By James D. Agresti
The New York Times has published a “fact check“ by Linda Qiu declaring that Donald Trump’s lawyers “made a number of inaccurate or misleading claims” during the Senate impeachment trial. In reality, much of the article consists of flagrant falsehoods propagated by Qiu and the Times.
With regard to Trump’s speech on the day of the Capitol Hill riot, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said: “Far from promoting insurrection against the United States, the president’s remarks explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically.”
That statement is demonstrably true, as the transcript of the speech shows that Trump asked his supporters to go “to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Qiu, however, alleges that his attorney’s statement “is exaggerated” because Trump “used the phrase ‘peacefully and patriotically’ once in his speech, compared with 20 uses of the word ‘fight’.”
Qiu’s argument presumes that Trump used the word “fight” to denote physical violence. This mimics the Democrat’s impeachment resolution, which declares that Trump is guilty of “inciting violence” because he said in his speech: “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
However, both Qiu and the Democrats are quoting Trump out of context. The transcript shows that Trump never called for violence or even vaguely implied that. In fact, it is glaringly obvious that he was talking about legal and verbal fighting. To wit, 10 of the 20 times in which Trump used the word “fight” are found in these statements:
- Rudy Giuliani has “guts, he fights. He fights.”
- “Jim Jordan, and some of these guys. They’re out there fighting the House.”
- “If they don’t fight, we have to primary the hell out of the ones that don’t fight. You primary them.”
- “The American people do not believe the corrupt fake news anymore. They have ruined their reputation. But it used to be that they’d argue with me, I’d fight. So I’d fight, they’d fight. I’d fight, they’d fight. … They had their point of view, I had my point of view. But you’d have an argument. Now what they do is they go silent. It’s called suppression. And that’s what happens in a communist country.”
Highlighting the duplicity of those who claim that Trump’s use of the word “fight” amounts to incitement, Trump’s attorneys showed video footage of numerous Congressional Democrats using the word “fight” more than 200 times, including more than a dozen times in which they used the exact phrase for which they impeached Trump: “fight like hell.”
Antifa Involvement in the Capitol Hill Riot
Speaking about the Capitol Hill riot, van der Veen said: “One of the first people arrested was a leader of antifa.” Qiu begins her critique of this statement by changing the word “a” so that it becomes “the.” Thus, she claims that van der Veen said: “One of the first people arrested was the leader of antifa.” Qui then writes:
This is misleading. Mr. van der Veen was most likely referring to John E. Sullivan, a Utah man who was charged on Jan. 14 with violent entry and disorderly conduct. Mr. Sullivan, an activist, said he was there to film the siege. He had previously referred to antifa—a loosely affiliated group of antifascist activists that has no leader—on social media, but he has repeatedly denied being a member of the movement. The F.B.I. has said there is no evidence that supporters of the antifa movement had participated in the Capitol siege.
Those four sentences contain five elements of deceit:
- Sullivan’s claim that he was in the Capitol only to film the riot is flatly disproven by video footage that shows him breaking a window, calling for people to “storm” and “burn” the Capitol, and celebrating the riot with an accomplice.
- Qiu neglected to reveal that Sullivan was also charged with “interfering with law enforcement.”
- Sullivan’s denials of involvement with antifa are implausible given that he:
- was the leader of a group called “Insurgence USA,” which sold “black bloc” tactical gear (often used by antifa) and rubber pigs (carried by antifa to mock police officers).
- threatened to physically rip Trump out of the White House in accord with antifa’s mission to use violence against people they deem to be “fascists” (this explicitly includes Trump, his supporters, all police officers, and anyone who stands in the way of their self-described “radical left-wing” agenda).
- organized an event called “Kick These Fascists Out of DC.”
- Qiu parrots the propaganda of antifa by reporting that they are “antifascist activists,” even though they embrace key tactics and defining elements of fascism, including but not limited to:
- using “determined youths, armed, dressed in black shirts and organized in military fashion” to fight in the streets (Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals).
- leftist economic policies like a “strong progressive tax” on businesses, heavy unionization, a minimum wage, and government control of industries (Mussolini’s Fascist Manifesto).
- the suppression of “all criticism or opposition” (Cambridge Dictionary).
- Qiu’s claim that the FBI found no involvement by antifa in the Capitol Hill riot is outdated and out of context. Two days after the riot, an FBI official was asked about antifa involvement, and he replied “we have no indication of that at this time.” Five days after that, the FBI filed an affidavit for the arrest of Sullivan.
In short, Qiu turned the truth about every major aspect of this matter on its head.
Georgia’s Absentee Ballots
Regarding Trump’s statements about electoral fraud, Trump attorney Bruce Castor stated: “Based on an analysis of publicly available voter data, the ballot rejection rate in Georgia in 2016 was approximately 6.42%. And even though a tremendous amount of new first time mail-in ballots were included in the 2020 count, the Georgia rejection rate in 2020 was a mere four-tenths of one percent. A drop-off from 6.42% to 0.4%.”
Once again, Qiu attempts to refute a statement that is entirely true. She does this by alleging:
Georgia elections officials have repeatedly debunked this claim, which conflates the overall rejection rate for mail-in ballots in 2016 to the rejection rate specifically for signature mismatch in 2020. (Ballots can also be rejected for arriving late or not having a signature, among other reasons.)
In 2016, Georgia rejected about 6.4 percent of all returned mail-in ballots and 0.24 percent of those ballots because of signature-matching issues. It is unclear what the 0.4 percent refers to, but in both 2018 and 2020, Georgia rejected 0.15 percent of mail-in ballots because of signature-matching issues.
To the contrary, it is abundantly clear what the 0.4% refers to: the overall rejection rate—just as Castor said. Ballotpedia details the components of this 0.4% figure as follows:
This total was calculated by adding all accepted absentee/mail-in ballots received electronically or by mail (1,327,126) with the total number of rejected absentee/mail-in ballots received electronically or by mail (4,602) and dividing the total number of rejected ballots by the sum.
As of Jan. 7, 2021, the Nov. 3, 2020, absentee voter file provided by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office was last updated Nov. 16, 2020. Following communication with the Secretary of State’s office, there are no plans to update the file further and any such updates, were they to occur, would take place on an ad hoc basis.
Using raw data from Georgia’s Secretary of State, Just Facts confirmed Ballotpedia’s work and calculated a rejection rate of 0.35% in 2020.
That said, the rejection rate of 6.4% in 2016—used by Castor, Qui, and Ballotpedia—comes from a secondary source (the U.S. Election Assistance Commission) that appears to be inconsistent with the primary source (Georgia’s Secretary of State). Ballotpedia mentions this discrepancy in a footnote and calculates a rejection rate of 2.9% in 2016 using the primary source data. Just Facts confirms that these calculations are accurate.
Regardless of whether Georgia’s 2016 mail-in ballot rejection rate was 6.4% or 2.9%, the 0.35% rejection rate in 2020 was at least 88% lower. This means that if Georgia had the same rejection rate in 2020 as in 2016, at least 34,000 fewer absentee ballots would have been cast. In comparison, Joe Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia was 11,779 votes.
Georgia’s Signature Audit
With further regard to potential fraud in Georgia’s election, Castor said: “President Trump wanted the signature verification to be done in public. How can a request for signature verifications to be done in public be a basis for a charge for inciting a riot?”
Qiu attacked that truthful statement with the following barrage of misinformation:
This is misleading. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s belief and Mr. Castor’s repetition of it, Georgia does verify signatures. Georgia’s Republican secretary of state noted that the state trained officials on signature matching and created a portal that checked and confirmed voters’ driver’s licenses. In a news conference last month debunking Mr. Trump’s claims, Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, explained that the secretary of state’s office also brought in signature experts to check over 15,000 ballots. They discovered issues with two, and after further examination, concluded that they were legitimate.
Neither Castor nor Trump said that Georgia doesn’t verify signatures. Instead, Trump questioned the integrity of the signature verification process in Fulton County, Georgia. This county is a Democratic Party stronghold with an extensive history of corruption.
Moreover, the signature match of more than 15,000 ballots that Qui characterized as “debunking Mr. Trump’s claims” does nothing of the sort. This is because it was performed in Cobb County, not Fulton County. Trump directly addressed this matter in his speech on the day of the riot:
We’ve been trying to get verifications of signatures in Fulton County. They won’t let us do it. The only reason they won’t is because we’ll find things in the hundreds of thousands. Why wouldn’t they let us verify signatures in Fulton County? Which is known for being very corrupt. They won’t do it. They go to some other county where you would live. I said, “That’s not the problem. The problem is Fulton County.”
In direct contradiction to a so-called “fact check” by Linda Qiu of the New York Times, genuine facts prove the following about the circumstances surrounding Trump’s impeachment trial:
- On the day of the Capitol Hill riot, President Trump explicitly encouraged his supporters to protest “peacefully and patriotically.”
- In the same speech, Trump told his supporters to “fight” legally and verbally, not physically.
- An antifa leader was arrested for participating in the Capitol Hill riot, during which he called for people to “storm” and “burn” the Capitol, broke a window, interfered with police, and celebrated the riot with an accomplice.
- Antifa activists, who claim to be “antifascist,” embrace key tactics and defining elements of fascism.
- In Georgia, the overall rejection rate for mail-in ballots in the 2020 election was 0.35%, or at least 88% lower than in the 2016 election.
- Despite repeated requests by Trump, a signature audit of mail-in ballots has not been performed in Fulton County—a Democratic Party stronghold with an extensive history of corruption.
The points above don’t address every falsehood in the fact check, but they reveal a pattern of brazen dishonesty and/or incompetence by the Times.
James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a think tank dedicated to publishing rigorously documented facts about public policy issues.
Just Facts is a non-profit institute dedicated to publishing comprehensive, straightforward, and rigorously documented facts about public policy issues. To accomplish this with objectivity and excellence, we use exacting Standards of Credibility to determine what constitutes a fact and what does not. The vision of Just Facts is to equip people with facts that empower them to make truly informed decisions about important matters. This requires proven facts that accurately and fully convey reality—not pseudo-facts, half-truths, or talking points.