Fact check: Trump makes four false claims related to DeSantis – CNN


Former President Donald Trump made false claims about a variety of people and subjects, notably including Florida governor and Republican presidential primary rival Ron DeSantis, in an interview this week with conservative host Megyn Kelly.

Trump claimed that Florida under DeSantis “sort of had a mandate” on Covid-19 vaccines. In fact, DeSantis never imposed any kind of Covid-19 vaccine mandate. Defending himself against criticism from DeSantis, Trump claimed that he would not have given Dr. Anthony Fauci a presidential commendation and does not know who gave Fauci such a commendation. In fact, it was him, Donald Trump.

Trump claimed that, unlike DeSantis, the governors of Tennessee and South Carolina kept their states open throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, those governors imposed significant early restrictions, too. And Trump repeated a familiar but inaccurate story about how he supposedly came to endorse DeSantis for governor in 2018.

That’s not all.

Trump repeated his false claim from last month that he has “never” faced an impeachment inquiry, just impeachment itself; Democrats put him through an impeachment inquiry in 2019. While explaining his opposition to the presence of transgender people in the military, Trump repeated his false claim from 2019 that the military forbids the use of all drugs. As his own Defense Department pointed out when he made the claim in 2019, members of the military are allowed to use prescribed medications – including the hormones that are prescribed not only to many transgender people but to various others.

In addition, Trump made multiple false claims about the criminal case related to his retention of classified documents after his presidency.

He asserted that the Presidential Records Act says he is allowed to keep official documents, though it actually says all official documents must be in possession of the federal government immediately after a president leaves office. He asserted that President Barack Obama and a President Bush also kept documents, though that claim has been debunked by the National Archives and Records Administration. He asserted that his story about what document he displayed during a 2021 meeting has been “very substantiated,” though, in fact, he has provided no corroboration of his claim that it wasn’t the classified document prosecutors allege it was. And he said that classified documents automatically become declassified “when I have them” – though that claim has no apparent basis in law.

We have addressed Trump’s documents-related deception at length in various previous articles, so we will not go into detail this time. Here is a fact check of the other claims.

DeSantis and vaccines

Trump, criticizing DeSantis’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, claimed: “I never had mandates. But Florida sort of had a mandate because they were giving the vaccine, they were demanding everybody take the vaccine.”

Facts First: This is false. Florida never imposed any Covid-19 vaccine mandate, “sort of” or otherwise.

Even before the federal Food and Drug Administration granted its first emergency use authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine in December 2020, DeSantis was emphatic that he would not require anyone to take Covid-19 vaccines. He said in November 2020: “Our goal is to make all safe and effective Covid vaccines available to Floridians who want them, but the state will not mandate that Floridians take these vaccines. That is going to be the choice of each and every Floridian.”

Well into 2021, DeSantis did encourage Florida residents to get vaccinated – but encouraging is simply not the same as mandating. It’s also worth noting that, even as he was still vigorously promoting vaccination, DeSantis signed an executive order in April 2021 that banned state government entities from issuing so-called vaccine passports and banned businesses in the state from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of entry or service.

DeSantis began shifting his rhetoric about Covid-19 vaccines in the latter half of 2021, eventually becoming a prominent public skeptic of the vaccines’ effectiveness.

This was not one-time loose language from Trump. He made roughly the same false claim in a June interview with another conservative host, saying, while speaking of DeSantis and Covid-19 vaccines, “I guess he sort of mandated it.”

Kelly asked Trump about criticism of a presidential commendation he awarded to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key federal policy figure under both Trump and President Joe Biden during the Covid-19 pandemic. DeSantis, among others, has criticized Trump over the commendation.

Trump made it sound like he didn’t award Fauci the commendation himself. He said, “I don’t know who gave him the commendation. I really don’t know who gave him the commendation. I wouldn’t have done it.” He said moments later, “Someone probably handed him a commendation.”

Facts First: This is false. On his last full day in office in January 2021, Trump awarded commendations to Fauci and dozens of others who were involved in his administration’s Operation Warp Speed initiative to quickly develop Covid-19 vaccines. The Trump White House’s announcement was titled, “President Trump Awards Presidential Commendations to Operation Warp Speed Team.” It began, “Today, President Donald J. Trump awarded Presidential Commendations to the below individuals in recognition of their exceptional efforts on Operation Warp Speed.” Fauci was the seventh name on the list.

It’s theoretically possible that the commendations were someone else’s idea and that Trump paid little attention to them, but it’s nonsense for Trump to make it sound like he was not at all connected to an award the White House announced he had given – and two former top Trump administration communications officials told CNN on Thursday that these commendations would not have been awarded in Trump’s name without his approval.

“A commendation of this nature would require presidential sign-off. They go through staff secretary for approval and then the president would need to approve,” Alyssa Farah Griffin, who was Trump’s White House communications director before her resignation in late 2020, said in a text. Griffin, now a CNN political commentator and a co-host of ABC’s The View, said she can’t say if Trump actually paid attention to what he was approving, “But to claim he had nothing to do with it is patently absurd. It came from the Executive Office of the President.”

Stephanie Grisham, who served as Trump’s White House press secretary and communications director in 2019 and 2020 and then as First Lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff into 2021, said in a message: “In my experience nothing like that would ever go out w/o his knowing. Esp(ecially) if an announcement was released.”

Fauci declined to comment on Trump’s claim. DeSantis mocked the claim in a Thursday radio interview on FOX Across America, saying, “It literally said, ‘President Trump awards commendation.’ Is this the immaculate commendation or something like that? Did this just happen out of thin air? Give me a break. People need to take responsibility for their actions. They need to own what they did,” DeSantis said.

Pandemic policy in other states

Trump claimed that DeSantis’ pandemic-related restrictions in Florida were totally different from the policies pursued by the Republican-led states of South Carolina, Tennessee and South Dakota.

Trump said, “Florida, by the way, was closed. But if you take a look at (Gov.) Henry McMaster, he had his state, South Carolina, open. You take a look at South Dakota. Take a look at Tennessee. A lot of the states were not closed.” Trump said at another point in the interview, “Now, eventually Florida was open, but a lot of these other governors didn’t shut down at all. South Dakota didn’t shut down. McMaster, South Carolina, didn’t shut down. Tennessee. There were states that didn’t shut down at all.”

Facts First: Trump’s claim that South Carolina and Tennessee “didn’t shut down at all” because of the pandemic is false. Early in the pandemic in 2020, the Republican governors of both of those southern states ordered non-essential businesses to close, ordered residents to limit their movements, ordered schools closed (in South Carolina) or demanded that school districts themselves close schools (in Tennessee), stopped public access to outdoor spaces such as beaches and state parks, and then imposed capacity limits on various businesses during a gradual reopening process.

DeSantis imposed broadly similar policies in Florida at the beginning of the pandemic. The nuances of each state’s policies were different, and the governors of the three states imposed and cancelled their restrictions at different times, but Trump was wrong to say South Carolina and Tennessee were “not closed” and Florida “was closed.”

Trump’s claim is at least somewhat more accurate with regard to South Dakota, which did not impose statewide restrictions on individual movement or business operations. Gov. Kristi Noem did, however, impose or recommend some limitations.

For example, she issued a stay-home order applying to two large counties’ seniors and others with serious medical conditions. She recommended the statewide closure of schools. She also ordered non-essential state employees to work from home, ordered that residents practice social distancing, pressured a meatpacking plant that was a Covid-19 hotspot to close for at least two weeks, and issued an order saying that “any enclosed retail business that promotes public gatherings” should suspend or modify its practices to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

Trump repeated a story he told earlier this year about his endorsement of DeSantis during the 2018 Republican primary for governor of Florida.

Trump said, “And he came to see me, I didn’t know him very much at all. But what I did know is that he was on television along with 150 other congressmen, Republicans, that talked about impeachment hoax number one, impeachment hoax number two, and they’d say I was innocent, and they turned out to be right.”

Facts First: Trump’s story cannot possibly be true. Trump issued his official endorsement of DeSantis in June 2018 – but his first impeachment battle, over his efforts to use the power of the presidency to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden, did not begin until the fall of 2019. Trump might have been thinking of how DeSantis, then a member of the House, defended him over a special counsel investigation in 2017 into his campaign’s relationship with Russia, which he has also called a “hoax,” but that probe did not lead to impeachment.

Trump and impeachment

Trump mentioned that House Republicans had just launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden, then said, “That’s up to them, if they want to do impeachment or impeachment inquiry. I never had an inquiry. Nancy Pelosi, Crazy Nancy, said, ‘We’re going to impeach him.’ They didn’t do inquiries. They went out and they voted because they had the votes.”

Facts First: Trump’s claim that he “never had an inquiry” is false, as CNN pointed out when he made the same claim last month. Before the Democratic-led House impeached Trump for the first time, over the Ukraine-related scandal, the House held an impeachment inquiry that lasted more than two months.

The inquiry was announced by then-House speaker Pelosi on September 24, 2019. As part of the inquiry, House committees held closed-door hearings and then high-profile public hearings to hear testimony from witnesses. On December 3, 2019, Democrats released a 300-page report that summarized the inquiry’s findings; it was titled “The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report.” Trump was impeached by the House on December 18, 2019, 85 days after Pelosi announced the inquiry.

Trump would have been correct if he had made a more limited claim that Democrats did not conduct an impeachment inquiry prior to impeaching him a second time, in the final days of his presidency in early 2021, over what the House concluded was his incitement of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. That impeachment, which the House voted on just seven days after the riot, centered on his public statements and actions that were publicly known at the time.

The Senate acquitted Trump after both impeachments.

Medication and the military

When Kelly asked Trump about his views on transgender rights, he criticized Biden for reversing a Trump administration policy that had banned most transgender people from enlisting in the military. Defending his policy, Trump repeated a claim he had made during his presidency.

“You know, part of the problem is you’d have to take massive amounts of drugs. In the military, you’re not allowed to take drugs. And you have to take massive amounts of drugs. So right there, it should not be allowed,” Trump said.

Facts First: Trump’s categorical claim that “you’re not allowed to take drugs” in the military is false, as CNN noted when Trump made the same claim in 2019. Members of the military are allowed to take prescribed medications – including hormones that are prescribed not only to transgender people but other people with various conditions. When Trump made this false claim in 2019, his own Defense Department publicly debunked it – noting to The Washington Post that “the Military Health System covers all approved medically necessary treatments and prescription medications” and that “if a service member has a hormone deficiency for any reason (such as hypogonadism, hypothyroidism, menopause, etc.), he or she would be prescribed hormones.” The department also said at the time that “all medically necessary treatment” would continue for military members diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the Trump policy took effect months prior.

In addition, contrary to Trump’s claim to Kelly, people who identify as transgender do not “have” to take prescription drugs, though a large 2015 survey showed that most do want gender-affirming hormones.

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