Fact Check: What Trump Stretched, Omitted and Ignored in Phoenix

President used his own version of events to fire up a friendly crowd

President Donald Trump walks toward Marine One before departing from the White House on April 28. Two reports out Friday allege he told Russian officials firing FBI Director James Comey helped him, and that a close aide is a person of interest in a FBI probe of the 2016 election. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks toward Marine One before departing from the White House on April 28. Two reports out Friday allege he told Russian officials firing FBI Director James Comey helped him, and that a close aide is a person of interest in a FBI probe of the 2016 election. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Posted August 23, 2017 at 1:41pm

President Donald Trump’s volatile Tuesday campaign rally in Phoenix was full of misleading statements, from his handling of the Charlottesville, Virginia, racial unrest and media coverage of his presidency to Revolutionary War- and Confederate-era statues and the Senate’s rules.

The omissions, exaggerations and stretching of the truth ranged from the trivial to outright misrepresentations. Some aspects of the speech might even complicate the pursuit of his own legislative agenda.

Here are four examples that show the range of misleading statements from the 45th president’s Tuesday night speech:

The Omission

Early in the rally, Trump ignored the teleprompter and began a tirade about how he reacted to the Charlottesville violence that left one counter-protester dead. As he had done seven days earlier at a Trump Tower press conference, the president pulled a copy of his initial statement on the violence from his suit jacket’s breast pocket.

He then read aloud from selected portions, giving the crowd and those watching on television some running commentary as he made his way through it for the third time publicly since his initial response as the violence played out on Aug. 12.

Recalling his statement that day, Trump said, “So here’s what I said, really fast, here’s what I said on Saturday: ‘We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia’ — this is me speaking. ‘We condemn in the strongest, possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.’ That’s me speaking on Saturday.”

“OK, I think I can’t do much better, right?” he asked the Phoenix audience.

But it was what he did not read from the Aug. 12 statement — remarks that appeared to give cover to the white supremacist groups — that engendered the negative reaction to that first response: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”

‘It was one day’

Actually, it was very clearly two days.

Trump made a false statement while complaining that the media complained too fervently that he waited too long to clearly and forcefully condemn the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups that organized the Charlottesville marches. The unrest led to the death of Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, and enflamed the country’s racial wounds.

“Why did it take, a day?” a mocking Trump said Tuesday night. “It took a day.”

But double-checking a calendar shows that the Charlottesville violence erupted on Aug. 12. His clear condemnation statement came on Aug. 14, or two days later. (And, notably, it took Trump until the afternoon of that Monday to bow to pressure and actually deliver the condemning words.)

The statues

Charlottesville prompted calls, mostly from the political left, to take down Confederate statues across the country. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and other Republicans have offered up another idea: Remove them from parks and squares — but place them in museums.

Trump went a step further, though, intimating that the Founding Fathers were not safe.

“In the proud tradition of America’s great leaders, from George Washington — please don’t take his statue down, please. Please!” he begged in Phoenix. “Does anybody want George Washington’s statue [removed]? No. Is that sad?”

He then went on to say there is a legitimate push to not stop at statues honoring America’s first president: “To [Abraham] Lincoln, to Teddy Roosevelt, I see they want to take Teddy Roosevelt’s down, too,” he said. (Notably, Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week compared Trump to the 26th president.) “They’re trying to take away our culture,” he said. “They are trying to take away our history.”

Reality suggests otherwise.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., plans to introduce legislation soon that would — though Trump’s signature appears unlikely — require Confederate statutes to be removed from the Capitol. Senior Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have signed on to Booker’s push. But other than a call from liberal activists to take down a Roosevelt statue in New York, there is no evidence of a push to take down statues of the presidents whose images appear on Mount Rushmore — or any others.

The autograph session

On a more trivial matter — but another one that reveals a commander in chief willing to stretch the facts to bolster his own self-image and how others perceive him — Trump also appeared to embellish something that happened when he toured a Border Patrol facility earlier Tuesday in Yuma, Arizona.

“I was over at the Yuma Sector. It was hot. It was like 115 degrees,” he said in what should have been a lighter moment of his address, that would humanize any president who was wearing a suit and tie in extreme heat.

“I’m out signing autographs for an hour,” he said. “I was there. That was a hot day. You learn if you’re in shape if you can do that, believe me.”

Whether or not Trump — a noted exercise skeptic and fast food fan — is in shape is up to his military and personal physicians. But Dave Boyer, veteran White House correspondent for The Washington Times, was part of Tuesday’s traveling media pool that shadowed the president on his Western trip. Boyer filed a different account of the Yuma autograph session.

“After a closed briefing on border protection, the president left the hangar in the motorcade at 2:36 pm local time,” Boyer wrote in a pool report first distributed to White House correspondents, then blasted out by the White House.

“The president then spent at least 15 minutes or more greeting Marines and their families and signing an autograph or two on their camouflage hats, at a chain-link fence next to AF1 in what had to be the hottest rope line ever,” Boyer wrote.

The correspondent’s temperature report also differed with the one delivered by POTUS: “Concrete tarmac, afternoon sun, cloudless day, Yuma, August. Currently it’s 105 degrees.”