Donald Trump has a 9/11 problem — and it’s not that he called it “7/11” on the eve of the New York primary.
At a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., Monday, the Republican frontrunner referred to the wrong date while recalling the 2001 terror attacks — a flub that was soon trending online. But it was a story about his own experience at Ground Zero that is drawing scrutiny.
“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. “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 real estate mogul’s anecdote was meant to illustrate his “New York values” — a phrase that has become a conservative flashpoint in Trump’s battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the race for the GOP nomination.
Trump speaks at a rally in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
But his assertion that he helped clear rubble in the search for 9/11 survivors is fraught with questions.
“Did he mean he picked up a few chunks of concrete?” Philip Bump writes in the Washington Post. “Sent staff to assist? It’s not clear.”
It’s clear that Trump was at or near Ground Zero in the days following the attacks.
New York Newsday spotted Trump there on Sept. 13, according to this excerpt cited in Bump’s report:
The workers are so worn out that they barely glance at the sight of Donald Trump, every hair in place and impeccably dressed in a black suit, pressed white shirt and red tie, walking into the plaza with his cellular phone to his ear. “No, no. The building’s gone,” he says into the phone.
The same day, standing three blocks from Ground Zero, Trump gave an interview to a German television reporter who asked the real estate mogul whether he would be involved in the reconstruction efforts.
“Well, I have a lot of men down here right now,” Trump replied. “We have over 100 and we have about 125 coming. So we’ll have a couple of hundred people down here.”
But there appears to be no evidence to substantiate Trump’s claim that he helped — even “a little bit” — in the rubble removal.
The Trump campaign did not immediately return a request for comment. But as the brash billionaire has already proven in this campaign, a lack of evidence doesn’t stop Trump from making claims about 9/11.
‘Thousands and thousands of people’
While defending his call for the surveillance of “certain mosques,” Trump said he saw “thousands and thousands of people” in New Jersey cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center with his own eyes.
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” Trump said at rally in Birmingham, Ala., in November. “And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
In a subsequent interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump doubled down.
“They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down,” Trump said. “I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down — and that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
While there were images of people in parts the Middle East cheering the attacks, there is no evidence that similar celebrations took place in New Jersey. But the GOP hopeful didn’t budge.
“It did happen. I saw it,” Trump insisted. “It was on television.”
‘I watched those people jump’
At a rally in Columbus, Ohio, the following day, Trump made another 9/11 claim: that he witnessed people jumping out of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan — from his luxury apartment in midtown.
"Many people jumped and I witnessed it, I watched that. I have a view — a view in my apartment that was specifically aimed at the World Trade Center,” Trump said. “And I watched those people jump and I watched the second plane hit … I saw the second plane hit the building and I said, ‘Wow that’s unbelievable.’”
Trump has long maintained his residence inside Trump Tower, which is located more than four miles away from Ground Zero. But he never clarified how he managed to “witness” people jumping out of the World Trade Center from his apartment.
And during a GOP debate in February, Trump said he “lost hundreds of friends” in the attacks that killed 2,983 people.
But the Trump campaign has refused repeated calls from the Daily Beast to name one.
In his interview with the German television station, Trump said he had just come from the site, but made no mention of the friends he’s since said he lost.
“I just went to what they call Ground Zero,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The devastation, the human life that’s been just wasted for no reason whatsoever. It’s a terrible scene. It’s a terrible sight. But New Yorkers are very strong and resilient and they’ll rebuild quickly.”
On the 12th anniversary of the attacks, Trump did, however, offer some kind thoughts to his Twitter followers.
“I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 11, 2013.
The tweet was eventually deleted.