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Fact check: Trump says he’s a ‘very honest guy’ while making multiple false claims

Posted at 10:53 AM, Jul 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-05 14:36:06-04

In a lengthy exchange with reporters on the White House South Lawn on Friday, President Donald Trump claimed that the outcome of the Mueller investigation shows “I’m a very honest guy.”

Before and after that pronouncement, he made false claims about Barack Obama, NATO and tariffs.

Here’s our fact check:

In responding to a question about the veracity of his previous statements that President Barack Obama had “begged” for meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump defended his claim and repeated it.

“He called Kim Jong Un on numerous occasions to meet,” Trump said. “President Obama wanted to meet with Kim Jong Un, and Kim Jong Un said no. Numerous occasions he called.”

Facts First: As CNN laid out in an extensive fact check earlier this week, there is no evidence Obama ever tried to secure a meeting with Kim Jong Un, let alone that he “called” North Korea on “numerous occasions.”

Multiple former Obama officials, including former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, have gone on the record to declare Trump’s claim false. Independent experts contacted by CNN also said Trump was wrong.

Obama’s administration did conduct occasional diplomatic outreach to North Korea, but its primary intent was to convince Kim Jong Un and his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il to return to the six-country negotiations that had collapsed. No presidential summit is known to have been floated at any point.

Obama pursued a policy, commonly known as “strategic patience,” of declining to directly engage with the Kims’ regime at all, let alone at the presidential level, as long as they refused to stop their belligerent behavior.

Tariffs on China

Trump again claimed that China is single-handedly paying for the US tariffs.

“(B)y the way, billions and billions of dollars of tariffs are coming in and China is paying for it, not our people.”

Facts First: No matter how many times Trump makes this claim (and he’s made it a lot recently), it’s false to say that China is paying the tariffs. The majority of the costs of these tariffs fall on American consumers and businesses.

CNN’s Facts First team has looked into this claim from Trump several times. Here’s what we found:

Economic studies have found that US consumers bear the majority of the weight of these tariffs, not China.

Two recent papers have found that tariffs on Chinese goods have raised prices on American consumers because importers often pass along the tariff price tag to domestic producers, which sometimes increase the price of their product to cover the cost, and sometimes eat the cost themselves.

A March paper from economists at Columbia, Princeton and the New York Federal Reserve found that the “full incidence” of Trump’s tariffs have fallen on domestic companies and consumers — costing them $3 billion a month by the end of 2018. The paper also found that the tariffs led to a reduction in US income, by $1.4 billion a month.

A separate academic paper also found that the tariffs led to higher consumer prices. It estimated that the tariffs will result in a $7.8 billion per year decline in income.

The Chinese supplier might take on some of the burden of the tariff by reducing its prices to maintain a market in the United States, but these studies show that the burden heavily falls on US consumers and companies.

For their part, the White House’s Economic Report of the President, also released in March, acknowledged that American consumers do pay some of the cost of these tariffs. Domestic producers, according to the report, benefit from price increases from the tariffs, but “offsetting these benefits are the costs paid by consumers in the form of higher prices and reduced consumption.”

Ivanka jobs

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Trump praised his daughter Ivanka for her work on jobs.

“Ivanka has worked on almost 10 million jobs, training and going to companies and getting them to hire people,” Trump said.

Facts First: Trump is right that Ivanka has worked on job training, but it’s not true that 10 million jobs have been created.

In July of last year, Trump signed an executive order creating the National Council for the American Worker, co-chaired by Ivanka Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. One of the council’s priorities is asking companies across the US to sign the Pledge to America’s Workers. The pledge involves “committing to expand programs that educate, train, and reskill American workers from high-school age to near-retirement,” according to the White House.

Two hundred and eighty-two companies have agreed to the pledge, with each providing different numbers of training opportunities. According to the White House website, the total number of opportunities pledged is just over 9.9 million.

Earlier this year, CNN checked out a similar — but not identical — claim Trump made that Ivanka Trump had “created millions of jobs.” That wasn’t true.

This time, Trump is hewing closer to the truth by saying she “worked on” job creation. But is overstating what the administration has secured from companies.

It’s true that Ivanka is working with companies on job training programs. But it’s not accurate to say they all constitute new jobs. Instead, they are training opportunities. In a press release last year, the White House described these opportunities as “apprenticeships and work-based learning, continuing education, on-the-job training, and reskilling.” These opportunities can be for current employees.

Many of these opportunities pledged were also already planned by the companies. As CNN previously reported, Walmart’s pledged amount over five years would just about match the rate that its program Walmart Academies has trained since it started in 2016. The Associated Builders and Contractors provides a similar example as it pledged to provide roughly as many opportunities in five years as it trains in one year.

So it’s inaccurate to suggest that the number of training opportunities pledged are “jobs.” The timeline for these opportunities spans five years. And many of them match existing company goals and numbers.

NATO spending

Trump criticized the previous administration’s policy toward NATO.

“Tell Biden that NATO has taken total advantage of him and President Obama … we were paying for almost all of NATO. We’re protecting countries. Those countries have to protect themselves with us. They have to make a contribution. In my first year I raised over $100 billion from those countries. Biden didn’t know what the hell he was doing and neither did President Obama. NATO was taking advantage of them. Now they’re paying. They still owe us a lot of money. Biden doesn’t know about that.”

Facts First: This is inaccurate in multiple ways. US military spending has long represented the majority of military spending by the entire NATO alliance, but it was not “almost all” during Biden’s tenure as vice-president. NATO countries do not “owe” the US money to make up for their previous military spending levels. Spending by NATO members began rising before Trump took office. And Trump was exaggerating how fast the additional spending has occurred during his tenure.

US spending represented close to 72% of all NATO members’ military spending each year from 2015 to 2017, according to official NATO figures. In 2014, it was 69%. Those are big numbers, but “almost all” is at least a slight exaggeration. Separate from the military spending of individual nations, NATO has its own direct budget to run its offices and programs. The US pays for an agreed-upon 22% of that budget.

NATO countries have agreed to a guideline of spending 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on their militaries. Contrary to Trump’s repeated claims, a failure to meet the 2% guideline does not result in anyone having any debt. Trump is free to argue that countries that are spending little on defense owe the US a debt of gratitude or a policy favor, but he is wrong to suggest they owe actual money.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has credited Trump for pressuring members into increasing their spending, but Trump is slightly exaggerating the size of the increase: Stoltenberg has made clear that it is $100 billion extra by the end of 2020, not $100 billion in Trump’s “first year.”

Also, Trump is wrong to suggest that spending increases are only “now” happening. Military spending by non-US NATO members increased by 1.8 per cent in 2015 and 2.8 per cent in 2016, while Biden was still vice president.

This story is being updated.