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Fact check: Trump's Saturday coronavirus briefing was littered with false claims, old and new

Updated 9:40 PM ET, Sat April 18, 2020

Washington (CNN) - It's hard to know where to begin fact checking.

President Donald Trump's latest coronavirus press conference on Saturday afternoon was littered with false claims about both the pandemic crisis and various unrelated matters Trump decided to talk about, from North Korea and Iran to Chinese tariffs.

Trump continued to be dishonest on the critical subject of coronavirus testing, wrongly claiming he "inherited" faulty tests -- they were developed this year, during his presidency -- and painting an overly rosy picture of the US testing situation.

He also repeated several of the false claims he likes to make at his campaign rallies.

Here's a rundown of the claims and the facts.

Governors and testing

Trump continued to favorably compare the coronavirus testing situation in the US to the situation in other countries. He alleged that Democratic governors are deliberately not using testing capacity the federal government has created -- and suggested that the only governors "complaining" about testing challenges are Democrats.

"Now they're giving you the other -- it's called 'testing, testing.' But they don't want to use all of the capacity that we've created. We have tremendous capacity ... they know that, the governors know that. The Democrat governors know that. They're the ones that are complaining," he said.

Facts First: There is no evidence that any governor is deliberately not using available testing capacity. And it's not only Democratic governors who have spoken of problems and challenges with testing. Governors from both parties, and public health officials around the country, have warned that they are still unable to do the amount of testing needed to safely lift social and economic restrictions.

Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his health chief expressed frustration on Friday that testing at hospitals in the state was being impeded by a shortage of critical components.

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said on NBC on Thursday that he believes Maryland is going to get, "in the next several weeks," to the level of testing needed, but he also said: "This has been the No. 1 stumbling block in America, the lack of availability of testing, and you really can't get to any point where you can reopen the country until, not just in my state, but across the country, until we can do much, much larger-scale testing."

Republican Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday that it has been "a challenge" to get all of the supplies needed to conduct tests. Peter Iwen, director of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory, told Omaha's KETV in a story published Wednesday that supplies they need to run tests were being sent instead to labs in other states: "We're trying to compete with those people, and we're just not getting the reagents sent to us."

Democratic governors are expressing concerns similar to those of their Republican colleagues.

Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly told CNN on Thursday: "We have had a very difficult time getting access to tests and all the stuff you need to complete those tests."

"There are not enough tests being performed on any group, anywhere in the state, okay?" Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday. "There are not enough tests being performed in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, North Country, Long Island, Westchester, not for prisoners, not for the black and brown population, not for health care workers, not for police officers, that's true across the board. That's why we have to bring testing to scale across the board."

No one saw this coming

During the briefing Saturday afternoon, Trump repeated one of his go-to falsehoods that he often uses to defend his administration's fumbled response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"In speaking to the leaders of other countries this morning, they said this is incredible the way you've done this so quickly," Trump said, without naming any foreign officials. "You know, we're only talking about a few weeks since everybody knew this was such a big problem."

Facts First: Trump is on an island with this one. Not only have there been multiple warnings about America's vulnerability to a pandemic over the past few years, but Trump's own government issued numerous warnings since the beginning of this year about the potential severity of the coronavirus.

We most recently fact-checked this on Thursday night, which means Trump has repeated this false claim twice in his last three press conferences at the White House. That fact-check pointed out that, in claiming nobody foresaw the pandemic, Trump is brushing aside warnings he received from the World Health Organization and US intelligence agencies.

The virus emerged in China in December.

While in January the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency, Trump spent much of January and February downplaying the dangers and making unscientific predictions that were out of step with federal public health authorities, who alerted the public with increasing alarm that the virus was approaching. On March 11, the WHO declared a global pandemic, and by the end of the month, the number of reported cases in the US had skyrocketed past 100,000.

CNN looked into this false claim last month, when Trump made a similar comment multiple times in one week of briefings. That article highlighted years of warnings from pandemic experts and even officials who worked in Trump's administration, who basically said the clock was ticking until the next pandemic in the US, and that the country probably wouldn't be ready.

The "cupboard" of medical supplies

At Saturday's briefing, President Trump repeated his claim that he inherited a "bare cupboard" of medical supplies to fight coronavirus from the Obama administration.

"We started off with a broken system. We inherited a broken, terrible system. And I always say it, our cupboards were bare. We had very little in our stockpile. Now we're loaded up."

Facts First: Trump's argument has some truth to it, but it's also somewhat misleading. While Trump isn't wrong to suggest he inherited a depleted stockpile of some medical supplies -- the stockpile of masks, for example, was depleted and not replenished by the Obama administration -- the cupboards were not completely "bare"; he inherited significant quantities of other supplies. And Trump had three years in office to build depleted stockpiles back up.

The Strategic National Stockpile was not empty before the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the stockpile contains enough smallpox vaccines for every American, among other medical resources. However, critical supplies that could be used to combat coronavirus were drained and not replenished.

Ultimately, Trump ignored the warnings of experts and failed to restock masks and prepare other supplies to fight a potential pandemic.

You can read a full fact check on this here, including how former President Barack Obama was criticized for failing to restock the national stockpile.

"Broken Junk"

Speaking about testing for the coronavirus, Trump said, "I inherited broken junk." This is a claim he has made multiple times, and which we have fact checked multiple times as well.

Facts First: The faulty initial test for the coronavirus was created during Trump's administration in early 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since this is a new virus that was first identified this year, the bad tests couldn't possibly be "inherited."

"He is lying. He is lying 100%. He is lying because he is trying to shift blame to others, even if the attempt is totally nonsensical," Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, said of an earlier version of this Trump claim.

The claim "doesn't make sense because it is false," Tara Smith, an epidemiology professor at Kent State University, said of an earlier version. "This is a new virus."

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, called an earlier version of the claim "absurd" given that "this virus did not exist in the prior administration."

"No Ammunition"

In addition to claiming President Obama left him with a depleted stockpile of medical supplies, Trump said Obama left him with "no ammunition."

"If you remember when I first came in, we didn't have ammunition," Trump said. "Not a good way to fight a war. President Obama left us no ammunition, OK."

Facts First: It's not true that the US had "no ammunition" at the beginning of Trump's presidency. Rather, according to the public comments of military leaders, there was a shortfall in certain kinds of munitions, particularly precision-guided bombs, late in the Obama presidency and early in the Trump presidency.

In the past, the President has attributed this claim to an unnamed general. While we don't know what a general might have told him in private, you can read a full fact check of Trump's claims about munitions levels here.

Iranian payments and other repeated false claims

Trump also repeated several other falsehoods he's made in the past on topics unrelated to the pandemic.

He claimed that as part of the Iran nuclear deal, the US agreed to give Iran $150 billion dollars.

Facts First: The sum in question was Iranian money frozen in foreign financial institutions because of sanctions, not US government money -- and experts say the total was significantly lower than $150 billion. You can read a fuller fact check here.

He also doubled-down on the idea that China is providing the US several billion dollars in tariffs, arguing that the Chinese, not Americans, are paying the tariffs on imported Chinese products.

Facts First: Study after study has shown that Americans are bearing the cost of the tariffs. And it is Americans who make the actual tariff payments.

Trump also alleged that President Obama wanted a relationship with the North Korean leader but that Kim Jong Un refused to meet with him.

Facts First: Contrary to Trump's repeated claims, there is no evidence Obama ever sought a meeting with Kim.


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