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17 times Donald Trump said one thing and then denied it

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu July 6, 2016

Donald Trump once claimed to have "the world’s greatest memory," but he seems to suffer bouts of amnesia when it comes to his own statements.

"I never said ____" followed by a charge of media dishonesty is a favorite refrain of the presumptive Republican nominee’s, and it’s something that he’s been doing for years.

For example, in 2014, as he was fighting to prevent wind turbines from being installed near his golf course in Scotland and ruining his views, Trump told a Twitter user he "never said" that "wind farms are a disaster for Scotland." Yet he’s quoted in the Irish Times saying that verbatim.

And just before he jumped into the presidential race, Trump reignited his spat with Jon Stewart, calling the comedian "a wiseguy with no talent" and denying that he ever attacked Stewart for not using his real last name, Leibowitz. But Trump did go after Stewart’s use of a stage name in a series of tweets that many took to be anti-Semitic.

Trump’s forgetfulness during the 2016 cycle has been noted by many, like New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum:

That sounded like a good idea to us. Here are 17 times Trump said something and then denied saying it in chronological order.

July 19, 2015: Saying John McCain is not a war hero

One of the first controversies of his 2016 campaign erupted when the brash billionaire said McCain, a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War, isn’t a war hero. Facing intense backlash, Trump didn’t exactly deny his comment, but insisted it was taken out of context.

"Four times, I said he is a hero," he said on July 19 on ABC. "But you know … people choose little selective pieces."

We rated his claim Mostly False. Looking at the transcript, Trump literally said McCain is a hero five times, but never without caveats. Once, he added "perhaps, I believe" before conceding the point. Twice, he was interrupted. And the last two times, Trump said, "He is a war hero because he was captured." In other words, Trump also cherry-picked his interview and misquoted himself.

Aug. 9, 2015: Calling women ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals’

Trump’s spat with Fox News host Megyn Kelly began when Kelly brought up various statements Trump made about women at the first GOP presidential debate in August 2015.

"You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ " Kelly said.

Trump interrupted to quip, "only Rosie O’Donnell." A few days later, Trump was more forceful and serious in his denial of Kelly’s premise.

"Well, some of the things that she said, I didn't say, okay?" Trump said on Meet the Press.

That’s False. He’s used those exact words to describe O’Donnell, New York Times columnist Gail Collins, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, a lawyer who had to pump breast milk and Bette Midler. He also said "it must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees" to female contestant on the Celebrity Apprentice, as Kelly noted.

Oct. 28, 2015: ‘Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator’

At a GOP debate in Colorado, CNBC moderator Becky Quick noted Trump called Florida Sen. Marco Rubio Facebook founder "Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator, because he was in favor of the H-1B visa."

"I never said that. I never said that," Trump responded.

Pants on Fire! These words appear verbatim on Trump’s campaign website: "Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities."

Nov. 11, 2015: Implying China was part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

When asked about the pending trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim nations at a Republican primary debate in Milwaukee, Trump took to bashing China.

"The TPP is horrible deal," Trump said. "It's a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone." (For the record, Trump got a Pants on Fire for this claim.)

"You know, we might want to point out that China’s not part of this deal," quipped former rival Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. But a day later, Trump denied suggesting China was a signatory.

While Trump didn’t literally say China was a TPP partner, his denial doesn’t add up. After all, he didn’t name a single country involved in the deal, and he didn’t say "at a later date," as he claimed in the tweet. Even more perplexing is the notion that TPP partners like Japan and Vietnam would "design" a deal to benefit their regional rival.

Jan. 28, 2016: Asking for Megyn Kelly’s removal from a debate

Trump’s war with Kelly led to him boycotting the Fox News/Google debate in Iowa. An hour before the other candidates took the stage, Trump insisted on CNN his absence was due to a mocking Fox News press release and he "never once asked that (Kelly) be removed."

We rated that claim False. We found several instances of Trump and his campaign telling reporters and tweeting about skipping the debate because of Kelly. He went so far as to say Kelly "should not be allowed" to moderate, that she "should recuse herself," and she "shouldn’t be in the debate."

Feb. 11, 2016: Using a curse word to describe Ted Cruz

Trump denied using "a very bad word" — a synonym for cat — at a rally in Manchester, N.H., and demanded an apology from Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin for suggesting he had done so.

But Halperin has no reason to be sorry. There’s video evidence. An audience member called Trump rival Ted Cruz a slur for a woman. Trump repeated the p---- word after telling fans it was a "terrible" word in mock outrage.  

Feb. 28, 2016: "I don’t know anything about David Duke"

After being rebuked left and right for declining to reject former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support, Trump claimed he didn’t know anything about Duke at all.

Pants on Fire! Trump knew enough about Duke to denounce him two days earlier and once in August 2015. In 2000, he criticized Duke’s racism in the New York Times. And in 1991, he told Larry King he hated what votes for Duke, who was running for Louisiana Governor, represented.

March 15, 2016: Paying the legal fees of fans who punch protesters

Facing backlash for encouraging violence against protestors at his rallies, Trump denied that he once promised to pay the legal fees of supporters who roughed up protesters.

"I don’t condone violence," Trump said on ABC. "I never said I was going to pay for fees."

But this is what he told supporters in Iowa a month earlier: "If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise."

March 16, 2016: Punching protestors in general

The next day, Trump denied that he had encouraged violence at all.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly scolded Trump for it on his show: "You have said some very questionable things like, ‘maybe we punch them in face’ or something like that."

"I didn’t say that, Bill," Trump responded, before sort of admitting it. "All I did was make the statement, ‘I wouldn’t mind doing it.’"

While O’Reilly’s quote wasn’t exact, Trump’s statements on the matter weren’t exactly dispassionate.

"We’re not allowed to punch back any more. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to a guy like that in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks," Trump said at his February Las Vegas rally. "The guards are being very gentle with him. ... I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you."

March 30, 2016: Nuking ISIS

Trump denied being open to using nuclear weapons against ISIS at a town hall in Wisconsin.

"I didn’t say, ‘don’t take it (off the table).’ I said I would be very, very slow and hesitant to pull the trigger," he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

Trump is playing a word game here. A few days earlier, he told Bloomberg he'd "never rule anything out" in order to preserve an element of unpredictability. 

May 4, 2016: Suggesting that Cruz’s ‘father was with Lee Harvey Oswald’

Trump clinched the Republican nomination in early May, but not before linking Cruz’s father to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Fox and Friends. After being widely panned for his Pants on Fire claim, Trump tried to downplay the context of his remarks.

"All I was doing was referring to a picture that was reported and in a magazine," Trump told ABC the morning after he levied the charge and won the primary.

Actually, Trump launched the attack without referring to the photo, which was later mentioned by Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade. Trump did say "it was reported" before interrupting himself. He then interrupted Kilmeade when the host attempted to provide a source for the claim.

"His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald being, you know, shot. I mean the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this, right, prior to his being shot? And nobody even brings it up. I mean they don’t even talk about that — that was reported — and nobody ever talks about it," Trump said (around the 5:10 mark).

"Right, there’s a picture out there that reportedly shows Rafael Cruz standing with Lee Harvey Oswald," Kilmeade said. "I don’t know if that’s been verified —"

"I mean what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting? It’s horrible," Trump said before Kilmeade pivoted to a question about polling.  

May 17, 2016: Regretting going after Cruz’s wife

During his patch-up interview with Kelly, Trump denied calling his retweet of an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz "a mistake."

"I am not walking it back," he told Kelly. "But I actually didn’t say it that way. I said, I could have done without it."

But he did say it that way, telling the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, "Yeah, it was a mistake. If I had to do again, I wouldn’t have sent it."

May 31, 2016: Referring to some Republicans as ‘losers’

Trump’s usage of the word "loser" is downright idiosyncratic, yet he denied using his signature insult against his fellow party members, except one in particular.

"Why do you refer to some Republicans and conservatives as losers?" a reporter asked at a May press conference (around the 34:40 mark).

"No, no, I didn’t say that. I said (Weekly Standard editor) Bill Kristol is a loser," Trump replied, then took it back. "I didn’t say everybody. Many, but I didn’t say everybody."

Kristol is by no means the only conservative "loser," according to the presumptive GOP nominee. Here are a few mentioned in the Washington Post’s list of Trump-anointed losers: RedState’s Erick Erickson, columnist George Will, strategist Roger Stone, Bush advisor Karl Rove, blogger Michelle Malkin, pollster Frank Luntz, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, columnist Charles Krauthammer, and John McCain.

And here are a few more not on the Post’s list: Rubio, Jeb Bush, Cruz, Scott Walker, primary rivals who pledged to support the nominee but haven’t, Megyn Kelly, Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel, consultant Cheri Jacobus, South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, commentator S.E. Cupp, and the Club for Growth.

(Trump’s repertoire of insults is also quite expansive. Here are some more names he’s called conservatives.)

June 2, 2016: Nuclear weapons in Japan

Trump accused Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of telling "such lies about his foreign policy."

"They said I want Japan to nuke, that I want Japan to get nuclear weapons," Trump said at a rally in Sacramento." Give me a break."

Trump’s denial is Mostly False. While he didn’t literally say he wants Japan to obtain nuclear power, he’s come very close to it several times:

"At some point we have to say, you know what, we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea," he said at a CNN town hall in March.

"Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea," he said on Fox News Sunday a month later. "Maybe they would be better off — including with nukes, yes, including with nukes

June 12, 2016: Mocking a disabled reporter

Responding to an attack ad, Trump charged Clinton with lying about him mocking a disabled reporter.

But he did. There’s video evidence of him mimicking the reporter’s angled hands while flailing his arms and shouting in a strange voice.

June 20, 2016: On guns preventing the Orlando shooting

As Democrats mounted efforts to pass gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando shooting, Trump brought up the proverbial "good guy with a gun" argument, which goes that mass casualties could have been avoided if one civilian in the club were armed.

Under scrutiny for his comment, Trump insisted he meant armed security, not clubgoers.

Obviously, he was not. In an interview on CNN, Trump said armed "people" in general, possibly exercising concealed carry, could have prevented the tragedy, and he ignored a reporter when she pointed out that there was an armed security guard in the club. Here’s the exchange:

Trump: "If you had guns on the other side, you wouldn’t have had the tragedy you had. If people in that room …"

Reporter: "But there was …"

Trump: "...had guns with the bullets flying in the opposite direction …"

Reporter: "But Mr. Trump, there was an armed security guard."

Trump: " ...right at him, right at his head, you wouldn't have had the same tragedy that you ended up having. ...But if you had guns in that room, even if you had a number of people having them strapped to their ankle or strapped to their waists, where bullets could have flown in the other direction, you wouldn’t have had the same kind of tragedy."

June 23, 2016: On having one of the world’s best memories

To cap it all, Trump ironically can’t remember bragging about his memory as revealed in his deposition for a Trump University lawsuit. Here’s what he said, according to transcript released in late June:

"Q. You’ve stated though, that you have one of the best memories in the world?

A. I don’t know. Did I use that expression?

Q. Yes.

A. Where? Could I see it?

Q. I can play the video of you reporting it.

A. Did I say I have a great memory or one of the best in the world.

Q. "One of the best in the world" is what the reporter quoted you as saying

A. I don’t remember saying that. As good as my memory is, I don’t remember that, but I have a good memory."

Two weeks before the Dec. 10 deposition, Trump was doubling down his Pants on Fire claim about "thousands and thousands of people were cheering" on 9/11.

"I have the world's greatest memory," he told NBC. "It's one thing everyone agrees on."

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Our Sources

NBC, Amid Latest Controversy, Trump Claims 'World's Greatest Memory', Nov. 24, 2015

Twitter, Donald Trump, Feb. 16, 2014 to

PolitiFact, "Trump: I called McCain a 'hero' four times," July 19, 2015

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says 'he didn't say' the things about women that Megyn Kelly asked him about in debate," Aug. 10, 2015

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump didn't realize his own website called Marco Rubio 'Mark Zuckerberg's personal senator'," Oct. 28, 2015

PolitiFact, "Trump says China gets an advantage from the Trans-Pacific Partnership," Nov. 12, 2015

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump falsely claims he 'never once asked' for Megyn Kelly's removal from debate," Jan. 29, 2015

Daily Mirror, "'Ted Cruz is a pussy!' Donald Trump repeats fan's controversial claim to cheers at campaign rally," Feb. 9, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump's absurd claim that he knows nothing about former KKK leader David Duke," March 2, 2016

Twitter, ABC News Politics, March 15, 2016

YouTube, "Donald Trump, Knock the hell out of anyone throwing a tomato, Cedar Rapids, Iowa," Feb. 1, 2016

YouTube, "Donald Trump FULL Interview at The O'Reilly Factor," March 16, 2016

The Guardian, "Donald Trump says he'd like to punch protester at Nevada rally – video," Feb. 23, 2016

MSNBC, "FULL TRANSCRIPT: MSNBC Town Hall with Donald Trump Moderated By Chris Matthews," March 30, 2016

Bloomberg, "‘Unpredictability’ on Nukes Among Trump Keys to Muslim Respect," March 23, 2016

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim linking Ted Cruz's father and JFK assassination," May 3, 2016

PolitiFact, "Anatomy of a talking point: Donald Trump on the JFK assassination," May 6, 2016


New York Times, "Trump Does It His Way," April 3, 2016

C-SPAN, "Donald Trump Holds News Conference,"

Washington Post, "Losers: A list by Donald  Trump," Aug. 8, 2015

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump wrong in accusing Hillary Clinton of lying about his views on a nuclear-armed Japan," June 2, 2016

CNN, "Full Rush Transcript: Donald Trump, CNN Milwaukee Republican Presidential Town Hall," March 29, 2016

PolitiFact, "Pro-Clinton Super PAC ad says Trump 'mocked' disabled reporter; evidence supports claim," June 13, 2016

The Hill, "Trump: If clubgoers had guns, Orlando tragedy wouldn't have been as bad," June 13, 2016

Washington Post, "Deposition of Donald Trump on Trump University," accessed July 1, 2016

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17 times Donald Trump said one thing and then denied it