraq war during his Oct. 27 press conference announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Trump repeated his false claim that he “made a prediction” that Osama bin Laden would attack the World Trade Center, and that the U.S. should kill bin Laden before he does. Trump also repeated his unsupported claim that he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 before the war started.

Here’s what Trump said about bin Laden at the press conference:

Trump, Oct. 27: [A]bout a year — you’ll have to check — a year, year and a half before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out. I was talking about Osama bin Laden. I said, “You have to kill him. You have to take him out.” Nobody listened to me.

And to this day, I get people coming up to me, and they said, “You know what one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen about you? Is that you predicted that Osama bin Laden had to be killed before he knocked down the World Trade Center.” It’s true. Now, most of the press doesn’t want to write that, but you know — but it is true. If you go back, look at my book. I think it was “The America We Deserve.” I made a prediction, and I — let’s put it this way: If they would have listened to me, a lot of things would have been different.

That’s false. Trump’s book criticized the Clinton administration for its “haphazard” handling of “multiple threats.” He mentioned bin Laden as one of those threats, but he made no predictions about bin Laden’s role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and offered no recommendation to “take him out.”

Here’s the lone reference to bin Laden in Trump’s book:

Trump, “The America We Deserve,” January 2000: Instead of one looming crisis hanging over us, we face a bewildering series of smaller crises, flash points, standoffs, and hot spots. We’re not playing the chess game to end all chess games anymore. We’re playing tournament chess — one master against many rivals. One day we’re all assured that Iraq is under control, the UN inspectors have done their work, everything’s fine, not to worry. The next day the bombing begins. One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin-Laden is public enemy number one, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.

As for Trump’s remarks about his opposition to the Iraq war, the president said this at his press conference:

Trump, Oct. 27: If you read about the history of Donald Trump — I was a civilian.  I had absolutely nothing to do with going into Iraq, and I was totally against it. … In Iraq — so they spent — President Bush went in.  I strongly disagreed with it, even though it wasn’t my expertise at the time, but I had a — I have a very good instinct about things.  They went in and I said, “That’s a tremendous mistake.”

There is no public record of Trump expressing his opposition to the Iraq war before the U.S. military attack on Mach 19, 2003. During the 2016 presidential campaign, we did a timeline of Trump’s public statements before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and found Trump expressed concern about the cost of going to war after the war had already started.  

In the months before the war, Trump urged Bush to make a decision on Iraq. “Either you attack or you don’t attack,” he said on Fox Business’ “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” on Jan. 28, 2003, the night of Bush’s State of the Union address. But Trump offered no opinion on what Bush should do. The only time we found that Trump was directly asked whether he supported going into Iraq was on Howard Stern’s radio show on Sept. 11, 2002, and Trump answered hesitantly: “Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

This video is part of our collaboration with CNN’s “State of the Union.” It is based on our stories “Donald Trump and the Iraq War” and “Trump’s bin Laden Prediction.” Visit our “State of the Union with Jake Tapper” archive page for past videos.