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By Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley, Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore – FactCheck.org
Former President Donald Trump’s keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference included several false and misleading claims, some of which we’ve fact-checked before. Here we focus on assertions about foreign policy and energy.
- Trump falsely claimed that he “ended” Nord Steam 2 — the Russian pipeline that would double the export of Russian natural gas to Germany — and misleadingly said President Joe Biden “approved it.” German regulators must approve the completed, but not yet operational, pipeline.
- Trump exaggerated how low gas prices were under his administration and how high economists think they could go now.
- He said that he made the U.S. “the No. 1 energy superpower” and the Biden administration “ended it almost immediately.” If he was referring to the U.S. becoming a net exporter of petroleum in 2020, it was still a net exporter in 2021 — though that may change in 2022.
- He also said the U.S. should “start producing” as it did in 2020, rather than “buying Russian energy.” If he was referring to oil, the U.S. was buying from Russia in 2020, and for many years before.
- Trump said the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August was “a surrender for no reason whatsoever,” not mentioning that he had set the withdrawal in motion and wanted it to occur months earlier than it did.
- Trump grossly exaggerated the amount of U.S. military equipment left behind in Afghanistan, using a figure of more than $80 billion, which includes salaries and training for the Afghan security forces going back to 2001.
- He claimed he left Biden with “the most secure border in U.S. history,” but illegal border crossings, as measured by apprehensions at the southwest border, were 14.7% higher in Trump’s final year in office compared with the last full year before he was sworn in.
- Biden’s efforts as vice president to have Ukraine remove its prosecutor general was Obama administration policy, and supported by the European Union. Trump again falsely suggested Biden had gone rogue to protect his son.
- Trump claimed that “Joe and Hunter Biden got $3.5 million from the mayor of Moscow’s wife.” There’s no evidence that Joe Biden received any such payment, and it has not been established that Hunter Biden received any money through a supposed investment firm deal, either.
We’ve debunked many of Trump’s bogus claims in the past few years about widespread election fraud, but in his Feb. 26 remarks at CPAC, Trump again referred multiple times to a “rigged election.” His own attorney general, William Barr, said on Dec. 1, 2020, that the Department of Justice and FBI “have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” And in a new book to be released next week, Barr reportedly says the 2020 election wasn’t “stolen,” but rather, “Trump lost it.”
Trump Didn’t End Russian Pipeline
In talking about his ability to “get along” with the leaders of Russia, China and North Korea, Trump falsely claimed that he “ended” Nord Steam 2 — the Russian pipeline that would double the export of Russian natural gas to Germany. He also misleadingly said Biden “approved it.”
Trump: It’s a good thing to get along with people not a bad thing. You can be very tough and get along. You know, I’m the one that ended [Putin’s] pipeline. He said, “You’re killing me with the pipeline.” Nobody else ended his pipeline. Biden came in, he approved it.
Nord Stream 2 is a completed, but not yet operational, pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. It runs parallel with Nord Stream 1, which has been operational since 2011, according to a Dec. 9 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Nord Stream 2 “must receive certification from German regulators before it becomes operational,” the CRS report said. But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stopped the certification process on Feb. 22 — the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two separatist territories in eastern Ukraine as independent states and sent Russian troops into the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Congress and successive administrations have opposed Nord Stream 2, and, as a result, there have been interruptions in construction of the pipeline, CRS said in a Feb. 8, 2021, report.
In December 2019, while Trump was in office, Congress approved a defense bill, signed into law by Trump, that included sanctions against companies building the Russian pipeline. Pipeline construction was suspended in response to the sanctions. At the time, the pipeline was about 90% completed, according to a Dec. 18, 2019, CNBC news report. “[F]ewer than 100 miles of the approximately 760-mile long pipeline system (consisting of two parallel lines) remained to be laid,” CRS said in its February 2021 report.
“Some critics have said the sanctions are too little, too late, because the project is nearly completed,” according to the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on international affairs.
Despite the U.S. sanctions, pipeline construction resumed again in December 2020, while Trump was still in office.
So, Trump can claim credit for slowing the project but not ending it.
The Biden administration opposes the pipeline project, but “appears to have shifted its focus towards mitigating the potential negative impacts of an operational pipeline,” CRS said in its December report.
“The Biden Administration has called Nord Stream 2 a ‘bad deal’ and said U.S. opposition to the pipeline is ‘unwavering,’” the report said. “Nevertheless, U.S. officials have suggested the Administration’s ability to prevent the pipeline from becoming operational is limited, even with additional sanctions. They also have expressed concern that additional U.S. sanctions could jeopardize U.S.-German and U.S.-European cooperation in other areas, including countering Russian aggression.”
Even without Nord Stream 2, Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas, “which accounted for about 48% of EU natural gas imports in 2020,” CRS said in its December report. “Russian gas exports to the EU were up 18% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021.”
Biden waived sanctions against those involved in the Nord Stream 2 project in May 2021 — which is what Trump is referring to when he says that Biden “approved” Nord Stream 2. In fact, only Germany can approve the project.
The Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom announced the completion of the pipeline in September 2021.
“Just over one year ago, we had … record low gas prices,” Trump said. And “now … economists are talking about five, six, seven and even eight dollar a gallon gasoline.”
The retail price of gasoline was not at or near a record low in the weeks or months before Trump left office. The retail price of gasoline was $2.38 for the week ending Jan. 18, Trump’s last week in office, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The price of gasoline had been rising since April 2020, when gasoline was selling for $1.77 a gallon, the lowest weekly price under Trump. Gas prices have continued to climb under Biden. According to the EIA, gasoline was selling for $3.53 a gallon for the week ending Feb. 21.
The lowest gasoline price under President Barack Obama was $1.72 a gallon for the week ending Feb. 15, 2016. That’s a little lower than the lowest under Trump. Prices dipped even further to $1.62 per gallon in the week ending Dec. 29, 2008, at the tail end of the George W. Bush presidency.
As for “economists … talking about five, six, seven and even eight dollar a gallon gasoline,” that upper end is way too high, Tom Kloza, the global head of energy analysis and a co-founder of the Oil Price Information Service, told us via email.
“We do see gasoline prices rising modestly above $5 gal in California and possibly Hawaii,” Kloza said. “Both markets don’t have any spare refining capacity and California has about $1.36 gal in various taxes as well as fees attached to carbon. That has everything to do with California regulatory policy and nothing to do with the Biden Administration. We DO NOT see a case for $5, $6, $7 gal gasoline or beyond and indeed we believe the next 120 days or so may see highs that are not repeated.”
Nonetheless, the price of gasoline has risen under Biden, and prices are higher than they have been since 2014. Trump blames Biden for that.
“The reason we’ve got soaring gas prices is that Biden shut down American energy, canceled our oil and gas leases,” Trump said. “Just two days ago, two days ago they canceled many oil and gas leases because of the environment. It’s really unbelievable, and cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline that I approved. … With Biden you get … a war on American energy, with Republicans you get energy independence and energy dominance.”
Kloza said the current high prices are not a result of Biden’s energy policy.
“One might look at crude prices later in the decade and put some blame on the current administration but we are importing record amounts of Canadian crude and the Keystone XL Pipeline wouldn’t have been online by now under any circumstances,” Kloza said.
Fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine may increase global crude oil prices, which in turn could affect gasoline prices, Kloza said, but not to the extent Trump suggested.
“Hyperbole may indeed take a holiday given the loss of Russian crude as western companies and countries eschew lifting Russian oil for fear of not being paid or being penalized,” Kloza said. “We may indeed see prices for crude go to $125″ per barrel, which he says would work out to be $4 to $4.50 per gallon of gas.
Vague Energy Claim
It’s not clear what Trump meant when he said, under Republicans: “We will reclaim our status as the No. 1 energy superpower on the face of the earth, something that I had achieved for the first time in 72 years. I was very proud of that. They ended it almost immediately. We would have been bigger than Russia and Saudi Arabia combined times two.”
In terms of total primary energy production, China was the largest producer in 2019 and has been the global leader since 2006, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Trump may have been referring to the fact that, in 2020, the U.S. exported more petroleum than it imported, “making the United States a net annual petroleum exporter for the first time since at least 1949,” the EIA said.
However, the agency attributed that to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, which led to a decrease in oil demand and international petroleum prices, and reduced incentives for major petroleum-exporting countries to ramp up production.
“This shift allowed the United States to export more petroleum in 2020 than it had in the past,” the EIA said.
But that did not “end” in 2021, as Trump suggested. The EIA has said that the U.S. “continued to export more petroleum (which includes crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other liquids) than it imported in 2021.”
It’s true that the EIA expects that the U.S. will again become a net importer of petroleum products in 2022, due to a projected increase in imports of crude oil this year — from an average of 3.2 million barrels per day in 2021 to 3.9 million barrels per day in 2022. After that, the EIA says it expects the U.S. “to import less crude oil than it exports in 2023 because we expect domestic crude oil production will increase to an all-time high of 12.6 million b/d.”
Trump also may have been referring specifically to crude oil production. In 2018, the U.S. surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest producer of crude oil. The U.S. remained the world leader in that category in 2019 and 2020, the EIA says.
Crude oil production did dip slightly in 2021 under Biden, declining 1% to about 11.2 million barrels per day, according to the latest monthly EIA figures. But that still may have been enough to remain ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia, based on estimates of how much crude oil those nations produced last year.
Also, as we said, the decline in U.S. production last year is expected to be only temporary — as the EIA expects crude oil production to increase in 2022 and 2023, surpassing the previous record of 12.3 million barrels per day in 2019.
Imports from Russia
Trump added, “We should not be buying Russian energy, but rather allow the people of our country to start producing like they did just one year ago.”
But, if Trump was talking about oil, the U.S. has been buying oil from Russia for years. And increasing production to 2020 levels does not mean that the U.S. would no longer need to rely on imports from Russia.
That year, the U.S. imported about 198 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia. At the time, that was the highest annual total of imports of those products from Russia since 2011. Russia accounted for 7% of total U.S. imports of crude oil and petroleum in 2020, according to the EIA.
In 2021, the U.S. imported roughly 245 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia — a one-year increase of 24%. About 7.9% of U.S. imports of crude oil and petroleum products that year came from Russia, based on EIA data.
Trump misleadingly said the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August was “a surrender for no reason whatsoever.” He then added: “We wanted to get out but we had to get out with strength and with dignity.”
The former president’s “surrender for no reason” comment glosses over the fact that he was the one that set a May 1, 2021, deadline for withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan, under an agreement the U.S. and the Taliban signed on Feb. 29, 2020, known as the Doha agreement. When President Joe Biden extended that May 1 deadline he had inherited, Trump criticized the delay, saying in an April 18 statement that “we can and should get out earlier.” Trump said: “Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1st, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.”
As we’ve written before, during Trump’s final year in office, the withdrawal of troops continued — from 13,000 at the time of the Doha agreement to 2,500 on Jan. 15, 2021 — despite periodic reports by the Department of Defense inspector general that the Taliban was escalating violence and hadn’t distanced itself from terrorist organizations, in violation of the Doha agreement. The agreement called for the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters who had been imprisoned by the Afghanistan government, and for the Taliban not to attack U.S. troops and coalition forces or launch “high-profile attacks.”
In the summer of 2021, Trump boasted that Biden couldn’t stop the troop withdrawal process that he had started. “I started the process,” Trump said at a rally in Ohio on June 26. “All the troops are coming back home. … They [Biden administration] couldn’t stop the process. They wanted to, but it was very tough to stop the process when other things … It’s a shame. 21 years, by a government that wouldn’t last. The only way they last is if we’re there.”
The Afghan government did collapse, more quickly than the Biden administration expected. The Taliban entered the capital, Kabul, and the Afghan president fled on Aug. 15, 2021, before the final U.S. soldier departed on Aug. 30. In an Aug. 16, 2021, speech to the nation, Biden said, “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”
Military Equipment in Afghanistan
Trump claimed that “85 billion dollars worth of the finest equipment anywhere in the world were left behind” in Afghanistan when U.S. troops pulled out in August (the emphasis on “billion” was Trump’s). That figure is grossly exaggerated.
We wrote about a similar claim made by Trump and other Republicans back in September, and as a defense expert told us at the time, the figure is “statistically rubbish.”
Trump is citing a figure — actually $82.9 billion — that is the total in appropriated funding for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund going back to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Military equipment made up less than a quarter of that spending.
The largest piece of that funding, about half, is for what is called “sustainment.” The lion’s share of that was for salaries for members of the Afghan army and national police. The fund also included money for training and infrastructure. And about a quarter of the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund since 2001 — more than $18 billion — was specifically for equipment and transportation, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report.
But to suggest even $18 billion worth of equipment was left behind is still too high. Military experts told us there is reason to believe the cost of military equipment seized by the Taliban after U.S. troops left was smaller than what was purchased for the Afghans because some of the equipment had become inoperable, and some was either moved out of the country or destroyed.
Trump again misused a superlative when he claimed, “Just over one year ago, we had the most secure border in U.S. history,” and “now … millions of illegal aliens are rushing our borders.” As we wrote in our “Trump’s Final Numbers” story in October, illegal border crossings, as measured by apprehensions at the southwest border, were 14.7% higher in Trump’s final year in office compared with the last full year before he was sworn in.
Looking at the entirety of Trump’s time in office, the number of apprehensions for illegal border crossings was higher during Trump’s presidency than either of Obama’s four-year terms.
The number of apprehensions at the southern border fluctuated wildly during Trump’s presidency, from a monthly low of 11,127 in April 2017 — a low unmatched in Customs and Border Protection records going back to 2000 — to a high in May 2019 of 132,859 — a monthly high not seen since 2006.
Trump administration policies and the pandemic led to a dramatic drop in apprehensions in late 2019 and early 2020, but apprehensions were on the steady rise in the second half of 2020 leading into Biden’s presidency. Under Biden, apprehensions at the U.S. border with Mexico ballooned dramatically, increasing 317% during Biden’s first full 10 months in office, compared with the same period in 2020, according to the most recent figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told us in January that Biden’s rhetoric and policy changes contributed to the perception that Biden would treat immigrants more leniently, which in turn encouraged more people to attempt to come to the U.S. But other factors have contributed as well, she said. Devastating hurricanes in November 2020 in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala led to a surge of immigrants heading to the U.S. early in Biden’s presidency. And there has been a dramatic rise in immigrants coming from Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela and Haiti — largely driven by poverty and food insecurity resulting from the pandemic, Bolter told us.
Reviving the Tale of Biden and the Ukrainian Prosecutor
As he has done many times in the past, Trump distorted the facts about the Obama administration’s efforts to clean up corruption in Ukraine after Viktor Yanukovych, the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, was removed from power in 2014 and later convicted on treason charges for inviting Russia to invade Ukraine.
As vice president, Biden went to Ukraine in 2015 and told the country’s then-president, Petro Poroshenko, that the U.S. would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees if Ukraine failed to remove Viktor Shokin as its prosecutor general.
During the 2020 campaign, Trump repeatedly twisted the facts by baselessly claiming that Biden issued the threat to stop a Ukrainian investigation of his son, Hunter, who at the time was a board member of a Ukrainian energy company. Trump implied again during his CPAC speech that Biden acted to protect his son, not the U.S. interests in Ukraine.
Trump: Joe Biden bragged unknowingly on tape, and this was on tape. Can you imagine if I said it, about getting rid of a Ukrainian prosecutor or he wouldn’t allow $1 billion of American taxpayers money to be given to Ukraine? They kept saying where’s the money? Where’s the money? Where’s the money? No, you got to get rid of that prosecutor. He’s getting too close.
It’s not true that Biden was caught “unknowingly on tape” talking about the Ukrainian prosecutor. Biden made his remarks at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in January 2018 to discuss standing up to Russia and defending democracy.
Trump’s implication that Biden had gone rogue to protect his son is also false. Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, on Sept. 20, 2019, tweeted that the “Obama administration policy (not just ‘Biden policy’) to push for this Ukrainian general prosecutor to go” was “a shared view in many capitals, multilateral lending institutions, and pro-democratic Ukrainian civil society.”
As prosecutor general, Shokin failed “to indict any major figures from the Yanukovych administration for corruption,” according to testimony that John E. Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush, gave in March 2016 to a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Ukraine has had a long line of prosecutors whose function has not been to enforce the law, but to perform the political function of selectively prosecuting political enemies and to hold out the threat of prosecution in order to secure political loyalty and compliance. Shokin was precisely that kind of prosecutor,” Keith Darden, an associate professor at American University’s School of International Service, told us in an email for a story in 2019. “He would open cases as a way of holding the threat of prosecution over a business, but he did not actually prosecute cases.”
“By late fall of 2015, the EU and the United States joined the chorus of those seeking Mr. Shokin’s removal as the start of an overall reform of the Procurator General’s Office,” Herbst testified. “U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke publicly about this before and during his December visit to Kyiv; but Mr. Shokin remained in place.”
In February 2016, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde threatened to withhold $40 billion unless Ukraine undertook “a substantial new effort” to fight corruption after the country’s economic minister and his team resigned to protest government corruption.
“After President Poroshenko complained that Shokin was taking too long to clean up corruption even within the [Prosecutor General’s Office] itself, he asked for Shokin’s resignation,” according to a Jan. 3, 2017, Congressional Research Service report. Shokin submitted his resignation in February 2016 and was removed a month later.
Distorted Claim about Alleged Russian Payment
As he did during the last 2020 presidential debate, Trump insisted that “Joe and Hunter Biden got $3.5 million from the mayor of Moscow’s wife.” There’s no evidence that Joe Biden received any such payment, and it has not been established that Hunter Biden received any money, either.
Trump is referring to a disputed account in a partisan report from a Republican-controlled Senate committee about Hunter Biden.
That report, citing an undisclosed confidential document, claimed that “an investment firm co-founded by Hunter Biden” received $3.5 million from Russian businesswoman Elena Baturina in 2014. Baturina was the former wife of the late Yuri Luzhkov, who was removed as mayor of Moscow in 2010 by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. At the time of the alleged payment, Baturina was living in London and Austria.
The report says nothing about Joe Biden receiving any money from that transaction, and it is not clear that Hunter Biden did, either. George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, said at the time that the allegation is false. Mesires said Hunter Biden was “not a co-founder of” the company, Rosemont Seneca Thornton LLC, that is named in the report as receiving the payment from Baturina.
“Hunter Biden had no interest in and was not a co-founder of Rosemont Seneca Thornton, so the claim that he was paid $3.5 million is false,” Mesires told PolitiFact and the Washington Post in September 2020, when the GOP report was released.
More recently, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in March 2021 was asked at a press briefing if the Republican report about the $3.5 million payment to Hunter is true. “It doesn’t sound like it’s backed up by a lot of evidence,” she said. “If you have evidence or specifics, I’m happy to discuss it further.”
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