WASHINGTON — Donald Trump entertained an Iowa audience Thursday with an animated account of how he would have wrung a better nuclear deal out of Iran if he’d been president when it was negotiated. But there was more fable than fact in his story.
It was one of a number of swings and misses from the Republican presidential candidate in a speech delivered hours before his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was taking the stage in Philadelphia to accept her party’s nomination.
A look at some of the claims from the political maelstrom Thursday:
TRUMP, boasting about how he would have conducted talks with Iran over reducing its nuclear weapons capabilities: “I would have said sorry, we can’t give you the $150 billion back. We want to give you the money back, but we don’t have it. It’s not there.”
THE FACTS: The Iranians immediately would have called Trump’s bluff. That’s because the U.S. never had $150 billion to give back in the first place.
Iran had foreign assets spread across numerous banks and countries before it struck a deal with the U.S. and other countries to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. The sanctions meant Tehran couldn’t access these funds abroad. But Iran’s government knew very well where its money was.
Much of the revenue came from Iran’s oil sales to China, India, Japan and South Korea. These countries were able to purchase Iranian petroleum before the July 2015 nuclear agreement, but U.S. financial restrictions made it all but impossible to facilitate payments. So the money mainly sat in escrow in those countries, instead. These were not funds within the grasp of a U.S. president.
Trump’s comment also doesn’t reflect how banks work. Money is fungible. If you have a bank account, it doesn’t mean specific bills of currency or bars of gold are sitting in a box waiting for you to pick them up. The can’t-find-your-money argument doesn’t work.
Trump got the sum wrong, too. Iranian and U.S. officials agree that the amount of frozen funds totaled about $100 billion.
TRUMP: “We pick up 73 percent of the cost of NATO. We’re paying to protect them. Wouldn’t it be nice if people would pay, and we could do things properly? … That’s got to change.”
THE FACTS: No, the U.S. picks up just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO operations, based on last year’s figures. Trump’s figure of 73 percent is based on the U.S. share of overall military spending by NATO member countries, not of the money devoted to the alliance.
Because of high spending and unique military resources possessed by the U.S., the alliance acknowledges that it is over-reliant on Washington in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, in-flight refueling, ballistic missile defense and airborne electronic warfare. NATO asks member nations to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Of the 28 NATO nations, only five — the U.S., Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland — meet or exceed that percentage.
TRUMP: “We’re fighting in Yemen.”
THE FACTS: Only a small number of U.S. special operations troops are in Yemen and they’ve not been near the fighting. In Yemen, Houthi rebels backed by Iran are fighting government forces backed by Saudi Arabia. The United States has provided logistical and intelligence support to longtime ally Saudi Arabia. Separately, the Pentagon has provided military support, intelligence, ships and a small contingent of special operations forces to help fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as part of the ongoing counter-terrorism fight.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that U.S. special operations forces have advised the Yemeni and Emirati forces in the region, but they are working at the headquarters level, not near the conflict.
TRUMP: “We’re right now the highest-taxed nation in the world.” He acknowledged his numerous past assertions of this have been questioned, and added, “OK, we’re one of the highest taxed.”
THE FACTS: Closer, but still wrong. The U.S. tax burden is actually one of the lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 percent, Britain’s 32.6 percent or Germany’s 36.1 percent. Only three OECD members had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.
TRUMP: “Religion’s voice has been taken away. It was taken away by Lyndon Johnson in the 1970s because of a dispute he had, I think, with the church. And this was his way of silencing the church.”
THE FACTS: Trump was two decades off on the timing, and stretching in saying religion’s voice in politics was silenced by LBJ. Churches still have a loud political voice.
Before his years as president (1963-1969), Johnson as a senator in the 1950s achieved a law that prohibits religious groups and certain other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The potential penalty for doing so is the loss of tax exemption.
As Trump noted, the GOP platform calls for the repeal of that law so that religious groups could engage more directly in partisan politics. Opponents say that would clash with the constitutional separation of church and state.
Since the law’s enactment the rise of the religious right, the continuing influence of evangelical conservatives, the clout of the Roman Catholic church on social issues of the left and right and advocacy by liberal religious organizations are evidence that religion has not been silenced in politics.
TRUMP: “Median household income is down for the middle class since Obama took office.” — tweet.
THE FACTS: True, if using the latest official data. More recent, though unofficial, estimates suggest that household income has gone up marginally on Obama’s watch. Either way, it’s a weak spot in Obama’s economic record.
Median household income declined by 3 percent from 2008 through 2014, according to U.S. Census data.
According to more current estimates by Sentier Research, a private firm whose founders include former Census officials, median household income increased in 2015 and into 2016. That would mean median household income has risen 2 percent from June 2009, when the recession ended, to $57,206 in June 2016, Sentier says.