Tuesday, May 7, 2024

TIME interview unmasks Donald Trump as an epic liar who knows zero about governing, but MAGA types think he would make a good president? Sheesh!


Part One

We long have known that Donald Trump is a liar of epic proportions; The Washington Post even has documented the number of times Trump made false or misleading statements during hi first term as president. (For the record, the number of times Trump made such statements over a four-year period was 30,573.) Thanks to last week's cover-story interview with TIME magazine, we now have insight on why Trump lies so often. 

Throughout the interview, TIME journalist Eric Cortellessa -- who obviously is much smarter than Trump and knows more about issues related to governance -- asks Trump about his plans for governing in a possible second term. In most instances, Trump gives an answer that might best be described as "fatuous" or "vapid." When Cortellessa presents a followup question with more specifics, Trump is lost, out of his element. At that point, the former president throws some bull feces against the wall, in hopes it will stick. Cortellessa then presents more facts, and Trump is exposed -- he cannot carry on a semi-intelligent conversation about matters that should be second nature for a serious presidential candidate.

As the interview moves long, we realize that Trump is NOT a serious candidate. We do not find out explicitly why Trump isn't serious about being president. But it becomes clear when we consider the whole point of Cortellessa's interview -- he is not asking about the election or the campaign; he wants to know about Trump's plans for governing. And it soon becomes obvious that Trump does not plan to govern during a second term.

As Trump has said on multiple occasions, his plan is to make a second term about seeking retribution against his perceived political enemies -- the people he blames for his mounting legal problems. Why prepare for an interview about governing when you have no plans to govern? Our guess is that Trump is not even interested in governing -- carrying out the basic functions of the presidency -- so he comes across as an embarrassing empty vessel when a journalist who does care about the presidency grills him on the subject. 

In essence, Trump is revealed as the imposter candidate. We are left not knowing why he is seeking the job, but it surely is not because he wants to do the work of being president. He proves that he is unqualified and disqualified (under the U.S. Constitution's insurrection clause, even though the US. Supreme let him off the hook in a case where the Colorado Supreme Court had correctly blocked him from appearing on the state's ballot due to Trump's actions related to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in death and bloodshed.

How bad, and clueless, does Trump come across in the TIME nterview? CNN provides a top-notch analysis under the headline "Trump’s bombardment of dishonesty: Fact-checking 32 of his false claims to TIME."This is not the first time the network and its website have prepared such a report. In February 2024, they published a piece titled "Trump's speech at CPAC 2024 was packed with lies, indicating he knowingly deceives his MAGA crowds because he assumes they won't use critical thinking." As the headline suggests, it is an analysis of all the lies Trump laid on an audience of right-wing influencers at the annual CPAC gathering.

Covering Trump's dishonest public utterances has become routine business for CNN reporters and editors, so they know the drill. What did they come up with in their fact check on Trump's interview  with TIME? Let's take a look at the piece, written by Daniel Dale:

Former President Donald Trump delivered a bombardment of dishonesty in his interviews with TIME magazine.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, made at least 32 false claims in the two April interviews that Time released this week. His serial inaccuracy spanned a wide range of subjects, including the economy, abortion, the NATO military alliance, the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, his legal cases, his record as president and the 2020 election he has relentlessly lied about for more than three years.

TIME published its own fact check of some of the 32 claims on Tuesday, when it released its cover story on Trump. Here is an in-depth CNN debunking, focusing on various issues raised in the TIME article:

Trump’s record as president

(1) Terrorism during Trump’s presidency

Trump claimed that, during his presidency, “there was very little terrorism. We had none. I had four years of — we had no terrorism. We didn’t have a World Trade Center knocked down.”

Facts First: While it’s true, of course, that Trump’s presidency didn’t feature anything comparable to the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, his claim that “we had no terrorism” isn’t true. There were a variety of terrorist attacks on the US during his term.

Trump’s own Justice Department alleged that a mass murder in New York City in 2017, which killed eight people and injured others, was a terrorist attack carried out in support of ISIS; Trump repeatedly lamented this attack during his presidency. Trump’s Justice Department also alleged that a 2019 attack by an extremist member of Saudi Arabia’s military, which killed three U.S. service members and injured others at a military base in Florida, “was motivated by jihadist ideology” and was carried out by a longtime “associate” of al Qaeda.

There were various additional terrorist attacks during Trump’s presidency. Notably, Trump’s Justice Department said it was a “domestic terrorist attack” when one of Trump’s supporters mailed improvised explosive devices to CNN, prominent Democratic officials and other people in 2018.

In 2019, a White supremacist pleaded guilty to multiple charges in New York, including first-degree murder in furtherance of an act of terrorism, for killing a Black man in March 2017 to try to start a race war. And Trump’s Justice Department described a 2019 shooting massacre at a Walmart in Texas as an act of domestic terrorism; the gunman who killed 23 people was targeting Latinos.

(2) Border wall construction

Talking about his wall on the border with Mexico, Trump said, “I completed what I said I was going to do, much more than I said I was going to do.”

Facts Fist: This is false; Trump didn’t achieve nearly as much wall construction as he had pledged on the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016. 

Trump repeatedly said in 2015 and 2016 that “we need” 1,000 miles of wall to protect the southern border, with another 1,000 miles already protected by natural barriers. But not even close to 1,000 miles were built during his presidency; official federal statistics put the total construction at 458 miles, and only 52 miles of that total was new “primary” wall built where no barriers had previously existed. When Trump left office, there were about 280 miles of the border where wall construction had been planned but not executed.

(3) The departure of Attorney General William Barr

Asked why voters should trust him with a second term when many of the people who worked closely with him during his first term now say he doesn’t deserve another term, Trump said, “Well, they don’t because I didn’t like them.
Some of those people I fired. Bill Barr, I fired Bill Barr. I didn’t want him.”

Facts FirstThis is false. Barr resigned as attorney general in December 2020; he was not fired, as a White House official confirmed to CNN at the time. Trump had been frustrated with Barr over Barr’s public rejection of his lies about mass election fraud and had been seriously considering firing Barr the same month, but Trump did not do so — and he made a positive public statement about Barr upon the resignation, writing on social media: “Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family.”

(4) The US military presence in South Korea

Trump claimed that, before he negotiated a better deal, South Korea was paying far too little “for 40,000 troops that we had there.”

Facts FirstTrump’s “40,000” number is inaccurate. As of December 31, 2016, less than a month before Trump took office, the US had 26,878 military personnel in South Korea, including 23,468 on active duty, according to official statistics from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center. As of December 31, 2018, less than two months before the Trump administration signed a new deal with South Korea, the total was 29,389 U.S. military personnel in South Korea, including 26,311 on active duty.

(5) The US financial arrangement with South Korea

Trump claimed that he got South Korea to agree to pay the US “billions of dollars” for its military presence there, but “now probably that I’m gone, they’re paying very little.” He continued, “I don’t know if you know that they renegotiated the deal I made. And they’re paying very little. But they paid us billions, many billions of dollars, for us having troops there. From what I’m hearing, they were able to renegotiate with the Biden Administration and bring that number way, way down to what it was before, which was almost nothing.”

Facts FirstTrump made two false claims here. First, it’s not even close to true that the Biden administration permitted South Korea to pay “almost nothing” for the US military presence there. In fact, as TIME noted in its own fact check, South Korea agreed under President Joe Biden to pay more than it had been paying during the Trump era. Completing negotiations that began under Trump, South Korea agreed in March 2021 to a 2021 payment increase of 13.9% — meaning its payment that year would be about $1 billion — and then additional increases in 2022 through 2025 tied to increases in South Korea’s defense budget. 

Second, it’s also not true that South Korea paid “almost nothing” for the U.S. troop presence before Trump came along. South Korea agreed to pay the US about $867 million in 2014 and, through 2018, to increase the payments annually based on the rate of inflation. The Congressional Research Service wrote in a 2023 report: “In the past, South Korea generally paid for 40%-50% (over $800 million annually) of the total non-personnel costs of maintaining the U.S. troop presence in South Korea.” 

(6) Trump’s popularity in Israel

After boasting about what he did for Israel during his presidency, Trump said, “The people of Israel appreciate it. I have like a 98% — I have the highest approval numbers.”

Facts First: Trump does not have a 98% approval rating in Israel. Tamar Hermann, an expert on Israeli public opinion who is a political science professor and a senior research fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute, said in an email to CNN this week: “Indeed in certain segments of the Jewish public (mainly the Right) Trump was very popular during his presidency. However, in no serious survey did he hit 98% as far as the general public was concerned.”

A 2018 poll found that 59% of Jewish Israelis had a favorable view of Trump. A poll late in the 2020 presidential election found that 70% of Jewish Israelis thought a Trump victory would be best for Israel’s interests (versus 13% who chose Biden). A poll released this March found that 44% of Israeli adults wanted Trump elected in 2024, 30% wanted Biden and 26% were unsure.

Hermann said President Bill Clinton was more popular in Israel during his presidency than Trump was during his, and that “Trump has lost much of his popularity here after leaving the White House because of his hectic/sometimes antagonistic statements.”

(7)Trump and the law on monument destruction

Trump repeated his familiar claim that he had passed a law, or revived an old law, to give an automatic 10-year prison sentence to anyone who desecrates a monument.

He said, “I mean, if you look at what happened in Washington with monuments, I passed the law. I took an old law, brought it into effect that you get a minimum of 10 years without any adjustment if you do anything to desecrate a monument and everything was immediately set up… I signed into effect a law that gives you 10 years, not one day less than 10 years of prison if you desecrate a monument. You know, that was very effective.”

Facts First: Trump’s claims are false. He didn’t “pass” any “law” about damage to monuments, and he did not impose an automatic 10-year sentence for damaging monuments. In fact, the executive order he issued on the subject, in 2020, did not create any mandatory minimum or even require any increase in sentences.

Rather, the executive order simply directed the attorney general to “prioritize” investigations and prosecutions of monument-destruction cases and declared that it is federal policy to prosecute such cases to the fullest extent permitted under existing law – including one that allowed a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for willfully damaging federal property if the damage exceeds $100. The executive order did nothing to force judges to impose a 10-year sentence.

(8) Trump, Minneapolis and the National Guard

Trump spoke of his willingness to use the military to assist with the massive deportation initiative he has promised. He said, “When we talk military, generally speaking, I talk National Guard. I’ve used the National Guard in Minneapolis. And if I didn’t use it, I don’t think you’d have Minneapolis standing right now, because it was really bad.”

Facts First: Though Trump has repeatedly claimed that he is the person who deployed the National Guard in Minneapolis during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, not Trump, is actually the person who did so. Walz first activated the Minnesota National Guard more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to deploy the Guard himself. 

Trump claimed in 2020, as he has since, that he deployed the Guard in Minnesota because the Democratic governor was unwilling to do it. That’s not true, either. In addition, 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.

You can read more details here.


(9) The US share of NATO funding

Criticizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance and its funding structure, Trump said, “I went, I looked at the numbers, and I said, wait a minute, the United States is paying for NATO. We’re paying for close to 100% of NATO.”

Facts First: Trump’s claim is false. Official NATO figures show that in 2016, the last year before Trump took office, US defense spending made up about 71% of total defense spending by NATO members – a large majority, but not “close to 100%.” And Trump’s claim is even more inaccurate if he was talking about the direct contributions to NATO that cover NATO’s organizational expenses and are set based on each country’s national income; the US was responsible for about 22% of those contributions in 2016.  

The US share of total NATO military spending fell to about 65% in 2023. And the U.S. is now responsible for about 16% of direct contributions to NATO, the same as Germany. Erwan Lagadec, an expert on NATO as a research professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and director of its Transatlantic Program, said the US share was reduced from 22% “to placate Trump” and is a “sweetheart deal” given that the US makes up more than half of the alliance’s total GDP.

(10) NATO countries’ military spending

Trump said of NATO members: “I just want them to pay their bills.” He added, “I don’t need to renegotiate the terms of the treaty. All I need to do is have them pay their bills. They don’t pay their bills.”

Facts First: Trump’s claim is false. NATO’s target of having its members each spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense is a self-described “guideline” that does not create “bills.” In fact, the guideline doesn’t require payments to NATO or the US at all; it simply requires each country to spend on its own defense programs. And Trump’s categorical claim that NATO members “don’t pay their bills” is now inaccurate in an additional way. While a majority of NATO members have traditionally not met the 2% target, NATO’s chief said in February that 18 of the 31 members subject to the guideline were expected to hit the target this year.

(11) NATO’s funding and stability

Trump said, “I did a hell of a job getting money for NATO because nobody else — NATO had no money. NATO couldn’t have even prosecuted what they’re doing right now. They had no money.” He also said, “They had no cash, they were dying.”

Facts First: While NATO chief Stoltenberg did give Trump partial credit for prodding member countries to increase their defense spending, it’s just not true that “NATO had no money” before Trump became president. Defense spending by NATO members other than the U.S. was about $262 billion in 2016, certainly not nothing. (It rose to about $314 billion in 2020, Trump’s last full year in office.) And there’s simply no basis in reality for the claim that NATO was “dying” before Trump came along; Lagadec noted to CNN in 2023, when Trump made similar comments, that the only NATO member that had given “any sign” in recent years that it was thinking about leaving the alliance “was… the U.S., under Trump.”

(12) The cost of NATO’s headquarters

Continuing to criticize NATO, Trump claimed that, before his presidency, “All they were doing was building stupid office buildings. They built a $3-billion office building.”

Facts First: Trump’s $3 billion figure, which he has used before, is not close to accurate. NATO told CNN in 2020 that the headquarters building in Brussels, Belgium, was constructed for a sum under the approved budget of 1.178 billion euro, or about $1.26 billion at Wednesday exchange rates — certainly an expensive facility, but less than half what Trump has repeatedly claimed.

The Covid-19 pandemic

(13) Perceptions of pandemics

Speaking of his response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump said, “Everybody thought of a pandemic as an ancient problem. No longer a modern problem, right?”

Facts First: It’s not true that “everybody” thought of pandemics as an “ancient problem” that was not a problem in the “modern” age. As CNN noted when Trump made similar false claims in 2020, the U.S. intelligence community, public-health experts and officials in Trump’s own administration had warned for years, prior to Covid-19, that the U.S. was at risk from a pandemic. Some of their warnings specifically mentioned the possibility of a coronavirus pandemic.

For example, the U.S. intelligence community wrote in its 2018 worldwide threat assessment, and again in its 2019 assessment, of the risk to the U.S. posed by a potential future influenza or coronavirus pandemic. The 2019 version said, “We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”

During Trump’s first year as president, officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention participated in a pandemic simulation with officials from other countries; a World Bank official told The Washington Post at the time that the simulation’s purpose was “to prepare much more systematically to be ready for the 100 percent probability we will be dealing with this again. Probably sooner than we expect.’”

In response to similar Trump claims in 2020, Harvard University epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch, director of Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told CNN: “This was foreseeable, and foreseen, weeks and months ago, and only now is the White House coming out of denial and heading straight into saying it could not have been foreseen.”

(14) Pandemic supplies

Speaking about his response to Covid-19, Trump repeated a claim he made repeatedly in 2020 — that “the cupboards were totally bare” and that the US had no supplies for dealing with the pandemic. Among other things, he said, “We had no ventilators. We had nothing.”

Facts FirstIt’s not true that the US had “no ventilators” or “totally bare” cupboards when the pandemic hit, though it’s true that some communities experienced early-pandemic shortages of some critical supplies and that the federal Strategic National Stockpile’s supplies of some items, such as high-quality masks, were low. CNN repeatedly debunked this “no ventilators” claim in 2020.

A spokesperson for the Trump-era Department of Health and Human Services told CNN in June 2020 that, when the pandemic hit, there had been about 19,000 ventilators in the federal Strategic National Stockpile for “many years,” including 16,660 ventilators that were ready for immediate use in March 2020 — far more than the Trump administration had actually ended up distributing during the first three months of the crisis. The spokesperson confirmed that none of those 16,660 were purchased by the Trump administration.

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in the spring of 2020 to accelerate the manufacturing of additional ventilators, and his administration sent thousands of ventilators to other countries in 2020. 

Trade and the economy

(15) The trade deficit with China 

Talking about his proposal for a significant tariff on U.S . imports from China, Trump said, “China was going along making $500 to $600 billion a year, and nobody was ever even mentioning it until I came along.” Trump has used such language for years when speaking about the trade deficit with China, the annual difference between what the US imports from and exports to China.

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. The U.S. has never had a $500 billion or $600 billion trade deficit with China even if you only count trade in goods and ignore the services trade in which the U.S. traditionally 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 (and under $300 billion under Biden in 2023, the lowest since 2010).

(16) Past presidents and tariffs on China 

Defending his tariffs on Chinese products, Trump said, “Look, I took in billions of dollars from China. Nobody else ever did anything on China.”

Facts FirstTemporarily leaving aside the fact that study after study has found that Americans, not China, overwhelmingly paid for Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products, it’s not true that “nobody else ever did anything on China.” The U.S. has had tariffs on goods from China since the late 1700s; as president, Barack Obama imposed new tariffs on goods from China; FactCheck.org reported 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.”

This Trump claim to TIME was a vaguer version of his oft-repeated false claim that no previous president generated even “10 cents” from tariffs on China. 

(Note: We will look at more issues raised in the TIME interview, and Trump's inability to give honest answers, in Part Two, which is coming soon.)

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