Donald Trump says he spent a lot time with 9/11 responders. Here are the facts

President Donald Trump speaks before signing H.R. 1327, an act ensuring that a victims' compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, July 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
President Donald Trump speaks before signing H.R. 1327, an act ensuring that a victims' compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, July 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP)

President Donald Trump suggested that he spent "a lot of time" with first responders after Sept. 11 as he signed an extension of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

"Many of those affected were firefighters, police officers, and other first responders. And I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder. But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you," Trump said July 29 in the Rose Garden.

Trump’s comment, which appeared ad-libbed compared to the rest of his speech, didn’t go as far as some previous ones he made about his role in helping clear the rubble or supplying workers to help. But it still raised eyebrows. Some critics took his comment to mean Trump was taking credit for helping in the rescue and cleanup effort at Ground Zero (inspiring #LostTrumpHistory).

For his part, Trump thanked a supporter on Twitter for sharing a video clip of an NBC News interview in the days after 9/11 in which he complimented the responders for their bravery.

In its own review, the New York Times determined he exaggerated.

Because of Trump’s vague wording, we decided to investigate what’s known about his post-9/11 whereabouts without putting his claim on the Truth-O-Meter. 

What Trump said in aftermath of 9/11

On the day of the attack, Trump called into WWOR-TV and spoke about what he saw from his office.

"I have a window that looks directly at the World Trade Center. I saw this huge explosion, I was with a group of people. I really couldn’t even believe it," he said.

He spoke about his own buildings, including 40 Wall Street, which he said was now the tallest in Manhattan. (A related Snopes fact-check delves into this further.)

An interviewer asked Trump what he thought he would be doing at that moment had he won the presidency in 2000.

"I would be taking a very, very tough line," he said.

Fact-checking Trump's claim that thousands in New Jersey cheered when World Trade Center tumbled

Trump was near the Ground Zero site two days after the attacks when he gave an interview to a German television station a few blocks away. This interview marked the first of several times when he would say, without evidence, that he had sent a lot of men to help in the area. 

When asked by the TV reporter if he would be involved in reconstructing the area, Trump said: 

"I have a lot of men down here right now. We have over 100 and we have about 125 coming. So we’ll have a couple hundred people down here. And they are very brave and what they’re doing is amazing. And we will be involved in some form in helping to reconstruct," Trump said.

He made similar comments in an NBC interview that same day:

"I have hundreds of men inside working right now, and we’re bringing down another 125 in a little while," he said. "And they’ve never done work like this before. And they’re hard-working people, but they’ve never seen anything like it. They’ve never done work like this before — it’s terrible."

On the campaign trail in 2016 Trump said he helped with clearing the rubble.

"Everyone who helped clear the rubble — and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit — but I want to tell you: Those people were amazing," Trump said at a rally in Buffalo. "Clearing the rubble. Trying to find additional lives. You didn't know what was going to come down on all of us — and they handled it."

The Washington Post and the Associated Press sought information from the Trump campaign in 2016 about how he helped, and they didn’t receive responses. We also tried to verify his claim and could not.

To learn more about Trump’s new Rose Garden story, we interviewed Richard Alles, a New York Fire Department battalion chief on Sept. 11, 2001, who was sitting in the audience July 29. He retired as deputy chief in 2017 after 38 years with the department, and he is now director of 9/11 community affairs for the law firm Barasch and McGarry, which represents clients seeking compensation from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Alles said he had no knowledge of Trump being at the site or sending 100 or so workers there to help.

"I was in a supervisory role with the fire department at the time," said Alles, who said he was on the scene about 20 minutes after the second building collapsed. "I was there for several months — I have no knowledge of his being down there."

If Trump had sent a crew of 100 workers, "there would be a record of it. Everybody worked under direct supervision of the police and fire department and the joint commander for emergency services. Is there a chance he was ever down there by himself and I didn’t know it? It’s possible, but I know of no one who ever witnessed him there."

Trump devoted much of his speech to praising first responders,  especially those who suffered harm in responding to the attack and would benefit from the Victim Compensation Fund extension. But Alles said he could tell from his second-row seat that Trump’s "down there" comment was not on the Teleprompter. (The White House did not get back to us on this point.)

"His scripted remarks were very good," Alles said. But when he started to talk about being with first responders, "I was thinking to myself, ‘where are you going?’"