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Fact check: Trump repeats false claims during rally in Waco, Texas

Election 2024 Trump
Posted at 10:58 PM, Mar 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-26 22:58:02-04

(CNN) — Former President and current presidential candidate Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Saturday with a rally speech in Waco, Texas, that was littered with false claims -- many of which he has made before.

Trump also delivered unsubstantiated attacks on the integrity of the criminal investigations into his conduct in various matters, including the Manhattan district attorney's probe of hush money payments to an adult film performer. Trump alleged deliberate "prosecutorial misconduct" without providing evidence for the charge.

Here is a fact check of some of Trump's other claims in the speech.

The election

Trump claimed that he actually won the 2020 election but it was "rigged."

"We won in 2016. We won by much more in 2020 but it was rigged," he said. Later he reiterated the claim, saying "It's a rigged system. Like we had a rigged election."

Facts First: This is one of Trump's regular lies. He lost the 2020 election, fair and square. Democrat Joe Biden won a 306-232 victory in the Electoral College -- earning over seven million more votes than Trump, good for a margin of 51.3% to 46.8%.

The trade deficit with China

Trump went on to repeat a version of a false claim that he made more than 100 times as president -- that the US used to have a trade deficit with China of more than $500 billion. On Saturday he claimed that before he took office, "China was ripping us off, making $600 billion a year."

Facts First: The US has never had a $600 billion trade deficit with China, even if you only count trade in goods and ignore the services trade in which the US runs a surplus with China. The pre-Trump record for a goods deficit with China was about $367 billion in 2015. The goods deficit hit a new record of about $418 billion under Trump in 2018 before falling back under $400 billion in subsequent years.

Previous presidents and tariffs on Chinese goods

Trump repeated his familiar claim that no president prior to himself had generated revenue from tariffs on China. He said, "We put massive tariffs, we took hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars out of China. No other president took anything out of China -- not 10 cents."

Facts First: As we have written repeatedly, it's not true that no president before Trump had generated any revenue through tariffs on goods from China. In reality, the US has had tariffs on China for more than two centuries, and reported in 2019 that the US generated an "average of $12.3 billion in custom duties a year from 2007 to 2016, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb." Also, American importers, not Chinese exporters, make the actual tariff payments -- and study after study during Trump's presidency found that Americans were bearing most of the cost of the tariffs.

The wall

During the 2020 election, one of Trump's campaign slogans was "promises made, promises kept." Now that he's running again, he's reiterating what he claims were campaign promises he delivered. On Saturday, he referenced the border wall construction that occurred under his administration.

"I built hundreds of miles of wall and completed that task, totally as promised," he said.

Facts First: It's not even close to true that Trump "completed" the border wall.

According to an official "Border Wall Status" report written by US Customs and Border Protection two days after Trump left office, about 458 miles of wall had been completed under Trump -- but about 280 more miles that had been identified for wall construction had not been completed. The report, provided to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, said that, of those 280, about 74 miles of barriers were "in the pre-construction phase and have not yet been awarded, in locations where no barriers currently exist," and that 206 miles were "currently under contract, in place of dilapidated and outdated designs and in locations where no barriers previously existed."


Trump claimed, "We are a nation that has the highest inflation in 50 years."

Facts First: Trump's "50 years" claim is an exaggeration, though the inflation rate does remain high by historical standards.

Last June, the year-over-year inflation rate hit its highest level since late 1981, 9.1%. But about 41 years does not round to "50 years"; the actual highest year-over-year inflation rate for the last 50 years is 14.8% (in early 1980), far higher than mid-2022 levels. More importantly, year-over-year inflation has now declined for eight straight months, hitting 6% in February 2023 -- not even close to the 50-year high.

Latin America and deportations

Trump told his familiar story about how, until he was president, the US was unable to deport "really bad people," including MS-13 gang members to other countries including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras because those countries "wouldn't take 'em."

"The buses taking really bad people back into Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries, they wouldn't allow us to go. So, I said to them, 'Well, how are we going to get them out?' They said, 'Well, sir, we can't get them out. We gave up years ago, under the Obama administration 'cause they won't take 'em back,'" Trump said.

Facts First: It's not true that, as a rule, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador wouldn't take back migrants being deported from the US during Obama's administration, though there were some individual exceptions.

In 2016, just prior to Trump's presidency, none of these three countries were on the list of countries that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) considered "recalcitrant," or uncooperative, in accepting the return of their nationals.

For the 2016 fiscal year, Obama's last full fiscal year in office, ICE reported that Guatemala and Honduras ranked second and third, behind only Mexico, in terms of the country of citizenship of people being removed from the US. You can read a longer fact check, from 2019, here.

Military equipment left to the Taliban

Trump repeated a claim that, upon the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it left behind "$85 billion worth of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world."

Facts First: Trump's $85 billion figure is false. While a significant quantity of military equipment that had been provided by the US to Afghan government forces was indeed abandoned to the Taliban upon the US withdrawal, the Defense Department has estimated that this equipment had been worth about $7.1 billion -- a chunk of about $18.6 billion worth of equipment provided to Afghan forces between 2005 and 2021. And some of the equipment left behind was rendered inoperable before US forces withdrew.

As other fact-checkers have previously explained, the "$85 billion" is a rounded-up figure (it's closer to $83 billion) for the total amount of money Congress has appropriated during the war to a fund supporting the Afghan security forces. A minority of this funding was for equipment.

Obama and Ukraine

Trump repeated his claim that while he provided lethal assistance to Ukraine, the Obama administration merely gave Ukraine "pillows and sheets."

Facts First: This is inaccurate. While it's true that the Obama administration declined to provide weapons to Ukraine, it provided more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016 that involved far more than pillows and sheets. The aid included counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, armored Humvees, tactical drones, night vision devices and medical supplies.

Michael Bloomberg's campaign spending

While talking about why he is running for president again, Trump delivered a mocking aside about the unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign of billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg. He said, "I mean, Mike Bloomberg spent $2.5 billion, he never got past the first (debate) question."

Facts First: Trump's $2.5 billion figure was a major exaggeration. Bloomberg spent just over $1 billion on his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. That's a remarkable sum for a campaign that did not last even four months, but it's far less than $2.5 billion.

Trump and Nord Stream 2

Criticizing the accusation that he is "soft" on Russia, Trump claimed, "I ended Nord Stream 2. The pipeline was done."

Facts First: Trump did not "end" the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. While he did approve sanctions on companies working on the project designed to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany, that move came nearly three years into his presidency, when the pipeline was already around an estimated 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 early last year. The pipeline was damaged later in the year in what has been described as an act of sabotage.

Awareness of Nord Stream 2

Trump also claimed that before he fought against the pipeline, "nobody in this audience, nobody in Washington, ever heard of Nord Stream 2."

Facts First: We can't speak about the pipeline knowledge of the people in this Waco audience, but Trump's claim that nobody in the nation's capital had heard of Nord Stream 2 before Trump came along is false. Nord Stream 2 was a regular subject of media, government and diplomatic discussion in Washington before Trump took office. In fact, Biden publicly criticized the pipeline as vice president in 2016.

The cost of an embassy move

Trump reprised a story he told during his presidency about how he supposedly managed to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for less than $1 million. He said, "I promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem and I got it built...for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time. It was supposed to cost $2 billion, I got it built for $500,000."

Facts First: The State Department awarded a $21.2 million contract in 2018 for a company to design and build "compound security upgrades" related to Trump's decision to turn an existing US diplomatic facility in Jerusalem into an embassy. While the initial modification that allowed the building to open as an embassy cost just under $400,000, that was not the final total as Trump has repeatedly claimed or strongly suggested.