Fact-check: Trump makes series of false claims in two-day New York tweetstorm

Posted at 8:11 AM, Jul 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-05 10:27:14-04

President Donald Trump made a series of false claims on Monday and Tuesday while lashing out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James on Twitter.

The focus of the President’s complaints in the six tweets was the state lawsuit against his non-profit, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was filed last year by James’s predecessor Barbara Underwood. But Trump also made inaccurate statements about former state attorney general Eric Schneiderman, about migration from New York state, and about the National Rifle Association.

Foundation spending

“I even got sued on a Foundation which took Zero rent & expenses & gave away more money than it had,” he tweeted on Monday. He continued in another tweet: “That’s right, The Trump Foundation gave away 100% plus…”

Facts First: It appears Trump is correct here: his foundation did give away more money in contributions, grants and gifts than it received in most years, according to a CNN review of the foundation’s IRS filings for 2012 through 2016. But that doesn’t mean the lawsuit his baseless, as he seems to suggest.

How did Trump’s foundation pay out more than it received? By using some of its assets to make grants in excess of its revenue for any given year, said Holly Ivel, a spokeswoman for Candid, an organization that collects data and provides analysis on nonprofits.

Trump, however, is suggesting without evidence that the foundation’s low expenses and its high rate of giving means that the New York lawsuit against it is unfair.

The lawsuit is unrelated to the foundation’s level of expenses or its rate of giving. It’s not about whether money left the foundation but about how those funds were used.

The lawsuit alleges that the foundation — along with its directors, which included the President, his sons Eric and Donald Jr. and daughter Ivanka — engaged in a “pattern” of persistent illegal conduct for over a decade. The lawsuit accuses them of using foundation assets for the personal and political benefit of the president.

While the foundation had very low expenses — most years, the only expense listed was an accountants’ fee — that’s not necessarily an indication a foundation is complying with the law. Also, a very small expense line alone isn’t necessary a sign of a well-run and efficient non-profit, Ivel said.

In December, Donald Trump came to an agreement with the attorney general to shut down the foundation under judicial supervision.

Eric Schneiderman

Trump tweeted Monday that the New York legal campaign against his foundation has been “going on for years, originally brought by Crooked Hillary’s Campaign Chair, A.G. Eric Schneiderman, until forced to resign for abuse against women.”

Facts First: Schneiderman was not Hillary Clinton’s “Campaign Chair.” Rather, he was one of more than 100 people on her New York “leadership council,” which included, among others, every Democratic member of Congress from the state.

Schneiderman did launch the investigation into the Trump Foundation, in 2016. He did resign under pressure, in 2018, after The New Yorker reported on allegations that he had assaulted four women. (He issued a statement saying “I have not assaulted anyone” and that he had engaged in consensual “role-playing.” After prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against him, he issued another statement apologizing for “any and all pain that I have caused” and accepting “full responsibility” for his conduct toward his accusers.)

The Clinton Foundation

“They never even looked at the disgusting Clinton Foundation,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

Facts First: This is essentially true. The New York attorney general’s office has indeed not conducted an investigation of the Clinton Foundation. But Schneiderman told Politico in 2016 that he did not think that the facts warranted an investigation, and there is no proof of illegality by the Clinton Foundation.

Schneiderman rejected Clinton critics’ calls to investigate foreign donations to the foundation, saying that no New York attorney general of either party had found that New York foundations are required to report on the money they receive from foreign governments.

Migration from New York

“No wonder people and businesses are fleeing New York in record numbers!” Trump tweeted on Monday.

Facts First: While New York has experienced a recent population decline, it’s false to claim that its out-migration is record-setting.

The state population fell by 48,510 people in 2018, the biggest decline in the country, Census Bureau figures show. As of the end of 2018, New York had experienced an estimated net loss of 1.2 million people on account of migration within the US this decade, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank that has long studied migration data for the state. In other words, 1.2 million more people left New York for other states than moved to New York from other states.

That is a substantial number. However, New York experienced a much sharper decline from domestic migration in the 1970s, when concerns about crime and decay drove an exodus from New York City. Between 1970 and 1980, the Empire Center reports, the state lost a net 2.4 million people through domestic migration.

“NY is not losing residents at a record pace,” E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center, said in an email. “The ‘people fleeing’ record was in the 1970s, when the net domestic migration actually reached more than 300,000 people in some years, and net migration (including foreigners moving in) was negative-200,000 a couple of times.”

New York’s population increased by an estimated 0.8% between 2010 and 2018, according to the Census Bureau. Cuomo took office in 2011.

Cuomo’s role

“Governor Andrew Cuomo uses his Attorney General as a bludgeoning tool for his own purposes,” Trump tweeted Monday. He added: “Now Cuomo’s A.G. is harassing all of my New York businesses.”

Facts First: There is no public evidence that Cuomo has pushed the state attorney general to take action against the Trump Foundation.

It is theoretically possible, of course, but there is simply no proof of any improper Cuomo influence here. Letitia James, a vocal opponent of Trump, was directly elected, not appointed by the governor.

“The people of the state choose the attorney general. So his suggestion that it’s my attorney general is just incorrect. I don’t have an attorney general,” Cuomo told reporters on Monday, Politico reported. Cuomo also said that Trump’s claim “shows that his paranoia is once again getting the better of him.”

James said on Twitter on Monday: “As the elected AG of NY, I have a sworn duty to protect & uphold state law. My office will follow the facts of any case, wherever they lead. Make no mistake: No one is above the law, not even the President.”

The National Rifle Association

“And if they are a victim of harassment by the A.G. of the state, like what they are doing to our great NRA, which I think will move quickly to Texas, where they are loved…Texas will defend them & indemnify them against political harassment by New York State and Governor Cuomo,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Facts First: The National Rifle Association is based in Virginia, not New York. It was chartered in New York, in 1871, so the New York attorney general does have jurisdiction over it.

Both Cuomo and James have challenged the NRA.

James, who has called the NRA a “terrorist organization,” opened an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

Cuomo, who has called the NRA an “extremist organization,” announced last year that he was directing the state Department of Financial Services to “urge insurance companies, New York State-chartered banks, and other financial services companies licensed in New York to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations.” Under Cuomo, the state has also banned the NRA’s “Carry Guard” liability insurance for gun owners. Cuomo has urged other states to do the same.