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Fact check: Trump admits truth of Bob Woodward report about assassinating Assad he had called 'fiction' two years ago

Updated 1:05 PM ET, Tue September 15, 2020

Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump did another rambling interview on Fox News morning show "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday.

In perhaps the most notable moment of the session, Trump said he had previously wanted to order the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and "had him all set," but that then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis opposed the idea.

This was a complete contradiction from Trump's comments two years ago. After journalist Bob Woodward reported in 2018 that Trump had wanted Assad assassinated after a Syrian chemical attack on civilians in 2017, Trump told reporters that the report was "fiction" and that an assassination "was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated."

In addition to his implicit Tuesday concession that his 2018 comments were false, Trump made a significant number of false or misleading claims. Here is a preliminary list.

The departure of Mattis

Trump repeated his claim that "I fired" Mattis as Secretary of Defense.

Facts First: Trump did not fire Mattis; Mattis resigned in December 2018 because of policy differences with Trump.

Trump forced Mattis to leave the government two months earlier than the departure date Mattis had chosen upon his resignation, but that is still not a firing.

Mattis and ISIS

Arguing that Mattis is "a highly overrated general" and a "bad leader," Trump said, "He wasn't doing the job with ISIS. He was not doing the job with Syria, Iraq with respect to ISIS. I got rid of ISIS after he was gone. I did a great job on ISIS, 100% of the caliphate, got rid of 'em."

Facts First: Trump's claim about ISIS is both false and misleading.

It's false because, as US military leaders have repeatedly noted, ISIS continues to exist as a terrorist group even though its territorial "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq has indeed been eliminated.

While the final remnants of the caliphate were eradicated in March 2019, more than two months after Mattis's departure, it's misleading for Trump to suggest this was his own accomplishment Mattis had nothing to do with. Much of the progress in liberating the caliphate occurred during Mattis's tenure as Secretary of Defense between January 2017 and January 2019.

There was also substantial progress in the battle against ISIS in 2016, under President Barack Obama. And Kurdish forces did much of the ground fighting.

The F-35

Trump said he supports selling F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates despite Israeli opposition. Trump said, "You know what I've learned about military equipment: You sell it today and it's obsolete tomorrow. All of a sudden you'll say, 'Well, we have a new plane. A new and better plane.'"

Facts First: Military planes are regularly used for decades even in wealthy countries like the US; the average age of US fighter or attack aircraft in 2018 was 27 years, the Air Force Times reported in 2019. The F-35 itself is not close to obsolete.

"It is true that military equipment becomes obsolete over time, but it is premature to say that the F-35 is becoming obsolete. The F-35 is still, by many standards, the most advanced fighter jet in the world," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and the director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

"Obsolescence in military equipment depends on a number of factors, such as what military missions it is intended to support, the threats posed by adversaries, and the availability of other military equipment that can perform the same missions. A piece of equipment that is obsolete for one nation may be perfectly suited for another nation."

Obama and military aid to Ukraine

Trump repeated his claim that President Barack Obama gave Ukraine mere "pillows" in aid.

Facts First: Obama did refuse to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, but he didn't send mere pillows and sheets; he sent counter-mortar radars, drones, armored Humvees and night vision devices, among other things. You can read a full fact check here.

Biden and drugs

Trump again said he believes his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, was taking drugs to enhance his performance in the last Democratic primary debate against Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Facts First: There is simply no evidence for this claim. Trump made the same accusation about his 2016 opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Biden and the media

Again criticizing Biden's mental acuity, Trump claimed that he is given questions in advance by the media.

Facts First: Trump has provided no evidence for this claim. Trump has previously made this allegation about a particular press conference at which Biden was not given questions in advance, according to multiple reporters who were in the room, including CNN's Arlette Saenz.

We can't definitively declare the general claim false, since we aren't privy to every interaction between Biden and the media, but there is no public proof.

Nevada's governor and the election

Trump said of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat: "He'll cheat on the ballots. I have no doubt about it. This is the same man who's in charge of the ballots."

Facts First: Sisolak is not "in charge of the ballots," and there is no basis for the suggestion he will somehow try to cheat. The state's top elections official, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, is a Republican. And county officials are the ones who send out the ballots.


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