Fact-checking Trump’s ‘lightning round’ of lies at the CNN town hall
Former President Donald Trump’s town hall event felt like a lightning round of false and misleading claims — most of which we’ve heard before. Among them:
- He claimed the conservative group True the Vote found Democrats “stuffing ballot boxes” with “millions of votes” and it was caught “on government cameras.” It did not.
- Trump falsely claimed that he “didn’t ask” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “to find” him more votes. In a Jan. 2, 2021, call, Trump told Raffensperger: “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” which was one more than Trump needed to win the state.
- Then-Vice President Mike Pence didn’t have the legal right to send electoral votes back to the states, contrary to Trump’s claim that Pence “did something wrong” by not rejecting the votes in states he lost.
- Trump falsely claimed that “we have open borders,” when each month border officials have apprehended and expelled tens of thousands of people who illegally enter the country.
- He made an unsubstantiated claim that many of the immigrants coming illegally across the southern border are people released from prisons and mental institutions.
- The former president wrongly claimed that the Presidential Records Act allowed him to negotiate the return of presidential materials to the National Archives and Records Administration.
- President Joe Biden donated 1,850 boxes of records from his Senate years to the University of Delaware. There’s no evidence they contain classified information or that Biden refused to give them “back,” as Trump said.
- Trump claimed that “we were energy independent” during his administration, but the U.S. never attained 100% self-sufficiency and still relied on energy imports under Trump.
- He wrongly claimed that U.S. gasoline prices reached $9 under Biden. The highest weekly average price under Biden was about $5 in June 2022.
- Trump claimed that under Roe v. Wade, “They could kill the baby … after the baby was born.” The court opinion allowed states to prohibit abortion after fetal viability, with exceptions for the mother’s life and health.
Trump — the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, despite a criminal indictment in New York and an ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia — took questions from New Hampshire Republicans and undeclared voters in the May 10 prime time event moderated by CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins.
False Claims of Vote Fraud
Still refusing to accept the results of an election he lost, Trump made numerous false claims about how the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.” For example, Trump claimed, “If you look at True the Vote, they found millions of votes on camera, on government cameras, where [Democrats] were stuffing ballot boxes.”
Trump is referring to the “2000 Mules” documentary by conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, which purported to provide evidence that thousands of so-called “mules” were employed to illegally stuff ballot drop boxes with fraudulent ballots. The film was based on research from the conservative group True the Vote, which used geotracking data of cellphones and noted people who were near numerous ballot drop boxes and liberal nonprofits. We reviewed the film’s claims and found the evidence lacking.
When Georgia investigators looked into a handful of videos showing people depositing multiple ballots, it turned out to be people legally dropping off ballots for eligible voters in their immediate family. The House Jan. 6 committee released video of an interview of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who offered a blistering assessment, calling the cellphone data “singularly unimpressive” and saying the film simply “didn’t establish widespread illegal harvesting.”
Call to Georgia Secretary of State
Toward the end of the town hall, Collins revisited the topic of Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims.
Collins asked Trump about his Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — which has become the focus of a criminal investigation by the Fulton County district attorney’s office into whether Trump tried to illegally overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election outcome.
Asked if he would still make that call today, knowing that it would lead to a criminal investigation, Trump said there was nothing wrong with the call and that he was merely “questioning the election.”
Collins: You asked him to find you votes.
Trump: I didn’t ask him to find anything.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump told Raffensperger on the call.
Specifically, Trump told Raffensperger to look in Cobb and Fulton counties — which were both won by Biden. “You will find you will be at 11,779 within minutes because Fulton County is totally corrupt,” Trump said on the call.
Pence Didn’t Have Right to Reject Electoral Votes
Trump was asked if he owed his vice president, Mike Pence, an apology over what happened during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s repeated attempts to push Pence to refuse to count electoral votes.
“No, because he did something wrong,” Trump said. “He should have sent the votes back to the state legislatures and I think we would have had a different outcome.”
A constitutional expert told us Pence did not have the legal right to change or reject the electoral votes. The Electoral Count Act, which was signed into law in 1887, says the vice president is simply supposed to hand the tellers the state certifications after he opens them, and the tellers are then to read those documents and make a list of the votes.
According to the Jan. 6 committee report, Pence and his counsel Greg Jacob and others told Trump that Pence did not have the authority to send those electoral votes back to the states. Even Trump’s lawyer John Eastman “admitted” that Trump had been advised that the vice president did not have the unilateral power to refuse to count votes under the Electoral College Act, but Trump “continued to pressure the Vice President to act illegally,” the report said.
Trump said Pence and others were wrong, and that the proof is that “right after the election they all met – the RINOs [Republicans in name only] and the Democrats – and they worked out a plan to make sure that future vice presidents don’t do what I said you could do.” Congress revised the Electoral Count Act in December 2022, but only to “reaffirm” that a vice president’s role in the electoral vote counting process is “ministerial.” It was not an admission that the law previously allowed a vice president to take the steps Trump sought.
The U.S. does not “have open borders,” as Trump falsely claimed. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, particularly Border Patrol agents, have continued to apprehend and expel tens of thousands of people who illegally cross the southern border each month, according to the most recent CBP data.
In the Southwest Border Enforcement Report for fiscal year 2021, which was published in August 2022, the Office of Immigration Statistics said preliminary estimates indicated that the model-based apprehension rate in FY 2021 was about the same as the 78% average from FY 2018 to FY 2020, which were the three fiscal years when Trump was president the whole time. In its August 2020 Border Security Metrics Report, the Department of Homeland Security explained that the model-based apprehension rate is “the estimated share of all attempted unlawful border crossers between land [ports of entries] that is apprehended.”
No Evidence for Prisons Claim
As he has numerous times in recent months, Trump made the unsubstantiated claim that many of the immigrants coming illegally across the southern border are people released from prisons and mental institutions.
“Look what is happening at our southern border,” Trump said. “Millions and millions of people are coming in. They’re being released from prisons. They’re being released from mental institutions.”
We wrote about this claim in March when Trump said at a rally in Texas, “Other countries are emptying out their prisons, insane asylums and mental institutions and sending their most heinous criminals to the United States.” When making the claim, Trump has sometimes cited a news story he says he read, about a doctor at a mental institution in South America who said he no longer has people to take care of because all the patients are being sent to the U.S. We could not find any such story, and immigration experts we talked to said there’s simply no evidence that is happening.
“I cannot prove this is false, but I follow migration in Latin America and the Caribbean quite closely and have never ever heard anything like this related to current migration from the region,” Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, told us. “I have never heard any credible claims that any country has been emptying its prisons or mental hospitals so that those released can migrate to the United States.”
Presidential Records Act
The former president wrongly claimed that the Presidential Records Act allowed him to negotiate with the National Archives and Records Administration for the return of presidential materials he took with him after leaving office. A president can keep personal materials, but not presidential documents.
The Presidential Records Act says that after a president’s term, the archivist “shall assume responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of, and access to, the Presidential records of that President.”
Trump claimed, “We were negotiating with them as per, as per the Presidential Records Act,” adding that “all of the sudden, they raided the house.”
“They didn’t raid the house of Joe Biden,” Trump also said. CNN’s Collins correctly noted: “Joe Biden didn’t ignore a subpoena to get those documents back like you did.”
As we’ve written, Trump took eight months to comply with NARA’s requests for the return of presidential documents he had at his Mar-a-Lago home. NARA then discovered classified documents among those records. In responding to a subpoena for more classified material, Trump’s lawyers handed over an envelope with 38 classified documents.
Two months after that, the FBI obtained a court-approved search warrant for Mar-a-Lago and retrieved 13 boxes that contained “over one hundred unique documents with classification markings,” according to a court filing.
Biden Documents at University of Delaware
While talking about the Department of Justice’s investigation into his handling of classified documents, Trump repeated a claim that Biden mishandled and hid 1,850 boxes of classified records. “I have every right to [take classified documents] under the Presidential Records,” Trump said. (He doesn’t. See the section above on that act.) “Biden, on the other hand, he has 1,850 boxes.” Later on, Trump claimed that Biden “won’t give back the 1,850 boxes” and that “nobody even knows where they are.”
But there is no evidence any of the boxes from Biden contain classified information, and their location is known.
As we’ve written, Biden in 2012 donated more than 1,850 boxes of records from his years in the U.S. Senate to the University of Delaware. The documents are not available for public access following an agreement between Biden and the university at the time of the donation not to provide public access to any of the materials until “two years after the donor [Biden] retires from public life.” In October, a Delaware Superior Court judge upheld the University of Delaware’s refusal to provide access to the documents after the nonprofit Judicial Watch sought them through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Justice Department, with Biden’s consent, reviewed the documents and did not find any with classified markings, although some were taken for further review, CBS News has reported.
“We were energy independent” during his administration, Trump said.
The U.S. never stopped relying on foreign sources of energy under Trump, as his claim suggested. During his presidency, for the first time in decades, the U.S. exported more energy than it imported; produced more energy than it consumed; and again became a net exporter of petroleum, which includes crude oil and refined products from crude oil, such as gasoline and other fuels. Even if “energy independence” was determined by being a net exporter or having more production than consumption, the country’s status has not changed under Biden.
Trump falsely claimed that “energy” — a reference to gasoline prices — “went from $1.87 to $5, $6, $7, $8 and even $9.”
The average price of regular gasoline was $2.38 per gallon the week Trump left office in January 2021, up from a low of $1.77 the final week of April 2020, according to Energy Information Administration figures. Under Biden, the average weekly price reached a record of $5.01 in June 2022. Most recently, the price was down to $3.53 the week of May 8.
There was at least one California county where gas prices climbed to almost $10 a gallon in June 2022, but the highest average price for all of California — which usually has the country’s most expensive gas — was about $6.44 that month, according to AAA.
As we have written before, experts have said that U.S. presidents have little influence over gas prices, which are mainly affected by the global price of crude oil, a fossil fuel that is refined into gasoline.
Trump claimed that before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, “They could kill the baby in the ninth month or after the baby was born. Now they won’t be able to do that.” As we wrote in 2019 when he made a similar claim, killing a baby is a homicide.
The 1973 Roe opinion said the government can’t interfere with a right to an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Once a fetus is viable outside the womb, the government could restrict or prohibit abortions — but there must be exceptions for the mother’s life and health, which meant both physical and mental health, the court clarified in a companion case.
Trump also said that abortion rights supporters were in favor of abortions very late in a pregnancy or “after the baby is born.” As we wrote recently, in 2021 and 2022, Democrats introduced a bill that, similar to Roe, would set a viability threshold for state restrictions, permitting abortions to be prohibited after viability but with exceptions for risks to the life or health of the mother. The two political parties disagree on what the “health” exception means, with Republicans viewing it as a loophole.
The Supreme Court overturned Roe on June 24, 2022, leaving the issue of regulating abortion to the states.
In 2020, the vast majority of abortions — 93.1% — in the U.S. occurred in the first trimester, at or before 13 weeks of gestation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less than 1% were performed at or after 21 weeks. A full-term pregnancy is typically 38 to 42 weeks.
This article was originally published on May 11, 2023, by FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and is reprinted with permission.