WASHINGTON (AP) — The suspense hung over the public square for hours. Were Japanese regulatory authorities really dropping bowling balls on American cars as part of a dark plot to keep the autos out of the Japanese market?
No, the White House acknowledged. That story was just President Donald Trump being Trump.
This past week, he shed new light on what it means when he is just being himself. At the same event where he spun the bowling ball tale, he told a different story. It was about how he engaged Canada’s prime minister in a discussion about trade and, finding himself short on information, made some up. It was a rare acknowledgment that he’ll wing it on facts.
A look at a variety of his recent statements and their veracity:
TRUMP, on how Japanese authorities stopped a U.S. car from being approved for sale in their country: “They were ready to approve it and they said, ‘No, no, we have to do one more test.’ It’s called the bowling ball test. Do you know what that is? That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car. And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. Well, guess what? The roof dented a little bit, and they said, ‘Nope, this car doesn’t qualify.’ It’s horrible, the way we’re treated.” — remarks to closed Missouri fundraiser Wednesday, leaked to The Washington Post and other organizations.
THE FACTS: That “test” didn’t happen. “He’s joking about this particular test,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
Possible inspiration for Trump’s story: a fanciful old Nissan ad showing its SUV miraculously escaping damage as bowling bowls cascade down an urban street, trashing other vehicles.
TRUMP, on a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Nice guy, good-looking, comes in — Donald, we have no trade deficit … I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. Josh, I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart.” — remarks at the Missouri fundraiser, held for GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley.
THE FACTS: The facts of this meeting are not established; Canadian officials won’t comment on whether it happened as Trump described it. Trudeau visited Trump in October and the two have spoken by phone on multiple occasions about trade and other matters as Trump pushes a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
In his hard-to-follow account, Trump is making this point: He insisted the U.S. is running a trade deficit with Canada while Trudeau asserted the opposite — that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada. Trump is saying that while he did not have the facts to back him up, his belief that American officials have been “stupid” about trade and Canadians have been “smart” led him to assert that the U.S. must have a deficit with Canada. He went on to say that his position was ultimately vindicated when officials took a closer look at the statistics.
U.S. statistics don’t support Trump. They show the U.S. runs a trade surplus with Canada — $2.8 billion in 2017, $12.5 billion in 2016. A U.S. deficit in trade of goods is overcome by a surplus in trade of services for an overall balance in favor of the U.S.
Trump ignores services in his rhetoric.
TRUMP on the effects of a nuclear weapons test by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “He had a test, they had a test of a nuclear weapon about a year ago, and it registered as an 8.6. Now, you heard of that, on the Richter scale, right? So they said, man, there was an earthquake. Eight point six someplace in Asia. Where was it? Oh it was in North Korea.” — from fundraiser.
THE FACTS: North Korea had no earthquake last year approaching that level of severity.
North Korea tested what it called a hydrogen bomb in September, causing an underground blast so big it registered as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Other nuclear tests last year were associated with smaller seismic events.
An 8.6 quake would be 200 times bigger — and release 2,818 times more energy — than a 6.3.
TRUMP on his proposed border wall with Mexico: “It will save thousands and thousands of lives, save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing crime, drug flow, welfare fraud and burdens on schools and hospitals. The wall will save hundreds of billions of dollars — many, many times what it is going to cost. … We have a lousy wall over here now but at least it stops 90, 95 percent. When we put up the real wall, we’re going to stop 99 percent, maybe more than that.” — remarks Tuesday in San Diego, while visiting prototypes of the wall.
THE FACTS: There are no measures of how well walls work.
Congress’ main watchdog found that the government does not have a way to show how barriers prevent illegal crossings from Mexico. A Government Accountability Office report last year said U.S. Customs and Border Protection “cannot measure the contribution of fencing to border security operations along the southwest border because it has not developed metrics for this assessment.”
That’s after the government spent $2.3 billion from 2007 to 2015 to extend fences across 654 miles (1,052 kilometers) of border and more to repair them.
Without knowing how many crossers will be deterred by a wall, it is impossible to know how much money taxpayers might save in schools, hospital spending and other services.
TRUMP: “By the way, the state of California is begging us to build walls in certain areas. They don’t tell you that, and we said no, we won’t do it until we build the whole wall.” — remarks Tuesday in California.
THE FACTS: Trump made a similar claim last month on Twitter but has yet to say who in California wants the wall. The state unsuccessfully sued to prevent construction of Trump’s wall, claiming he was wrong to forgo environmental reviews.
Census Bureau on U.S.-Canada trade: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/exh20.pdf
U.S. Trade Representative on 2016 trade with Canada: https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/americas/canada
Earthquake magnitude calculator: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/calculator.php
Federal study on border wall: https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/682838.pdf
Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Seth Borenstein, Josh Boak and Christopher Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures