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FactChecking Trump’s Iowa Victory Speech

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In a victory speech after decisively winning the Iowa GOP caucus on Jan. 15, former President Donald Trump twisted some facts on terrorism, mail-in voting and his record in Iowa caucuses.

  • When talking about terrorism and a travel ban he ordered, Trump falsely claimed that during his presidency “we had no terror” in the U.S. There were several acts of terrorism that were perpetrated by foreign-born individuals while Trump was president.
  • Trump wrongly claimed that a commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter in 2005 concluded, “once you have mail-in ballots, you have crooked elections.” The commission warned about the increased risk of fraud, but suggested measures to lessen that risk. Carter is an advocate for mail-in voting.
  • He also incorrectly claimed that this was “the third time” he’d won the Iowa caucus. This was only Trump’s second win, and the first when he faced a serious challenge.

Acts of Terrorism

In between talking about Iran’s history of funding terrorism and his 2017 executive order blocking certain foreign nationals from traveling to the U.S., Trump claimed that there had been no acts of terrorism in the U.S. while he was president.

“And for four years, we had no terror,” Trump said. “We had the terror ban. … They called it the Trump travel ban, but it was really the Trump terror ban.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks on the night of the Iowa caucuses. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

At a Jan. 10 town hall hosted by Fox News, he similarly claimed, “We had no terrorist attacks at all during my four years.”

That’s not accurate. Trump’s revised travel ban from September 2017 — which prevented certain nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela from traveling to the U.S. — didn’t prevent several acts of terrorism carried out by foreign-born individuals during his presidency.

Here are some we found using a list compiled for a 2023 report on terrorism and immigration by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh. Notably, the first two attacks cited below were carried out by people who traveled to the U.S. while Trump was president — and from countries not included in his travel ban. The others were committed by people who were already living in the U.S.

December 2019: Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, shot 11 people at Florida’s Naval Air Station Pensacola in December 2019, killing three U.S. sailors.

In January 2020, after a criminal investigation into the shooting, then-Attorney General William Barr announced that it had been an act of terrorism. “The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology,” Barr said in a statement.

Alshamrani, who had been participating in a training program at the air station, had come to the U.S. on a diplomatic visa that he applied for and obtained in the summer of 2017, which allowed him to travel to and from Saudi Arabia while taking classes in the U.S. A New York Times investigation revealed how vetting systems in both countries failed to detect Alshamrani’s ties to al Qaeda, which began in 2015, according to the newspaper.

June 2017: Amor M. Ftouhi, from Canada, traveled to Michigan intending to kill police. The Department of Justice said that Ftouhi, after not being able to purchase a gun in the state, bought a knife that he used to stab a Flint Bishop Airport police officer in the neck twice. The DOJ said that after his arrest, Ftouhi, who was born in Tunisia, described himself as a “soldier of Allah,” and told law enforcement that his plan was “to kill the victim, steal his gun, and kill other police officers in the airport.”

October 2017: Sayfullo Saipov used a rented flatbed truck to run down more than 20 people on the Hudson River bike path in New York City. Eight people, including Americans and tourists, were killed, and many more were injured.

Saipov, born in Uzbekistan, reportedly came to the U.S. in 2010 on a diversity visa and later became a legal permanent resident. He told the FBI that the attack, planned months in advance, was carried out on behalf of the Islamic State, which officials said later praised him as one of its soldiers.

December 2017: Although no one was injured, Akayed Ullah detonated a homemade pipe bomb he was wearing inside a busy subway station near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. After being taken into custody, he told authorities that he did it in response to U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and other places.

At the time of the attack, Ullah was a legal permanent resident from Bangladesh who was living in Brooklyn. He came to the U.S. in 2011 on a family immigrant visa, as reported by the New York Times. The Justice Department said Ullah became radicalized, starting in 2014, by watching pro-Islamic State materials online, including videos on how to make a bomb.

June 2020: Dzenan Camovic, a Bosnian national born in Germany, ambushed officers patrolling an intersection in Brooklyn, the New York City borough where authorities said he had been living illegally. He stabbed one officer, attempted to stab another, stole a gun from one of the officers and used it to shoot at other officers, hitting one of them in the hand.

Federal prosecutors said that during the attack, Camovic repeatedly shouted the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar,” meaning God is great, and that he was found to have previously “possessed a significant volume of radical jihadist propaganda.” Camovic had been living in the U.S. for more than 15 years at the time of the attack, Camovic’s attorney said in a 2022 court filing.

On Jimmy Carter and Mail-In Voting

In his ongoing campaign against mail-in voting, Trump misleadingly suggested he has an ally in former President Jimmy Carter.

“We have to get rid of mail-in ballots because once you have mail-in ballots, you have crooked elections,” Trump said in his speech. “Actually, Jimmy Carter’s commission said that a long time ago.”

Trump is referring to a report issued in 2005 by the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was co-chaired by Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican. The report states that while vote by mail was increasingly popular, it was “likely to increase the risks of fraud.”

The report highlighted several potential vulnerabilities associated with mail-in voting: “Blank ballots mailed to the wrong address or to large residential buildings might get intercepted. Citizens who vote at home, at nursing homes, at the workplace, or in church are more susceptible to pressure, overt and subtle, or to intimidation. Vote buying schemes are far more difficult to detect when citizens vote by mail.”

The report called for several specific reforms to ensure the validity of mail-in ballots, such as signature verification, and “prohibiting ‘third-party’ organizations, candidates, and political party activists from handling absentee ballots.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states and Washington, D.C., offer the option of “no-excuse” mail-in voting, and eight states conduct elections entirely by mail.

All states that allow mail-in voting require a signature, and most states perform signature verification. Nine states also require the signature of a witness, and three states require that mail-in ballots be notarized. Thirty three states allow someone other than the voter to return an mail-in ballot, but most states limit that option to family members or caregivers or sometimes designated agents who can only submit a certain number of ballots on someone else’s behalf.

The CFER report encouraged further research “on the pros and cons of vote by mail.” But it did not call for doing away with it.

In fact, Carter has been a proponent of mail-in voting. During the pandemic, Carter in May 2020 urged federal and state governments to expand access to vote-by-mail options.

In a press release, the Carter Center said that the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform “noted among its many findings and recommendations that because it takes place outside the regulated environment of local polling locations, voting by mail creates increased logistical challenges and the potential for vote fraud, especially if safeguards are lacking or when candidates or political party activists are allowed to handle mail-in or absentee ballots.”

“However, the Carter-Baker Commission found that where safeguards for ballot integrity are in place – for example in Oregon, where the entire state has voted by mail since 1998 – there was little evidence of voter fraud,” the Carter Center noted. “The commission’s main recommendations on vote-by-mail and absentee voting were to increase research on vote-by-mail (and early voting) and to eliminate the practice of allowing candidates or party workers to pick up and deliver absentee ballots.  Fortunately, since 2005, many states have gained substantial experience in vote-by-mail and have shown how key concerns can be effectively addressed through appropriate planning, resources, training, and messaging.”

Later that year, as Trump and his allies repeatedly launched misleading attacks on mail-in voting, Carter issued another statement in September saying, “I approve the use of absentee ballots and have been using them for more than five years.” (We note that Trump, too, has voted by mail.)

In March 2021, Carter said he was “disheartened, saddened and angry” after Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed legislation to limit mail-in voting.

Carter said he was also disappointed that some advocates for the changes to limit mail-in voting “repeatedly and selectively” referenced the commission’s 2005 report.

“While our report noted a few good and bad examples of vote-by-mail practices, its main recommendation was that further study of voting by mail was needed,” Carter said. “In the 16 years since the report’s release, vote-by-mail practices have progressed significantly as new technologies have been developed. In light of these advances, I believe that voting by mail can be conducted in a manner that ensures election integrity.”

For his part, Baker told PolitiFact in September 2021 that he “continue[s] to believe such balloting remains a significant source of potential fraud, absent safeguards some states have put in place to help guarantee that a person’s vote is secure.”

Nonetheless, Trump is mischaracterizing the commission’s conclusion as “once you have mail-in ballots, you have crooked elections.” That’s not what the report said.

Trump’s Iowa Caucus Wins

Trump also claimed to have won the Iowa caucus for Republicans twice before, which is inaccurate.

“This is the third time we’ve won, but this is the biggest one,” he said.

Trump may want to forget it, but Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the Iowa Republican Party’s caucus in 2016, the first time that Trump ran for the Republican nomination for president. Out of the 13 candidates, Cruz came in first with 51,666 votes (27.6%) and Trump took second with 45,429 votes (24.3%).

Trump later baselessly accused Cruz of stealing the election.

Trump did win the Iowa caucus in 2020, when he was up for reelection and his main challengers in the Republican field were former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois. Trump won with over 97% of the vote.

So, his 2024 victory over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Nikky Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was only Trump’s second win in the Iowa caucuses.

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