In lieu of joining his fellow Republican presidential candidates in the Aug. 23 debate, former President Donald Trump granted an interview to former Fox News host Tucker Carlson — who posted it to X minutes before the debate began. Trump made several familiar false and misleading claims.
- Trump continued to insist that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to reject electors from certain states for Joe Biden when Congress counted electoral votes for president. He claimed Pence got “very bad advice,” even though it was the advice of White House lawyers — including then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
- Referring to wind energy, Trump falsely claimed that “windmills … don’t work” and that “most” of them are made in China. Wind turbines do work, and by dollar value, more than half of the parts used in onshore U.S. wind projects are domestically sourced.
- He claimed that former Attorney General Bill Barr “didn’t do an investigation on the election fraud.” Barr authorized U.S. attorneys to investigate fraud in the 2020 presidential election, but he and other top Justice Department officials have said they found no evidence to support many specific allegations.
- Trump falsely claimed that the district attorney who indicted him in Georgia “said basically” that Trump did not “have any right to challenge an election.” She said Trump didn’t “abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges.”
- He complained that Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams were not indicted for comments they made after losing elections. But Trump was indicted for what he allegedly did to overturn the 2020 election results — not what he said about his election loss.
- The former president repeated the false claim that the Presidential Records Act “allowed” him to take classified documents after leaving office, and he repeated the misleading claim that Biden had “25 times” more boxes of documents than Trump did.
- Trump continued to make the unsubstantiated claim that countries “all over South America” are “emptying out their prisons” and “emptying out their mental institutions” and sending them to the U.S. border.
- A former business partner of Biden’s son, Hunter, recently said that Hunter wasn’t involved in a real estate deal that produced a $3.5 million commission from the wife of a former Moscow mayor. But Trump still pushed the unsupported claim that Hunter Biden had received the money.
- He claimed there was “one reason” Democrats oppose voter identification laws: “because they want to cheat.” There’s no evidence for Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud, and Democrats oppose certain laws that could disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters.
‘Very Bad Advice’ on Electoral Vote Count
As he has done in the past, Trump insisted that Pence had the authority, in his constitutional role as Senate president, to reject Biden electors from certain states when Congress met on Jan. 6, 2021, to count electoral votes for president.
Pence refused, as we’ve written, saying it was unconstitutional.
Trump claimed Pence got “very bad advice,” even though it was the advice of Trump’s top legal advisers — including then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
“I think the vice president did the right thing. I think he did the courageous thing,” Cipollone told the Jan. 6 committee. “I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Pence. I worked with him very closely. I think he understood my opinion. I think he understood my opinion afterwards as well. I think he did a great service to this country. And I think I –I suggested to somebody that he should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his actions.”
In that interview, Cipollone also told the committee that he didn’t have “any reason to contradict” testimony given by a Trump campaign aide who said Cipollone “confronted” outside attorney John Eastman, architect of the elector plan. “Pat Cipollone thought the idea was nutty and at one point confronted Eastman, basically, with the same sentiment.”
Separately, Eric Herschmann, another White House attorney, also confronted Eastman about the plan.
“I said to him, hold on a second, I want to understand what you’re saying,” Herschmann said in his committee testimony. “You’re saying you believe the vice president, acting as president of the Senate, can be the sole decisionmaker as to, under your theory, who becomes the next president of the United States? And he said, yes. And I said, are you out of your F’ing mind, right.”
In his interview, Trump went on to baselessly claim that he now has proof that Pence had the power to reject Biden electors.
“After the election was over, the RINOs [Republicans In Name Only] got together with the Democrats and they redid the election, so you couldn’t do it anymore,” Trump said. “So, then I called the people, ‘So, in other words you’re saying I was right you could do it.’ ‘Yes, you could do it.’”
Trump distorts the facts. In December 2022, Congress amended the Electoral Count Act to “reaffirm that the vice president’s role at the count is ministerial.” It was not an admission that the law previously allowed Pence to reject lawful electors that were properly certified by the states.
False Claim About Wind Power
Trump also bashed Democrats for their support of clean energy.
“But you have people that are very smart but they’re fascists and they’re radical left lunatics and they’re destroying our country with the all-electric cars and the windmills all over the place, which by the way, don’t work, and they’re all — most of them — made in China,” he told Carlson.
It’s unclear exactly what Trump means by “work,” but a common complaint — and one Trump has focused on before — is that there are problems when the wind doesn’t blow.
As we’ve explained, wind power is variable, but the energy feeds into an electrical grid that is able to accommodate periods of high wind or no wind. It’s not the case that when the wind doesn’t blow that someone’s power goes out.
Much of this generation is concentrated in the middle of the country, where wind speeds are highest and it makes more sense to locate a turbine. Texas is the country’s top wind energy producer, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois. Combined, these five states produced nearly 60% of the nation’s wind energy in 2022.
Trump also misleads when he says that most turbines are made in China. China is a growing power in wind energy and produces more total wind energy than any other country, but in terms of the turbines that are put up in the U.S., only a small proportion of parts were made in China.
PolitiFact explained in 2021 that about 16% of imported wind turbine parts come from China. This is more than any other country, but hardly means “most” turbines in the U.S. are made in China.
According to a 2021 BloombergNEF report cited by a Department of Energy report, a typical onshore wind project gets 57% of its parts by dollar value from within the U.S.
The Department of Energy also notes on its website that the “wind supply chain that has developed in the United States in recent years has increased the domestic content of wind turbines installed in the United States, with over 80% of nacelle assembly and up to 70% of tower manufacturing occurring in the United States for turbines installed here.”
Recognizing that growth of wind energy in the U.S. would benefit from improved domestic supply chains, the Biden administration is supportive of policies that would decrease reliance on foreign-made turbine parts.
Pivoting from Epstein to ‘Election Fraud’
In an abrupt segue, Trump turned to voter fraud when Carlson asked why then-Attorney General Bill Barr “would cover up the death of Jeffrey Epstein” and not even investigate it, referring to the 2019 suicide of the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker in a New York federal prison.
“Bill Barr didn’t do an investigation on the election fraud, either,” Trump replied. “He said he did, and he pretended he did, but he didn’t. [Bill] McSwain, the U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said Barr just wouldn’t let him do it.”
As we wrote, Barr sent a memo on Nov. 9, 2020, authorizing U.S. attorneys around the country to “pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities.” Barr said McSwain told him of just one alleged case of “irregularities” in Delaware County, Pennsylvania — which turned out to be a baseless claim, as we wrote, that was advanced by former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
In an interview with the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Barr said: “My opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud.”
In addition to Barr, other top Justice Department officials have testified that they repeatedly told Trump the department found no evidence of widespread election fraud. For example, Richard Donoghue, who was deputy attorney general under Trump, told the Jan. 6 committee that he tried “to put it in very clear terms to the president” that “major allegations” of fraud in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada were “not supported by the evidence.” (For more, see our June story “Trump Ignored Aides, Repeated False Claims.”)
As for Carlson’s baseless claim about a “cover up” regarding Epstein’s death, Barr did order the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate. An IG report released in June 2023 said: “The OIG conducted this investigation jointly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with the OIG’s investigative focus being the conduct of BOP personnel. Among other things, the FBI investigated the cause of Epstein’s death and determined there was no criminality pertaining to how Epstein had died.”
Regarding his indictment in Georgia on 13 felony counts, Trump claimed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis “said basically” that Trump didn’t “have any right to challenge an election.” That’s wrong.
In a press conference announcing the indictment, Willis said there is a legal process to challenge election results, but Trump didn’t accept that. “The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election results,” Willis said on Aug. 14.
After the 2020 election, Georgia conducted an audit, recounting every vote in the state by hand. After that recount, Georgia certified Joe Biden as the winner of the state, and the Trump campaign requested a machine recount, as it was legally entitled to do. That recount, too, showed that Biden had won.
Comparison to Clinton and Abrams
Trump misleadingly compared himself to Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams, who he said should also be indicted for their comments about elections they lost.
“Hillary called me up and conceded,” Trump said. “Now the word is that [Barack] Obama said you have to do that. But she called up and totally conceded. But now, every time you see her on television … she’s challenging the election. So that would mean that she should be indicted. But that would mean also that Stacey Abrams, in Georgia, should be indicted because she still thinks she won the election for governor.”
But Trump was not indicted for believing, or falsely claiming, that he won the 2020 election, as he suggested. Instead, Trump was indicted by two grand juries for his actions — specifically efforts he made to remain in office despite losing to Biden.
Among other things, the federal indictment alleges that Trump tried to obstruct the official certification of Biden as president, and that Trump participated in a scheme to have slates of fake electors in multiple states vote for him instead of Biden. The Georgia indictment alleges that he engaged in similar activities to change the election outcome in that state.
Clinton did call Trump an “illegitimate president” and said she would have won in 2016, if not for election interference by Russia, as well as then-FBI Director James Comey reopening an investigation into Clinton’s private email server shortly before the election. And Abrams did refuse to concede after her 2018 gubernatorial election loss to Brian Kemp, whose win she attributed to him suppressing voter turnout as Georgia’s then-secretary of state.
But neither Clinton nor Abrams is alleged to have tried overturning the results of their elections, as Trump’s indictments say he did.
Trump criticized the four indictments against him as “nonsense,” and then repeated false and misleading claims about his classified documents case and Biden.
“It’s horrible when you look, and when you look at what they’re doing,” Trump said. “The boxes hoax. I’m covered by the Presidential Records Act. I’m allowed to do exactly that. [Biden’s] not covered, and he’s got 25 times the number of boxes.”
Trump’s first federal indictment alleges that he willfully retained sensitive classified documents after he was no longer president and obstructed federal officials who tried to get them back.
As we have written, the Presidential Record Act does not allow former presidents to take classified national security documents with them after leaving office. They may keep personal materials, but not presidential documents, which the act says should be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
We also have addressed Trump’s distorted claim that Biden kept a much greater number of boxes than him, which is a reference to 1,850 boxes of Biden’s personal Senate records that Biden donated to his alma mater, the University of Delaware, in 2012. There’s no evidence the boxes, which have been searched by Justice Department officials, contain documents with classified information.
It is true that about 20 classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president were found in 2022 at one of his Delaware homes and his old private office in Washington, D.C. As in Trump’s case, a special counsel has been appointed to investigate how the documents ended up in those spaces.
Border Wall and Immigration
Trump continued to misrepresent his success in building the 1,000-mile-long border wall that he promised during the 2016 campaign. Trump said, “I had the strongest border in the history of our country, and I built almost 500 miles of wall. You know, they like to say, ‘Oh, was it less?’ No, I built 500 miles.” Trump added that, if given another three weeks in office, he would’ve built 200 more miles of wall.
As we wrote in “Trump’s Final Numbers,” 458 miles of “border wall system” was built during the Trump administration, according to a Customs and Border Protection status report on Jan. 22, 2021. Most of that, 373 miles of it, was replacement for primary or secondary fencing that was dilapidated or outdated. About 52 miles of it was new primary fencing where there were no barriers before.
In December 2020, CBP said it had funding in place to construct another more than 200 miles of fencing where there were no barriers before. But given that less than 50 miles of a wall system in new areas was built in Trump’s final three months in office, it seems dubious 200 miles of such wall would have been built in three more weeks. Biden halted new wall construction when he took office.
As for whether Trump left the strongest border in the history of our country, as we have noted, illegal border crossings, as measured by apprehensions at the southwest border, were 14.7% higher in Trump’s final year in office compared with the last full year before he was sworn in.
Finally, there is simply no evidence to back up Trump’s claim — which he has made repeatedly this year — that countries “all over South America” are “emptying out their prisons” and “emptying out their mental institutions” and sending them to the U.S. border. Border experts told us the claims are evidence-free and dubious. Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, told us in March, “As far as I can tell, it’s a total fabrication.”
Moscow Mayor’s Wife
Trump falsely said his accusation during a Sept. 29, 2020, debate that Hunter Biden received a $3.5 million payment from the “mayor of Moscow’s wife” has “turned out to be much more appropriate than people thought.”
In fact, recent testimony from Hunter Biden’s former business partner, Devon Archer, contradicted Republican claims that Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina, the wife of a former Moscow mayor, paid Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, $3.5 million. Archer said that was a commission on a $120 million real estate deal in Brooklyn that Hunter Biden was “not involved” in. Archer said the money was mistakenly put in an account once shared by Hunter Biden. “Quite frankly,” Archer said, “it was not supposed to go there, but that’s where it went.”
In a subsequent debate on Oct. 22, 2020, Trump went one step further and alleged that Joe Biden got the $3.5 million. But there is no evidence any of that money went to Joe Biden.
Trump distorted the facts when he claimed that Democrats oppose voter identification laws because “they want to cheat.”
“But you look at what’s happening to our country, even no voter ID,” Trump said. “I mean, why don’t they want voter ID? There’s only one reason they don’t want voter ID, because they want to cheat.”
Democrats and voting rights advocates — including the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice — oppose certain voter ID laws that could disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states had voter ID laws on the books as of March 2023. In the remaining 14 states and the District of Columbia, “voters must verify their identity in other ways, such as by signing an affidavit or poll book, or by providing personal information. All states have procedures for challenging voter eligibility,” the NCSL said.
In 2021, House Democrats passed H.R. 1 — known as the “For the People Act” — that would have given voters in states with voter ID laws the option to present a statement attesting to their identify. The statement would need to be “signed by the individual under penalty of perjury, attesting to the individual’s identity and attesting that the individual is eligible to vote in the election.”
Republicans argued that the Democratic bill would have eliminated state voter ID laws. But as we wrote at the time, the legislation would not have banned such state laws; it would have expanded the requirements to include another option for voters to prove their identity and vote in federal elections.
“There would be consequences for lying” in a sworn affidavit, Daniel Weiner, director of Election Reform at the Brennan Center for Justice, told us when the bill was being considered in Congress. “The idea that voters would casually lie is utterly baseless and not true.”
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