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Fact check: Pence falsely claims opponents admitted there weren’t Chinese spy balloons over the US while he was VP

By Daniel Dale and Zachary Cohen, CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is now considering a run for president, was asked on Fox on Wednesday about the Biden administration’s criticism of rail deregulation efforts by the Trump administration.

Fox host Martha MacCallum told Pence that, in the wake of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in early February, “They’re blaming the Trump administration. They say it’s the regulations that you peeled back that led to this lack of safety.”

Pence replied: “Yeah, same crowd that said that Chinese balloons floated over our administration, right — until they admitted that they didn’t.”

Facts First: Pence’s claim is false. Neither the Biden administration nor the Pentagon has “admitted” that Chinese spy balloons didn’t float over the United States during the Trump-Pence administration. In fact, the Biden administration and the Pentagon have said this month that Chinese spy balloons did float over the US during the Trump-Pence era. The Pentagon has briefed Congress about these suspected Trump-era incidents; former Trump administration national security officials who were briefed by the intelligence community last week have not disputed the existence of these incidents after the briefings; and CNN has viewed excerpts from a 2022 military intelligence report that said a Chinese spy balloon in 2019 “drifted past Hawaii and across Florida before continuing its journey.”

Former Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien told CNN last week that his briefing made clear that “nothing like” this year’s Chinese balloon incident, “with the balloon loitering over US nuclear sites,” took place under Trump. But O’Brien did not say the Trump-era incidents didn’t happen at all. Rather, he said that “we were not briefed during the Trump administration on this program, and most of this was discovered after we left office. Most of it quite recently.”

CNN has reported that three Chinese spy balloons are suspected to have transited over the continental US under Trump. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said early this month that these previous suspected incursions were “brief” and “nothing at all like what we saw last week in terms of duration.” Regardless, contrary to Pence’s insinuation, the incursions are certainly still suspected to have occurred.

Pence’s explanation

CNN asked Pence’s team on Wednesday what he was talking about when he claimed an unnamed “crowd” had “admitted” that Chinese balloons didn’t float over the US while he was vice president.

A Pence spokesperson responded Thursday by saying that Pence was noting that although the Biden administration had tried to distract from its own poor handling of the new balloon incident by claiming “spy balloons entered the United States during the Trump administration,” such claims “were debunked when NORAD and other national security officials admitted these detections were not made by their agencies until after the Trump administration left office.”

But if Trump-era balloon incidents were not discovered until after Trump left office, as Biden officials and the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command have indeed said, this belated discovery clearly does not “debunk” the fact that the incidents happened in the first place.

The US military shot down the latest suspected Chinese spy balloon on Biden’s orders over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4 after it drifted off the East Coast. The balloon had entered US airspace over Alaska on January 28, and then, after floating over Canada, returned to US airspace over Idaho on January 31, according to a senior defense official. Many Republicans, including Pence, argued that the balloon should have been shot down sooner; defense officials said they waited because they did not want to risk having falling debris harm people or property on the ground.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Kylie Atwood contributed to this article.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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