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Trump Repeats Many Claims in Fox News Town Hall

In a Feb. 20 town hall in South Carolina that aired on Fox News, days before the state’s Republican primary, former President Donald Trump repeated several false and misleading claims we’ve fact-checked before.

Trump and Ingraham at the Greenville Convention Center on Feb. 20. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

He also claimed, contrary to Russia’s track record, that Russian President Vladimir Putin would prefer President Joe Biden to win reelection.

The most newsworthy item from the town hall was Trump comparing the civil lawsuits and criminal indictments against him to Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died this month in a Russian prison.

Biden has blamed Putin for Navalny’s death; Trump did not, when given the opportunity at the town hall. Instead, Trump said Navalny’s death was “a very sad situation” and “horrible,” and then called the civil fraud case in New York against Trump “a form of Navalny,” similar to a comparison the former president had made on social media. It’s not comparable, but we’ll leave that for political and legal commentators to parse.

The town hall, held in Greenville, aired on Laura Ingraham’s show.

Putin’s Preferred Candidate?

In a discussion about U.S. presidents negotiating with foreign leaders, Trump said he thinks the leaders of North Korea, China and Russia would prefer if Biden won reelection.

“Well, they want him very badly to be president,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of money’s being spent between Russia and China. No question with China. Russia, too.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that he would prefer Biden to remain president, but Russia’s track record suggests otherwise. As we have written before, U.S. officials uncovered evidence that Russia undertook covert operations in support of Trump’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020.

More recently, the Department of Justice on Feb. 15 indicted a former FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov, for lying to the FBI in 2020, when Smirnov claimed that Joe Biden and his son Hunter each received a $5 million bribe from a Ukrainian company, while Joe Biden was vice president. In a Feb. 20 court filing, the Justice Department alleged that Smirnov has ties to Russian intelligence officials and his “efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate of one of the two major parties in the United States continues.”

“He is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November,” the court filing said.

There is no evidence that North Korea or China has engaged in covert operations in support of either candidate. However, as we have written, U.S. intelligence officials assessed in 2020 that “China prefers that President Trump … not win reelection,” based on its “public rhetoric” at the time that was critical of the Trump administration.

Wrong on Special Counsel Report About Biden

Trump claimed that the special counsel report on Biden’s handling of classified documents said of the president, “Look, he’s incompetent to go to court, but he can be president.” As we wrote recently when several Republican House leaders made the same claim, the report said no such thing.

The report did refer numerous times to what it characterized as Biden’s “limited” and “poor” memory. But those observations were only included, Special Counsel Robert Hur wrote, because they factored into his decision about whether he could convince a jury that Biden had acted “willfully” to break the law. Hur further posited that Biden’s age and memory might make him a more sympathetic witness, causing a jury to give him the benefit of the doubt.

There were several other factors listed by Hur that convinced him it would be difficult to prove criminal charges against Biden.

Mail-in Voting

Trump continues to claim, without evidence, “If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud.” As we have written, there is no evidence to support claims about large-scale, mail-in voter fraud. While the instances of voter fraud via mail-in ballots are more common than in-person voting fraud, experts have told us the number of known cases is relatively small.

“States can and do take steps to minimize the risks, especially given the great benefits of convenience — and now safety — from the practice,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and author of “The Voting Wars,” told us via email in 2020.

As Ingraham noted in the town hall, there’s mail-in voting in Florida, a state that Trump won handily in 2020. Trump himself has voted by mail in Florida, and while he claims it’s safe there because Republican governors run it “extremely professionally,” we noted in 2020 that Florida handles mail-in ballots the same way as the other 33 states that allow mail-in voting without a reason.

Federal, state and local officials overseeing the nation’s voting system called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history,” and Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, stated that U.S. attorneys and the FBI “have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election” — contrary to Trump’s repeated false claims about widespread fraud costing him the election.

Ukraine Aid Exaggerations

When comparing U.S. and European aid to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia, Trump claimed, “We’re in for over $200 billion. They’re in for $35 billion. … It’s a difference of $150 billion. They’ve got to start paying up.”

We don’t know where Trump gets $200 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine; Congress has approved about $113 billion in emergency funding related to the Ukraine-Russia war. Roughly $67 billion of that was for military aid, and the rest was for “nondefense concerns such as general Ukrainian government aid, economic support, and aid for refugee resettlement,” according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

As for $35 billion in aid from Europe, Trump may be referring to only bilateral military aid that has been allocated by European Union members and institutions, according to figures from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research group that publishes the Ukraine Support Tracker. The military figure is about $44 billion for all of Europe, including European nations not in the EU.

For a direct comparison, the Kiel Institute says the U.S. has allocated over $47 billion in bilateral military aid for Ukraine, as of Jan. 15. However, in total, including financial and humanitarian assistance, the Kiel Institute says Europe has allocated more than the U.S. — about $96 billion in bilateral aid, compared with almost $73 billion from the U.S.

“The data show that total European aid has long overtaken U.S. aid – not only in terms of commitments, but also in terms of specific aid allocations sent to Ukraine,” members of the institute wrote in a Feb. 16 update.

The Kiel Institute’s figures for the U.S. are lower than the congressionally authorized totals because the institute says some of the approved funding is not bilateral aid, meaning it’s not a direct government-to-government transfer of funds.

Immigration Bill Did Not ‘Allow’ 5,000 Migrants a Day

Asked why he opposed a bipartisan immigration bill that failed in the Senate, Trump wrongly said it would have “allow[ed] … 5,000 people a day.”

As we wrote recently when other Republican leaders made a similar claim, he is referring to a section of the bill that would have provided emergency authority to the administration to “summarily remove” people who cross into the U.S. illegally between ports of entry, even if they are seeking asylum. That authority would have been automatically activated if there was an average of 5,000 or more migrant encounters a day over seven consecutive days — or if there were 8,500 or more such encounters on any single day.

But as Republican Sen. James Lankford, one of the architects of the bill, explained, “It’s not that the first 5,000 are released, that’s ridiculous. The first 5,000 we detain, we screen and then we deport. If we get above 5,000, we just detain and deport.”

“The reason we’re doing that is because we want to be able to shut down the system when it gets overloaded, so we have enough time to process those asylum claims,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

More Repeats

Biden’s houses. Similar to a claim he made back in 2020, Trump suggested that Biden has financially benefited from his son Hunter’s foreign business dealings because, “he’s got a lot of houses all over the place and he’s never been paid more than about $179,000, I guess is the top.” Biden owns two houses, including a vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. As many politicians do, Biden earned a significant amount of money after he left office in January 2017 on speaking fees and a book tour.

Biden and his wife, Jill, were worth an estimated $9 million in 2019, according to Forbes, which put the value of their two homes at $4 million combined. A Washington Post story the same year detailed how Biden “reaped millions in income since leaving the vice presidency.”

Tariffs on China. As he has done numerous times in the past, Trump falsely claimed that the U.S. did not collect any tariffs on goods from China — until he took office. “Not one other president took in 10 cents,” he said. In fact, the U.S. collected billions in tariffs on Chinese imports years before Trump took office.

Illegal immigration. He claimed that immigrants were “coming in from jails and mental institutions,” adding: “They’re emptying out their prisons.” This echoes his prior claims that countries around the world are “emptying out their prisons, insane asylums and mental institutions and sending their most heinous criminals to the United States.” Immigration experts told us there’s simply no evidence for that. One expert said Trump’s claim appeared to be “a total fabrication.” 

Southern border. Apprehensions of those trying to cross the U.S. southern border illegally have gone up substantially under President Joe Biden. But Trump was again wrong to say, “I had the safest border in the history of our country. Recorded history, because I can’t tell you about a thousand years ago, but recorded history of the border by far.” After dropping in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, apprehensions then rose. The total number of apprehensions was higher during Trump’s presidency than either of President Barack Obama’s four-year terms.

Border wall. “We built 571 miles of border wall and that’s what made our border so good,” Trump said. There were 458 miles of “border wall system” built during Trump’s term. Most, 373 miles, was replacement barriers for primary or secondary fencing that was dilapidated or outdated, according to a January 2021 Customs and Border Protection status report

Gasoline prices. As we’ve written, economists cite several reasons for rising inflation in 2021 and 2022, first and foremost the unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic. As for energy, the price of crude oil is set on the global market, and it began increasing toward the end of 2020 primarily, experts say, because the worldwide demand for oil began to exceed the international supply.

Yet, Trump suggested that Biden’s policies were to blame for higher energy costs, saying that Biden had “admitted everything about energy” in a 2020 debate. “And that’s what actually happened, and that’s why your energy costs went up three and four times. We had $1.87 and he was up to $5, $6, $7,” incorrectly referring to the price of gasoline. The average price of regular gasoline was as low as $1.77 under Trump, in April 2020 during the pandemic, but it was $2.38 when he left office. Under Biden, the price per gallon peaked at $5 in June 2022, but the latest price is $3.27, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Economy. No matter how many times he says it, the U.S. didn’t have “the greatest economy in the history of the world” under Trump’s presidency. Economists look to real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth to measure economic health, and that figure exceeded Trump’s peak year of 3% growth more than a dozen times before he took office.

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