fact check
June 4, 2020

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has a recent history lesson for President Trump.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis denounced Trump on Wednesday after his militaristic response to nationwide protesters, prompting Trump to tweet about how he fired the retired general. Except as Kelly reminded Trump in an interview with The Washington Post, that's not exactly how it went down.

"The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation," Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, told the Post. "The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused. The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is a honorable man."

Mattis submitted his resignation at the end of 2018 with a decisively passive aggressive letter. Trump, apparently not actually reading the letter, praised Mattis at first before actually figuring out what the defense secretary had said.

In a statement to The Atlantic, Mattis declared Trump was "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try." He then sided with protesters demanding "equal justice under law," and went so far as to compare the White House's mission under Trump to the Nazi slogan of "Divide and Conquer." Kathryn Krawczyk

June 1, 2020

Sunday night protests in Washington, D.C. turned fiery after sundown, but hundreds of tweets claiming an internet blackout in the city very likely weren't true.

The hashtag #DCBlackout started trending on Twitter Sunday night, with alleged protesters claiming their messages and photos weren't going through and claiming an orchestrated cell phone service outage was to blame. The fact that a hashtag about a supposed blackout was popular enough to be trending on Twitter was questionable enough, and by the next morning, reporters started explaining what likely happened.

Reporters covering the protests and most nonviolent protesters had gone home to stay safe and get some sleep, creating what looked like a social media void that allowed misinformation-spreading bots to take over, CBS News' Christina Ruffini reported. Many of the accounts sharing the hashtag had very few followers and generic profile pictures, only backing up the fact that they seemed to be fake. And as NetBlocks, a nonprofit that tracks internet outages worldwide, showed, Washington's services appeared consistent throughout the weekend.

Motherboard's Joseph Cox did note that NetBlocks wouldn't have been able to pick up a phone blackout on a smaller level, though he was "skeptical" of any blackout claims. And as more reporters who cover disinformation are pointing out, it's important to be skeptical of any conspiracies, especially hashtags, gaining popularity as protests continue. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 29, 2020

Talking points from former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign suggest The New York Times found that Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation against him is false, but the Times would like to clarify it did not reach this conclusion.

BuzzFeed News on Tuesday reported that Biden's campaign had sent out talking points regarding Reade's allegation that Biden assaulted her in 1993 when she worked for him as an aide. The talking points assert "a thorough review by the New York Times has led to the truth: this incident did not happen."

Asked about the allegation against Biden on Tuesday, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams echoed these talking points, telling CNN, "The New York Times did a deep investigation, and they found that the accusation was not credible."

But a spokesperson for the Times on Wednesday said this characterization of their reporting is not accurate.

"BuzzFeed reported on the existence of talking points being circulated by the Biden campaign that inaccurately suggest a New York Times investigation found that Tara Reade's allegation 'did not happen,'" the Times spokesperson said. "Our investigation made no conclusion either way."

Rather, the Times said no former staff members of Biden's corroborated Reade's allegation during their reporting and that "the Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden," but it did not determine Reade's allegation didn't happen. The Times spokesperson noted Wednesday that it "spoke to a friend who said Reade told her the details of the allegation at the time" and "another friend and Reade's brother say she told them of a traumatic sexual incident involving Biden."

Earlier this week, a former neighbor of Reade's told Insider she told her about the alleged assault in the 1990s. The Biden campaign has denied the allegation, but Biden hasn't commented on it personally. Brendan Morrow

March 17, 2020

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Trump denied he's changed his tune in recent days about the coronavirus.

The president is even claiming he was ahead of the curve and knew the outbreak amounted to a pandemic even before the World Health Organization declared it one. "I've always viewed it as very serious," he said. "There was no difference yesterday from days before. I feel the tone is similar."

Unsurprisingly, people were quick to point out that Trump's previous rhetoric doesn't line up with that — at one point, during a rally in South Carolina, he described the Democrats' criticism of his administration's response to the outbreak as "their new hoax" and more recently said that the U.S.'s once-limited number of cases would soon be gone. In short, Trump was mainly focused on downplaying the threats of the virus and calling his opponents out for fearmongering. Based on that, it's fair to say Trump wasn't quite the seer he now proclaims to be. Tim O'Donnell

January 3, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence may want to check a middle-school history textbook for this one.

The U.S. carried out an airstrike Friday morning that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force and one of the country's top leaders. After President Trump gave his first remarks acknowledging the strike, Pence tweeted out a thread outlining Soleimani's "worst atrocities," including one that wasn't exactly accurate.

Pence's most questionable tweet outlined Soleimani's alleged role in the 9/11 attacks. Soleimani, Pence said, "assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States."

The most obviously incorrect bit of information here is the number of hijackers: There were 19, and "8-10" of them "traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001," per the 9/11 commission report. And while the report does conclude "there is strong evidence Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11," Charlotte Clymer of the Human Rights Campaign says Soleimani probably wouldn't have been involved in that.

A New Yorker article from 2013 also points out that the U.S. actually worked with Soleimani "to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban." That lasted until former President George W. Bush declared Iran part of his "Axis of Evil" in the Middle East. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 2, 2020

As 2019 drew to a close, many Americans looked back on the year and the past decade and ran through their accomplishments and things they hope to improve in the 2020s. President Trump apparently did at least the first half of that exercise, tweeting a few hours before midnight on New Year's Eve that one of his "greatest honors" was "to have gotten CHOICE approved for our great Veterans. Others have tried for decades, and failed!" Maybe others failed, but former President Barack Obama did not — he signed the Veterans Choice Act into law in 2014.

What's more, the law was written by the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic, and current 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Trump has been making this same false claim for months. In its fact-check from May, The Associated Press notes that "Trump did expand eligibility for the program," allowing veterans to opt for a private doctor if the VA wait was more than 20 days (28 days for specialists), not 30 days as under the Sanders-McCain bill, or they had to drive more than 30 minutes to a VA facility, not 40 miles. And VA Secretary Robert Wilkie — who also falsely claimed credit for changes implemented under Obama, AP notes — acknowledged that full implementation of the expanded Choice program won't happen for "years." Maybe by that point, the next president can take an undeserved victory lap. Peter Weber

September 13, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro isn't the only one sick of former Vice President Joe Biden's Obama nostalgia.

In an attempt to distance himself from former President Barack Obama's immigration policies during Thursday night's Democratic debate, Biden mistakenly said "I'm the vice president of the United States." Pence heard Biden, and, borrowing an overused yet favorite phrase of Biden's, told reporters Friday "Let me be clear, I am the vice president of the United States."

Univision's Jorge Ramos questioned Biden on Thursday night on the Obama administration's deportation of 3 million migrants, asking if he was "prepared to say tonight that you and President Obama made a mistake about deportations." "The president did the best thing that was able to be done at the time," Biden responded, and when asked about his own record, simply said "I'm the vice president of the United States." That didn't answer the question and, as Pence pointed out on Friday, is very untrue. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 22, 2019

A claim by President Trump has never been so demonstrably false.

Trump started his Monday morning with a stream of tweets, including one in which he attacked a Washington Post article from Sunday that reported "advisers wrote new talking points and handed [Trump] reams of opposition research" on the four Democratic congresswomen he attacked last week. Trump's tweet claimed "there were no talking points, except for those stated by me," and that "'reams of paper' were never given to me."

Yet as the Post's Aaron Blake pointed out in a tweet, Post photographer Jabin Botsford captured several photos of Trump holding what can only be described as talking points during a press conference on July 15.

Those bulleted points are easily readable, and detail the disparaging, often untrue, and occasionally misspelled attacks he made on Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) during the conference. Kathryn Krawczyk

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