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Fact check: Trump delivers another lie-filled CPAC speech

By Daniel Dale, CNN

Washington (CNN) — The Conservative Political Action Conference has been the venue for some of former President Donald Trump’s most dishonest speecheslengthy, lie-filled addresses in which he has regaled friendly crowds with many of his favorite false claims.

He stuck to tradition in his CPAC speech on Saturday, repeating more than a dozen previously debunked statements. (He also made some dubious new claims we’ll look into.) Here’s a fact check of 12 of his remarks.

Trump and the invasion of Iraq

Trump repeated his years-old claim that he had warned the US not to launch an invasion of Iraq.

He said: “Remember I used to say a long time ago, ‘Don’t go into Iraq. Don’t do it!’ But I was only a civilian, so I didn’t get that much press. I said, ‘Don’t go into Iraq, but if you’re going to do it, keep the oil.’ Do you remember I used to say that all the time? Keep the oil. ‘Don’t do it, but keep the oil.’”

Facts First: Trump’s claim that he warned the US not to invade Iraq is false; the claim was debunked eight years ago. In reality, Trump did not publicly express opposition to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq before it occurred. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump argued a military strike on Iraq might be necessary; when radio host Howard Stern asked Trump in September 2002 whether he is “for invading Iraq,” Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly”; and Trump did not express a firm opinion about the looming war in a Fox interview in January 2003, saying that “either you attack or don’t attack” and that then-President George W. Bush “has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps.”

Trump began criticizing the war in 2003, after the invasion, and also said that year that American troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq. He emerged as an explicit opponent of the war in 2004. You can read more here about his shifting positions.

A CNN search in 2019 turned up no examples of Trump saying anything before the war about keeping Iraq’s oil. Trump’s White House did not respond at the time to our request to provide any such evidence.

Trump and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Claiming that he was tough on Russia during his presidency, Trump brought up the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany and claimed, as he has repeatedly before, that “I ended Nord Stream” and that “I stopped it, it was over.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. He did not “end” Nord Stream or render it “over.” While he did approve sanctions on companies working on the project, that move came nearly three years into his presidency, when the pipeline was already around 90% complete – and the state-owned Russian gas company behind the project said shortly after the sanctions that it would complete the pipeline itself. The company announced in December 2020 that construction was resuming. And with days left in Trump’s term in January 2021, Germany announced that it had renewed permission for construction in its waters.

The pipeline never began operations; Germany ended up halting the project as Russia was about to invade Ukraine in early 2022. The pipeline was damaged later that year in what has been described as a likely act of sabotage.

The 2020 election

Trump returned to his frequent lies about the 2020 election, saying it was a “rigged election” and that “in 2020, they cheated like dogs.”

Facts First: These Trump claims are false. The election wasn’t rigged and Trump’s opponents didn’t cheat. Joe Biden won fair and square. There was a tiny amount of voter fraud that was nowhere near widespread enough to have changed the outcome in any state, let alone to have reversed Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College. 

Biden and Trump’s indictments

Trump said of Biden: “He indicted me.” He also decried supposed “Stalinist show trials carried out at the Joe Biden orders.”

Facts First: This claim is not supported by any evidence. Grand juries made up of ordinary citizens – in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington, DC – approved the indictments in each of Trump’s criminal cases. There is no basis for the claim that Biden ordered Trump to be criminally charged or face civil trials.

Trump’s two federal indictments were brought by a special counsel, Jack Smith. Smith was appointed in November 2022 by Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee, but that is not proof that Biden was involved in the prosecution effort, much less that Biden personally ordered the indictments; Garland has said he would resign if Biden ever asked him to take action against Trump but was sure that would never happen. And there is no sign that Biden has had any role in bringing charges against Trump in Manhattan or Fulton County, Georgia; those prosecutions have been led by elected local district attorneys.

Trump’s indictments vs. Al Capone’s indictments

Repeating one of his regular campaign claims, Trump said, “I’ve been indicted more than Alphonse Capone,” even though Capone was a notoriously vicious gangster.

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. Trump has been indicted four times. Capone was indicted at least six times, as A. Brad Schwartz, the co-author of a book on Capone, told CNN.

Also, Schwartz noted: “This isn’t a race, of course, but it may be worth noting that Capone is also way ahead in individual counts (the 1931 Prohibition indictment alone added up to five thousand conspiracy charges).” Trump faces 91 total counts over his two federal indictments and two local indictments.

You can read more about Capone’s indictments here.

Trump and Minneapolis

Reviving a claim he began making in 2020, Trump said that he deployed the National Guard to Minneapolis in 2020 – over the opposition of the state’s Democratic governor – during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“I’ll tell you what: If I didn’t bring in the National Guard – ’cause the governor didn’t want to do it, they’d never want to do it … I wish I didn’t wait six days – but if I didn’t bring in the National Guard, wouldn’t even have a city there. That city was going down,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is false – and a complete reversal of reality. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, not Trump, was the one who deployed the Minnesota National Guard during the 2020 unrest; Walz first activated the Guard more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to deploy the Guard himself. Walz’s office told CNN in 2020 that the governor activated the Guard in response to requests from officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul – cities also run by Democrats.

Trump and the border wall

Touting the wall construction on the border with Mexico during his presidency, Trump said, “We built 571 miles of border wall.”

Facts FirstTrump’s “571 miles” claim is false, an even greater exaggeration than the inaccurate “561 miles” and “over 500 miles” claims he has made in the past. An official report by US Customs and Border Protection, written two days after Trump left office and subsequently obtained by CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, said the total number built under Trump was 458 miles (including both wall built where no barriers had existed before and wall built to replace previous barriers). Trump has sometimes put the figure, more correctly, at “nearly 500 miles.”

Trump and the word ‘caravans’

Speaking about immigration, Trump referred to migrant caravans – then repeated his common campaign claim that he had personally coined the phrase “caravans”: “That was another name I came up with. I come up with good names.”

Facts FirstTrump did not come up with the word “caravan,” either in general or to describe groups of migrants traveling together toward the US border during his presidency.

Trump first publicly used a variation of the word as president in a tweet on April 1, 2018 (he wrote, in a tweet about immigration, “’caravans’ coming”). But the word had been used by various others in the same context in the days and weeks prior, including in a BuzzFeed News feature article, two days prior to Trump’s tweet, that was headlined, “A Huge Caravan Of Central Americans Is Headed For The US, And No One In Mexico Dares To Stop Them.”

Merriam-Webster says the word caravan “came to English in the late 16th century, from the Italian caravana, which itself came from the Persian kārvān.”

Trump and ISIS

Trump claimed, as he has on numerous previous occasions, that although he was told it would take “four years” to defeat the ISIS terror group, “I knocked it out in four weeks.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim of having defeated ISIS in “four weeks” isn’t true; the ISIS “caliphate” was declared fully liberated more than two years into Trump’s presidency, in 2019. Even if Trump was starting the clock at the time of his visit to Iraq in late December 2018, as he suggested later in the speech, the liberation was proclaimed more than two and a half months later. In addition, Trump gave himself far too much credit for the defeat of the caliphate, as he has before, when he said, “I knocked it out” with no caveats or credit to anyone else: Kurdish forces did much of the ground fighting, and there was major progress against the caliphate under President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016.

IHS Markit, an information company that studied the changing size of the caliphate, reported two days before Trump’s 2017 inauguration that the caliphate shrunk by 23% in 2016 after shrinking by 14% in 2015. “The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” an analyst there said in a statement at the time.

Electric cars

Trump deployed his familiar criticism of Biden on environmental policy, saying, “All- electric cars. The all-electric mandate. Everybody has to have an electric car.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. Biden has not mandated that “everybody has to have an electric car,” though his administration has made an aggressive push to try to get automakers and consumers to move toward electric vehicles.

The Biden administration has proposed ambitious new tailpipe emissions regulations for automakersoffered tax credits to people who buy certain electric vehiclesinvested in new electric vehicle charging stations and ordered federal entities to purchase electric vehicles, among other policies promoting the adoption of these vehicles. But there is no Biden requirement that “everybody” has to drive an electric vehicle.

Depending on how automakers were to respond, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new tailpipe rules could, if adopted, require electric vehicles to make up two-thirds of new cars sold in the US by 2032.

The trade deficit

Returning to his criticism of US trade agreements with various countries, Trump said, “And then you wonder why we have a $2 trillion deficit. If you look at it now, it’s gotten to a level that nobody can even believe; it’s so bad under Biden.”

Facts First: Trump’s “$2 trillion” claim is false, a massive exaggeration. The US has never had a $2 trillion annual trade deficit and does not have one under Biden. The overall deficit, which includes trade in both goods and services, was about $773 billion in 2023, down from a record high of about $951 billion in 2022.

China’s oil purchases from Iran

Trump repeated a story about China and Iran that has become a staple of his campaign speeches. He claimed that, as president, he had threatened that he would cut off all US business with China if China bought even “one barrel of oil from Iran.”

He continued: “And President Xi – I told him this – said, ‘All right, well, we won’t do it. We won’t do it.’ They didn’t buy. By the way, they’re buying billions and billion worth of oil right now. But China didn’t buy.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim that China “didn’t buy” oil from Iran is false. China’s oil imports from Iran did briefly plummet under Trump in 2019, the year the Trump administration made a concerted effort to deter such purchases, but they never stopped – and then they rose sharply again while Trump was still president. “The claim is untrue because Chinese crude imports from Iran haven’t stopped at all,” Matt Smith, lead oil analyst for the Americas at Kpler, a market intelligence firm, said in November.

China’s official statistics recorded no purchases of Iranian crude in Trump’s last partial month in office, January 2021, and also none in most of Biden’s first year in office. But that doesn’t mean China’s imports actually ceased; industry experts say it is widely known that China has used a variety of tactics to mask its continued imports from Iran. Smith said Iranian crude is often listed in Chinese data as being from Malaysia; ships may travel from Iran with their transponders switched off and then turn them on when they are near Malaysia, Smith said, or transfer the Iranian oil to other ships.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, said in a November email: “China significantly reduced its imports from Iran from around 800,000 barrels per day in 2018 to 100,000 in late 2019. But by the time Trump left office, they were back to upwards to 600(000)-700,000 barrels.”

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